With the benefits of homework established, especially for senior students, the skill set of an independent learner is one that parents can help their children begin to develop from a young age, through the routine of study and homework.
Although workload will vary with age, both homework and study involve the review of work covered in class so that students:
- practice tasks
- review key ideas
- read and seek information
For parents, there exists a wealth of online and digital resources available to help you identify ways to support students at every level of learning. In this article, we offer advice for parents on developing skills – from a young age – which as they are practiced, will improve your child’s ability to undertake self-directed study as they progress from primary and into secondary and senior school years.
Help Students Focus
Create a dedicated study area that has all the resources your student needs at hand. A place in your home, often their room, that is free of social (friends and family) and digital distractions. Some senior students may find having music helps them to focus and so parents and teens should discuss what works and be willing to give it a try. Parents can intermittently monitor the study environment to ensure that it achieves the desired result of helping your teen to focus. If music, digital or social interactions (including you) become a distraction, it is in your teens best study interests to try a different approach.
Set SMART Goals
Goal setting is a simple and highly effective life skill that will help students focus their effort, track their progress and build confidence in their ability to achieve whatever they set their mind to. As parents, you can work with your children and teens to help them articulate SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals – that create a roadmap towards what they are working to achieve. For instance, if your teen says that they want to “pass math this year” you can help them define a SMART goal to achieve this outcome, along the lines of… “I want to achieve a C+ Grade in Math in the mid-term exam by studying math for 20 minutes every day.”
Parents can help younger students plan workloads so that by senior school they have the time management and planning skills to establish achievable homework and study workloads for themselves. For students new to planning this may begin with simply making a list. Parents can help prioritise tasks either in order of deadline or where task priorities compete (or are not evident) start with the tougher subjects first because it is human nature to want to avoid the tasks we find more difficult. A planned approach to any workload will help people progress and overcome challenges and subsequently reduce any psychological stress associated with difficult subjects. Encourage students to start working through the plan well ahead of deadline, as the best-made plans go out the window once they run out of time to achieve them.
Help your teens estimate and then schedule the time needed to complete their planned study. Scheduling time each day during the school week will help. Consider the size of assignments and once a task is estimated to take an hour or more it is a good idea to break the project down into several smaller chunks. A growing body of research supports the idea that 20 minutes is about the optimum length of time that we can continue to absorb new information, so schedule work in 20 minutes blocks and encourage students to take a “brain break” – drink some water, stretch, get some fresh air and relax – for five minutes before returning to study. Creating a routine and sticking with it helps to develop the discipline required to take on and work through challenges and is both a study and life skill. Once your child has established a working pattern, help them maintain it. Routine builds confidence and improves overall results.
Strike a Balance
As parents, it is important to understand what your child and/or teens expected school workload will look like to ensure that they have time – around family, social and extracurricular activities – to advance their learning through homework. Finding balance means having a healthy approach to everything including study. Let them know that their health takes priority over study. Being healthy includes: –
- Eating well, making nutritious food choices.
- Staying hydrated, lack of water is known to impede cognitive function.
- Sleep, lack of quality sleep is known to impede cognitive function.
- Exercise is known to support cognitive function.
- Take time to relax.
The position of the NSW Department for Education is that homework is a valuable part of schooling and of benefit to students in that, it allows them to not only to practice, extend and consolidate classroom learning but also to develop.
- information and research skills
- planning and time management skills
- confidence as an independent learner
Department research indicates that student learning may be enhanced if homework is of a manageable workload, well communicated and of a quality that is:
- appropriate for each student’s age and ability
- relevant to each student’s needs
- purposeful and designed to meet specific learning goals
- varied and challenging, but achievable
- built on knowledge, skills and understanding developed in class
- clearly stated and requirements made explicit during class time
- supported by teacher strategies for students having difficulties with homework
Schools (Principals) in consultation with their communities are required to develop a homework policy relevant to the needs of their students. As parents, a solid understanding of what is required by your school will help ensure you set realistic expectations of your children and/or teens. A general rule of thumb is that children do 10 minutes of homework for each grade level.
Homework Years K – 6
In general, kindergarten students are not expected to complete formal homework. In years 1 and 2 some formal homework may be set such as reading and writing, spelling and mathematics. For years 3-6 homework may be varied. There is still no conclusive evidence that homework provides learning benefits for kindergarten and primary school children so remember that Albert Einstein said, “play is the highest form of research”. At this age, simply helping them to establish a routine will begin to develop the self-discipline required of independent learners.
Homework Years 7-8
The volume of your child’s homework can be expected to increase from Year 7. Homework for years 7-8 may be set across the curriculum to include tasks that require investigation and preparation for examinations and assignments. At this age, formalising a routine of 60 – 80 minutes will further strengthen their ability as independent learners.
Homework Years 9 -12
For secondary and especially senior students research evidence shows that homework can help students learn. Homework for years 9-10 can include practice that builds upon learning in class, assignments, and preparing for assessment tasks and exam study. By now students could realistically study more than one subject across 90 minutes or more.
By years 11-12 students are expected to complete homework independently, across all subjects, varying according to individual learning needs. Senior students will be expected to prepare for school assessment tasks and study for exams and may spend more than two hours a day studying multiple subjects. Any time management skills and study routines that you have helped them to develop during the earlier years will pay dividends for them now.
Seven Surefire Homework Tips for Parents of Students
- Ask questions about their learning, your interest can help to motivate them and one of the best ways to learn and understand information is to teach it to others.
- Let them know that you are available to help and then take the time to look over work with them and offer constructive feedback (as opposed to answers). As a general rule of thumb provide the minimum help necessary for the child to be successful.
- Intermittently monitor their progress and regularly praise them for their effort, hard work and discipline (as opposed to results) to help build their confidence as capable and independent learners.
- Create an environment that helps them focus and be willing to adapt that environment to their needs as teens become more independent and self-directed in their study habits.
- Assist them to set SMART goals so that can recognise and be encouraged by their progress, no matter how small the steps.
- Facilitate ongoing practice as the best way to overcome any weaknesses by helping them establish a manageable routine that supports progress towards their goals.
- Establish realistic expectations and seek help from a teacher or a tutor if you need advice or when additional support is required.
Need After School Homework Support?
If you would like support to help your child or teen develop good homework study habits, the team at Maths Words Not Squiggles is here to help via online or individual or small group sessions and courses. Our team consists of qualified Primary and Secondary teachers as well as experienced tutors. We offer math and English tutoring, NAPLAN, HSC and exam preparation courses. Our tutoring is tailored to each student’s learning needs and taught in line with the subject areas and concepts they are currently studying at school.