Doing Homework With Friends

So I get all of this, I really do. And to a certain extent it makes me feel better. Parents and teachers have been having these battles since before electric lighting.

But truth be told, my struggles with homework are far less grand. In my house, it’s not homework wars as much as homework squabbles, little questions and doubts that build up and start to nag.

Do my children need dedicated space for their homework, or is it O.K. to do it in the kitchen? What about listening to music, is that smart? Should I correct my children’s errors or let their teachers discover where they need help? Can I do anything to encourage self-reliance?

To find some answers, I turned to a team of homework experts. I asked them each a speed round of questions.

Do children need their own desks, or is the kitchen table acceptable? Eva Pomerantz is a psychology professor at the , Urbana-Champaign and a specialist in parent involvement in children’s learning. She’s also the mother of a 13-year-old daughter who loves homework and an 8-year-old boy who doesn’t. She said that on homework days, both the children and the parents are more stressed. “It can be a real time of connection with your child, or it can be totally dysfunctional,” she said.

Ms. Pomerantz believes in the kitchen table. “I think it depends on your house,” she said. “If you have a crazy, noisy kitchen, that’s probably not the place for your kids to be doing homework unless they have amazing concentration.” But if the kitchen is a place where there’s some activity but it’s generally quiet, it can have advantages.

“The thing about the kitchen,” she said, “is the parent is usually in there doing something, like making dinner, and they’re there if the child needs them, but they’re not sitting next to the child the whole time, which discourages self-reliance.”

Is it O.K. to do homework on your bed? A friend’s son was struggling with grades in high school, and my friend asked his teacher for advice. “Tell him to stop doing homework on his bed,” she said. “All the kids do it these days, and it’s bad.” Is that true?

Erika Patall is an assistant professor of psychology at the , who studies motivation and achievement. She said research shows that children vary significantly in their preferences for doing homework. Some like bright lights, others dim. Some prefer sitting up, others lying down. “It’s not about the kid being on their bed while they do their homework,” she said. “It’s about the extent to which they’re really engaged and attentive to their work.” If the child is falling asleep, staring out the window or cradling a phone, that’s a problem.

“If your child is having trouble staying focused, it’s probably time to have a conversation about switching to a different location,” Ms. Patall said.

Is it acceptable to listen to music or FaceTime with friends while doing homework? Ms. Patall said research is growing that multitasking is a bad idea. “People tend to be very bad multitaskers,” she said, “even people who say, ‘I’m a great multitasker.’ I would say to my child that other kinds of activities, like texting, Internet searches unrelated to homework, and shopping, need to be minimized. One way to phrase it is that the more time they spend doing other things, the longer the homework is taking, which makes them even less happy.”

Should parents review homework or let children make mistakes? Ms. Pomerantz said she always checks over her children’s homework “even though I think that’s probably not the best thing.” She noted that research suggests that reviewing your child’s homework even when they don’t ask helps them do better in school. The problem, she said, is when parents start correcting the homework themselves or worrying that sloppy homework reflects poorly on them.

“The way I try to frame it to myself is that it’s important to help them identify mistakes or maybe realize that they didn’t give it their best so the process is a learning experience,” she said. “If you’re concerned that imperfect homework makes you look bad, that’s problematic.”

Is criticizing your child’s work acceptable, or should you simply offer encouragement? Rose Chavez is a court transcriber in , who with her husband raised five children in their modest three-bedroom home. (The parents actually gave up the master bedroom for the three boys to share.) All five children went to , making Ms. Chavez something of a celebrity in education circles.

She told me that she made homework a priority, emphasizing quiet concentration and no play until schoolwork was done. But she didn’t hesitate to criticize her children. “These days everyone says self-esteem is important and you should tell your kids they’re doing really well,” she said. “I don’t agree. We didn’t give praise where it wasn’t due. We pushed them.”

Ms. Patall concurs. “You don’t always have to be upbeat,” she said. “You don’t want to deliver critical messages that imply things can’t be fixed. So you never want to say things like, ‘You’re stupid.’ But pointing out a situation where they should try harder would certainly be justified.”

Is there anything I can do to make my children more self-motivated? Ms. Pomerantz said the key is to give them as much control over homework as possible, advice she sometimes finds hard to follow. Her instincts, she said, are to read over an assignment, then sit down with her children and make a rigorous plan of attack. “I do that because I’m naturally a controlling person,” she said. “Then I always have to remember that the child is the one who needs to be in the chair doing the strategizing.”

