November 27, 2011

Thoughts from helping with homework

November 27, 2011 - Categories: family, life

J-’s schedule is pretty packed these days: homework, high school applications, and the occasional extracurricular (karate or yearbook). We compensate by making time to help out. She learns a lot more with guidance than by floundering on her own, and she works more independently as she gains confidence and skill.

Right now, she’s working on her Media Studies homework. Their task is to analyze a commercial and create a multimedia response to it, identifying the marketing strategies that food companies use. The multimedia commenting tool was a little frustrating in the beginning, but she’s starting to get the hang of it. We helped her figure out some of the intricacies of the tool, and we helped her refocus when she was getting distracted. Now she’s planning her comments so that she can record things smoothly.

I’m getting better at helping without getting impatient. Sometimes it’s difficult. I bite back suggestions. I remind myself that the purpose of the exercise isn’t to come up with the best results, or to learn a lot about behavioural psychology and marketing. The exercise is so that she can become a little more aware of the marketing strategies that try to convince us to buy things, and so that she can learn how to learn about a new tool.

We provide a little scaffolding. We walk through the tutorials with her. We give her some suggestions on how to edit and trim her drafts. We help her get over the technological humps. The end product must be completely hers, though, because it’s much better to have an average result that she feels she truly owns than an excellent result that she feels confused by.

We’re also trying to help her learn how to manage her time and energy. Like many people, she shows frustration and elation clearly in her face and in her posture: slumping when she runs into problems, brightening up when she solves them. The odd thing is that both are self-reinforcing states. It’s hard to solve problems when you’re tired and unhappy; it’s easy to deal with life when you’re happy and energetic.

A very useful trick is that of knuckling down and doing something even when you’re feeling blah about it. If not that, then redirect your energy into something that will help you keep moving forward. You can lose a lot of energy to the friction of frustration, or you can use that energy to take the next step.

J-’s slowly learning the value of choosing her response to work, I think, and that’s a tremendously useful lesson. So we help, but not so much that the path is smooth. A little striving is good for learning.