When I was at Primary School, one of my favourite times of the week was ‘project time’. It was when we were all given a chance to explore a topic of interest, in greater depth and to write and draw about it in our project book. I loved the planning, the reading up on a topic, drawing or finding pictures and then laying it all out nicely with my best handwriting. Sometimes we even took our project books home so that we could continue our work at home before bringing it back to present to the class.
Assignments given in High School, on the other hand, I was not so keen on. Given a set topic and sent to complete the task solely at home was not as much fun. Inevitably, I would spend all my time ‘researching’ the topic and, only when the deadline was looming, would I begin to put pen to paper and compile my assignment. Thankfully I was quite skilled at writing the required amount of words in a short time frame. That was not an issue. On the other hand, a little more forward planning would have helped to alleviate a lot of stress and family disharmony.
Looking back, I can clearly see that it wasn’t so much the use of the words ‘project’ and ‘assignment’ that was the significant difference. The difference lay in the approach to the task. In primary school, children are learning the skills of research and so are highly supported by teachers in this process. Projects are well explained, material is readily available, children are keen learners, there is plenty of notice given and there is some in-school review to keep the project bubbling along.
When the upper years of school hit though, there is a certain expectation that students will now have a greater ability to guide themselves through the assignment process. Students take charge of their learning tasks and organisation of their time. No longer does the project/assignment note come home all neatly laid out on a piece of paper ready to be put on the fridge or noticeboard. And given that your child now has multiple teachers, chances are there will be multiple assignments on the go at the same time.
So, as a parent, how can you best help your child with their projects and assignments?
Check in with them
Ask what projects or assignments are coming up, the topics covered and the time frame given. If your child is unsure on any of these details then get them to ask for clarification. With younger children, that may mean writing a note to your child’s teacher or seeing them in person.
Work out a schedule
Use a planner to plot out a course to the deadline. Look at other commitments your child or your family have and work around these. Set dates for completing each stage of work such as sourcing material, background reading, draft writing and completion. Primary students will need a lot of help to complete this step. High School students though, may be able to do most of the planning themselves with just a little input from parents.
Get the facts
Talk through the topic and determine what type of information is needed to complete the work. Brainstorm ways to find and collect this information. Arrange to visit the library, interview other people, go on an excursion as a family or research using the internet. Help your child to find the information, but don’t find it all for them.
Projects and assignments are a great learning opportunity, and not just for your child. Be interested in the topic and try to think up relevant questions. This will help your child to consolidate their research into knowledge and to also encourage them to continue in their work without it sounding too much like nagging.
But keep your distance
This is your child’s assignment, not yours. Sure, walk alongside them, support them, learn with them, but do not do it for them! You can help with the leg-work but don’t do the research or writing for your child. And if you are like me, and enjoy a project or two, resist the urge to impose your ideas about how the finished project should look. Let the work be your child’s and let them be proud of their effort and achievement.