Homework Help for Families with Several School-Aged Children: Pt. II

As we have discussed, homework time can be innately chaotic for families, especially when several children need parental guidance at once. Since we really can only be in one place at one time, it helps to have a grab bag of possible solutions for the nights when everyone needs homework help.

In addition to the tips in the previous blog, there are more tricks of the trade to help monitor and manage homework for multiple children under one roof.

Use all available downtime to your advantage. Just as we suggested utilizing alternative times for homework completion, such as a morning routine for your early risers, other downtime can and should also be utilized. For instance, elementary schoolers can squeeze in a little more study time on the commute to school. Whether in the car or on the bus, encourage them to bring multiplication/division flashcards or spelling words along for the drive. Not only does this practice provide a pocket of extra time for review, but the process also helps to boost confidence before going in for a quiz or assessment.

Use class time wisely. In addition to the car ride to and from school, encourage your children to make good use of class time. Often times, teachers will provide anywhere from 5-15 minutes at the close of the lesson for students to begin that night’s assignment. This benefits the teacher, in that she is able to gauge who may have struggled with the day’s objective, or who may have missed important directions or notes during the lesson. This is also a benefit for students, as it allows them to get a jumpstart on or even complete their homework in class. Be sure to stress that your child should be sure to focus on instruction first—homework should be completed only if and when the teacher has allowed the class to do so.

Take advantage of after school help. Another option is to encourage your child to attend after school help sessions on a weeknight. Of course, with athletics and other extracurricular obligations, this could be difficult to manage. However, there are several benefits to the after school homework organizations run by the schools. First, many children are more patient or willing when one of their teachers is providing the homework help, as opposed to a parent. Sometimes, as much as we would not like to admit it, homework becomes a losing battle of tears at the kitchen table. The teacher acts as the mediator of the work, leaving parents free of the stressful battle.

Additionally, since children will be getting help from his/her teacher at the after school work sessions, they will essentially receive additional one-on-one instruction with the teacher who knows exactly how the assignment should be completed. Finally, after school homework programs often provide transportation home via an activity bus. Therefore, the work session can serve as an extended school day, but with no inconvenience to anyone’s schedule.  

Set a few ground rules for your children when they are completing homework assignments. No matter the time of day, ensure that children and teens take a break if and when frustrations flare. Homework is stressful as is, but when the tears or tempers start, it becomes a near impossibility. Instead of insisting on working through the frustration, suggest some cool off time. Anything from 5-10 minutes can help bring down a child’s stress level and allow everyone to get back into a productive mode. Additionally, be sure to enforce time parameters for help. For instance, tell your teen that there will be no late-night, last-minute shopping sprees if he decides that he needs materials for a science project the night before it is due. Similarly, make sure they know to ask for editing or proofreading help well before the paper is to be due. This alleviates any stress from having to cram in a last-minutes work session.

Getting Through Homework Time with Multiple Kids

A child’s homework routine can make all the difference at school. Even at the elementary level, a consistent homework plan helps young students to develop good study skills, as well as a strong foundation for time management, organization, and responsibility. But what happens when homework time becomes a jumbled rush for completion? This is the case for many families when siblings of varying ages need guidance to complete their homework. With the craziness that is the average school night, parents can only do so much when it comes to homework help. Logically, a parent can only help one child at a time—so what are some strategies to ease the stress of homework time for a family with multiple school-age children? Read on to find out!

Keep everyone organized by planning and maintaining a consistent homework routine. This should include specific homework times and areas of the house where homework will be completed. Avoid allowing teens to complete their homework in their bedrooms, as this is likely the least productive place for them. Keeping everyone in the same general vicinity of the house can allow parents to bounce from helping one child to the next. To keep the practice smooth and productive, insist that homework happen without distractions like television, social media, video games, etc.

Set aside time to help the youngest children first. Since their homework assignments will likely be easier and shorter, consider helping them prior to the older kids.This schedule also makes sense since younger children usually have an earlier bedtime, which will allow you to help the teens with their assignments once the younger ones are asleep.

Ask the older children to self-manage and take the initiative to start homework on their own. Depending on afterschool activities, families may be even more limited when it comes time to hit the books. This is a reality for many families, so encourage teens to get a jump start and jot down any questions or difficulties that they run into while working. This way they will have something to refer to when it is their turn for parental help.

Make a homework checklist for elementary-age students to highlight expectations and guide their efforts. For younger learners, parents will likely need to prompt the elementary children to get started, stay focused, and move between tasks or assignments. The checklist also helps children to begin to self-monitor while working.

