The last thing most parents of gifted children think their kids will have problems with is homework. After all, gifted children are cognitively advanced and learn quickly. Unfortunately, for some parents, visions of straight-A report cards are replaced by one or more (or even all) of these problems:
- Child does homework, but doesn’t turn it in
- Child says he did it at school, but didn’t
- Child procrastinates
- Child rushes and makes careless errors
It's not unusual for a gifted child to have all of these problems. It is difficult to motivate a child to do homework, particularly if a child is intrinsically motivated. The first step in solving these homework problems is to understand what causes them.
Reasons Behind Homework Problems of Gifted Children
- Learning Disability
A gifted child with dyslexia, an auditory processing problem, or some other learning disability may find it difficult to perform as well as they should in school and on homework. Gifted children are not immune to these disabilities and the effect of such disabilities on their learning is then reflected in their homework, including an avoidance to do it. Gifted children with undiagnosed disabilities may be confused and even embarrassed by problems they have understanding concepts or doing their homework. It is much less psychologically and emotionally threatening to avoid doing the homework than it is to do it and fail at it. If a child doesn’t try, he can easily convince himself that had he done the homework, he would have done it well.
Gifted children who are disorganized – and that is a large number of them – have a hard time doing homework because they have misplaced the assignment, forgot to bring the book or worksheet home or forgot the due date. Daily planners don’t seem to help these children because they tend to lose, misplace, or forget those as well. If they have managed to bring all the necessary materials home on the right day, they can then forget to take it to school or they may take it to school, but be unable to find it in their backpack or stuff it in their desk or locker at school, where it disappears until the end of the semester or school year.
Children who are perfectionists are often reluctant to complete their homework because they don’t feel it is good enough. If it doesn’t meet their standards, which tend to be quite high, they can become frustrated. Over time, they may procrastinate in order avoid that frustration. Perfectionist children may complete their homework, but then neglect to turn it in because they aren’t satisfied with it or don’t feel that it reflects their true ability and don’t want their teacher to see it and evaluate it. Perfectionists may also choose to put little effort into their work since they can then rationalize the lack of perfection on the lack of effort.
- Lack of Challenge
Work that is not challenging or stimulating can be so tedious to complete that gifted children will avoid doing it at all costs. Tasks, for any child, should be optimally challenging. That means that they should not be too easy or too difficult. Tasks that are too difficult can lead to anxiety while tasks that are too easy can lead to boredom. In both cases, children find it difficult to concentrate on the task. They will avoid the tasks in order to avoid the unpleasant feeling — either anxiety or boredom — that comes with it. When children are given tasks that are too difficult, they can get help learning the concepts or completing the task. However, when tasks are too easy, no help is necessary; children are simply expected to complete the tasks, in spite of the fact that boredom makes it just as difficult to concentrate on a task as anxiety does. Sometimes children will manage to complete focus long enough to do the homework, but they will rush through it to get it done and as a result, make numerous careless errors.
How to Solve Homework Problems
- Get Help for Learning Disability
Gifted children with a learning disability may have problems with homework. Like all children with a learning disability, gifted children need to learn how to manage the disability and need specific learning strategies and classroom accommodations in order to work at their level of ability. However, it's important to recognize that gifted children are often misdiagnosed with disorders like ADHD, bipolar, and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder. Some learning disabilities can be found through IQ and achievement subtest scores. This testing, and any screenings for disorders, should be done by a psychologist who has knowledge of and experience working with gifted children. It's also important to understand that problems with homework can have many causes; looking for a disability should not necessarily be the first thing considered.
- Help Children Get Organized
Some children have problems getting with homework because they forget to bring it home, forget the books they need to do it, forget to take it back to school, or forget when it's due. If they do remember all that, they may lose the homework, which may eventually turn up — at the end of the school year, stuffed with countless other papers in the child's desk or locker.
Eileen Bailey, former ADD/ADHD expert, had some excellent suggestions for helping kids get organized. Although most gifted kids don't have ADD/ADHD, some need help keeping their work organized. One suggestion is the Basket of Preparation. Children drop homework and books in a basket when they come home from school, get it from the basket when it's time to do homework, then put it back in the basket when it's done. In the morning everything they need is in one place, ready to take to school.
While you might get your child to do the homework and take it to school, there is no guarantee that your child will turn it in. What can you do to make sure the homework gets turned in? A plastic, expanding folder with separate compartments is a good way to help kids keep track of work that needs to be turned in. Each compartment can be labeled so that a child knows where the homework is for each class. The expanding folder can be used along with the Basket of Preparation. When homework is completed, rather than just placing it in the basket, it can be placed in the appropriate compartment of the expanding folder, which is kept in the basket.
These techniques can work for teens as well as young children, but teens might also find an electronic organizer, such as a palm pilot, useful. Teens love electronic gadgets, so they might be more motivated to keep track of their work electronically. It eliminates assignments written in numerous different places, including little scraps of paper. However, this might not be a good choice for those children who lose more than their homework.
