Recently, a SOAR® subscriber asked for tips to help her daughter stay on-task with her homework. Just last night, a student in my Homework Action Group complained of the same problem. “I have a hard time staying focused on homework. It takes me forever to do it!”
I also remember, as a young student, sitting at my desk, wriggling and squirming.Soon, I would need a drink, or snack, or pencil… After getting lost in the kitchen and sucked into a TV show, it would be another hour before I returned to my homework.
It would get so late, I finally had no choice but to do my homework. By that time, I was irritable, annoyed, and impatient. (Don’t laugh, Mom!) That made homework even worse.
Why did I do this?
I didn’t like homework. Obviously. I didn’t know how to do it efficiently. I didn’t have the discipline to do it quickly.
But, I’ve learned a lot since then…
There isn’t much I can do to help anyone “like” homework. I can teach strategies for completing it faster, but that takes 150 pages. So, this article will help you improve your self-discipline.
“Self-Discipline Does NOT Sound Fun!”
Yes, I know… self-discipline sounds dreadful. But, it’s time to change your perspective. Just past the point of resistance is an amazing feeling of accomplishment and a big pay-off.
Self-discipline is what motivates athletes to win championships and wealthy people to earn their riches. One of the world’s most successful marketing campaigns was created on the concept of self-discipline; NIKE inspires athletes to “Just Do It!” Apply that attitude to homework, and great things will happen.
Action Plan for Staying Focused on Homework
“Just do it!” is a little easier said than done, especially when it comes to homework. However, the following tips will help you get started:
- The hours between 3-6 p.m. are typically the most wasted of a student’s day. Make them your most productive by doing homework within one hour after school, when possible. You’re most alert at this time, so homework will be easier than doing it later.
- Find small sections of time for homework before you get home… on the bus, before basketball practice, or even during school. (There is a lot of “down-time” in classes, such as when teachers take attendance.) The less homework you have when you get home, the more motivated you will be to finish the rest quickly.
- Reward yourself. Challenge yourself to do all of your homework before a specific time. Then, you’ll have plenty of time to watch Netflix, play video games, text friends, etc.
- Fill a basket with supplies you need for homework: pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, stapler, paper, scissors, markers, glue, ruler, etc. Keep the basket next to you so everything will be right at your fingertips. One trip across the house for a stapler can cost you hours when you get sidetracked by the refrigerator, TV, or computer. Every sibling should have their own basket. If you live in two homes, keep one basket in each house.
- Eliminate distractions. It’s tempting to watch TV, listen to music, and text friends while doing homework. However, the human brain is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your attention constantly shifts back-and-forth. Sometimes that shift happens so rapidly, you don’t even notice it. However, you will be:doubling your homework time, increasing errors, and completely destroying any learning that might happen while doing homework.
- Use an electronic timer. Before you begin an assignment, determine how much time it should take to complete. Add five minutes and set the timer. Challenge yourself to finish before the timer goes off. This is great way to develop motivation (a.k.a. self-discipline) because it becomes a game to play against yourself. For younger students, parents can offer small rewards for each assignment that is done before the timer goes off.
- Parents: Do your “homework” while your child does their homework. You have bills to pay and school papers to complete. Do those chores during “homework time.” It helps them feel like they aren’t “missing out” and keeps them focused.
Homework is usually NOT fun. But, you can make it much easier if you follow Nike’s advice and “Just Do It!” Your evenings will suddenly have more free time.Your grades will improve as you learn information while doing homework.
Before long, you’ll develop a much better attitude towards homework because you will have taken control of it, instead of your homework taking control of you.
To get more simple ways to easily “Just Do It,” check out our dynamic and interactive app for students.
To your success,
Filed Under: StudentsTagged With: homework, students
Charlie is a perfect example of a smart young man who needed the best homework tips to cut his study time in half.
He is a smart young man but he wasn’t always showing it in school. When I first met him, he was in the middle of eighth grade, taking one of my study skills classes. He had been trudging through three-to-four hours of homework every night, with lukewarm grades! His mom was concerned because homework was “stressing him out” and was the source of many family arguments
Within a few short weeks, however, Charlie learned study skills and the best homework tips that helped him cut his homework time to less than one hour every night…and improved his grades!
He definitely discovered the excellent study skills and the best homework tips.
I asked Charlie to share the best homework tips and top three study skills that made the most difference for him. This is what he shared several months later:
1. Get organized! “I didn’t realize how much time I wasted looking for things,” explained Charlie. “My notes, homework assignments, folders, textbooks…I spent so much time digging through my book bag for things. Many times, I had to ask my dad to drive me back to school because I forgot stuff in my locker. He was never happy with that, it took a lot of time and he always wondered whether I’d ever learn the best homework tips.”
To help Charlie get organized, we condensed his 14 different folders and notebooks down to ONE binder. It was instantly easier for him to track papers, assignments, and notes because everything went in one place. This also reduced the volume of his supplies by 60%, which instantly resulted in a more organized book bag and locker. Just doing this one simple thing helped him know he was on his way to learning the best homework tips.
