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Got a Middle-Schooler? Here are some Homework Tips

Middle-schoolers - those loveable (well, sometimes) creatures who just don't know whether they still want to be kids or grownups yet. If you have one lurking in your household, he or she may be struggling with this whole issue of homework. There is a lot of it, and it is definitely different from the homework in elementary school.

From Dependence to Independence

The three years of middle school are a time of educational "passage." In elementary school, children are dependent learners - that is, they are dependent upon their teachers to teach them, to nurture them, to tell them what and when they must learn, to help them do so, and reward them when they do well. Students want their teachers' approval, and so most of them are quite motivated by these external factors. They do not question "why" they are learning what they do. They just do it, putting their faith in the "rightness" of their teachers. Middle schoolers, on the other hand, are passing from this dependence - their teachers are not all-knowing, nor are their parents. They can be moody or hyper, dependent upon the "hormone count" for the day; and they certainly prefer friends, gaming, shopping, etc. to homework. With all of this going on, it is often hard to find the time for their homework, much less the mental focus to get it done.

Goals of Middle School Teachers - Independent Learning

Middle school teachers have as their goals, moving these kids from being dependent to independent learners - able to take longer-term assignments, able to complete reading assignments on their own, able to problem-solve, and to think critically, without being led by the hand. More complex nightly homework assignments, as well as organizing time to work on those longer-term ones, can definitely be a challenge.

Homework Tips

We adults remember our homework days. Always a quiet place, perhaps at a desk in our rooms or at the kitchen table, with no noise, no distractions, no food or snacks. The thought at the time was that full focus could only occur in this kind of environment. Fortunately, people like the Dunn's, Jeffrey Beaudry, Bernice McCarthy and others came along and did some significant research on learning styles. And this research has dramatically changed our thinking about how kids do homework effectively. Every child has multiple aspects of learning styles - temperature, physical position, background noise, food/snacks, talking out loud, pacing or dancing, singing, studying with a buddy - all of these things should be taken into account. "One size clearly does not fit all" when it comes to doing homework. So, instead of setting up that quiet non-distracting space in a kid's room, consider these tips for homework environments.

    1. Parents should observe their kids while they are studying. Many middle school kids have a need to be physically active, for example; others need to stand or sit on the floor. Some need to talk out loud to themselves or to be Skyping with a classmate.

    2. Some distractions are quite helpful. Middle school kids like variety - they are sort of programmed that way based upon their emotional "temperature" at the time. Small distractions - music in the background, low conversation, like a television turned low in another room, can actually help the brain focus in more on what it needs to be doing. The same thing goes for physical environment. Middle school kids need to change that out sometimes. Reading outside in a hammock or at the park; going to a coffee shop or to a book store café to write an essay; going through flash cards while standing at the kitchen counter; changing the times for doing homework. All of these things can be beneficial for a middle schooler whose physical and emotional needs change frequently.

    3. Distractions do not work for every kid. Some do need complete quiet and isolation. And some distractions are too much for any kid. Television in the same room is a big "no-no" because it does suck attention.

    4. Many middle school kids have to move. To take that away from a kid who needs it will really disrupt his/her mental functions. Some will dance while they memorize stuff; some will pace. If a parent knows that his/her middle schooler needs to move, do something physical together. Quiz your student and for every correct answer he gets a free throw at the basketball court; If they like to eat (and who doesn't), for every correct answer, they can run to the kitchen for another handful of popcorn.

    5. Studying with friends - in person or virtually. Most middle schoolers are pretty social beings, and friendships are significant. Studying with a buddy or with a small group online works for a lot of kids. They may study, chat, study some more, etc. If this works for your middle schooler, the homework is getting done, and the grades remain okay, then let it happen. And often in middle school, there are group projects. Parents should make their homes available for group study activities.

    6. Breaks are necessary and may need to be frequent. Every kid is different in terms of how long they can focus. This difference should be honored. The need for a break is usually observable through fidgetiness, yawning, daydreaming, etc. Getting up and doing something physical, calling/texting a friend, or getting on social media for 10 minutes will mean that the time spent focusing on study is more efficient. Even experts at OK Dissertations, who work with Ph.D. candidates, speak to the need for breaks - neuroscience research affirms this.

    7. Involving Many Senses: It's usually better to study actively for a test. Just reading through the chapter or through notes and trying to memorize is not efficient. Writing out notes or flash cards with questions brings more senses to bear on the task; reading out loud does too. The more senses involved, the better the memory works.

    8. Getting Organized: Middle schoolers can be as "rattled" with their management skills as they are within their bodies. Having several different teachers and moving from classroom to classroom is an adjustment from elementary school. A big issue is getting homework written down somewhere and getting that homework actually home in order to do it. And the key to that is to have a system and to stick with that system.
    Technology has taken care of a great deal of this today. When teachers have their own dashboards on the school website, worksheets and assignments can be posted daily. If a student forgets something or fails to write it down, the assignment is readily available online. Still, training students to keep an assignment notebook, even if on a device, is a critical life skill and a habit that should be developed in middle school.
    Another important habit is to have physical folders for every course - any paper homework that is distributed can then be housed in that folder, and each folder can be opened in the evening to check what work is due.

Middle school can be a roller coaster - physically, emotionally, and academically. Getting control of the academic part of this journey can relieve a lot of the stress and anxiety and good results will build self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

Kerry Creaswood is a successful writer and blogger. Her topics of interest are education and self-improvement. To find more about Kerry - check her Twitter



Internet4classrooms is a collaborative effort by Susan Brooks and Bill Byles.




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