Homework is done. Projects are done. Tests are done. The school year is done. So this is as good a time as any to talk about the mentality of “done” that permeates our school culture.
Many students focus all their energy on playing the game of school, ignoring the larger goals of learning and personal growth. Each day, students are assigned a batch of homework, and their only concern is getting it done. Often this means that quality suffers as they rush to complete the homework that’s due tomorrow. Frequently, students ignore the critical first step on the mastery path – understanding – and finish their homework without even figuring out how to do it right. When we encourage them to use resources, take notes, and review old concepts, these students put up resistance because those tasks are not in the service of “done.”
There might be a quiz later in the week or an exam looming on the horizon, but studying for it isn’t part of tonight’s list of things to get done. Self-testing and spaced repetition get neglected, so even if they do understand the material, done-obsessed students quickly forget what they’ve just learned because they don’t do the extra practice needed to approach mastery and develop long-term memory. Of course, the test is always coming, and the #1 way to do better on tests is to do more than what is asked – to keep going after you’re “done.”
Many parents reinforce this mindset by making their go-to question about school, “Is your homework done?” There are, of course, better ways to talk with your kids about school. You can express interest in what they’re learning and how they’re learning it. You can show more interest in the ideas being learned than in the grades being earned. And you can lead by example by continuing your own education, despite having been done with school for many years.
Both the students and the parents obsessed with “done” are neglecting the long-term in favor of the short-term, but real, lasting success requires balancing the two. We all need to get things done, but we also need to invest in our long-term growth by, for example, practicing relentless learning or making self-care a priority each day. Fast food is a great way to get the goal of eating “done,” but we all know that it’s not the best long-term strategy for our health. The same principle applies to most things in life, school included.
So now it’s summer, and school is done. That makes this the perfect time for students to move beyond the paradigm of “done” by continuing to learn and grow, even though there’s no schoolwork to be done. But let’s be clear. The correct response to this post is not to chain your child to a desk all summer long. It’s still summer, after all. Kids are supposed to use their break to relax, play, and grow in non-academic ways by volunteering, pursuing personal projects, going to camps, getting jobs, and taking on more chores.
We believe academics should be part of a well-rounded summer, but not the whole thing. We believe that summer is a great time for parents to help their children move beyond the mindset of “done,” not by forcing students to spend long hours on academics, but by offering opportunities for children to engage: resources, classes, and tutoring. And the most important thing parents can do here is model this behavior by engaging with their own learning, whether for professional development, personal growth, or just plain old curiosity.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.