Jan 12

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 1/12/2016

Question: My student stopped doing his homework completely. He waits for me to do it together. I need some ideas how to encourage him. Other than that he is very capable.

There are several different reasons why students might not want to complete homework independently. The most common reason is because they perceive the homework as too difficult or challenging. Similarly, the homework may be too advanced for their academic abilities.

The mentality of some students is that when the homework is too difficult, they do not trust themselves to get the correct answer. In order to avoid failing, they prefer to not do any of the homework at all rather than trying and making mistakes. It sounds like your student may be dependent on you because he knows he will get the answers correct when you’re around. To get him out of this dependent mindset, it is important for you to communicate your expectations and be conscious of the way you interact with him.

To communicate your expectations, let him know that it’s important for him to do his homework on a daily basis. Ask him why he is not completing his homework. Remind him that homework is an opportunity for him to practice the skills he learned at school, and that if he doesn’t practice them he will be more likely to forget what he learned. I always tell my students to compare homework to weight training. If the weights aren’t difficult, the athlete will never gain any muscle. Similarly, if your student keeps doing easy homework, his knowledge will stay the same.

Sometimes students may not trust their own judgment to get an answer right. If your student says the homework is too difficult, encourage him to solve the first problem in each assignment independently before you help him. If he says it’s too difficult, ask him what about the problem is difficult. Encourage him to be specific rather than relying on a general statement such as “It’s too hard.”

Even if the problem is truly beyond his grade level, have him work independently before helping him. It is important to promote a mentality where he tries to solve a problem on his own no matter how hard it is, even if he does not succeed. It might be frustrating for the student, but we want him to realize that trying to solve a problem and getting the answer wrong will help him learn more than not trying at all. Learning from mistakes and failures is one of the best ways for people to learn quickly.

After he has solved the problem, give him feedback on how he did. Offer specific praise on things he did well. For example when I see my student complete a math problem and get the answer wrong, I’ll say something like, “I like how you figured out that we need to use addition. That’s a good first step. Let’s see what numbers we need to add together.” This will build his confidence that at least he’s doing something right. I try to avoid offering contradicting praise such as “I like how you figured out we need to use addition, but you added the wrong numbers together.” Contradicting praise will only confuse the student.

When I give my students positive feedback, I avoid generalizations as well. Instead of saying “Great job completing your homework!” you can say “I like how you kept focused on that one problem even though it was challenging.” Or instead of saying “You’re so smart!” you can praise the strategy he used to solve the problem or his effort. Ex: “You found a really good way to solve that problem” or “I can tell that you’ve been working hard.” This way, the student knows what he should do if he wants more praise.

About the Tutor: Natalie Platon possesses seven years of experience working with K-12th grade students in different capacities and is currently finishing her multiple subjects teaching program with CSU Los Angeles. She has a deep passion for working in diverse and underserved communities and has worked in after-school programs, tutoring organizations, shelters, and schools.

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