Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ADHD, Common Advice, and the Homework Omission

Here is an article in Psychology Today that offers good, common advice on ADHD (5 Strategies to Help Your Child Combat ADHD). As with so many articles on ADHD, it skirts the all-important, and often devastating problem of unrelenting homework pressure. Dr. Turner does a good job reviewing what is commonly known and making it available for the general public, but let's take a deeper look at the homework dilemma.

Set clear behavioral expectations: One of the most important, and likely to succeed, behavioral expectations is "work on your homework for one half hour, but only one half hour." 

Write things down: Absolutely. But when does the to-do list get put away for the day?

Provide frequent positive attention: Without doubt. One of the problems for homework-trapped children is that no matter how positive you are, you're in a bind if 50% of the work is done, failure is around the corner, and it is really time to call it quits.

Talk with your child's teacher: Yes, but from what perspective? The comments in this article talk about what happens in the classroom. Absolutely talk with the teacher about in-class accommodations and defer to that teacher's decisions and judgment about what can be done. But what about talking to the teacher about what happens in your home, your child's need for you to be in charge of your home, and to make the final decision about the homework to be done?

Appropriately manage medication: Yes, talk with your child's doctor. Consider the need for medication during the school day. But, also, be careful about the pressure to medicate your child through the afternoon and evening, interrupting appetite and sleep, because decisions are being made, in your home, about what your child must do when he gets home.

We need to add some uncommon ideas about homework to the more well-known ideas about helping a child who has ADHD.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Monday, October 29, 2012

ADHD and Homework

In this article, How to Handle Hyperactivity in Kids with ADHD, the author quite accurately notes that children with ADHD are in a bind at school in that they are forced to sit still yet sitting still deprives them of the stimulation they need for them to listen and learn.  The following words are taken directly from the article:

“[They] can miss much of what is taught simply because their brains are not as stimulated when they are still,” Olivardia said. (However, as he said, “Perhaps the current setup of school, sitting still for 6 hours a day 5 days a week, is the real problem.”)

The article goes on to discuss what a parent should do in the home with the ADHD child, and, for the most part, it suggests that the child be given room to fidget and to move around. It also notes that detrimental effects on the child's ego to be constantly told that he or she must sit still. 

I like this article. I recommend reading it. I will note that the article does not make direct reference to homework, but the parallels to what I've often said about the homework trap are quite obvious. We place demands on the child to sit still and do the work. The demands go on for long periods of time since the work does not get done so the expectation never ends. Constantly tell the child to "do your homework" is the same as constantly saying "sit still," to the child who can't sit still. It has negative implications for the child's self-esteem, and possible long-term negative consequences for the child's future. And just as making the child sit still does not improve his capacity to learn, making the child do homework does not contribute in any way to his educational needs. Even if research supported homework for the average child (which it generally does not), it is still detrimental for the child with ADHD and, for that matter, for any child who is homework trapped, regardless of the cause (ADHD, auditory processing problems, grapho-motor problems, slow reading, etc.).


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

504 Plan Workshop

On November 8, I will be presenting a workshop on constructing 504 plans using the concepts of The Homework Trap. I have narrated the power point presentation and posted it on my website for anyone who is interested in seeing it (and who does not live near Mt. Laurel New Jersey).

Click here for workshop.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Student forum on drug abuse

Here's an article on the problem of drugs in school that I consider interesting even though it is not directly related to homework (Carlsbad Teens Speak About Drugs). It is good that the mayor formed a panel of young people to help address this problem. The young people were all designated as leaders by the principals of their schools and represent one part of the student population. Two comments caught my attention. First, one student refers to another who continued to use drugs despite three suspensions. My take on that, which is similar to what I say in my book, is that the sign of a good penalty is that it does not have to be used again (because it worked). If a penalty is administered several times with no result, it's not solving the problem. In fact, it reinforces the undesired behavior.

It's also interesting that at one point in the article, it is mentioned that the lack of morality of the parents is a source of the problem. In both of these examples, there is an underlying we vs. they attitude and one that assigns blame and sees people as flawed rather than systems as flawed. That is true for the drug problem (our war on drugs has been a disaster) and it is true for homework noncompliance. In both cases, ostracizing and separating kids from their mainstream peers is a formula for disaster, at least for those kids.

Now I understand there is a need to protect kids from negative behavior and to protect students from risks that other students pose. Yet, if we look at situations where children are at high risk (e.g. some of our inner city schools), law enforcement fails to stem the tide. Engagement by teachers, typically in schools with visionary principals and limited homework requirements, appears at the core of the success stories I've read.

I wonder what the mayor would have learned if he or she had convened a group of kids who were dappling in drugs to discuss the problem. Perhaps, they would have ideas that could have truly helped.