Encourage older siblings to assist the younger children with their homework assignments. This sort of practice mimics the peer-teaching strategy, in which students build their own knowledge by teaching someone else the concept or skills. The younger sibling is not the only one to benefit from the tutoring assistance. By helping the elementary schooler, teenagers also develop communication skills, interdependence, and self-confidence when demonstrating concepts or tasks in a way that the elementary schooler can grasp.

Utilize alternate times for completing homework. Afternoons can be chaotic, but mornings can be equally stressful. However, if one of your children is an early riser, consider using some of the morning time for homework help, quiz review, or independent reading assignments to free up time later in the day. Just be sure that if you allocate part of the morning for homework that you carve out enough time to complete everything necessary.

Study Tips for High School High Achievers

For students who have previously excelled in school without exerting much effort, the idea of an intense study session may seem not only foreign, but also intimidating. While these students have grown accustomed to acing assessments, memorizing concepts, and tackling tasks with ease, they may have inadvertently neglected to acquire an essential academic tooleffective study skills.

For gifted students, those who have naturally acquired, implemented, and stockpiled knowledge and content in their classes from previous years, difficult concepts or the sudden need to study in order to retain information can be jarring and frustrating. For these students, school has come easily until now—which means that honed study skills and strategies might be outside of their repertoire.

What can be done for these naturally-gifted secondary students, those who oppose studying out of stubbornness, unfamiliarity, or sheer confusion? Plenty.

1)  Start small with a rough outline of the essential material. For instance, if a high-achieving student in an AP history class is struggling to study for the first time, suggest that she create a realistic timeline for preparing for the assessment. A student who has never had to study is more likely to attempt a cramming strategy—or, non-strategy, if we are being honest. The added stress and lethargy from a long night of cramming before an exam can actually negatively impact the test-taker. As early as possible before an exam, high schoolers should attempt to roughly map out a study schedule that provides them with at least 3-5 days of advanced preparation.

The simple sample outline below for our AP history student could act as a starting point for those students that have never had to make an outline before:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Topic/Concept WWII Key Players Dates Vocab
Actions -Review map

-Chart Germany’s battles/progress

-Assign 1 key point for each significant  historical person

-Make 2nd copy of blank timeline; try to complete from memory

-Highlight most significant dates during the Holocaust

-Define unfamiliar terms from class notes/text

-Use new terms 2x per day until exam

Reminders Look closely at Allied nations Review date/location of start and end of WWII Ask peer to compare to find additional terms

 

2) If the basic outline above is a challenge for your novice studier, encourage her to find reputable online sources or videos that walk students through the process of making a study guide or outline. Often times, knowing where and how to begin can be the most intimidating part of studying for students who have had information retention come naturally for so long. By watching how other successful, experienced studiers compose an outline or gather information for a study guide, reluctant studiers then have a step-by-step resource to help walk them through the process. This is especially nice for parents if high school aged students are vehemently opposed to “doing it Mom or Dad’s way.”

3) Encourage novice studiers to “take small bites at first, then go back for more later.” This principle helps to reinforce memory and recall. If students cram or spend minimal time trying to memorize a concept, they will likely lose vital details prior to the assessment. Instead, once students feel that they have mastered or internalized a concept, prompt them to revisit that concept a few hours later or the following day. This will help high schoolers to understand if the material has been moved from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4) Ask your high school student to “teach” the material to another person. One long-standing concept about learning is the fact that mastery comes when one is able to teach or relay the information to another person. In this sense, students are not only confident in their ability to remember the info, but they take it a step further to explain or translate the information in their own words. Encourage your child to not only review definitions, for example, but come up with his own new definitions. This way, your high schooler will know for sure if he or she fully conceptualizes the term and its meaning.    

Non-Academic Skill Sets and Why They Are Essential

Many skills sets, particularly in the social-emotional category, are not explicit aspects of our academic curricula. As educators, our ultimate goal involves preparing young people for all facets of the real world. Yes, we primarily stick to our content areas; however, certain skill sets are not only cross-curricular, they are also essential to success in adulthood. Whether teaching in the primary, middle, or secondary school setting, we can each play a crucial role when it comes to these non-academic features of college and career readiness.

Primary Grades:

The focus for learning in the primary grades has shifted in the last decade or so. It used to be that those early years in the classroom circled around creativity, imaginative play, relationship building, and simply grasping what it means to learn. While these qualities are still present, academic skills have clearly become more prominent. Yet learning at the elementary level still teaches more than academic rigor and content-specific information.

