Redrawing the homework battle lines

December 31st, 2013

Sponsored by TestRocker


I used to be a hands-off homework parent, unless asked for help. And although this approach is being championed in the media lately, in my instance, it was born less of philosophy, and more of happenstance. My kids are blessed with high intelligence, and are without major learning impediments. The grade school years have been a blissful, battle-free zone, as far as homework goes. We’ve all enjoyed coasting.

As my older boys have risen through the secondary grades, this lofty ground has become quite a bit rockier. My high school freshman and I frequently battle over homework, and I was a bit worried about expanding the war to a new front when we were offered the chance for him to use TestRocker, an online study aid for college entrance exams.

So it’s a considerable endorsement of the program to say that he has progressed over a month into the study plan without me nagging, threatening, or having to utter dire predictions for his future. It doesn’t hurt that I have subcontracted him for this series of reports, and there’s a paycheck dangling ahead, but nobody’s paying him not to complain when I remind him to put the time in.

As with his regular homework, time management is the biggest challenge. TestRocker helps by providing visuals that show progress and how much time is left to prepare. This is the screen that greets him on logging in (taken a week ago):



When he started the study plan, I showed him that he would need to put in an hour a day, five days a week, to avoid studying on weekends and over the holidays. When he logged in last week, it was apparent that he’s got some catching up to do.


We can place a chunk of the blame on the kids’ laptop being out for repair for several weeks. Mine is a jalopy, and doing anything on it is a hassle. But it’s also due to a strong inherited resistance to routine. We’re hares, not tortoises. A lot of the heat that comes from our homework flare-ups is fueled by my own painful experience.

Anyway, we recalculated, and agreed that he could make up lost ground with a couple of extended sessions over the holidays. Then he showed me around the site. This is an example of the math module. I can’t tell you what any of it means, but he likes the format a lot. He especially appreciates the instant feedback when he makes an error, and the quick access to concept teaching. Everything is immediate and to the point.




Watching him interact with the program is illuminating, and makes me wonder how far his regular curriculum still has to go to catch up with the way kids of this generation have grown up processing information. There’s no substitute in this world for the personal instruction of a charismatic teacher, in my opinion, but maybe homework could be made more dynamic with creative digital interfaces like this one.

I’m also revisiting some of my homework rules based on our TestRocker experience. Because it’s “extra” study, I’ve been very laid back about letting him do it with music or the TV on. As skeptical as I am about the neutral  impact he claims  that “How I Met Your Mother” reruns have on his attention, the impact on his willingness to spend time studying is a positive. Maybe we can find a compromise between doing homework my way or no way. Who knows? If he aces this ACT, maybe I’ll even reconsider my horror of paying for grades.

I’d love to know your approach to kids’ study habits and homework time. What are some of the lessons you’ve carried into adulthood from your own school days, for better or for worse?

I’m very happy to disclose that TestRocker is providing my son with six months of access to a customized ACT study plan, and sponsoring a series of posts about the experience. All opinions are mine and his. Get a sneak peak of TestRocker’s SAT & ACT programs by taking a free Diagnostic Test, previewing your study plan, and attempting some of the free questions (no credit card required).

One Response to “Redrawing the homework battle lines”

  1. Betsy says:

    My kids are now in college and the older one did her homework on her own except if she wanted me to help edit something or look something over. I was totally willing to help her with all of that. The younger one has a learning disability and had to have an adult read out loud to her or have the book on tape all through middle school. In high school she was required to have an editor and in the beginning I was it, then she found a teacher to help her edit her work.
    Both girls are super motivated and we found we had to require that they do things other than homework. However, we did find when applying to colleges grades equal money-meaning the better the grades the more money they knock off your tuition.
    Good luck going through the school years!

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