- Set a Daily Time for Doing Homework
Gifted children will often rush through homework that is too easy for them. They are eager to get it done so that they can move on to more interesting and stimulating activities. One solution to this problem is to have a set time every day to complete homework. This time must be used for study whether the child has homework or not. When children have homework, they know they must do it during this time. If the homework takes them only fifteen minutes and their assigned study time is one hour, they must fill in the remaining time with additional study.
The additional study children do can consist of enrichment activities. For example, if a child has an assignment to draw a map of the expansion of the Roman Empire, they might write an essay about the Romans or they might write a short story about an imaginary Roman soldier. Once children know they have to fill the assigned study time, they may be less likely to rush through their homework just to get it done and move on to other activities.
The daily study time should be the same time every day. Parents should discuss the options with their children so that the children can have some control. For example, children might choose to do their homework right after school or they might choose to do it right after dinner. It is important, however, that the time be the same every day. Children cannot choose to do it after school one day and then after dinner another day, depending on their mood.
Although homework time should be the same every day, children who are involved in extracurricular activities may need a more complex schedule. The may need to do homework right after school on Mondays because they have a dance class after dinner but will do homework after dinner on the other days. In other words, the schedule must be consistent and not based on daily moods. Not only will children learn that scheduling time for homework is important, they will also learn necessary time management skills.
- Talk to the Teachers
Ideally, teachers will recognize the need for more challenging homework and will be willing to provide it. However, if a child has had issues getting homework done and turned in for so long that it has become a habit, other strategies may be needed at school, whether the teachers provide more challenging work or not. Some schools have homework hotlines that parents can call to find out about homework assignments. In addition, some teachers have Web sites, where they post assignments. Parents can check with their child's teachers to see if such a hotline exists and if so, what the teachers' extension numbers are for that hotline. Parents can also check on Web sites and get the Web address.
Parents can also arrange with a teacher to sign daily papers about homework. Every day a child writes down homework and has the teacher sign a paper, even when there is no homework. Children cannot say they have no homework when they do. On those days children have no homework, they should still spend their designated homework time studying. However, for this system to work, children and parents must agree on a consequence for failing to bring home a signed homework sheet.
Good study habits are important for success in school and these strategies can help develop those habits.
The first clue Bonnie Beavers had of her daughter’s learning disability came in the second grade. The girl scored at the 99th percentile in math on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, but when her teacher divided the class into groups for math, she was not in the highest one.
Beavers showed the child’s test results to the teacher, who was unmoved. “I caught her counting on her fingers,” she said. Then she went completely over the top by insisting none of her students knew the groups were ranked by perceived ability.
“My daughter never again liked math or thought she was a good math student,” Beavers said.
The girl was later diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and executive function disorder (an inability to self-organize), as was her older brother. Like many bright children with such disabilities, they had to endure teachers suggesting they were lazy because they could not complete repetitive assignments in reasonable time.
Such children experience frustration, even in this region of great teachers and well-run schools. Too many educators here, according to numerous parent witnesses, share a stubborn blind spot about disabilities that can be mistaken for sloth or carelessness.
Beavers’s children attended the Montgomery County schools, which appear no worse by this measure than other local districts. A Montgomery schools spokesman said specialists are training teachers on the need for accommodations. Beavers briefly enrolled her daughter in a well-regarded private school to see if that would make a difference. She was again disappointed.
A startling part of Beavers’s story is that despite her children’s inability to memorize multiplication tables in the third grade, both were admitted to the Center for the Highly Gifted at Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School in the fourth grade. “The screening is mostly concept-based,” Beavers said. “They loved being challenged, and it was the only time they felt socially comfortable at school.”
Still, some of the teachers didn’t understand that intelligence is not measured by how much homework you can do. “One night’s assignment for just one subject was to create dialogue for a Shakespeare character, soak stationery in tea and crumple it to look like parchment, and write the dialogue in ink — in calligraphy,” Beavers said. “Sheer torture for a learning-disabled student who works slowly and can barely print legibly with a pencil.”
After two years at Barnsley, her son wanted to go to a math-science magnet school, but failed to qualify. He finished only half the math questions in the allotted time, though all were correct.
He enrolled at Westland Middle School, where Beavers asked for a 504 Plan, part of a federal law that requires schools to give children with disabilities a boost. She presented his high test scores and the contrasting Bs and Cs he was getting because of late or missing work. She asked for extra time on tests and other accommodations. The head of the school’s education management team said, “I feel sorry for your son. You are clearly pressuring him to make As,” then walked out. A spokesman for the county schools would not comment on the situation citing privacy issues.
Beavers thought her daughter would do better at Holton-Arms, a private school for girls in Bethesda. Based on her test scores she was placed in the highest math group and given extra time on tests. But when Beavers asked the school to cut back on repetitive homework as long as each concept was covered, the response was: “We don’t offer that accommodation.” When I contacted the school, a spokesperson confirmed that the school does not have that accommodation.
If you wish to believe Beavers was gaming the system for her lazy kids, that’s your right. I have studied too many of these cases to accept that explanation. Why not make more of an effort to persuade teachers with personal views on this to try accommodation anyway, and see what happens?