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Homework Made Simple

Categories: Learning Disabilities, Parenting

In celebration of Back-to-School Month, RFB&D has sought out leading lights in the learning-differences field for suggestions on how parents and their children can work more effectively together. Ann Dolin, an expert in education and learning disability issues, is shining that light brightly with the recent publication of her book, Homework Made Simple – Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. Combining more than 20 years of teaching and tutoring experience with a Masters in special education, Ann Dolin serves on the board of the International Dyslexia Association. Our attention was initially drawn to an article she co-authored, entitled “Why Reading is Not a Natural Process,” (Download a free version of Adobe Reader for viewing and printing Adobe Portable Document Format files (PDF)). which asserted that “76 percent of students with a reading problem never do catch up” if not diagnosed early.
In her book, Ann notes that such problems can be hard to detect because some children “learn to read not by sounding out (decoding) but by memorizing.” This only works until words become longer, at which point frustration sets in and children start falling behind their peers.
The purpose of Ann’s book is to help students become more efficient learners – through organization, time management, and effective study methods – while also arming parents with strategies at home that take the stress and frustration out of homework (which is still her most requested topic).
Ann notes that the first step to overcoming any homework stumbling block is to identify the homework profiles of kids (Disorganized, Rusher, Procrastinator, Avoider, Inattentive, and/or Easily Frustrated), as well as one’s parenting style/habits (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, or uninvolved).
For example, the child who rushes through homework may be attempting to cope with subject matter that is too difficult or frustrating (often, writing and math). Ann adds, however, that before assuming that a child just doesn’t want to put forth adequate effort, parents should check for other underlying problems and, if needed, consult a learning disabilities specialist.
Ditto for avoidance, which can be a manifestation of other underlying problems – be sure that a tutor is in place in the meantime.
Auditory learners can capitalize on their strengths by practicing out loud, forming study groups, and taking lots of notes.
Ann also notes that inattentive kids may require additional classroom support, and to work with schools to obtain formal accommodations (e.g., 504 Plan). Regarding children who are easily frustrated, she cites the 2007 research of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, which demonstrated a direct correlation between happiness and resiliency (i.e., 50 percent of happiness is genetic, 10 percent is due to life circumstance, and a whopping 40 percent is malleable, meaning they can change over time with the right influences). These right influences can include what Dr. Robert Brooks calls the “charismatic adult”; i.e., a person who takes an interest in and cares about a young person. So, in parenting a less resilient child, it’s important to focus on this 40 percent that can be changed, not on the 50 percent that cannot.
In addition to learning differences, Ann’s book also discusses learning styles, or preferred ways to learn: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. In the case of auditory learners, those children can capitalize on their strengths by practicing out loud, forming study groups (which allows them to aurally process the information heard during discussions and one-to-one interaction), and taking lots of notes (then reviewing the notes within 24 hours, to aid retention).
Throughout the rest of the book, Ann emphasizes the need for parents to cultivate their authoritative skill, so that they typically provide choices balanced by rewards and consequences (trust but verify periodically). She also underscores the importance of establishing clear rules and routines, talking so children will listen (planning proactively, praising successfully, eliminating idle threats, giving warnings before consequences, remaining neutral), and carving out time for family meetings and dinners.
A crisp Parent Action Plan, however, is not always the overriding factor – i.e. the unique bond you have with your child is far more important than any one homework assignment. Dr. Russell Barkley, an internationally recognized ADHD authority, is quoted in the book: “Don’t sacrifice your parent/child relationship on the altar of academic performance.”
Overall, the book’s many tips lists, checklists, and resource links make it well worth a look.