Tackling Long-Term Assignments and Projects

It's due tomorrow???? Nothing is more upsetting than being informed that your child's important report or project is due the next day, and finding out that he hasn't even started it yet. (Hopefully he has at least finished reading the book!!!) If not managed properly, long-term assignments can cease being valuable learning experiences and instead turn into frustrating uphill struggles. How can you help your child tackle those long-term assignments and projects more efficiently and independently? Read on to discover the effective planning and organization techniques that can take the stress out of completing long-term assignments and projects.

Just In Case: In order to spare yourself this type of anxiety, instruct your child to notify you of any long-term assignments as soon as they are given. Hopefully your child will remember your request and will follow it. Just in case, keep your ears to the parent and student grapevines to hear if other youngsters in your child's class are talking about any upcoming projects. If possible, try to get a general idea of the requirements and major projects for the upcoming school year so that you can anticipate their arrival. If your child has a history of leaving things to the last minute, you may need to work out a special arrangement with your child's teacher so that you can be notified directly of any major long-term assignments.

Make a Check List: Major long-term assignments are usually accompanied by explicit directions from the teacher or a set of guidelines specifically listing all of the project requirements. If your child is unclear about any of the necessary project requirements, make sure that he clarifies this information with the teacher before beginning the assignment. Physically check each item off of the list as soon as it has been completed. This will give you and your child an accurate picture of what has been accomplished and what still needs to get done. It will also assist your child with budgeting time accordingly. If no written list of requirements has been provided, create your own list of steps to be accomplished so that your child can check off completed items. Using check lists can prevent careless omissions of important project requirements and give the child an ongoing sense of accomplishment.

Break It Up: Help your child break large assignments into smaller, more manageable pieces. Breaking down assignments such as book reports or written essays into simple and logical steps prevents your child from becoming overwhelmed by the overall task. For example, if your child needs to read a book, schedule in a chapter or two each evening until it has been completed. Similarly, if no interim due dates have been supplied before the final due date of the project, schedule these dates on your own. By setting up realistic interim due dates for each step of the assignment, you can assist your child with pacing and budgeting of time. Scheduling due dates for each step involved in a long-term assignment (i.e., reading the material, writing the report or essay, proofreading, and completing any necessary accompanying projects, diagrams or presentations) can put an end to those last minute frantic efforts.

Check the Calendar: The next step is to write down interim and final due dates on a calendar. Have your child post this calendar next to his or her desk and adhere to all due dates as closely as possible. Check off items as they are completed, and remember to schedule in extra time at the end in case certain items take longer than expected to complete. It is also a good idea to schedule in any special events, sports practices or after school activities so that your child can see the "whole picture." It will become obvious that some afternoons and evenings will be more conducive for assignment completion than others. Once again, don't forget to set up a target completion date a few days before the actual due date of the assignment. Getting into the habit of completing reports or projects ahead of time provides the extra time needed for polishing, finishing touches, unexpected mishaps and a well deserved break!.

Check In: Don't be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure if your efforts are on track. Checking in periodically with the teacher will help prevent any misunderstandings, omissions, wasted efforts or surprises at the end of the project. Teachers can provide valuable feedback which will help children tailor their reports accordingly.

Divide and Conquer: Long-term assignments can be intimidating and overwhelming especially for young children. Tackle assignment requirements by breaking each task down into smaller and simpler steps. For example, learning how to list books properly in a bibliography is a challenging task for a rookie. Instead of trying to list all of the books in one sitting, try to make only one entry at a time. Students can focus on learning the proper bibliography formats by working with one book at a time. List the book information on index cards as each book is completed. Finally, assemble these cards in the proper order and transfer the information to your report. This prevents frantic trips to the library to renew overdue books or retrieve books due to incomplete bibliography information. The divide and conquer technique can be used for other long-term assignment tasks such as reading large amounts of material, note taking or completing general report requirements.

Stay Organized: Note taking for research reports can be confusing for young children especially when they have to sift through piles of work in order to locate specific information. Avoid the mess and frustration by color coding information. By simply using colored markers to place a colored dot on the top of each index card, you can make assembling and organizing information much easier. In addition to the colored dot, each index card should have a heading written at the very top of the card. For example, if your child is preparing a report on "Dolphins" he might have index cards with the following headings: "What is a Dolphin? (red dot)," "Where are Dolphins found? (blue dot)," "What do Dolphins eat? (green dot)," etc. Any information that your child finds should then be placed on the appropriate index card. Finally, separate index cards into piles of the same color so that when your child is ready to write about a particular topic, he can just refer to a small structured pile of cards instead of wading through all of the information.

Not In One Sitting: It is almost impossible for young children to write an entire report or complete a project successfully in one night, especially if other homework is due. Time pressures and fatigue work against the production of quality work. It is better to complete a large assignment piece by piece over a period of a few nights. Not only is this approach less stressful, but it allows time for any unexpected events or mishaps the nights before an assignment is due. Remember that children need more time than adults to perform certain tasks such as assembling information, writing the actual report, proofreading for errors, creating illustrations or typing assignments.

Note: Be Aware of Expectations

Be sure that you and your child take the time to know and understand exactly what the expectations and requirements are for any long-term assignment before beginning any work. Ask if a rubric has been provided so you know exactly how the project will be graded. Checking off assignment criteria as it is completed will prevent losing valuable points for omitting any required information or procedures. Encourage your child to strive to produce quality work which is thorough, accurate, and meets teacher expectations. For a listing of the most common general expectations and goals for student work and for more information see Striving For Excellence in Your Child's Work.

For additional information, see Homework Help! at www.littleones.com.


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