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Ask the Experts

My Son Rushes Through His Work

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator


No matter how hard I try to instill in my son the value of quality over quantity, he does not get it. He constantly rushes through his work and makes careless mistakes. He understands the work. It's the easy, silly things he messes up on because he doesn't read the directions fully or thinks he could solve that math problem in his head. Please help!


The first person to consult with is your son's teacher, who can give you an assessment of what might be the root of any academic issues your son might have. The teacher should be able to provide instruction in a format that will allow your son to be successful.

For example, the teacher might have your son fold an assignment sheet so that only the directions are visible. Your son can go through and underline the words that give him direction on how to complete the assignment. Then he can unfold a portion of the assignment and complete these tasks, checking the underlined words as he is working. Then he can move on to another group of tasks. This method of working on an assignment "chunks" it into workable amounts.

The more strategies your son can learn to help him improve his school work, the more successful he is likely to be. He will quickly learn what helps him and what does not. The same strategies used at school can be used at home to complete homework. As soon as he finds what works for him, help him incorporate it into homework time.

Another issue to consider is whether the work is challenging enough to hold his interest. Again, his teacher would be the one to best assess this. Students who are gifted may not work to their potential because they are not challenged by their assignments. Finally, look and see if there is a pattern of careless work in first through third grade. If there is, perhaps the school psychologist could observe him and see if there are other factors affecting his academic performance.

Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

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

"Parents need to determine the purpose of homework assignments. For some teachers it is mandated so they must show that it was assigned. This work might be marginally related to schooling. Is homework for discovery or for regurgitative purposes? Unfortunately with NCLB and Race to the Top regurgitation is rewarded. Is the homework for stimulus or inquiry development into a new subject to be introduced? Here is a great opportunity for parents to contribute - academic literacy - find out what unique new academically related vocabulary will be embedded in the new work. Type out those words in large font and post them around the home. Every one will soon know how to use this new word. Also, old Nat Geo books provide great pictures to showcase the new topic. Placing pictures on refrigerator or on bulletin boards generated curiosity and focus."
"My son spendt 16.5 hrs last weekend doing homework. When I told his teacher it was excessive, she went to tell me that he needs to work independently, and that the amount of homework was just right, and no other parents complaint. That is not what I hear, but nobdy wants to come and talk to her or anybody else. But at the same time, their homework is not as neat, and well done. My son could have easily spent more time, because he is easily distracted, so I have to seat down and help him stay focused. i do not guide him, like his teacher suggests. We sit down at the same desk, he does his thing, I do mine, but I keep an eye onhim, so he doesn't wander away, and he gets to have some hours off. It breaks my heart to see him having to worl this hard. The teacher is very strict, and will not hesitate to say something to make them feel bad about the homework. She doesn't have any children, and hardly any experience, so I think that is part of the problem. I don't want to make a bi! g stink, and bring it up to the principal, besides, the principal, does not like to be involved, so I feel I don't have a lot of options. What is the normal amount of homework? Is it ok for the children at this age to have homework evryday? Including Saturdays and SUndays (they are supposed to fill charts on both days, as well as the rest of the week). He never has a break, and I think is totally unfair. I would like a professional opinion, to be more knowledgable in case I need to take my case further. Thank you very much!"