What to Do When You’re Stuck in the Mud with a Fried Brain

The pressure of homework or rather the pressure of finishing homework for that valuable checkmark is taking away from the point of homework. It used to be that homework was a review of what was learned in school that day, but now often times students are “re”teaching themselves because teachers do not allow enough time for students to process new information.

When students get really focused or feel pressured to get their homework done it is almost like they put blinders on. They are no longer really learning the material they are just trying to get through the assignment. I want to give them credit for persevering but also want them to know that at some point they become less effective and should stop. How many times have you seen your child do a math problem over and over again expecting a different answer? Middle and High School students often have the answer to the math problem and their job is to set up the equation and get that answer. Lots of things can go wrong in this process (calculation error, wrong sign, solved in the wrong order, wrong equation, etc.) but students tend to erase and start again – exactly the same way.

This is called cognitive inflexibility. It happens in kids, teens and adults and is the inability to switch your approach or your thinking to problem solving when what you are doing isn’t working or something changes. It is like getting stuck in mud and not even realizing it. So in the above example, they erase the problem and because they are not 100% tuned in, they could be repeating the same process or same error over again. This can go on and on and that makes homework take longer and longer. Talk to your student about this at a time when they are not stressed about homework and print out the four steps below for them. Help them add to the list.

What to do when you are stuck on your homework:

1. Stop and take a look at what you have done. Check for errors or misunderstandings. If you don’t see anything then go to number 2.

2. Take a non-electronic break (5-15 minutes) and let your subconscious mind work on it and then go back and try it one more time.

3. Stop erasing and use a whiteboard after the first attempt so you can see all of your answers. What is happening?

4. Brainstorm other things you can do. For example you could: Skip it and come back to it, call or text a friend in your class, go back to the text book and reread key information, check your class notes, go in early or stay late for extra help, Google it or use a website like www.khanacademy.org to help.