I’ll start with an admission I’m not that proud of. Ever since my oldest child was in first grade and began receiving real homework, I’ve been attempting to create a regular homework routine at our house. Five years later, I still haven’t pulled it off.
Establishing a homework schedule shouldn’t be difficult! At least that’s how it appeared from the outside, before I had three kids. I figured I’d designate an hour, say from 4 to 5 each afternoon, as homework time.
When I recently analyzed our “much more erratic than this” homework situation, I found four main factors regularly sabotaging it.
- After-school meetings. “Please attend a meeting to plan the 4th grade Medieval Feast!”
- After-school activities or sports which twice weekly keep us away from home during the 4 to 5 o’clock hour.
- Time for free play at the playground on fair-weather days.
- Play dates.
I guess if I’m honest with myself, these four things are higher priorities to me than a regular homework time. (Shhhh! Don’t tell the teachers!)
Thus, homework at my house often has a catch-as-catch-can quality. Again, I don’t feel great about this. I will mention that I keep various homework implements with me when we are out and about: pencils, rulers, math workbooks, spelling word lists, etc. Then when 20 free minutes present themselves, I whip these items out and homework commences.
For those of you who look a bit like me in this respect, I came across an article that may offer some relief, “Forget What You Know about Good Study Habits” (New York Times, September 6, 2010). It describes research which found that studying the same thing in different places actually helps you better retain the information.
So, studying your vocabulary words in the sunny backseat of the minivan one day, then sitting in the carpeted hallway outside of your sister’s gymnastics class the next day, may actually facilitate learning them!
Another research finding “undermined the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to master” a subject. Instead, it’s better to study “distinct, but related skills in one sitting,” such as free reading, writing sentences with spelling words, then studying some Spanish.
The author moves on to discuss advantages of testing students regularly. Being quizzed on a subject after studying it over a period of time, helps to cement the information into one’s memory. Scientists aren’t completely sure how this works, but think the act of retrieving information itself serves to reposition the data to an easier spot for subsequent retrieval.
Additionally, our brains are organized to focus (or obsess) on a question we’ve answered incorrectly on a test. Thus we are also primed to remember the correct answer we later learn. (For those of you who read the N.Y.T. article, this last fact is not in there, but was on my graduate school biological psychology comprehensive exam. Do you think I still remember it because I got it right or wrong?)
“When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it,” Dr. Nate Kornell of Williams College states. Blowing a test may very well be the first step toward truly learning the subject.
If you would remind me to re-read this piece the next time one of my children does just this, I’d be much obliged!
On the pet lizard/pet snake conundrum, I did indeed pitch my alternate idea of a hermit crab to Daniel. I felt I presented a thorough and thoughtfully laid out case, and I was honestly taken aback when Daniel dismissed it out of hand.
When I mentioned this disappointing result to my biologist friend, Kim, she didn’t seem at all surprised by Daniel’s response and commented, “What did you expect, hermit crabs are from a completely different phylum.” (I thought they were all part of the pets-you-don’t-want-to-touch phylum.)
The lizard research begins… Any suggestions on types of lizards that are good as pets?