As a private, independent middle school, we strive to help our students take responsibility for their learning and become independent and resourceful learners and thinkers. Students learn by doing and very often redoing, editing, and improving their work.
We want students to develop skills and find their voice and this takes effort and practice on the part of the student. This higher level of work and expectations can be an adjustment for students. Teachers want to make sure that they are doing all that they can to help. We know that parents feel the same way, but there can sometimes be confusion as to how to best help and how much help is too much.
With these thoughts in mind, we offer the following tips.
Clarify the assignment
Students should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them with each assignment. Parents can reinforce these expectations. It may also be helpful to ask students to read the assignment aloud and say what they think is required. If after these attempts there is still confusion about expectations, the student may choose to write a note to teachers explaining any potential confusion. In most cases, assignment directions and expectations are posted on each class page.
Teachers need to see the student’s work
It may be hard to let your son or daughter come to school with work that you think is subpar, but teachers need to work with students at their level. If work coming from home is at a different level than work that could be done in class, problems will ensue. Students won’t learn if they don’t think for themselves and make their own mistakes.
Provide structure at home
Setting up a designated homework space free from distractions and having specific times set aside for homework can help provide the structure that many students need to complete work in a timely fashion.
Reinforce writing fundamentals
Parents can help students clarify what they are trying to say or get across. One way to help is to have the student read the essay aloud to a parent or a parent read the essay while the student listens. The student can make corrections as they notice problems. You can do this one paragraph at a time and then discuss the content. If students need help with grammar, their teacher needs to know that. Parents can point out sentences that do not sound right but need to allow the student to find and fix errors. Please do not write or type on the student’s paper. The work, content, and voice need to be the student’s.
For research papers, parents can reinforce writing fundamentals by asking students if they have a clear thesis statement followed by paragraphs that have clear topic sentences supporting thesis statement.
Help students with planning, organization, and time management
These are areas where we all can help. These behaviors (planning your day, time management, making lists, prioritizing and organizing, thinking, and planning ahead, etc.) are all learned and reinforced through practice and repetition.
- Are students using study halls wisely to get work done so that they don’t have so much work to do at home?
- Do students use a planner where they can write down their homework assignments and when they are due?
- Encourage your student(s) to use a pocket folder for homework - one for work to do and one for completed work.
Helping with student focus
If students seem to be having trouble focusing on work, have them set a timer for 20 minutes. They should focus on homework for 20 minutes and then they can take a 10-minute break. Then set the timer again and start it over. It may help kids to know that they have only a certain amount of time that they "have to focus".
Try to block out distractions. Do students need to be on their computers for the assignment? If not, close the computer while doing the assignment.