Early elementary grades teach children how to share and get along with others. These basic social skills and manners are an essential part of development and socialization. For adults, social acuity, or the ability read others’ behavior and act accordingly, is a life skill that many believe to be directly linked to success in adulthood. The ability to understand and relate to others involves critical thinking—and just not in the conscious way that we usually see it in the academic realm. In the same way that students will discuss how a character feels and why they know, children learn to read others’ behavior, body language, facial expressions, and tone. While they may not know that they are performing this sort of analysis, it is arguably one of the more important life skills to acquire to become a successful adult.   

Can this vital life skill be evaluated on a standard grading scale? No, but a child that struggles to relate to and get along with others is very apparent and at a distinct disadvantage in school.

Middle Grades:

The sharing, caring, getting along mentality of the primary grades continues to build and develop during middle school years. In addition to these essential social skills, middle schoolers also begin to develop autonomy, self-advocacy, and accountability. Parents still maintain a significant role in a child’s education; however, more of the responsibility should be shouldered by the student himself. A new level of self-reliance is essential when navigating these transformative years in middle school.

In elementary school, parents typically act as the liaison between child and teacher. At a certain point, it is time to take off the training wheels, so to speak. The age or grade level can vary from child to child, but somewhere around 7th grade, a student should begin to act on her own behalf at school. She forgot to do her homework? She should be the one to explain it to her teacher. He left his project on the kitchen table? He will have to take responsibility and discuss late credit with his teacher. These are difficult life lessons, especially for parents. It is instinctual for parents to want the best for their children and to ease any stress or burden; however, endlessly coming to your child’s rescue does nothing to help him or her develop a sense of responsibility. A child who knows she can always rely on mom or dad to metaphorically “clean up her messes” will struggle to problem solve, take ownership of mistakes, and develop independence.

An extreme example of this lack of culpability is seen at the university level, where professors are now fielding emails and calls from parents asking for clarity on a student’s recent grade. Of course, professors are scoffing at the absurdity of parents’ requests to take another look at a paper, or to offer extra credit for the course. Creating the expectation for self-reliance early will better prepare students down the road.    

Secondary Grades:

Once students reach high school, GPA, extracurricular activities, and future plans become the focus. The life skills that best support students at this stage of their education include multi-tasking and grit. Adult life, as students will soon discover, involves a great deal of juggling. The ability to evaluate multiple tasks, prioritize, and execute them is essential for students entering the workforce. This level of executive functioning occurs throughout a child’s entire education; however, the stakes are higher in high school—no pun intended. Organization is a key when it comes to multitasking. Grit involves the ability to act with resolve and determination even after a failure or setback. The concept of mind over matter applies here—high schoolers need to be able to maintain focus on the end goal, no matter the distractions or obstacles involved.  

How to Insert Learning into your Summer Plans: For Parents of High Schoolers

It’s about that time: Teens have worked hard all year and are now experiencing the freedom and relaxation that summer brings. It is arguably the best time of year (especially for teachers!), but there is a downside for many. Over the long summer months, learners have a tendency to forget or lose some of the knowledge and skills that they have acquired over the previous school year. Research and statistics indicate that learning and retention declines noticeably during June, July, and August. As expected, if you are not using it, you are losing it—your knowledge, that is. The key here would then be to continue the learning outside of the classroom, which could prove to be a difficult sell for high schoolers eager to follow their own agendas for a few months.

Instead of approaching this sustained study as school work, parents should consider creatively utilizing certain activities so that the learning is there—only presented as a game, puzzle, challenge, etc. Check out some ideas below to help high schoolers retain information over the summer months.

  • Have your high schooler plan the most time and/or cost efficient driving route for the family road trip. Which route allows for fewer toll roads? Which route currently has the least amount of construction? Is there a route without many rest stops that you would like to avoid? Are there any potential attractions along the way that might interest the group? All of these real-world considerations that parents typically consider could mean a great opportunity for your teen to build or expand upon his critical thinking skills. Add in the concept of planning for gas money, and you have another added layer of math practice. Negotiate stereo control or time behind the wheel for the effort they have put into planning the most efficient trip!

  • Read a recent “book to screen” young adult novel together. Be sure to let your teen choose the novel. Discuss the characters, plot, setting, and make predictions about how you think the story will end. Once you have finished the book, rent or go see the movie. Then discuss how the two versions compare. Did the characters appear how you had pictured them? Was anything in the movie noticeably different from the storyline? What creative choices did the filmmaker(s) have to make to translate the text to the screen?

