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  • Writer's pictureThe Rivers School

Reframing Homework: Helping Students Become Independent Learners

Tonight, my third grader waged battle with a math practice test. At first, she circled around it, reluctant to engage. When she finally attacked the problems, her mood ranged from triumphant to defeated to determined. There were some tense moments, but she walked away victorious.

Middle school parents often have questions about how to support their children with homework: “What’s my role in all this? When should I step in? Should I step in? What should I do—or, more importantly, what should my child do—if they are confused or frustrated?”

It’s helpful to step back and look at the purpose of homework. As I shared at the recent grade-level dinners, homework can also be framed as independent work: a time for students to practice concepts and skills. As they engage with the work, they develop a sense of what they know, what they are still working on, and where they need more direct assistance.

Our teachers aim for the “zone of proximal development” in homework—that sweet spot that bridges what students can easily do without help and what they do not yet understand. Sometimes students are convinced they understand a concept in class … but then get home and realize their understanding is shakier than they thought.

If, as a parent, you step in and do the homework with them, it disrupts the feedback loop between teacher and student.

So what should students do when they find themselves confused or uncertain about how to proceed? Their first step is to use the strategies at their disposal: looking at Schoology, reviewing their notes, re-reading directions, reaching out to a friend to ask a clarifying question, and giving it an honest try! All of this builds intellectual tenacity.

However, if they are still confused, we encourage them to draft a thoughtful email to the teacher, articulating their questions. Students might not receive a response that same evening—but they will have done just the right thing: alerted their teacher to the fact that they have questions. Students and teachers can then follow up with one another the next day, in the morning or during breaks. This is a great way for students to build relationships with their teachers and develop self-advocacy skills. And please be assured that in this middle school, your child’s questions and outreach will always be met with responsiveness.

So when your child is attacking their work at home, step back and remember that it’s their work—and that how they navigate the inevitable questions and struggles that come with academic work is all part of the learning process.

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