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Ask the Experts

My Fifth-Grader Rushes Through His Homework

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator


My son is smart, but he rushes through his homework and then gets some of it w rong. When I ask him about the problems, he is able to tell me the correct answers. How can I get him to not rush through his homework?


It sounds as though you are speaking of math in particular. If your child is able to get accurate answers when asked, but shows incorrect work because he rushes, then he might not be challenged. You probably wrote to "Ask the Expert" because you have monitored his work for a while and noticed this recurring behavior.

In my consulting, I collaborate with teachers extensively on differentiating instruction so that all students are challenged. This means that in a given classroom, students are working on different assignments that each meet the same overarching goals. If your son's teacher gives all students the same assignment, then she may not be serving the needs of your son (and probably others) if the assignments are repetitive and easy for him. Students who are continually given work that's too easy at school exhibit the behavioral characteristics you have described.

Request a meeting with your son's teacher and explain that he consistently knows the final answer to problems, but he is not interested in taking the time to show his work correctly. Request that your son be assigned more challenging problems within the same unit of study. Hopefully his teacher will agree. If so, discuss this new option with your son. Explain that you understand he might have been frustrated by doing work below his ability level. But by working on more complicated problems that offer a challenge, you expect that he will take the time to work through them carefully and show more effort. Collaborate with his teacher to monitor how this new approach works.

If he is appropriately challenged and still rushes, then put a timer on his desk at home where he does his homework. Tell him that he cannot move on to the next problem until the timer goes off.  Reward generously with many hugs and praise when he takes the time to show his work correctly and arrive at the right answer.

Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"I would strongly disagree with the eggtimer approach - people are what children respond to - not eggtimers. And even a child is forced to obey an eggtimer, you still can't force the child to focus and concentrate. To foster focus and concentration and to curb the feeling of isolation that young children can feel while doing homework the best cure is being a close presence to the child while they work. Time feels long to children - five minutes of homework can feel like an hour. Sit down with your child or be right there doing work of your own. Children can rush through homework because they want to get back to doing what they were doing, because they don't like sitting alone at a desk. If you're there as well, it eliminates the feeling of isolationg and 'being trapped doing homework.' And you can point out an error and offer a warm 'slow down a bit'. Check over the problems before you let your child leave the homework table. If any adult wants to understand how a child might feel doing homework, do dishes. Stand at your kitchen sink with a pile of dirty dishes - most people don't like doing dishes but they have to be done. Would an eggtimer help you to do a better job doing your dishes?"
"I have the same problem with my grandchid who is staying with me. She is quick in doing her work but usually doesn't get a perfect score. She is not very careful with her figures but she understands the problem.I tried to tell her to go slow, she does for a while and then she back to being a fast worker."