  • Encourage your teen to begin looking into postsecondary education options. Is she especially creative or interested in visual arts, culinary careers, music and performance art? Browse options for liberal arts schools or specialized programs. Is your teen a huge sports fan, athlete, scholar, or philanthropist? Prompt him to peruse options for schools with a large sports following, abundant athletic scholarships, Greek chapters or volunteer programs. Have your teen build a list of non-negotiables when it comes to colleges and universities. Once you have a good idea of what he is looking for, arrange a visit to the campus.

  • Try a competitive activity like golf/mini golf, bowling, Bocce ball where score is kept. Leave the teens in charge of tracking the score and progress of the game to help maintain a strong memory.

  • Get your teen started on a savings plan or spending budget for the summer. Use some money from a yard sale or other chores to start with a base. Set guidelines for the budget, including a minimum amount that must remain in the “account.” Help your high schooler work towards a purchase of some sort, but make sure that she finds the best price for the item by doing research.

  • When doing any summer baking or cooking for a barbeque or party, have your teen help with the measurements. Ask him to double or triple the recipe to suit the large group coming over.

  • Pick up a second (or third!) language together. From the internet to Amazon, disks, apps, and books for language learners are all over the place. Begin by labeling items around the house to familiarize your teen with certain pronunciations. Consider watching a movie with subtitles, then gradually build up from there.

 

No Homework Day: Things to Consider

When talking about homework, it is no surprise that students would rather their teachers forget about it all together. They complain that it is time consuming, redundant, and/or stressful. As an educator, I do not necessarily disagree with my students’ qualms concerning homework. However, there are undoubtedly going to be positives and negatives attributed to the whole concept of homework. As teachers, we should be acutely aware of the purpose of the homework that we are assigning.

Here are some things to consider when planning and assigning homework:

  • How does the homework relate to the classwork and instruction? This is arguably the most important thing to consider, since a major purpose of homework is to further solidify the learning in the classroom and gauge the instruction that you have provided to students. So ask yourself, does the homework assignment reiterate, expand upon, or enrich the learning? If the concept is new or complex, you may want the initial homework assignment to simply reiterate or reteach the complicated material in a way that mimics the lesson. This will help to familiarize students with the concept or skills.

  • After students have mastered the basics, move on to: How can this assignment expand and enrich the learning? This shows students that the assignment is more than just “busy work.” Instead, they are looking at the concept from an alternative viewpoint, thus gaining a greater or deeper understanding. For example, introduce the concept of imagery through definitions and examples. Have students practice identifying imagery in sample texts. Then, to enrich the learning, have students practice embedding imagery into their own writing. Begin by having them focus on one specific sense, then expand on that using the student’s homework assignments for discussion next class.

  • How long should this assignment take for students to complete? This is a simple, yet critical question for teachers to consider before assigning homework. The key is to provide frequent, brief opportunities to practice the skills outside of the classroom. The assignments should be just lengthy enough to provide adequate practice, but not so long that students see the activity as redundant. Depending on age and ability, assignment times may vary, but for the most part, a 20-30 minute task a couple times a week should suffice.

When should we ditch the homework assignment? Of course, our students would like us to say “every day” to this question. But, here are some common rules of thumb when deciding not issue homework. If holidays or religious observances are occurring over the weekend, it is in your best interest to set the homework aside. Either that, or set the due date for later the following week so that students are not forced to complete it over the holiday. When you have already assigned a major project or exam, you may want to reconsider adding another homework assignment to the list. If students feel overwhelmed with the workload, they are likely to submit more mediocre work. Instead of providing more assignments, give students the opportunity to perfect the project or paper that they are working on. Perhaps this means giving optional study guides, practices, or peer reviews.

Homework: How to Make it Work

In the education world, homework has become a controversial topic—one in which people are greatly divided. Proponents of homework typically praise the fact that it allows students the opportunity to practice skills, self-check, and reflect on the learning. Conversely, opponents believe that homework has become “busy work,” an unnecessary or burden on young learners. Whatever your stance, most can agree that parents are the likely homework liaisons between young learners and the assignments that frustrate them. Parents are the ones to wipe the tears and pick up the pieces (sometimes literally). Thus, it is not unusual for parents to feel helpless at times when homework is getting the best of their children.

When you are feeling the pressures of homework at home, remember some of these key points:

  • Homework is not your job as the parent. Yes, you should remind, encourage, assist, and guide. However, it is to no one’s benefit that the parent handhold the child through the work. The point of homework is to assess the knowledge or skills acquired during class. If you are the one prompting answers or pulling teeth to get an assignment completed, your child is not getting the most from the learning opportunity.

