As the school year progresses, getting all of your homework done becomes increasingly a daunting task. Which is a shame, because that is where most of the actual learning takes place. Each student’s struggle with completing his or her assignment on time and with effectiveness is different and deserves individual attention.
But these six steps should be of help to anyone who is ever assigned homework!
1. Connect the completion of the assignment to a specific goal.
It’s always more difficult to motivate ourselves to complete things we HAVE to do than those we WANT to do. So it helps to get very specific about WHY you WANT to finish that homework assignment. If you’ve already set your semester goals for the school year (see one of my other articles for examples), then it’s pretty easy to see how today’s homework fits into the bigger picture. But even if you didn’t, you can easily get focused by tying the completion of that homework to an immediate goal. These goals can range from the painfully obvious ( “I don’t want to get an F”), to the productive (“This topic will be on next week’s test, so it’s wise to learn it now and only review later”), to the strategic (“Getting an A on this assignment keeps my GPA on track for the semester”). In fact, almost ANY reason other than “I have to do my homework because that’s what I was told to do by my teacher/my parents” will make this activity less painful and more valuable.
2. Prioritize – attack more difficult subjects first.
You hate math? Then do your math homework first! We usually hate the subjects that are tough for us. And if they’re tough, they’ll require more ‘brain power’ to get through. Attacking these subjects first ensures that you have enough energy to not only complete that homework successfully, but to also feel like you’re getting better at that subject. And maybe, in a little while, you won’t find math as difficult and Driver’s Ed can take its place as the homework to attack first!
3. Schedule ENOUGH time for each assignment.
Be honest. Be realistic. I can’t tell you how many times in a session I’ve watched one of my students, while doing her weekly planning, allocate 30 minutes to ‘study/review’ for her history test! That’s about the time I start humming Aerosmith’s Dream On. Seriously, though, this habit is the shortest route to subsequently feeling stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. You have to determine the real demands of that particular assignment, honestly assess your ability with that subject, and then give yourself ample time to complete it AND learn something in the process.
4. Create the appropriate environment.
Cell phone. Turn it off and put it in a drawer in the basement. Computer. Open ONLY the apps you absolutely need. And if you really need a browser open for ‘research,’ make sure you keep the tabs relevant to that homework assignment. iTunes/iPod. Well, … that depends. If you’re working on the creative side of an assignment (i.e., brainstorming ideas for an essay) then music might actually spark your creativity. But once your outline is finished and you’re ready to flesh out the ideas, silence is definitely golden. The point. Create for yourself the optimum environment for that type of homework. Some students like, or need, a white noise background. Some grab/ask a sibling to sit there while the student ‘teaches’ them the process of glycolysis. In fact, small study groups are cool and very effective when kept on target. But whatever choices you make in building this appropriate environment, it should NEVER include DISTRACTIONS.
5. Map out/break down the steps you’ll take to complete that assignment.
One of the unspoken deterrents to sitting down to do homework is actually not knowing how to approach the task. I spend considerable time addressing this fear with my students because it often turns out to be the root cause of symptoms like procrastination and perceived ‘disinterest’ in schoolwork. (of course, fatigue from a ridiculously over-scheduled day is another cause). There’s a lot to HOW to study for specific subjects, but here’s a tip that will help you greatly: always start your homework session with a 5-minute planning activity, during which you sketch out the specific steps you’ll take to complete that assignment. For example, if I have a whole history chapter to cover, I may break down the homework session this way:
- prepare and label a separate mind-mapping sheet for each section of the chapter
- for each section, stop and mind-map the content one paragraph/storyline at a time
- review each mind-mapping sheet and draw connections to reinforce the ‘story’ of this chapter
Or, if I’m taking care of a stoichiometry packet for chemistry…:
- review class notes/textbook for concept and examples
- do the 20-problem packet as 4 sets of 5 problems w/ a ‘deep breath’ in between sets
- make up 2-4 problems on my own to make sure I understood the concept
Creating this short ‘to-do’ list will help you move through your homework session much more effectively and with less stress.
6. Take NECESSARY breaks.
Use the power of MOMENTUM to finish your homework! I do not recommend pre-scheduled breaks once you start working on an assignment. More often than not, these well-intentioned pauses become just an excuse to stop doing the homework. And ‘working towards the break’ becomes a distraction from what we’re reading/solving in the moment. There’s only one purpose to homework – to get better at something/to gain more knowledge through ACTIVE learning. That’s why you never get an English assignment that asks you to go home and THINK about reading Moby Dick. Stopping in the middle of writing an essay, for example, simply because you’ve said you’d stop at 7:35pm completely destroys your momentum and makes it more difficult for you to get back to work after your break. So WHEN should you take breaks?! Only when you NEED them, and for only long enough to shake off the tension and clear your mind so you can remain effective. Otherwise, keep moving – no artificially scheduled break feels as good as does finishing your homework!
Good luck, and enjoy your homework time! You might as well, since you’re going to do it anyway, right?