Anyway, this may be a tangent from my typical blog post, however, it has caught my attention from my work with adults who have endured severe consequences for drug using behavior that, in general, they felt (and were for the most part) separated and ostracized at a young age from the mainstream of school social and academic life.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Effective Principals

The Huffington Post has an article, Highly Effective Principals Raise Student Achievement: Study.

This is not a surprising result. But it goes beyond teachers and principals and into a basic understanding of hierarchical relationships. Corporations function well when they have good leaders working in rational systems with clear organizational charts, which define relationships and lines of authority. The implications, however, go beyond a simple question of how do we get great principals to also what are the structures we need to bring out the best in the principals we have. For that, we have to keep decision-making in those rational lines of authority and make sure we do not micromanage our principals and other staff. We also need to extend the concept of hierarchy to the home, with a clear understanding that homework is an activity that traverses the lines of authority between home and school. It is a requirement that comes from the school to be done in the home. It puts parents in positions of responsibility without authority and, as a result, insures negative outcomes when homework problems arise. This does not mean we need to dismantle the homework system, but it does mean we need to revisit questions of consequences and decision-making for children who have trouble getting their work done.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On parental authority

“I hit a parental dip this week during a particularly trying homework session.

“After an hour of gently bickering with my ten-year-old, the bizarre conclusion seemed to be that I was to blame for inconsistencies in Victorian modes of transport. “

So here’s my “rule book” response to this reader.

First, ask yourself how you made the decision to spend an hour bickering with your child over homework?  What made you think that getting this assignment done was worth the battle? What made you decide to draw the line with your child over this issue? Certainly, parents need to draw lines with their children at different times. But wise parents also know when to back off and let a requirement go. It’s like that country and western song, “you’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.” Did it ever occur to you that it was your choice whether or not to enforce homework that night, and did it ever occur to you that you, as an adult, have the right to determine how an hour in your home will be spent?

Most likely, you will get through this experience with you and your child relatively unharmed. But, you might not. In my practice as a psychologist (in fact, this week alone I have met three such people), I see adults whose lives have been negatively influenced by homework policies that have taught them to dislike school, and have served to separate them from healthy peers in their high school years.

The fundamental question we should be asking is not just whether there should be homework, or what kind of homework there should be, or even how much homework a child should have, but, why are we giving people (at least 30 in the course of a child’s education) outside the home so much authority to dictate behaviors in your home.

Most parents support the schools and seek compliance with teachers’ expectations. But there is something  wrong when a parent lacks authority for decision-making in the home. So the first lesson in my "definitive parenting rule book," is to always know that you, as the parent, are the one who is in charge.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Blame Game

Here's an interesting article from The Washington Post, The Changing Blame Game in US Education.

I wrote the following comment:

Good article. I think that it is important that we not blame teachers. I also think it is important to not blame students or parents. I found particularly interesting your comments about the examples of successful schools that went against the grain and became the basis for saying it can be done, and mandating change as public policy. Undoubtedly, those good schools developed not because others made the schools be that way, but because there were visionary teachers and principals who made things happen in those schools. What I find strikingly absent from any discussion of high performing schools in at risk districts is the mention of homework. I think the principles that mandate against blaming teachers and trying to micromanage success apply to the home as well.  Teachers who do very well with high risk students accept what they cannot control, life outside the school, and make the school a vibrant, educational experience. This concept happens to be true for high performing schools as well. Those schools will invariably have some low performing students, students who do not seem to meet their potential, and in most cases, this is due to an over-valuing of homework, and an excessive desire to control what happens in the home.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Research on Homework

A follower of my blog sent me a link to this 2003 article, How School Troubles Come Home: The Impactof Homework on Families of Struggling Learners. I haven’t seen this article before and don’t recall seeing this author referenced in books I’ve read on homework, but I think Professor Dudley-Marling is making some important contributions to the field of homework research. Professor Dudley-Marling is an academic and the article will not seem like light reading, but I want to emphasize what I find most important about the article.

We know that the research on homework gives it light to no support as an educational tool, but Professor Dudley-Marling highlights that the research tends to evaluate whether it has positive effects, not to analyze its benefits to costs. This reminds me of recent research on PSA testing where urologists have and continue to advocate routine testing because they can point to studies showing that this practice reduces the rates of prostate cancer. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. Yet, a health care panel has recently recommended against this routine testing, not because it does not keep some people from dying from cancer, but because an overall analysis shows there is significant harm caused by this practice.

I have friends in the prostate cancer age group who have had the tests and have been treated for cancer, and I have heard some horror stories about the treatment from people I know. I’ve heard of some good results as well. But, those negatives have been so severe that it makes sense to me that the eradication of all slow growing cancers that might not kill a person really have to be looked at side by side with the positive reasons for PSA testing.

