The following was received during the webinar entitled “Fonctions exécutives et tâches balisées : favoriser la métacognition de l’élève en difficulté par la structuration des tâches” [Executive functions and tasks with guidelines: fostering metacognition of exceptional students by structuring tasks], presented by Alain Caron. Click here to access the recording of this webinar (only available in French).
For a student who refuses to do written homework, what guidelines should be put in place for completing assignments at home?
The first step in a situation such as this is to properly identify why the student refuses to do their written homework. In fact, the guidelines that we propose to them will be effective only if they support the core of the problem. Guidelines are intended to help chart the way forward. Therefore, the information that they provide should be relevant and useful for helping students to find their way again. If we do not know how the student became “lost” in trying to carry out the task, our guidelines might not be very useful. Thus, in the current situation, the student might be refusing to do their written homework for a variety of reasons. We will look at four possible scenarios.
First, the student might lack motivation because they don’t see the need to do a particular assignment. For example, they might think that they are already good enough at writing, or they might not particularly enjoy writing even if they don’t do a bad job of it, or they might not see what it will bring them. In such a case, the guidelines that we propose must support the student in their motivation. Initially, we need to help them see the benefits that practicing their writing can bring them. Next, we need to address motivation directly by identifying specific goals, while keeping in the back of our mind the idea that homework is a duty, therefore an obligation to fulfill. To motivate the student, there is then the possibility of proposing challenges to be met, with rewards adapted to the student’s efforts if they succeed. A series of guidelines could look like this:
- I look at my work goal for this homework.
- I set myself a personal challenge to meet (example: to do the homework well in 15 minutes).
- My mother and I will decide what my reward will be for this homework.
- I start working on the task.
A second possible scenario would be that the student is having trouble with handwriting and that this task requires a genuine and difficult effort for them. In this case, it is necessary to find a way to break down the task to be done and even, if need be, to reduce what the student has to do in order for them to stay motivated. In other words, in this specific case, the guidelines must be such that the student perceives the task as being something that is achievable for them. If, for example, the student has a certain number of words to write, which might seem like a mountain to them, we can reduce the task by focusing on one word at a time to ensure that they will enjoy doing it. Here are a few key sentences that could be used as guidelines in this situation:
- I choose the word that I am going to practice today.
- I practice writing each of the letters of the word, separately.
- I write out the word in full, trying to use my best possible handwriting.
- I practice going faster and faster, even if the handwriting is not as nice.
- After 3 minutes, I stop and take a break before doing a second word.
As a third scenario, we can think of a student who would have trouble decoding reading and writing, such as a student with learning. In this case, the student might need support in how they approach carrying out a task. Here the guidelines will serve to support the student’s efforts and the help that they obtain. For example, simply by alternating between writing a sentence on their own and having their parent write a sentence can help the student to tackle this task in a more positive way. Thus, to make the task more attractive for a student who finds writing to be a difficult activity, the following routine could make things easier for them:
- I write the first line.
- My mother writes the second line.
- We continue this way for 5 minutes.
- After that, I do two lines and my mother does one.
Finally, as the last scenario, we can think that the student might simply be tired when it is time to write something. They might feel like doing something else or just not be well prepared for the writing activity. To support the student, guidelines must provide effective strategies for completing this type of work. Some elements are therefore essential for inclusion in our guidelines. Here are some examples:
- Do an activity to unwind or to relax beforehand.
- Make a gradual transition by preparing your materials.
- Clearly define the task that needs to be done and the time that should be spent to complete it.
- Get busy working on the task.
- Find ways to check your progress.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alain Caron has a master's degree in psychology from Laval University and has worked in the education sector for over 25 years. With his work experience with elementary and secondary students and those who find it difficult to adapt to school, he has developed a particular interest in the unavoidable problem of classroom attention, hyperactivity, persistence in the task, as well as the importance of executive functions in the academic success of students.