Essential Homework Skills, Part II

Dr. Sam Goldstein

Skill One: Starting Assignments Efficiently

Difficulty beginning an assignment efficiently is a common problem for many children. We suggest you assist your child by first identifying the primary source of the problem. Does this problem result from your child’s inability to choose which task to begin first, an aversion or dislike of the task, an inability to ask for help, lack of a consistent getting-started routine, or difficulty knowing how to break a large task into smaller parts?

We need to help our children decide which tasks they can complete independently and which ones require help. We suggest you first have your child first work on those assignments or parts of assignments she can complete independently and successfully. This will establish a pattern of good feelings and success. Help your child decide the order of tasks. This may be done by:

  • Starting with the easiest or the most challenging tasks.
  • Starting with assignments that require out of home resources such as the library.
  • Starting with assignments that appear enjoyable.
  • Doing parts of assignments and finishing or checking them at a later time.

For assignments requiring help, we suggest you encourage your child to first attempt to complete the assignment independently. However, if he cannot, encourage your child to ask for help. Review a list of people your child can use as resources (e.g., parents, siblings, friends, classmates) or sources to consult (e.g., dictionary, encyclopedia, internet). We also suggest you encourage younger children to learn to seek help, which is especially important as the demands of school increase. Here is a method with five questions or steps:

  1. What’s my question? Where exactly am I stuck?
  2. Who will I ask or call?
  3. What can I do before I ask or call?
  4. How have I gotten help for this type of problem in the past?
  5. Can my parents help me with this problem?

Skill Two: Checking Work for Accuracy and Thoroughness

Because homework is seen as a task that must be completed before children are granted freedom to engage in tasks of their choosing, most children rush through their homework. Therefore, it is important to help your children develop habits of checking their own work. In an effort to reduce boredom, we suggest that children move on to another assignment and then return at a later point to check previous assignments. It is also time efficient for children to make checklists with items they can cross off to make certain that essential steps for an assignment are completed. Checklists can be constructed for all kinds of assignments. A sample story writing checklist appears below:

_____ Yes _____ No Name and date?
_____ Yes _____ No Main points as topic sentences?
_____ Yes _____ No Summary sections?
_____ Yes _____ No Conclusion section?
_____ Yes _____ No Spelling on the computer?
_____ Yes _____ No References on the computer?

As a way of motivating the development of a self-checking habit, we suggest you offer incentives for homework completed with few errors. Incentives will not work, however, if your child’s errors are the result of lack of understanding. In these situations either the work must be simplified or time must be spent helping your child develop the skills necessary to complete homework accurately.

This column is excerpted and condensed from, Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide for Solving Common Homework Problems by Sydney S. Zentall, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. (1999, Specialty Press, Inc.).