Helping with Homework: A Parent's Guide to Information
Problem-Solving. ERIC Digest.
by Berkowitz, Robert E.
Parents can play an important role in helping their children succeed
in school, but they need an effective approach in order to do this well.
The approach taken in the book, "Helping with Homework: A Parent's Guide
to Information Problem-Solving," is based on the Big Six Skills problem-solving
approach. The Big Six Skills apply to any problem or activity that requires
a solution or result based on information. An abundance of information
is available from many sources, and the Big Six can help parents effectively
deal with that information to guide their youngsters through school assignments.
THE BIG SIX APPROACH
The Big Six approach has six components: task definition, information
seeking strategies, location and access, use of information, synthesis,
(1) Task Definition: In the task definition stage, students need to
determine what is expected from the assignment.
(2) Information Seeking Strategies: Once students know what's expected
of them, they need to identify the resources they will need to solve the
task as defined. This is information seeking.
(3) Location & Access: Next, the students must find potentially
useful resources. This is location and access--the implementation of the
information seeking strategy.
(4) Use of Information: Use of information requires the students to
engage the information (e.g., read it) and decide how to use it (e.g.,
in text or in a footnote).
(5) Synthesis: Synthesis requires the students to repackage the information
to meet the requirements of the task as defined.
(6) Evaluation: Finally, students need to evaluate their work on two
levels before it is turned in to the teacher. Students need to know if
their work will meet their teacher's expectations for quality and efficiency.
The Big Six steps may be applied in any order, but all steps must be
PARENTS' ROLE AND STUDENTS' ROLE
The Big Six approach requires parents and students to assume different
roles. The parent assumes the role of a "coach" and the child assumes the
role of "thinker and doer." As a coach, the parent can use the Big Six
Skills to guide the student through all the steps it takes to complete
the assignment. Parents can help by first asking their children to explain
assignments in their own words. This is "task definition"--a logical first
step. Parents can also help by discussing possible sources of information.
This is "information seeking strategies." Parents can then help their children
implement information seeking strategies by helping their children find
useful resources. This is the Big Six step called "location and access."
Location and access may have to be repeated during an assignment because
some children may not identify everything they need right at the beginning.
Parents can facilitate by brainstorming with their children alternate places
where information might be available. In the "use of information" stage,
parents can discuss whether the information the child located is relevant
and if so, help the child decide how to use it. In the "synthesis" stage,
parents can ask for a summary of the information in the child's own words,
and ask whether the information meets the requirements identified in the
"task definition" stage. The end of any assignment is the final check--an
evaluation of all the work that has been done. Parents can help their children
with the "evaluation" stage by discussing whether the product answers the
original question, whether it meets the teacher's expectations, and whether
the project could have been done more efficiently.
As children work through each of the Big Six steps, they need to think
about what they need to do, and then they need to find appropriate ways
to do it. This is their role--"thinker and doer." Children should be encouraged
to be as independent as possible, but they will often have difficulty beginning
an assignment because they are confused about what is expected of them.
Whatever the reason is for their inability to get started, students have
the ultimate responsibility for getting their work done. When parents act
as coaches, they can help their children assume this responsibility by
engaging them in conversation about what is expected of them, and then
by guiding them throughout the assignment using the Big Six Skills.
Assignments provide students with an opportunity to review and practice
new material, to correct errors in understanding and production, and to
assess levels of mastery. Every assignment is an information problem that
can be solved using the Big Six. For instance, the goal of many assignments
is to have the students practice a skill taught in class. If a child is
having a problem understanding an assignment, the parent may help by encouraging
the child to explain what it is he or she does not understand. The parent
can use information seeking strategies to help the child identify information
sources by asking questions such as: "Is there another student in your
class, who can help you understand how to do this?" or, "Did the teacher
give any other examples?" The parent can help the child identify information
sources and suggest ways to get them. For instance, the public television
network may have a homework hotline, the public library may have study
guides, or a neighborhood child may be in the same class.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE BIG SIX
The Big Six approach recognizes the benefits of technology in education
because computers are tools that help organize information. Software programs
do a variety of functions such as edit written work, check grammar and
spelling, chart and graph quantities, and construct outlines. Computers
can also help with time management, setting priorities, and evaluating
Using the Internet, students can connect to many non-traditional sources
of information and are not limited to information contained on library
shelves. They can use e-mail to talk directly with specialists and experts
who can add a personal dimension to an assignment.
It is an axiom of American education that parents are partners in their
children's education. Parents have traditionally participated by helping
their children with homework. The Big Six approach can help parents effectively
guide their children through assignments and at the same time help their
children become independent learners and users of information.
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