So Much Homework So Little Motivation

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    Plan ahead to have free-time after school. If you have a study period, do as much of your homework as you can. The more you do while you are at school, the less you will need to do at home. Don't try to do everything at the last second.Try to do all of it in class (if time is provided), at lunch, or any other spare time you may have. This way you may also get help while at school, if you don't understand the work. Ask your teachers while they are available: they're there to assist you. Let them help you.
    • Put the hardest homework at the top of your list. Why? Well, this allows you to kick it up a notch! You can start, move on, and then continue re-thinking it (starting gives it a place in the "depths" of your mind -- an inventive part of your mind) and then going back to it, to do more, so you won't get too bogged down, but it will have priority for the subconscious mind to work on it! See, you don't have to get stuck in that problem -- that might take all of your time:

      Do a quick effort; make it a worthwhile try, then go onward to less demanding homework. Later, going back -- and seeing how you can improve the first one with fresh bits and pieces.

      Open "secret back-channels" -- just starting, even if you have to come back to finish, gets your creativity to kick in (this gets dark recesses of your mind to really work for you!). Creative juices can be inspiring, refreshing, helpful!
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    Break it down. Make piecework; quickly overview the topic: scan!

    ~ Read headings, intro, maps, charts, pictures, captions, bold or italic lettering, footnotes, and chapter summaries to get ideas and perspectives/angles for ideas to start yourself thinking.

    ~ Begin your answer to each problem and essay question, by doing parts! How? Make a first sentence or step, do any logical, little bits and bites (go step-by-step).

    ~ Add a second thought/step and another -- each flowing from the previous one. Going one phrase or sentence at a time makes it possible to write or do something.

    ~ Skip some lines, to leave room to fill in later -- if you need to move on to another area.

    To re-kick-start an answer: Read what you have already written/or have done to check it, and see what flows from there', to lead your thinking to your next thought/step, and so on.

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    Set goals and rewards. Once you've completed your goal and finished your homework, reward yourself with some little thing that you would find enjoyable and double after you finish. Save a special book to read when homework is done, or make plans to talk with a friend on the phone as soon as both of you have completed your assignments. Go on your favorite website, or even dedicate yourself to a great project you've always been wanting to do.
    • Take advantage of any holidays or vacations that may be coming near as a motivator. On a Thursday, remind yourself that it is almost the weekend, and the moment this homework assignment is done you'll be one moment closer. Remember that Thanksgiving, winter break, or summer break is nearing, and the moment your homework is done you can enjoy it to its fullest.
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    Avoid procrastination. The surest way to get over procrastination is to take care of a task as soon as you think of it - don't delay and tell yourself you'll do it later.
    • Think of it this way: if you procrastinate, you're spending time worrying about the task in addition to the time you actually do it. If you just take action and complete it as soon as you think of it, then you'll have more time to relax.
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    Work smarter, not harder. A fried brain absorbs little information. Break up your homework time into chunks. Take regular breaks. Set a timer; take a five to ten minute break for each hour you study. Get up, stretch, and move around. Drink water and eat a little fruit: water will refresh your system, and half an apple provides a better effect than a sugary energy drink.

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    Think of the consequences. What will happen, if you don't do your homework? Will you get a bad grade? Will your teacher be disappointed in you? If none of these things seem to apply to you, remember that homework is to help you learn, which everyone ultimately wants. In the real world, knowledge helps you master the rules of the game.

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    Think of the benefits. What will happen, if you do your homework? You'll probably get a good grade. Your teacher will appreciate your efforts. You have learned a great deal, and you'd be paving your way for a better life simply by putting your pencil to paper! Putting yourself in a positive state will reap in the benefits and ultimately surge you with the energy and hope to focus back on your work, and even enjoy what you're doing!

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    Find a place with less distraction. Set up your special study place. No friends, television, or other potential distractions should be present. Your homework place should also have a hard surface, like a table, to write on. If you need to do some of your homework on a computer, as many high school students do, make sure to avoid chat programs, unrelated websites, etc. If you have difficulty keeping focused, or awake, consider doing your homework at the library, at a table with some amount of foot traffic passing by it. The quiet atmosphere will help you focus, the surrounding mild activity will help keep you from falling asleep, and if you get stuck, there are those helpful librarians and references.

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    Straighten your desk/room. It's easier to concentrate on your homework when you don't have clutter in your workspace. Take five minutes to tidy up your immediate area before you get started.
    • Don't go on a cleaning binge as a way to procrastinate. Focus only on where you'll be working, and leave it at that.
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    Find a homework partner. Make sure this person isn't one of your crazy friends who'll distract you. Find someone to sit with who is quiet and focused. This will help you feel comfortable working, because someone else is working along with you. Just be sure not to end up talking more than working.

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    Create your own learning method. Everybody learns at their own pace and uses different methods to help memorize the material. Some find walking helpful, while others like to listen to music while they study. Whatever it is, experiment until you find something that seems to work well for you.

