A new school year brings so much — new friendships, new achievements, new soccer schedules and art projects. But while hallways and classrooms burble with the joyful chatter of all that great stuff when school re-starts, one reality returns to the tune of a communal groan from parents and students alike: homework. Enter the nightly struggle.
Last week, parents and teachers gathered at the Robertson Center to talk about ways to collectively ease the pain. In a discussion led by Stacey Gershkovich, our Managing Director of Sharing, and Laura Dreschel, Director of K-8 Math for Success Academy, the group talked strategies to make homework time less painful, more productive, and a genuine tool for supercharging learning.
The program kicked off with a welcome announcement. “Good news,” said Gerhkovich, “it is not your job to teach your kids math. Homework helps us teachers get a pulse on what students are able to do independently. So if your child is struggling, your job is to make sure they’re putting in their best effort -- not always easy, I know -- then to let the teacher know. It’s then the teacher’s job to figure out what’s going on.”
This notion of struggle came up again and again, with both Dreschel and Gershkovich emphasizing the importance of “productive struggle.”
“If your child can zip through every question, the homework becomes pointless,” Dreschel explained. “Sitting with a question and having to approach it from different angles and really think about it, and try new ways and fail, is where powerful learning is happening.”
Of course, that productive struggle can make parents frustrated. This is particularly true given that math in today’s classrooms looks different than it did for most parents and even teachers. Students today are asked to master mathematical concepts, whereas we learned tricks and strategies (“Carry the one,” and “Keep, change, flip,” are just a couple that might sound familiar).
All of this informs the approach recommended -- one that puts kids in the driver’s seat, while ensuring parents don’t feel overwhelmed if a certain problem exceeds their mathematical know-how. The facilitators offered six simple questions that teachers can use to equip parents for homework time.
““How do you know?”; “Convince me”; “Explain that, please”; “Prove it”; “Draw a picture”; and the simplest of all, “Why?”.
Each question is designed to put the thinking work on students, helping them to see their way through a problem that has them stumped, and to potentially source specific areas of struggle or misunderstanding that parents should then flag for teachers.
"Questions like these help to refocus kids, give them an opportunity to release frustration, and tap into what they already know,” explains Dreschel. “ And if they’ve drawn a picture and explained themselves and still can’t figure it out, no one has to agonize into the wee hours of the morning. Make a note of where your child is getting tripped up, so the teacher stays informed. You all are a team, and it’s the teacher’s job to address content gaps.”
This feedback loop is ultimately what will help kids learn and grow. When it comes to homework, the answer is far less important than the questions kids are asking to get there. And as a parent, the prompts you give your kids to steer them toward those questions can make all the difference.