  • The responsibility piece is huge when it comes to homework. On those evenings when your teen announces a surprise poster is due the following day, remember that this is not your responsibility to go on a late-night Staples spree. Will this frustrate your child? Yes. But encouraging your procrastinating adolescent to “figure it out” will end up being a greater learning moment than if you had scurried into super posterboard mom mode. Just be sure that your method and involvement as a parent matches your child’s age and genuine abilities.

  • Encourage your child to get into the habit of writing down the full details of an assignment during class. If your child or teen is unaware of the exact terms of the assignment, or its due date, the whole assignment can get lost in translation. It is not unusual that, when in a hurry, students will jot down a vague idea of the assignment, with little to no detail about how to complete it. This sloppily-scribbled, nondescript “worksheet” will not be much help when homework time begins. Instruct your child to write down the homework as specifically as possible, i.e., the page number, website, number of questions, chapters to read, or due date.

  • Stress the importance of the attempt. This is key when an assignment is becoming an overwhelming frustration for your child. Crying over geometry homework at the kitchen table will do little to motivate your child. If this happens, encourage your child to complete what she can, and explain the rest to her teacher privately. At this point, it is not about the homework points or credit. It is about the need for clarity before she can master the content or skill. Especially for the younger learners, completion for the sake of credit is not always worth the hours of frustration. Instead, send a quick email to your child’s teacher explaining the effort that your child put into the assignment. Homework is, after all, indicative of the child’s knowledge of the topic. The teacher will be appreciative of the information, as it will help to guide instruction and re-teaching strategies.

Procrastination: Student Strategies for All Ages

Most teachers would admit that every child and teen exhibits procrastination from time to time, regardless of grade level. For some unfortunate souls, procrastination is simply ingrained. So what is the problem with it? Well, when we procrastinate, the task at hand does not diminish or disappear—no matter how much we may hope. Instead, the anxiety of the looming “to-do list” grows, as does our desire to avoid the work at all costs. How can we combat this procrastination tendency?

  • Teach students to assess the situation thoroughly before they decide to evade the work. Of course, everyone, including our students, would rather not have a list of homework assignments or projects to complete. However, the nature of education involves work outside of the classroom—plain and simple. Instead of setting the task aside right away—an out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy—prompt students to investigate the necessary steps that will be required to complete the assignment. This sort of review strategy forces students to acknowledge the amount of work that the project or paper will entail. The more prepared they are to tackle the task, the less likely they will be to set it aside for lengths of time.
  • Encourage students to jump right in. This does not necessarily mean that they have to rush or complete the task in one chunk of time. Instead, they simply need to scratch the surface and begin. Starting something that they would rather avoid is half of the battle. Once they have begun, the urge to procrastinate is set aside.
  • Remove distractions while working. This is especially difficult for adolescents who would prefer to be glued to their devices while working. Advise students to set aside time to work without any smartphones, television, etc. All it takes is one chime of a notification to derail a work session, further instigating procrastination. A quiet work space, removed from distractions, allows for full focus, which is the best way for students to get the most out of their work time or study sessions.
  • Praise or reward students who complete or submit work prior to the deadline. Whether we are talking first graders or seniors, students respond to incentives. This can mean that the first group to submit work receives their grades first. Or, give praise, small rewards, or extra recess when students exhibit proactivity. Again, the point is to incentivize students so that they are eager to tackle the assignment, as opposed to setting it aside for the last minute.
  • When push comes to shove, stress completion over perfection. The point is obviously to dissuade procrastination. However, there will be times when students simply cannot get the ball rolling in time. When they do put off the work, explain the importance of completing and submitting the work, even when it is sub-par. Of course, keeping high expectations is important. However, the need to perfect something at the last minute is not only stressful, but unnecessary. Use these moments as a learning experience by highlighting the fact that students can avoid this feeling of disappointment or discouragement by planning and working ahead of time in the future.

 

Stress Awareness Month: How to Lower Stress Levels in the Classroom

Stress in the classroom is all too familiar to a teacher. Someone once likened teaching to monitoring 30+ open, blinking tabs on a computer screen, while juggling and reciting Shakespeare. This comparison seems fairly accurate a lot of the time. So, if the adult in the room is feeling the stress, how do you think the students are feeling? Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress in and out of the classroom. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, concentration, academics, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. Seeing as teachers spend much of the day interacting closely with students, it then becomes our responsibility to not only teach, but also monitor the emotional well-being of our students.