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    Listen to some quiet music (optional). Listening to music and studying does not work for everyone. If you are going to listen to music, try to listen to classical music or instrumental songs. Or if classical isn't for you, just pick quiet songs that you don't know, and start working, so you don't get caught up in the words.

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    Exercise briefly during each study break. It will help relieve tension, clear your mind, help you focus and make you feel awake. For example, walk around, stretch, do jumping jacks, or jog in place.

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    Make a routine. A routine will get you into doing homework as a habit. Schedule times and days so you are totally organized as to what you're doing this week, the next, and even the week afterwards. Surprises will occur, but at the very least, you know what you're doing!

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    Disconnect. Turn off your computer, phone, etc. that could distract you easily. Don't get wrapped up on the computer or phone on a break because you will not remember what you were learning about and it will delay your finish time. Stay away from them at all costs unless you must do the homework on the computer.
    • Put your phone, computer, and anything else that might distract you far from your reach. Then stay in a quiet room where you know you won't get distracted. Keep a timer for every 30 minutes to an hour, so you know how long you've been working and can still keep track of time.
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    Prioritize. Divide your homework according to your ability in the subject. If you're not so good, do it first. If it's an easy assignment, take a break and do it in 15 minutes or so, then get working again! If it's a long-term project, do it last. Not that it's not as important, but you need to save your time for the things with near-due-dates.

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    Get some success: you might prefer to get one or two easy tasks over-with at the start of a homework session, saving the hard stuff for last. Diving right into the hard stuff can be discouraging, and studies show that many people learn well when they start with easier material and work up to the harder stuff. Getting a few easy tasks done quickly can remind you of how good it feels to be productive. Some people, however are more motivated to dig into the hardest stuff first. It will make the rest seem like a breeze. Find out what works best for you.

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    Use simpler problems to find the steps to do harder solutions. Most problems can be broken down into simpler problems. That's a key to try on most math and science work and exams.

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    So what are you waiting for, get to your homework!!

  • The Homework Crisis

    Gisela Voss always thought that all the griping about homework overload was way overblown. Her son Luke never got more than a half hour's worth at Mason-Rice Elementary in Newton, Massachusetts. But once he enrolled at Brown Middle School in 2004, Gisela had a rude awakening. Suddenly Luke was grappling with 30 minutes of assignments for each of his six classes, lugging home a backpack bursting at the seams -- and sagging under the strain. "He was at school from 8 to 3, and with soccer practice he wouldn't be done until 5. If we all ate dinner together -- and it's important to me that we do -- he wouldn't even start cracking the books until 7," says Gisela, 42, a toy designer who's also mom to daughter Sydney, 10, and son Rio, 2. "He missed out on sleep, and his anxiety stressed everybody else out. We'd rush through the meal knowing that he had hours of work ahead of him, and he'd start begging for help even before he left the table." Luke, now 15 and a sophomore in high school, has grown more accustomed to his heavy load. But Gisela and her husband, Dan Kernan, a 48-year-old software engineer, are already worrying about Sydney, who starts at Brown Middle School next fall, and how she'll cope with the nightly grind. "This is an insane way for families to live," says Gisela.

    She's joined the chorus of complaints about kids drowning in homework. It's not just the marathon study sessions every night, these parents say, but heavy-duty assignments during vacations and summers as well. The massive pileup is causing some serious burnout. With no downtime, kids can't absorb and retain their lessons, and they dread the work so much they have to be nagged and forced to do it. With moms and dads -- and tutors -- routinely stepping in to help, there's growing resentment that they're the ones being held responsible for their children's education instead of teachers and schools. "It's not that homework is inherently evil, but that it has gotten so out of balance," says Nancy Kalish, coauthor with Sara Bennett of The Case Against Homework (Crown). "The first question parents ask when their kids walk in the front door is, 'How much homework do you have?' For many families, everything revolves around that, and it's causing a lot of tension, tears, and fights." And that's just the small picture, Kalish adds. "Night after night, year after year, homework is swallowing up the things that are part of a good, healthy childhood -- like playing, exercising, hanging out with friends, quality time with parents, even getting bored and maybe getting creative."

    The dissent is likely to grow in the wake of a recent report by the country's top homework scholar, Harris Cooper, PhD, director of the education program at Duke University, who concludes that more isn't always better. In a comprehensive review of some 60 studies from between 1987 and 2003, he found virtually no link between homework and test scores in elementary school. Once kids hit middle school, there is a point of diminishing returns. Performance improves only among sixth- to ninth-graders who limit homework to 90 minutes a night and high schoolers who stop after two hours; for those who toil longer, test scores actually drop. "The bottom line is that all kids should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary according to grade," says Cooper. "And no matter what, it's only good in moderation."

    3 Things Parents Can Do to Help Kids Manage Homework

    How Much Is Too Much?

    So what's a parent to do when homework gets out of control? Many are pushing back, and succeeding in getting teachers and schools to lighten the burden. But you don't have to go that far to help your kids. Learn what experts say is the appropriate amount, the difference between thoughtful assignments and mere busywork, and smart strategies that will help your children get the most out of their studies -- in short, how to help them achieve excellence without all the excess.

