Now that school is beginning, parents should think about theresearch done at the University of Michigan which showed multitasking actually reduced productivity by 20% to 40%. However, there are things that parents can do to facilitate positive learning when their children are doing homework.
Some things parents have been told to do should continue. A child should have a quiet study spot. Supplies should be available: pencils, pens, notebooks, paper, ruler and dictionaries, as starters. Distractions should be eliminated and this would include not having the television on or using the computer or telephone. A rule of thumb for the amount of time an elementary school student should spend on homework is about ten minutes for each grade they are in the school Therefore, a fourth grader should spend 40 to 50 minutes on homework at the most.
Parents should understand that when children are diligent about doing homework they are developing good habits which should help them when they enter the workforce. Maintaining a positive attitude toward homework is important. A child should do the homework by himself or herself. If a child experiences difficulty with homework, the parents should try to limit help to any specific questions the child has because homework is supposed to be practicing a skill or topic that was already taught. A parent could give a similar example to show the child how to illustrate the concept but it is important for the child to do the homework example. Should the child still not understand the topic or be able to complete the homework in timely fashion, theteacher should be notified.
What complicates developing a good homework environment is the common but inaccurate belief, especially by the younger generation, that they excel at multitasking. Evidence the attractive young woman in the television commercial suggesting a person good at multitasking can become a paralegal. Multitasking is all right when it involves a task that is simple and automatic. One can multitask by chewing gum while you are walking according to an article by Charles J. Abate (Thought and Action, Vol. 24, Fall 2008). But Abate cautions when the type of task is "conceptual learning," multitasking can be "counterproductive: since as the brain switches back and forth, he explains, a lot of time is lost. Further, learning is not processed in the same way. When a person is multitasking, information is stored in a different part of the brain where it may be less useful in the future when applying knowledge. Enough neurophysiological testing has been completed to indicate multitasking is not an acceptable learning mode. It can be surmised from this that when a child is multitasking while doing homework, he or she is not storing the information learned in a way that will be helpful in analyzing new tasks.
Twenty-first century challenges in society need to be addressed by minds that can focus on the best solutions possible. Not only is "a mind a terrible thing to waste," it is also a terrible thing to realize that multitasking may limit the development of analytic thinking skills.
Patricia Godfrey and Peggy Godfrey have many years of teaching experience in public schools. Patricia has been an English as a Second Language and Reading teacher, Peggy has been a Mathematics Supervisor and has taught on the college level.