The solution to stress in children should not begin by managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping students avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help teachers take a proactive approach to stress:

Allow time for homework, large assignments, projects, or conferencing during class. Yes, this down time is likely not a central part of the scripted curriculum. However, with pockets of down time, students can not only practice multi-tasking, self-reflection, and peer conferencing, but they can also use this time as a moment to simply breathe. The typical middle schooler has anywhere from five to eight core classes during the day. With only a break for lunch and the rushed locker visits between classes, it is no wonder why middle schools are reporting an increase in stress levels, visits to the counseling office, and absenteeism. A simple 10-15 minutes of class every other day to pause, organize, reflect, or ponder could be a very necessary practice to employ if students are visibly stressed. Often times, adolescents’ stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow class time every once in a while to simply have students get their bearings. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra math practice, reading, or simply organizing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Encourage feedback on how your students are managing their schoolwork. Explicitly discuss what assignments, assessments, or projects are consuming the most time outside of school. Inquire about how long it took the average student to complete last weekend’s homework. Often times, what teachers consider to be “simply extra practice” can end up being a student’s sleepless night. Perhaps you may give anonymous monthly surveys to gauge how stressed your students are. But don’t just collect the data—use it to plan how you and other colleagues can minimize the impact that school stress is having on students.

Be flexible when a student is visibly struggling. If you know that a student is having a personal struggle at home, or if he has been out sick for several days, consider excusing the student from any assignments that are simply review items or filler homework. Of course, most assignments are (hopefully) central to the learning objectives of the class. For these tasks, provide extra help or one-on-one assistance so that your student does not feel burdened with the piles of make-up work. Similarly, be lenient with due dates—as teachers, we can easily tell the difference between a student who desperately needs more time and one that is milking absences.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your students to explore options to clear their minds and bodies of any angst. If a walk to the water fountain before a big test keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, have a stress ball or fidget collection to occupy nervous hands during class. When said task/test/lesson is over, acknowledge your students’ concentration, tenacity, and composure.  

 

Homework Ideas for Teachers to Try

Too often, homework assignments get a bad reputation for being tedious, repetitive, or unnecessarily lengthy. As educators, we aim to provide work that is rigorous, purposeful, and engaging. The last type of task we want to assign is an irrelevant or disconnected assignment used solely as “busy work.” Homework is meant to allow time to practice and reflect on the skills or concepts that we have been teaching in class. Of course, assignments cannot always engage every student on every level. However, a few different strategies can ensure that, as much as possible, students bring home tasks that hold their attention, assess their skills, and promote reflective practices concerning their learning styles.

Provide opportunities for student choice as often as possible

This could mean that students are given the option to choose from a list of assignments, all with the same objectives or learning goals. The idea behind this is simple: the manner in which students exhibit their learning is not what matters. Providing options that boost engagement can often enhance learning. Assignment options can range from a paragraph or collage to a PowerPoint or Adobe Spark page. With a wide range of possibilities, students are able to play to their strengths. A tech-savvy student and an artistically-inclined student can both exhibit knowledge of the content or skill, but produce different representations of their knowledge. This allows students to focus on the same learning goals and participate in the same instruction, while allowing them to differentiate the product that they create.

Permit students to opt-out of homework they have mastered

Along with student choice should be an opportunity to “opt-out” of certain assignments—for instance, a student that aces an algebra practice test may be given the option to opt out of the night’s homework involving the same concepts. This idea supports the notion that busy work not only lends itself to boredom, but also has the potential to lower motivation and determination. If a student has proven mastery of a concept, rote or redundant practice is unnecessary.

Create a weekly or monthly calendar of assignments

This not only helps teachers with their planning, it also assists students with organization and proactivity. The calendar acts as a visual or digital reminder of assignments that are coming down the pike. Be sure to include the date that the task was assigned, as well as the due date. Double check that a week’s worth of assignments is balanced and reasonable—i.e., something that students can realistically accomplish in the timeframe given. Encourage students to cross off tasks as they are completed. Also, allow students to submit work prior to the due date. This way, students that struggle with disorganization or misplacing papers can rid themselves of the assignment before it disappears.

Hold a homework session during lunch

This can be as frequent as needed, but once a week is a good start. Allowing students to have a quiet place to work is a benefit to them and you, as well. By working through an assignment with students, teachers are better able to gauge the effectiveness of their instruction. A lunch session also allows students to ask questions or voice confusion over a particular homework task.