    For every mom complaining about too much homework, there's another frustrated parent saying her child is getting too little. The research is equally mixed. According to a 2003 study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., only 5 percent of children nationwide are doing two or more hours a day. But other surveys show that students across the board are putting in longer shifts. A 2004 University of Michigan study of 2,900 children found that the amount of time spent on homework is up 51 percent since 1981. "For argument's sake, let's say only 10 percent of students across the country are overloaded," says Kalish. "Isn't that still worth addressing? After all, we're talking about 5 million kids who are losing their love of learning."

    The upward trend started in the 1980s, after the government's "Nation at Risk" report found that students were not reading at expected levels. "Educators came under pressure to teach more, and in some instances began using homework to cover new material rather than review the day's lessons," says Cooper. With 2002's No Child Left Behind policy, curriculum was ratcheted up further. In the meantime, no one was keeping an eye on how much homework was being doled out. Remarkably, only a third of school districts across the country have homework policies, and even in those that do, teachers can assign what they want. For middle and high school students juggling six to eight classes, the workload can easily get out of hand.

    Cooper suggests that parents ask teachers to follow his rule of 10 minutes of homework per night per grade -- 10 minutes in first grade, 60 minutes in sixth grade and so on -- which research shows is optimum for learning. "There's room for variation, especially in high grades, where students can opt for advanced placement courses," he says. "The best policy is to permit teachers to modify the length of assignments to meet the needs of their students."

    If Your Child's at the Breaking Point

    Be alert for the signs of homework burnout: constant frustration, loss of motivation, and a diminished interest in learning. And be prepared to speak up. "Parents are scared they'll be labeled a troublemaker and their kids a problem," says Kalish. "But if the load is heavy at the beginning of the year, it's not going to get better later on. You have to do something before your child starts to hate school." Below, her suggestions on the steps parents should take.

    1. Do the research. Check your school's Web site to see if it has a homework policy and whether your child's assignments are excessive. Keep a record of homework assignments and how long it took to finish them.
    2. Consult with other parents. If you think a particular assignment is too hard, send out an e-mail asking if they agree, and if so, suggest that each of them let the teacher know. There's strength in numbers, and the teacher may ease up. If not...
    3. Talk to the teacher privately. Approach him or her in a nonconfrontational, cooperative way. If you get an unsympathetic response or are told that the assignments are within policy guidelines, try saying, 'But it's just not working for my child,' suggests Kalish. "Teachers often have no idea how stressful homework can be, and most will want to work something out."
    4. Go to the school board. Before taking this step, attend a parents association meeting and ask everyone to fill out a homework survey, which will preempt the "no one else is complaining" defense. (For sample surveys, see below.) Contact your board, submit the surveys, and get the issue on the agenda. Enlist supporters who will speak up, present research and statistics, and share stories of how their kids are struggling. "Remember, you elect school board members," says Kalish. "So you have power."

    Surveys excerpted from The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do (Crown).

    Good vs. Bad Homework

    Most experts agree that the point of take-home assignments is to review and reinforce the lessons covered in class that day. Ideally, homework should also instill a sense of curiosity and teach kids to study effectively -- including how to apportion their time between hard and easy tasks, and test themselves for retention -- so that they can become lifelong learners. But the vast majority of teachers have had no training on what kinds of assignments benefit students most. According to Harris Cooper, research suggests the most effective homework should do the following:

    Mix it up. Assignments should have simple questions here and there rather than group all the tough ones together. Kids will feel the work is easier and enjoy it more.

    Address specific needs. Yes, tasks should be age appropriate -- for example, shorter assignments in lower grades to accommodate limited attention spans. But the amount and difficulty can be adjusted upward if students are high achievers.

    Be spread out over time. Kids retain more knowledge when they review material in brief, repeated bursts over several weeks rather than reviewing it right after learning it that day.

    Apply to things kids enjoy OUTSIDE CLASS. The best assignments not only develop key skills like reading, writing, analysis, and critical thinking, but they also get students to tackle subjects they really care about. The goal is to keep them engaged.

    How to Help, Not Hover

    Your children need smart guidance, not someone breathing down their necks. Take our expert advice on the right ways to lend them a hand.

    1. Do provide a quiet, well-lit space to do homework, and establish rules on when they should get it done -- ideally, late afternoon or early evening.
    2. Don't watch TV while your child is toiling away. If he's reading, pick up the paper or a book. Showing respect and being positive about homework will instill a good attitude.
    3. Don't give answers or do the work yourself. Instead, make like Socrates and ask questions that will help lead your child to the right conclusions. So the next time your 13-year-old bungles that word problem in algebra, have him reread the question and make sure he understands it before tackling it again.
    4. Don't punish. Let your kids face the consequences of not getting assignments done, even if you'll feel embarrassed. Remember, it's about them, not you.

    Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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