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A developmental edge.

Many surveys and studies regarding the benefit of homework have been done. Some educators and parents aren't sure of the benefit, so the research activities are ongoing.

In the meantime, elementary school children continue to be given homework assignments. Most students complete the daily home obligation with little or no fuss, but some find the never-ending task extremely challenging. Let's discuss the students who find the homework duty difficult and their parents who face the daily "nightmare."

There are several reasons students have homework completion problems. One to mention, but not discuss in detail, is children who use homework as one of their tools to continue their family struggles and opposition to parental authority. The content, length of time required and academic skills of the assignment are irrelevant. For these children, homework is a handy, daily reason during the school year to show defiance. These families would benefit from counseling that addresses the behavioral issues.

Let's focus on the elementary student who truly has difficulty completing the homework assignment. The parent usually recognizes the problem and gets involved by trying to help and supervise. When the obstacles persist, the result is frustration for both parent and child. The intent of the student is not to disrupt family function. The homework is truly the problem.

The learning disabilities (LD) of students observed in the classroom continue at home to be a source of frustration. Children fortunate enough to be identified at an early age can get the extra help they need during the school day. These students should have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that guides the educators in helping the child.

When children with LD are not identified, their class day can be a constant struggle and homework a "nightmare." Teachers and parents will witness the student's hassles and work with her to make progress. Unidentified learning disabled students will have daily trouble with homework. A third grade student with a LD, expected to complete the homework in 30 minutes, may take hours each night.

What is needed for the child with LD is recognition in the early grades so that homework assignments can be modified to fit the ability of the student. Parents and teachers need an agreement that makes the assignments appropriate for that student.

The plan is for the child to work on the assignment for a reasonable time and then stop. Another modification is to restrict the amount of work expected. Both can be documented and signed each night by the parent. The teacher can follow-up the following day by reinforcing the important points. This cooperation of the school district in evaluating the struggling student, identifying a learning problem and the teacher and parents having a plan (e.g., IEP), can have a significant effect on making homework time manageable.

Another group of students who experience arduous homework times are children with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These students have difficulty in the classroom with focusing, staying on task and distractibility. ADHD symptoms interfere with the student achieving the learning goals of the lessons in class. This deficit contributes to the homework problem. By not having satisfactorily grasped the classroom lessons, the student is at a disadvantage at homework time.

Many children with unidentified ADHD will have an unsatisfactory school performance. Teachers and parents can find themselves frustrated in trying to help these students. Once the student has been evaluated and the ADHD identified, then help can begin with progress expected.

Medication for the disorder is not always necessary to have Improved school performance. Many behavioral strategies for teachers and parents are known to be effective. Help begins in the classroom when the teacher uses the strategies resulting in the student having a better chance to reach the learning goals. The teacher can put a plan in place to see that the student Is aware of the homework assignment and has the necessary materials to complete it. Parents can communicate with the teacher in order to follow through with the teacher's plan. Parents use the ADHD behavioral strategies at home. The child can appreciate a consistent approach of both the teacher and the parent.

Students with ADHD that are treated with medication are able to show a more dramatic improvement in classroom performance and homework completion. Parents may hesitate to begin medication until they are sure that behavioral strategies alone do not yield the best result. The medication helps the student grasp the classroom lessons that is followed with homework. The student may respond to the teacher's help in understanding the assignment and equipped with what is needed to complete it. The ability to focus with less distraction will result in homework time being more typical for a child at a specific grade level. Medication or not, the child with ADHD will improve when the parents and teacher are aware of the disorder and use behavioral strategies known to be effective.

When the reason for the "nightmare" of homework is identified and properly addressed, homework can be changed to the benefit that is intended.

By Joseph A. Girone, MD

Joseph A. Girone, MD is a developmental pediatrics consultant at Reading Pediatrics in Wyomissing, PA.
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Author:Girone, Joseph A.
Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2014
Words:857
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