Where to find the right content to help with homework

Wading through titles at your local bookstore or filtering out the online rubbish can still leave you with information overload. So how do you know what will help and what will hinder?

Learning materials for helping-with-homework
Cluey Learning Monday, 24 June 2019

The days of visiting your local library or bookstore to find interesting and valuable material to help with schoolwork is nearing its end. Shelves are often packed with obscure or outdated titles ranging from mastering NAPLAN to Reading Eggspress (and yes, that spelling is intentional).

Alternatively, parents can look online for homework support, only to discover millions of hits for literally any search term.

The issue isn’t access to content — it’s figuring out what’s relevant or even appropriate for your child’s level of learning.

In fact, teaching ourselves, as well as our children, how to navigate all of the information out there is an important skill. Here are some key guidelines for finding the best content to help your child, and teaching them some valuable study skills in the process.

1. Start with the content your child has been given at school

The first port of call is the reading lists or references provided by your child’s teacher. This may take the form of a printed information sheet that has become a crumpled mass at the bottom of their school bag, likely maturing down there with some squashed banana. Schools are increasingly publishing this information via their learning management system (LMS).

Chances are you’ll hear the following classic excuse from your child: “My teacher gave us nothing, that’s why I haven’t done it.” Is this declaration true? Probably not. But you can gain a real insight if you ask to see exactly what’s on the LMS. Perhaps you could take a look at the homework and support materials together with your child to build the habit.

2. Encourage your child to ask their teacher

If you’re still none the wiser when it comes to the requirements of a homework assignment, encourage your child to ask their teacher. There’s enormous value in teaching children how to navigate these conversations. Remember, most teachers are happy to field questions from their students. They want to learn what they’ve explained well, and what they could make clearer.

3. Take into account the current syllabus

If you’re taking research into your own hands (Go Team Learning! Go!) please assume a careful approach before throwing yourself at the mercy of your nearest bookshelf or search box. If you’re helping your child with standardised tests and courses, make sure whichever content you use is directly relevant. For example, use materials specifically (and recently) developed for NAPLAN when preparing for these tests. If the Australian Curriculum is your guide, be sure to take into account state-by-state variations.

If your little treasure is sitting final exams for an ATAR, state differences can be substantial. What’s more, syllabi are updated from time-to-time. For example, substantial changes have been introduced to the NSW syllabus for this year’s HSC. This means that if you’re relying on your best friend’s son, who scored 99.5 in their ATAR last year and gave you all of their study materials, you may in fact be headed down the wrong path.

4. Create a learning program

If you’re still struggling to help with more fundamental skills, your child may need out-of-school support. There are a lot of options when it comes to this. Rather than just throwing your child in the deep end by providing the resources and telling them to simply get on with it, it might be useful to create a structured learning program that explains which sections to tackle, when to begin, and how long each activity should take.

It’s important to take a look at what’s been done and provide feedback. While online programs and games may be tempting, these methods usually provide a ‘score’, assessing understanding on a binary scale. This is not the ideal way to learn – children need to get to know themselves as learners, and take responsibility for their own learning. It’s this component of the learning process that all teachers – professionally qualified or parent qualified, whether they are in the classroom, online or at home – must take very seriously.

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