An article in the Washington Post newspaper caught my attention recently. It talked about “homework-trapped students.” In the article, Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, a clinical psychologist and author, describes students who struggle to get homework done but whose efforts fall short. The problem, as he explains it is not motivation (these students and their parents are trying very hard), but under-the-radar learning problems, particularly processing speed. In his words, “The most important issue is the child’s work pace. No one would question that a slow running child truly wants to win the race, yet we somehow believe that homework trapped children lack the desire to get their work done.”
The incidence of homework-trapped students may be even greater than Dr. Goldberg’s description implies since there are also many, many children who get acceptable grades but only because they labor from the moment they get home from school into the middle of the night.
Dr. Goldberg suggests a number of strategies for parents and teachers, including setting time limits and reducing the penalties for homework not completed or done poorly. This, of course, begs the question of whether all homework is useful (or whether there should be homework at all), but if homework is an important part of the learning experience, then simply saying that some students don’t have to do it doesn’t seem to make sense either.
What really is missing is helping these students overcome their learning issues and improve their cognitive abilities and processing speed. This can be done with a cognitive skills development program such as BrainWare Safari. Parents of students who have used the program frequently say that they have “gotten their child back.” If we believe that homework is useful and that all students therefore should be doing it, we need to ensure that they actually have the capacity to do so.