In the Wicked Local Watertown, it is reported that the school district has a comprehensive policy to help struggling students (“Watertown officials review school policiestowards struggling students”). The article highlights the school district’s efforts at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and for the middle school it notes, “The middle school also offers directed study periods, which are targeted at children who understand the concepts but are having trouble completing homework assignments.” These struggling students are precisely those I refer to as “homework-trapped” and the approach used in Watertown seems to match one of my primary recommendations at the middle and high school levels, a study skills class (The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers).
The study skill class is crucial for the success of the homework-trapped student at the middle school level since that student, who could not manage all the homework from one teacher at the elementary school level cannot now manage all the homework from multiple teachers at the middle school level despite the fact that, as the article notes, the student is capable of understanding the concepts. Not too complicated: The student can learn if only homework did not end up getting in the way.
In my experience, the study skills class (or as Watertown calls it, a directed study period) only works if it is coupled with time limits on the homework, and that necessarily calls for the teacher of the study skills class to have the authority to prioritize and waive assignments as needed for the student. Further, the method requires asserting that the parent is still the final decision-maker should further problems occur. Otherwise, one can have a successful middle school year, the child starts to feel good, and then “wham,” things change the next year with a new set of teachers or perhaps a new school, with the child transitioning from middle to high school. The student, who was learning successfully and filled with hope, feels betrayed, and things start to change. The student and parent often get blamed when the reality is that the system that was working has then been withdrawn.So, I offer my support to Watertown for their concerted efforts at helping struggling students. Just try to understand that for the homework-trapped student, there is a need for continuing accommodations, and an attitude of full respect for the parent as the head of 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.
I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.