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vjcloud asks:
Q:

How can I help my 6th grader with written questions and directions on tests and homework?

How can I help my sixth grade daughter to better understand directions that are presented to her on tests and homework? She has trouble with organization, neatness, and relaying the information she has learned to the tests or homework assignments. We have been struggling with this problem for three years and within two different school systems in two different states. No one seems to have answers that can help her and as she progresses in school, the problem is only getting worse. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Desperate
In Topics: Helping my child with school work and home work
> 60 days ago

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Expert

RoxanneR
Nov 20, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

It’s frustrating to watch when a child who can likely answer the questions or do the assignments, ends up getting lost in a sea of disorganization, lack of neatness and inability to directly communicate the answer required.  You mentioned that you’ve been struggling with this problem for quite some time and have yet to find any workable solutions.  Has she been tested for any sort of learning disability?  Has this ever been presented as a possibility?  I’m going to make my suggestions from the perspective that she has no learning disability and instead see if I can offer some possible solutions which when combined together, can help your daughter cope with her difficulties.

Below are some tips which may help:

- Have your daughter sitting close to the board or teacher so that things can be clarified much easier – a teacher nearby will be more tuned in to your daughter and better able to observe when she’s not grasping the task at hand.
- Place her where she’s not facing any distractions – in this case it may mean that she’s not part of a pod or group setting.
- Break instructions into smaller, more manageable chunks– present them in several ways – say them to her as you make motions to demonstrate.  Do an example or two with her.
- Have a definitive structure for homework in place at home.  For example, perhaps she is allowed to play for 30 minutes after school, and then she has to get right down to work until dinner.  In the half hour while she’s relaxing/playing, you can be reviewing her homework and deciding how you’ll break it into chunks for her.  Eventually, you’ll want to get her involved in this task as well in order to help her be the master of her own system.  However, initially you’re going to have to take charge until she is better able to recognize how to reasonably break things down.
- Implement an organization system at school that works hand-in-hand with the home system so that only one system needs to be learned, not two.
- Encourage her teachers to construct a school environment which is conducive to her needs when it comes to test taking and homework.  Ask them to read instructions on a test out loud and perhaps even have a “sample” question which everyone does together so she can have it modeled for her.  If things are done this way, rather than the teacher singling her out after the test has started, she won’t stand out.
- You mentioned that she has trouble on tests relaying the information she has learned.  Perhaps she needs to be given the option to communicate in a different way.  Would her teachers consider giving her the tests orally during recess or after school?
- Neatness needs to be expected at all times.  If it means having her redo something, then have her redo something.  Of course, you have to be reasonable in what you expect.  If neatness is an issue because of fine motor skill difficulty, then challenge her to always write her best, work on improving it constantly, and don’t expect any less than what she is capable.  Continually challenge her to work on this skill.  Again, this will be diligence on your part more so than in school.  The grade level has passed where teachers worked on writing style, etc.  
- See if you can find out what kind of learner she is – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, experiential, etc.  If things are presented differently (in a way she best understands), this will be more effective.  It may be that certain accommodations need to be made for her in order to do her best, but given that she’s already in grade 6, I’m guessing the teachers and administration are expecting her to be more accountable.  This does put a larger onus on you and her.  
- Teach her to underline or highlight important words in a question or in a reading passage.  This will take some practice.  She will require some help figuring out key words, and what is important vs. unimportant.  This is a skill that will require practice practice practice.
- Have her read the directions out loud to you and then see if she can explain to you in her own words what needs to be done.  If she can’t, it’s an indication that you’ll have to review the instructions again together until she can tell you what she’s supposed to do.  Maybe jot notes describing what she’s to do would help as well – if she can write them, all the better.
- Ensure strong communication between you and the teacher via an agenda or a homework book.  Whatever it takes to make sure you know the homework every night, just do it.  Given what you’ve mentioned about organization, I’m guessing that assignments often don’t come home to be completed as needed.
- Clarify what’s required for each assignment.  Depending on the task – studying, novel study and book report, outlines for essays, note taking for research papers, reading comprehension questions - the approach will be different.  Your daughter needs to learn and master a different set of skills for each task.
- If you find that you have difficult implementing these suggestions to the degree that your daughter needs, perhaps consider getting some help from a tutor.  It’s amazing what an objective person with a professional background in working with children can do for you and your family.

I certainly hope the above suggestions will be of some help.  Above all, remember to take things one day at a time.  Miracles aren’t going to happen overnight.  Remember where you were today and reevaluate in a month, two months, a year.  It’s often hard to recognize progress when you’re in the midst of it, but you’ll be surprised.  Celebrate your daughter’s achievements in your areas of concern and continue to work on difficult issues.  I wish you all the best with this!

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