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Learning at home: Advice for completing assignments at home

April 28th, 2020

10 Guidelines for parents regarding successful homeschooling

Below you will find scientifically based advice on how to support children and adolescents with homework assignments.

1)     Organize the day so that everyone involved can work on their assignments in peace.

Organization plays a major role when working on school assignments at home. A new study at the IPN shows that a well-organized environment and the provision of a supporting framework has a positive influence on the homework behavior of children (Guill et al, 2020). This includes clear rules for completing assignments, organizing the workplace and avoiding disruptions (Dumont et al., 2014). Several learning units spread over the day are often more effective than long learning periods (d = .65; Hattie, 2020).

2)     Let your children sense that completing assignments is important for learning and for continued success at school.

Parents should show their children that they consider completing homework to be important. The perceived relevance of a task has an effect on children’s learning (d = .46; Hattie, 2020). The level of children's motivation in a particular subject also depends on the extent to which parents communicate the relevance of the subject. A study conducted at the IPN showed that the perceived importance parents attach to English lessons has an influence on the motivation and self-concept of students in the subject English (Köller et al. 2019).

3)     Talk to the whole family about the assignments and how your children completed them.

Parental affection and positive attention are extremely important for children. Children have a strong need for social integration, which in the current situation has to be fulfilled by the family. Researchers at the University of Tubingen were able to show that parental responsiveness has a positive influence on learning behavior (Dumont et al., 2014). Therefore, try to create a positive learning atmosphere in the family by showing appreciation for your child and his achievements.

4)     Remember that the child should do the assignments and not you.

Gently support your child when he or she is stuck on homework. Give hints, but please avoid providing the solution yourself. Excessive structuring can easily turn into control. In this context, control means pressure, intrusiveness and dominance by parents, which can have a negative effect on the child's experience of autonomy and competence. Therefore strongly controlling behavior of parents has negative effects on homework behavior and motivation (Guill et al., 2020; Köller et al., 2019).

5)     Avoid criticism. Mistakes are part of successful learning!

Criticism can have a negative effect on the perception of competence if mistakes cause negative emotions. To reduce such negative emotions, an appreciative approach to mistakes is useful and an important and an integral part of the learning process (Oser et al., 1999). It also has a positive influence on the motivation to learn (Hascher & Hagener, 2010).

6)     Encourage your child to work collaboratively (e.g. through social media) with classmates to solve assignments.

By working on assignments with other classmates the child has more opportunities to socialize and the feeling of social integration increases, which in turn improves motivation to learn. Furthermore, learning with peers can support self-regulated learning: Important components of self-regulation include self-observation of learning activities and the associated correction processes. Children are cognitively and metacognitively active when learning together: they use learning strategies and monitor, evaluate and support each other in this process. These processes lead to better learning outcomes (Spörer et al., 2008; Tsivitanidou et al., 2018).

7)     Ask teachers to give your child individual feedback on the results of their work.

Individual feedback shows substantial effects on the learning outcome (d = .64; Hattie, 2020). According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), feedback should answer three key questions: "What is the learning goal?"; "Where do I stand?", i.e. feedback on the extent to which the learning goals have already been achieved; and "How can I improve?” The answer to the third question should specify as concretely as possible what step the child would need to take next in order to progress towards achieving the learning objectives. Answering all three guiding questions in the individual feedback will lead to the highest learning gain and help the children to assess their own performance more accurately (Wollenschläger et al., 2016).

8)     Make sure that the amount of homework assigned by school is appropriate (not too much and not too little).

An appropriate scope of assignments is particularly important to maintain a motivation to learn. Research shows that both over- and under challenging assignments can trigger boredom (Acee et al., 2010; Lohrmann, 2008). Boredom can have a negative impact on learning motivation, which in turn can have negative effects on learning performance (d=-.47; see Hattie, 2020).

9)     When your time or skill sets are exhausted: Get support (e.g. through online offers of tutoring initiatives).

If parents lack time or if the homework situation is a trigger for frequent disputes between parents and their children (Moroni et al., 2016), these may be reasons to seek support through private tutoring. Even if the current social distancing due to the Corona crisis makes personal support difficult, there are still options. For example, students offer tutoring for all subjects and class levels via video chat on a voluntary basis and free of charge at www.corona-school.de.

10)  When school doesn’t send enough assignments: Use internet services.

The importance of digital learning opportunities is increasing irrespective of the current situation. Digital learning can improve both the motivation to learn and performance. An overview of the effects of different digital learning methods can be found in Stegmann et al (2018). Research shows moderate effect strengths for different types of learning with digital media (d = .33-.51; Hattie, 2020).