Similarly, as a psychologist and a parent, I know of countless situations, horror stories, of homework damaging children and harming families. Yet, this cost-benefit aspect is often left out of the research.

Many of us who discuss the negatives of homework do so from our impressions and experience. I think, as Professor Dudley-Marling says, homework’s harmful effects should be incorporated in any serious, research-based look at the policies we employ.

I would like to see others on the faculties of schools of education take Professor Dudley-Marling’s approach, so that when teachers are trained in their craft, they get a balanced view of a policy that is so widely used, yet so rarely studied and taught.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Power of Hugs

Nicholas Kristof writes Cuddle Your Kid in The New York Times today. He highlights the "power of hugs." I agree with his basic premise and consider it vitally important that we give kids the love and support they need. This includes respite and relief after a hard day at school. For some families, homework becomes a source of positive interaction. For others, it interferes greatly with this important parental function. It's interesting that in Kristof's article, he talks about hugging children, not just because it is generally helpful but specifically because they end up doing better at school.

I wrote a comment on Kristof's blog. The comment is as follows:

I agree about “the power of hugs.” Let’s talk about having time for hugs. In today’s society, we often get in the way of the hugs kids need by giving teachers too much power in the home. They assign and grade homework, which is not always bad, but can be devastating to families when that power overrides the parent’s authority to decide when the child needs a hug and some rest, not more work to do. We afford adults choice (at least those without kids) about what they can do at home after work. Children have less choice and need guidance from the adults in their lives. But when that guidance comes from the school, not the parent, the power to make judgments is taken out of the parent’s hand.

For sure, there are many parents for whom homework rituals are consistent with the norms they have in their homes, and their children do well to the point that homework assignments do not impede family life. But for others, that’s not the case. Some are poor and life is stressful and, as French President Francois Hollande notes, homework can exaggerate the privileges some people have.

But there are other reasons why homework can be stressful. Children are not the same. They have different strengths and different learning styles. They don’t all work at the same pace. They have different needs after a hard day of school. When a parent is trapped by unending demands about what must get done in the home at night, the parent may lack energy for that much needed hug.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Long Term Consequences

Yesterday, I wrote about homework relief as the anti-drug for homework trapped children. Today, I'm providing a video  covering the issue of the long term consequences of unrelenting pressure on the homework trapped child. The message is essentially the same, just delivered in a different form.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Homework Relief: The Anti-Drug

A child who is homework-trapped may be at greater risk of drug problems than one who is not. Here’s why.

In my mind, relationships are the most important “anti-drug.” Children thrive through the relationships they have: with their parents, with their teachers, and with their friends. It would be na├»ve to assume that teens will totally refrain from alcohol and drugs. But, for most, there is a line that most will not cross.

Children who are homework trapped have problems with their assignments at an early age. They are misperceived as unwilling and unmotivated when, in fact, they cannot do the work. They can do the work in school and they can do some of the work at home. But they cannot do it all in a reasonable amount of time.

Typically, their parents and their teachers meet to get them on track. These efforts don’t work because they don’t take into account the underlying, under-the-radar learning problems. The parent is thrown off center trying to make the child do what that child cannot do. Home life suffers and the child is misperceived as having behavioral problems. Before long, he learns to hate school and starts to act out.

By middle school, the child is overwhelmed having to manage assignments from four or five teachers. The school responds with detentions and suspensions through its disciplinary policy.

By high school, the student may get moved to an alternative class or school, where magically and paradoxically, he finally gets homework relief. Even if the student stays in the regular classes, his grades will go down and he may get excluded from school activities and social life.

So what does the child do? He looks for friends, and the ones he finds are typically those who are in the same boat. This is when your child starts to cross that imaginary line.

Your child will mature and, by his early or mid-20s, he really wants to make something of his life. But his education has suffered. He is ill-prepared for college level work. He’s been separated from his friends. And he may be hooked on drugs.

Think about it. Under the banner of homework compliance, the child has lost major sources of support. His parents have become agents of the school, pressuring him nightly rather than giving him the respite he needs when he comes home. His teachers have withdrawn their faith and support thinking, “He could have done so well, if he had only tried.” The peers he had when he was growing up are moving on and away from him. All sources of support that young people  need to manage the emotions that adolescence brings have been withdrawn for no good reason at all.

These kids would succeed if their school work was restricted to school hours alone. They would succeed if they had time limits on the work they did at home. They would succeed if their parents were in charge and could use their judgment in deciding what to do. And they would learn. They would appreciate their teachers. They would value school. And they would grow up with the knowledge and the skills that they need. And they might not have gotten themselves involved with drugs.

I’ve often said that homework pressures for homework trapped children do more harm than good. I hope you understand how serious this can be.

If your child is still in elementary or middle school, and homework conflicts are dominating your home, I advise you strongly to take action and help your child (and yourself) out of the homework trap.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.