How to Reduce Frustration with Common Core Math Homework

By Christopher Danielson

Whatever math standards may be — Common Core or anything else — most children will be frustrated with a homework assignment from time to time. The advice to you, the parent, doesn’t change just because your home state has adopted the Common Core.

What may change is the ways children are expected to work on their homework. Teachers may ask their students to practice something they worked on in class, but it may look unfamiliar to you. Productive ways of helping children with their homework are the same, though.

Don’t do the homework for your child. Help your child clarify her thinking and identify what she knows and doesn’t know. Monitor the difficulty level to make sure your child has interesting and challenging work, but not work that is far beyond her present abilities. Keep in touch with her teacher if things are out of balance so that you can work together for your child’s benefit.

In the heat of the moment, though, you can easily lose sight of the big picture. So here are three simple tips for productive involvement with math homework:

  • Ask “How do you know?” Ask this question frequently. Question right and wrong answers. This question has many variations. “How do you know this is right?,” “How did you know that was wrong?,” “How did you know to do that?,” and so on. This type of question forces students to think about their own thinking, which is an important part of making that thinking better.

  • Wait for a response. What goes on in the silent time between asking a question and getting an answer is thinking. One of the most important findings in educational research is that increased wait time — the time between a teacher asking a question and the next time someone speaks — is strongly associated with increased learning. When teachers give their students more time to think about their questions, students learn more. It’s true at home, too. Ten or 15 seconds seems like a long time to sit silently when you know the answer, but it’s not long at all to the person trying to figure out the answer.

  • Share a strategy. After your child explains his thinking, talk about your own. Don’t tell him how he needs to do something; just tell him in the spirit of sharing your own ideas. It’s like being at the dinner table. If you want your child to share something that happened during the day, you should model it by sharing your own stories from the day. It’s the same with thinking. If you want your child to engage with math homework, you can model that behavior by talking about how you think about these problems.