01/10/2014 04:31 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2014

Dear Marcy and Jackie: Whose Homework Is It Anyway?

Each week Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz, educators with over 20 years of experience working with students from elementary to high school, will answer your questions regarding reading strategies, essay writing, homework habits and math challenges. Submit your questions to and include Dear Marcy and Jackie in the subject line.

Q. How can we help our middle school child become more organized when it comes to homework? He rarely writes down the assignments in class, so almost every night we insist he call a friend to learn the assignment. A few times we've even called his friends' parents to see if they know what the assignments are. We bought him an assignment book to write down his assignments, but he's not using it. By the time he learns what the homework assignments are, my son is in panic mode and needs us to help him complete his homework.

A. Do not enable your son's disorganization by calling others to find out the assignment or, worse still, doing his homework (the teacher will know if you do it). He'll never admit there's a problem if you're always rescuing him. Most importantly, you're teaching him that he is not capable of tackling homework assignments on his own.

On the other hand, it's perfectly all right to encourage him to set goals by writing down homework assignments as soon as the teacher announces them, and checking off the assignments as they are completed. Brainstorm strategies for achieving those goals so he feels invested in his own success. You may want to give him a star sticker each time he writes down an assignment, or create another motivating reward that he is eager to earn.

Check with his school or with his teachers. Many teachers now post homework assignments and other class projects online on the teachers' page on the school website.

Remember, it's not your homework, but his. Learning to be responsible is also a valuable lesson.

Q. My first grader is learning to read. She knows her letters and their sounds (most of them), but instead of reading the words on the page, she'll "read" the story by describing the action in the pictures. How can I get her to read the words, not the pictures?

A. Start out by reading a page to her, so she hears you read with ease and expression. Then read the same page together, in unison. Finally, ask her to read that page back to you. In other words, the process is: "I say, you say, we say."

You can also work on a story together or write a new ending to an existing story, one with which she is familiar. Let Samantha dictate the story to you. Write it down, one sentence at a time on large index cards or paper that you've cut into strips. Then encourage her to read it back, one sentence at a time. She may be more motivated to read if the words are her own.

Credentialed in both English and social science, Marcy Winograd now teaches special education students at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jackie Hirtz, MS Ed., a writer and writing coach, taught elementary school for seven years. Together, Marcy and Jackie have written for children's television, print, and new media. Their most recent project is the tween novel Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush, available on Amazon. They also blog at and tweet @tweenorama.