Ms. Chavez’s approach may be characterized as lead by example. “In our situation, our children saw how hard we were working,” she said. “Our philosophy was, ‘We are going to work hard, but we expect you to work hard.’ They knew we couldn’t do more for them than what we were already doing, so the rest was completely up to them. That’s a big motivator. If you give them space to be self-reliant, they usually will take it.”

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Doing Homework with Friends

by Ron Kurtus (revised 18 May 2012)

They often say: "Two heads are better than one." Sometimes that can be true when doing your homework.

In some types of homework, collaborating or working with one or more fellow students can be an effective way to get things done and increase understanding.

Of course, this does not mean that each of you only does a part of the work—like splitting up the solving of math problems. Instead, it is working together to discuss the assignment and perhaps check over each other's work.

However, you should check with your teacher to make sure it is OK. Some teachers may prefer that you to work alone.

The biggest problem with doing homework or projects together is that it is so easy to start talking about other things. Also, some friends are better as friends than as study-mates. Thus, you should have a good plan of action for studying together.

Questions you may have include:

  • Who can effectively use this method?
  • Who is a good person to study with?
  • What sort of plan should we have?

This lesson will answer those questions.



Check your best study method

You need to determine whether your personality and study methods would work well if you studied with another person.

Solitary studying

Some students prefer to concentrate by themselves when they study. They need to focus on their work in order to get it done or to solve a problem. Disruptions from other people can break their train of thought and make it difficult to get back on track.

Social studying

Other students are more social in their thinking and study styles. They like to play ideas off others and discuss things before putting it down on paper. These are the students who will do well in studying with friends or other students.

Of course, there is always the temptation to socialize more than to study. With a little planning you can enjoy the company of your friend and still get the homework assignment completed.

Instant messaging or texting

There is also a compromise to this method, where students will be studying alone but will interface through Instant Messaging, texting email, or the telephone.

Even the student who prefers to study alone may break his or her concentration to contact a friend and ask for some information.

Work and tests

Note that in the modern office workplace, many companies are emphasizing group projects. Those who prefer to work alone on projects often are told to work in a group.

But also note that students who like to work alone probably will do better in test situations that those who like to study in a social environment.

Know your study partner

It may seem obvious that you know with whom you are studying, but quite often you don't realize the other person's goals, abilities and methods until you start working with him or her. Some friends may be fun but may also inhibit your ability to finish your assignment.

Some only goof around

Some people just want to socialize and don't have a goal of really getting anything done. With such a study partner, you might end up not finishing your assignment.

Megan was Emily's best friend, so she when asked Emily to study together for the History exam, Emily jumped to the opportunity.

However, Megan had not kept up-to-date with her reading and kept asking Emily for information about various sections in the book. Emily felt short-changed in their study session.

Others may have nothing to contribute or may want you to do all the work for them. The person may be a friend, but who wants to always be doing someone else's work?

Be selective

Although it is often fun to work on an assignment or project with others, you also must remember that you have a goal of getting the homework done and receiving a good grade on it.

You may need to be selective in finding a study-mate. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is by trial and error.

Plan your activity

When you study alone, you just do it. Perhaps you may set aside a specific time to do your work. However, when you study with friends, you need a definite plan of action concerning a time limit and how much socializing is allowed.

Set a time limit before you start

When you set a time limit on something, you usually will finish it within time. This is true for doing homework, too. Set a time limit to finish the assignment that you and your friend are working on.

For example, you could say, "Let's work together on the History assignment from 8 to 9 PM."

Then you could plan to do other things after the assignment is complete. Amazingly, when you set a time limit on work, you usually can finish it within that time.

Divide projects into parts

A good way of working together is to control the situation by alternating between serious work and conversation.

Divide your project into small parts and set a goal to complete each part, mixing in breaks for enjoyment. Also, setting time limits to complete various parts of your assignment helps to keep the mix of talk and work in the proper perspective.

Wrap it up on time

My feeling is that in any type of activity, when the time is up, you wrap it up. In other words, when you get near the end of a study session, you make quick decisions and finish everything up.

Try to never let loose ends dangle. Finish the job or the part of the task you had planned to finish.

Summary

You can work with friends on assignments to zip through your homework, provided you select good study-mates, you alternate between focused work and breaks and you complete the job in the allotted time.

Studying together is one of several strategies you can use to do well in school. See if it will help you become a top student.


Friends can help each other do well in school


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Homework Helper - Lists of homework webistes for all levels from CollegeScholarships.org

Homeworkhelp.com - Provides some free lessons but also charges for better information

Good Grades Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Study Skills


Questions and comments

If you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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