Challenging Homework: A Recipe for Academic Growth
Many parents report feeling frustrated when their child says: "I don't 'get' my homework - we didn't do this kind of question in class." That frustration, however, can be curbed with the following insight: students are actually best served when they are both encouraged and challenged - yes, to the point of not 'getting' their homework (at first!) and facing feelings of being 'stuck.' Indeed, research shows that these kinds of "I don't 'get' this" moments are actually the key ingredient in the recipe for students' academic success.
What does this all mean?
Progressive teachers who are up to speed on both cutting-edge pedagogical research and the science of learning and success know that homework assignments should be split between questions that: A) Give students an opportunity to reiterate and reinforce skills and techniques that they have learned in the classroom (to this point), demonstrating that they have understood the materials and bolstering their confidence in their developing mastery of the subject; B) Challenge students to tackle problems that go a beyond what they have learned (or seen demonstrated) in the classroom (to that point), requiring that they make creative use of the skills and techniques they have learned in order to see and solve problems from a new perspective.
As a result of this two-pronged approach, students are NOT expected to get every question correct on their first attempt(s). It is important that students, especially gifted students, are challenged, and that means getting stuck on certain questions, getting certain questions incorrect, and returning to rethink certain questions more than once. As recent studies have shown (see below), the experience of taking several attempts to master a new skill/solve a new problem not only encourages children’s academic growth, but also bolsters their self-reliance, resilience, creativity, and flexibility in the face of intellectual challenges. Children with such a “growth mindset” view challenges as “energizing rather than intimidating” because “they offer opportunities to learn” (Dweck 2015). These "growth mindset" students go on to be more successful at any academic endeavours in comparison with their peers.
At Brain Power (the SRC's unique after-school enrichment learning centre - check out: www.brainpower.ca), for example, when students receive weekly homework feedback from their professor (before their next class!), they are expected to make another attempt at solving the questions they got incorrect and actually revel in the challenge (and parents should not feel obliged to “step in” and explain the question to their children). At the beginning of each class, once the students have had the opportunity to work through difficulties on their own, the instructor reviews all of the homework questions, taking extra time to explain those that students found particularly challenging. Students are encouraged to ask questions, so that they will leave the classroom feeling that they have a grasp on the question and the skills/techniques necessary to solve it. In this way, students get the benefits of both A) struggling to solve the problem on their own, and B) having it explained by a professional instructor. Voila! A growth-mindset is nurtured in this way.
So if a child 'gets' all of his/her homework with ease - maybe it's not so wonderful after all. In such cases, I encourage parents to ask their child's teacher for more challenging homework to balance out the relatively easy work received.
For more information on developing a “growth mindset” in gifted children, see:
Dweck, Carol S. “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids.” Scientific American. (Jan. 1, 2015). https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids1/
Post, Gail. “A life lesson for gifted children: failure.” Gifted Challenges. (Aug. 9, 2013) https://giftedchallenges.blogspot.ca/2013/08/a-life-lesson-for-gifted-children.html
Written by the SRC's Education Expert:
Dr. Karine Rashkovsky-Tomas (B.Sc., B.Ed., M.Ed., Ph.D.)
Founder & Director
Brain Power Enrichment Programs Ltd.