Homework Helpers gets back to basics

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published December 15, 2015

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OAKLAND COUNTY — It’s time for students to dust off their parents’ analog clocks and get back to the simpler times, when homework wasn’t interrupted by the ping of status updates and tweets. 

At least that is the vision of Sarah Ward, a practicing speech-language pathologist and nationwide speaker on developing and supporting executive function-based skills. 

Ward will lead a parent session, Homework Helpers: Using Executive Function Skills to Close the Homework Circle, 7-9 p.m. Jan. 20, 2016, at Oakland Schools, 2111 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford. A multidisciplinary session for educators is slated for 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 2016.

Oakland Schools Literacy Consultant Michele Farah said the sessions will assist parents and educators to help their children and students learn to help themselves.

“Sarah is going to be talking to them about how do we get kids independent in organizing themselves with their homework? How do we get around the fighting that happens around homework ... and giving them strategies to support their kids?”

Ward last led a session at Oakland Schools in March 2014.

The new session will offer hands-on strategies to build executive function skills in the classroom, according to a press release. Executive function is the skill set needed to set goals, carry out organized steps and modify a plan to successfully complete a task. 

The sessions target parents and educators of students in third through eighth grades.

Ward’s educator session will revolve around strategies that help students understand how information, events and their actions will impact their goals and objectives; develop a memory for the future so that they can set personal goals; improve self-awareness skills; carry out routines and tasks within certain time frames; and organize their homework space and personal belongings.

Ward’s parent session will focus on parents supporting their children in recording, bringing home, completing and returning assignments; creating a positive and productive environment for homework completion; and learning to organize and process information for assignments, long-term projects and study skills.

Diane Katakowski, a speech-language pathologist consultant at Oakland Schools, said that in the past, Ward strictly taught professionals, but it became apparent that parents needed to hear these tips too.

“Many of us are parents and professionals,” she said. “After hearing her message and her practical strategies for supporting kids, not just in the school but at home ... we had the idea to bring in Sarah for a parent-only session — really to support the community.”

Katakowski added that she thinks “parents recognize this is a need.”

“This is time for parents to either attend together, or if only one parent can come. ... (It) is OK to leave their kids and do some thinking and learning together.”

Farah said that as a parent to a middle-schooler, there is sometimes tension with her policing what has to be done. Turning over the independence to the student to think about what they have to do is “more productive.”

Katakowski said a big part of Ward’s strategy is teaching students how to think things through, like how long an assignment will take and using time wisely.

“So getting a sense of time  … especially in today’s age, where we are looking at digital clocks and interacting with technologies, where I can pause TV and I can go back to things later,” she said. “Developing a sense of time, I would say, is even harder for kids nowadays because … the concept of time is sort of altered. She really gets to the basics of taking an analog clock and teaching kids how to sense the passage of time so they can start to organize.”

Farah added that if students miss the mark, they can reflect and learn.

“‘What robbed my time? Did I pet my dog? Did I get a drink?’ Having them become accountable as well,” she said.

The event is open to parents and educators in Oakland County public schools and public school academies.

For more information about the event, contact Angela Emig by emailing angela.emig@oakland.k12.mi.us or calling (248) 209-2351.