Monday, September 24, 2012

Whose homework - part 2

Last time I left you rather in the lurch. I gave you lots of what not to do, but gave no indication of what to do when supporting your child with the homework they have to do. I told you what the work was for and why it’s set, what the teacher would be looking for and what this would lead onto, but now, it’s time to tell you how to enhance the homework experience.
The aim of the support is to enhance their understanding, not take over, and that, without realising is what happens, when mum or dad are roped into helping them.
Many moons ago, I took on a new Teaching Assistant. She was going to be brilliant but first she had to get through the ‘helping’ stage. At the end of the first term, she and I collapsed in our classroom. The children had left for the Christmas holidays and left chaos in their wake. We were sitting quietly having coffee when she looked over and said, “I am shattered, how do you remain so calm and at ease? You don’t even look stressed and I have been running around all over the place...”
I smiled at her, “Exactly, I don’t run after them like an Auntie, I expect them to think things through for themselves and ask me when and where they get stuck. At the moment they have hot and cold running answers from you and they don’t have to do the work to get the answers.” I laughed at the expression on her face, which was staring at me with a look of complete shock, horror, and then realisation.
“I’ve been played haven’t I? Mm, well that will stop in January, you just watch!”
True to her word, she did, and became the best teaching assistant I have ever had the pleasure of working alongside. In fact, I would go as far as to say, she taught small groups superbly, but she had to learn the crucial lesson first:

Answer what they need not what they want.

So how do you get at what they need?
There are four main phases of support:
1.       Read and understand the question
2.       Identify what the question is asking them to do
3.       Decide what skills they will need and in what order
4.       Complete the task
Let’s take each of these stages and explain, as I did to Ginny, how to input into each stage without having to do any of the work.
1.       Read and understand the question
a.       Get them to read the question to you. If they stumble on any of the words, support them by breaking the word down into sections, or phonics, or syllables, whichever is pertinent to their teaching style/method.
b.      Check they understand the words they have stumbled over [if any] and just read, by getting them to tell you the question again but using their own language. This checks that they are interpreting it correctly.

2.       Identify what the question is asking them to do
a.       Now let them tell you what the question is asking them to do. This sometimes comes out in the first part where you are asking them to explain the question; children often short track this stage and can sometimes mix the next stage into it as well. Get them to develop this strategy of 4-STEPS, have it written on a card for them to follow, it will help tremendously in organising their thinking.
b.      Underline the important pieces of information, or if you cannot do that, write them down on a piece of scrap paper, well, they write them down, you do nothing, you are supporting remember?

3.       Decide what skills they will need and in what order
a.       They have written down or underlined the important information, now it’s time to sort out the arithmetic skills they need to use. THIS is where you MUST NOT SHOW THEM. If they stumble over how to do a skill this is something the teacher needs to know, so make a note of it, or better still get them to write it in their books that they couldn’t remember how to do, say, adding fractions. It’s all important information to the teacher.
b.      Presuming they can do the skills, they then process them. Ginny would say to them, “Now we’ve got that far, I’m off to [help someone else maybe] but if you forget what you’re doing then call me.” This gave them the knowledge she was there, but the independence of doing it for themselves.

4.       Complete the task
a.       They do the work on their own and you then give them the praise for managing it on their own. They get the buzz from doing it on their own and the reminder of how to do the various arithmetic tasks.
Please, don’t presume I would expect this to go without a hitch, it won’t. There will be days when your child will want the re-assurance of mummy or daddy with them. They will crave the close support, the attention, and possibly the persuasive possibility of getting you to do it for them. Resist! Resist with all your might.
Ginny would look at these children and smile; she had been run ragged by them during that first term. She would get out the card with the 4-STAGE plan on it and go through it with them again to check their processing. She would them let them do say the first part and then come back and give the re-assurance required, only to leave again once they had moved onto another stage of the arithmetic. She had learnt that some children work better if the task is first gone through up until the last stage and then repeated so they feel more secure.
“OK, so we have gone through the question again and we have worked out exactly what you have to do to get the answer. We have found some examples of how to do each of the arithmetic skills in your book and now all you have to do is to follow them and do this question. I can’t wait to see your answer – bet it’ll be right too”, and with that she would smile and walk away.

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