The road a student must travel for successful homework achievement is filled with many potholes for failure. One major pothole can be avoided by making the homework experience less negative? Unfortunately, with homework, we often equate it with drill and kill or no pain no gain for successful learning? Instead parents might try and reinforce author Joseph Pearce’s theory  (Magical Child) that we must first go through the heart to stimulate the midbrain, the area of thinking and emotion for greater intelligence and learning. In other words, we can make the homework experience more positive by building in a few key strategies that takes in the child’s strengths to heart. Hence, “I learned it by heart.”

For example, one major pothole affecting homework success is the actual homework assignments. Teachers usually face two to three developmental levels in every classroom, which means that children’s ability to learn will be different, and certain children may need more help with homework than other students. I am not speaking about intelligence, but the age of the child’s developmental level can affect homework achievement. Recall the first grader whose homework assignment is to read one 20-minute story with a parent. They read one story and still have 15 minutes left before bedtime. The mother suggests they read another story but the child refuses, “because teacher said to read only one story.” The mother could interpret the child’s response as lazy, obstinate and even lacking ability but in reality, it is only the child’s developmental level or cognitive stage or way of thinking that is causing her refusal to read. The child is still at the preoperational stage, which means she can only entertain one idea or person at a time, which in this case is her teacher. In time the child will mature and move to a higher stage called “concrete operational” thinking and be able to entertain two ideas at a time and respond to both teacher and parent.

We need to look carefully at the pothole called curriculum that feeds into all homework assignments. It is a known fact that most homework lessons are slanted to the linguistic, mathematical and logical intelligences. Howard Gardner, who broadened our understanding of intelligence by recognizing 8 types of “multiple intelligence”, believes that children on average could be using two or three types of intelligences at any given time. However, parents of those children whose preferred intelligence is not of the linguistic, math and logical worlds need to know when and how to merge the homework assignment with the child’s innate type of intelligence or intelligences to make homework more successful. For example, learning the math facts or times tables has always been difficult for most children. Gardner’s theory would suggest that children with a strong kinesthetic or musical intelligence could learn the times tables more successfully by rhythmically tapping out the times tables with their hands and feet or singing them, thus using their bodies and their kinesthetic or musical intelligences for successful homework achievement.

Your child’s learning style can also affect successful homework achievement. Once I worked with a 10-year-old client who was driving his parents up a wall because he took too long to complete his homework assignments. It wasn’t that he was not completing the homework assignments or that his work was not excellent, but the parents felt he was procrastinating, and simply needed to work faster like his older brother. According to the experts, there are at least 8 different learning styles that can affect homework achievement. This boy was a “reflective learner,” or someone who simply needed to digest information slowly to complete his homework assignments. Instead of one hour, he needed two hours, but always his work was of the highest quality. Ultimately, the parents supported his specific learning style and homework became a more harmonious experience for all involved.

No one ever said that homework would easy. It is filled with potholes, and we as parents and teachers must either help children to fill these potholes or teach them how to successfully navigate around them. My suggested strategies are but a few of many that parents can use to help make the child’s road to homework achievement successful. Good luck and e-mail me. I would love to know about your homework successes!

*David Sortino, Ed.M, Ph.D. For further information contact davidsortino@comcast.net or 707-480-1649