We also talked about his locker routine so he was less likely to forget things at school. Charlie recalled, “You pointed out that every time I’m at my locker, I’m in a rush. I’m rushing to class, to lunch, to the bus…no matter when I’m at my locker, it’s always a rush. So, I had to figure out how to get what I needed quickly. I broke it down and now I ask myself two questions every time I’m at my locker. This keeps me focused and helps me get everything I need.”
2. Power down! “I really didn’t like it when you first suggested that we turn off all of the electronics,” said Charlie, “but this was huge for me. When you said that electronics will always control us unless we learn to control them, I decided to take the advice one night. I turned off my cell phone, the TV, and the computer.
I couldn’t believe how fast I got my homework done and this was one of the best homework tips ever!”
Charlie’s experience is something I am hearing more and more in my study skills classes over the last several years. “I always figured that the TV, cell phone, and stuff helped make homework less boring,” he said. “Now I realize it is the other way around. When everything is off, I can concentrate better, get my homework done faster, and then have more free time to do that stuff later.”
3. Think of homework as a study guide! “I used to do homework just to get it done. I didn’t think much about it. But now, I think about homework differently. You called it ‘active learning’ and I am starting to see what that means. I don’t just hunt for answers, I try to think about what I am doing and make connections to anything I can; something my teacher said in class or sometimes, I’ll think of connections to something that is completely different.
“I also use the key question you shared: ‘How can this homework assignment help me study for the next test?’ It’s simple, but it keeps me thinking more about my homework, instead of just trying to get it done. When I’m really thinking about what I am doing, I get it done faster.
And, I’m getting better grades because I know I have the best homework tips to help me!”
Schools Do Not Teach How To Learn
Charlie is like many of the students I work with in my study skills classes; he found great success from applying these best homework tips strategies to the process of learning and doing homework!
Study skills –which are really strategic learning skills- are not taught in schools. The national and state standards that teachers have to teach are ALL content. There is absolutely no focus on teaching students how to learn. Charlie was floundering because he had no system for success. Once he learned a system of good study skills plus the best homework tips, however, he was unstoppable!
Every student can benefit from learning study skills; “good” students are thrilled to learn how to get those good grades in less time. “Struggling” students are thrilled to learn that there is a reason why they are struggling (no one taught them how to study) and that there are actually study skills that work!
But, what if there is more to the problem? How do you know if your child needs additional help?
Identifying Homework Problems
Follow the ten-minute rule. Many research studies confirm that “ten minutes per grade level” is the optimal amount of homework. For example, a first-grader should be expected to do ten minutes of homework each night, a sixth-grader up to 60 minutes, and a 12th-grader up to 120 minutes.
With good study skills, this amount of homework time can actually be cut in half, but these time limits are a good benchmark for what is reasonable at each grade level. During this time, homework should be completed with minimal support from you as the parent. If this is routinely NOT the case for your child, then something is not right.
If that is the case, determine the root of the problem; is it your child or the homework? If your child is struggling to complete homework within the “ten minute” guideline, he may simply need to get organized and learn a few strategic study skills plus the best homework tips like Charlie did.
However, pay attention for signs of a health problem or more serious learning challenge; if your child is having a hard time sitting still, needs things repeated several times, is squinting excessively, or simply isn’t “getting it” despite several attempts, these may be signs that something more than just study skills are needed.
Talk to your child’s teacher and pediatrician right away. Keep notes on your observations and stick to your guns! If there is a learning challenge, you may be met with some resistance along the way, but your persistence and friendly cooperation with teachers and doctors will be the key to getting proper help for your child. Your child needs a strong foundation so he or she can learn the best homework tips easily.
Do not be quick to judge these challenges as “laziness.” Laziness is rare in students! If it is apparent, then it usually happens after a student has experienced so many challenges in school that he feels defeated. In fact, when I hear a parent or teacher say things like “He’s lazy,” “She’s just not trying,” or “If she would just try harder,” it triggers a strong warning in my mind that there is likely something else going on. Usually, there is.
Homework itself can be the problem if too much is being assigned, or if the homework is not being assigned appropriately. Homework should only be a review of content covered in class. The purpose is to provide practice, not instruction! If your child is complaining that he “never learned this in school,” that may be true.
In these cases, arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher(s) and politely explain your concerns. Most of the time, teachers are simply not aware of these problems because they typically don’t get feedback; most families just suffer in silence and don’t communicate appropriately. Obviously, you must use your judgment to determine how far to push homework issues with teachers, but you should not be suffering in silence!
Conclusion About The Best Homework Tips
Homework is a major source of stress and frustration for manhy students and their families, but it doesn’t have to be. When homework struggles require strong intervention, look for the cues and trust your instincts.
However, 90% of the time a few good study skills are all you need to make a world of difference with the best homework tips.
Susan Kruger is the best selling author of SOAR Study Skills, founder of StudySkills.com and an expert on the best homework tips.