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The Homework Pen and Pencil Rules

We once sent home a perfectly delightful logic puzzle for children to solve. It was one of those great, perfect tasks that could be approached with various levels of sophistication. You could solve it simply by drawing pictures. Or, at the opposite end of abstraction, you could develop an intricately beautiful formula. We asked the children to persevere—how far can you get with this problem? Don’t worry about the answer, we’ll have fun with this tomorrow.

What happened? Parents did the problem. Children returned to class with homework done in the parent’s handwriting and no comprehension of the strategies used.

Homework Pen/Pencil Rule #1: Leave the pencil in your child’s hand! All over the United States, parents (and teachers) take the writing instrument and say, “Here, let me show you how to do it.” In Asian countries, adults instead ask questions, “Have you thought about ____? What does this number refer to? Where have you seen a similar problem?” and so on. And you know where students do better in math.

Homework Pen/Pencil Rule #2: Outlaw erasing. Let children use pens if this helps reinforce this rule. We’ve had students erase their work so you can’t see how they got an answer. Or, they erase their first line of thought (which may have been the correct line of thought!) This rule helps take the focus off getting the right answer and instead focus on THINKING.

You might take the pencil to jot down a few things for your child to remember as they work through a problem. Or, you might write a sample problem that hints at an underlying idea, such as, “Do you remember the trick for finding the answer to 9X9? How might that apply here?”

Taking over, though, expedient and effective in improving grades as it may be, blocks growth of self-reliance. When you are tempted, repeat, I am teaching self-reliance so that they eventually have their own apartment and decent job. 

Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is