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Conquer homework: area teachers offer tips for parents, students

August 1, 2016
By Mary Haley - Mirror Moms , Mirror Moms

Robert Valeria, a math teacher at Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School, remembers when he was first teaching and a parent said her son was struggling in math.

They'd looked all over the Internet for help without success.

"I told them I wish they'd come to me first because I could have helped,'' he said.

That's just one of the tips he has for parents and students when it comes to tackling homework.

Teachers should be the first resource, not the last, he said.

"So many students try to find other ways when in reality teachers should be the ones to give assistance,'' he said.

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Where to find help

Many school districts in Blair County don't offer online homework help for students or parents, but teachers said there are several places on the Internet where they can find assistance.

Tabitha Quinn, who teaches at Altoona Area High School, said in addition to computers and iPads students may already have at home, many Altoona high school students use school-issued iPads and laptops to access Google Classroom.

The website allows students to review study guides, check on assignments and see notes that teachers have posted. Several students said they like the website, said Quinn, who teaches Academic English 11 C.L.I.P., which is Community Learning Interdisciplinary Program, in which the students are scheduled together for four core courses - trigonometry, world history, physics and English.

"Technology has been an integral part of the teachers' instructions and student learning,'' she said. "The students have been assigned for class and to take home iPads for the past two years, and used laptop computers, that included (a) Wi-Fi card, for the previous two years.''

Quinn, who also teaches Academic English 12 and summer school Basic English, said students also liked Google Classroom because they could ask their teachers questions online and get comments back from the teachers as they worked on the assignments. Students liked that they could get assignments online if they missed school and could work in groups online without leaving home, Quinn said.

She said students use Google Docs to submit essays, slideshows, video projects and other documents. Everything is automatically backed up and can be shared with other students, Quinn said.

The only downside to Google Classroom is that parents can't sign on and see assignments, she said.

She suggested that Altoona students use the Altoona Area School District library sites, which have portals to the PA Power Library with databases, newspapers, online books and other e-resources.

Their links are: http://www.aasdcat .com/aasd/library/aahs.html and http://www.aasdcat.com/aasd/library/ jhsdatabaselinks.html.

Some examples of websites that Quinn and other teachers recommended that are helpful for students to go to for homework help are Khan Academy, the Princeton Review and Ted Talks. These sites provide tutorials, practice tests, worksheets, videos and other ways for students to learn after hours, she said.

- Mary Haley

Other advice Valeria offered includes getting organized, such as getting a planner or an assignment calendar that helps to focus on long-term assignments.

"Make sure you start on those right away and stay up-to-date on your assignments,'' he said.

Another tip is for students to make sure they understand what they learn every day.

"It seems so simple, but every day, they're bombarded by so much that it's easy to lose what they've learned,'' he said.

Valeria suggested that students review what they did in their classes at the end of each day and make sure they've absorbed it, even if they didn't get a homework assignment in that class. And, along with realizing that they should seek teachers first for help, he said it's important they understand that overall, that it's important to seek help instead of being frustrated and remaining silent about it.

"If they are struggling, they should definitely turn to someone for help,'' he said.

That's where parents can play a key role, but a lot depends on how old the child is and it also depends on the individual student, Valeria said. When students are older, such as when they're in middle school, they're usually more independent and doing most of their homework by themselves, he said.

But Valeria urged parents to be proactive in all school situations from the outset, by going to Meet the Teachers events, showing an interest in their children's education and monitoring their children's grades.

"I am a big proponent of parent and teacher cooperation,'' he said.

Other teachers agreed with Valeria about the importance of parental involvement in their children's education.

Joe Logan, who teaches at Central High School in the Spring Cove School District, suggested parents familiarize themselves with their children's subjects in school. They should also check on their children's homework assignments so that parents know what their children are doing in school.

Logan teaches juniors and seniors in psychology and sociology, seniors in POD/economics and sophomores in U.S. history.

"Involvement of the parent with the child, teacher and class they are taking is one of the biggest missing pieces there is right now,'' Logan said. "It involves the parents even more and forms a connection in their child's education and forms a connection with that class.''

Another Spring Cove teacher, Louise Wilson, advised students to use the tools that they're given, such as textbooks, notebooks and especially their brains when they do their homework. As a Spanish and French teacher at the high school, Wilson said students should refrain from using online translators because not only is that cheating but "they'll end up with work that is not their own in sentences that don't make sense.

"Worst of all, it is super easy for the teacher to know that this kind of cheating has happened,'' said Wilson, who also teaches English as a Second Language (ESL). "It would be better for the students to make mistakes with the tools at their disposal than to cheat, to learn nothing and to know nothing for future reference, (such as) when the quiz or test takes place or when they travel abroad and need to use that knowledge.''

One teacher who has seen the homework issue from both side is Linda Jodon, who teaches fifth grade at Foot of Ten Elementary School in the Hollidaysburg Area School District. Jodon has lots of ideas about how to be a successful student that she shares not only with her students but also with her three daughters, she said. She has some thoughts for parents, too, because she is a mom who wants her daughters and other students to succeed in school.

They include the tips that the other teachers have mentioned like get organized, keep a planner or write down assignments and stay on top of long-term assignments. But she adds a few more to the list, such as find a certain place at home for children to do their homework but make sure it's not the child's bedroom or the family room.

"There are too many distractions in these places,'' she said. "Try the dining room.''

Make it the place the child will consistently go every day to do homework.

She also suggested students should look at their schedule after school in relation to their homework and make doing school assignments a priority.

"It's your 'job' now,'' Jodon said. "If you know you have a busy night, complete some work at school if you are able. Then determine when you can get the rest done. Teachers do not accept the excuse 'I was busy.' You are not playing soccer or at Scouts from after school until your bedtime.''

Students should switch off their electronic devices when they do their homework and tackle their hardest subjects first. They should aim to develop good study habits early in their academic career using simple tools such as putting vocabulary words on index cards. Students can find other good tools on the website Quizlet, Jodon said.

As for how parents can help their children, Jodon suggested one of the first things parents can do is to start with getting their children into the school routine early, starting in late summer. About two weeks before school starts, she advised parents to start waking up their children, or have them use an alarm clock, at the time that they will have to get up for school. At the same time, also start adjusting bedtime appropriately so that they'll be on the right schedule for the school year when it starts.

One of the toughest things for parents is knowing how much they should help with their children's homework, Jodon said. Parents should offer assistance, but they shouldn't provide the answers. A good place to start for parents is to re-read directions or questions with the child, Jodon said.

"Stay involved in your children's homework but don't hover,'' she said. "This is a fine line that can be hard to balance. The younger students will need more assistance from you. As they get older, you should be able to lessen the amount.''

Have a schedule that includes such things as the time your child comes home from school, if there's a snack before homework, the time it usually takes for homework and plans ahead for after-school activities, then dinner and finally bedtime. Also, it helps to plan beforehand by packing lunches the night before, laying out clothes and any supplies such as books that will be needed.

Parents should also keep an eye on whether children complete their homework assignments. Younger children will, of course, need more monitoring than older students. Ask the teachers at the beginning of the school year at the Meet the Teacher nights what are their typical homework requirements, Jodon said.

"Don't assume your fifth or sixth grader tells you all the homework they have to complete,'' she said. "If they go a week without any homework, something may be up. If the child says, 'I did it at school,' require them to bring it home to show you. Have a consequence if they don't.''

Finally, Jodon suggests parents read to or with their child for as long as the children will let them.

"There is nothing better than curling up in a chair or in bed with your child and listening to them read a few pages or chapters,'' she said. "This can help you monitor how well they read and you can check their comprehension along the way.''

 
 
 

 

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