Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Complex Issue of Homework Part 3

In The Complex Issue of Homework Part 1  and Part 2 , I wrote about strategies you can try at home to help make homework go more smoothly. Often, one or more of these strategies will do the trick. However, they might not and then you need to work with your child’s teacher(s) to come up with better solutions.
Teachers almost always want to hear the concerns of their students’ parents. Don’t expect them to already know that there’s an issue. Keeping track of a class full of students and their homework performance can be challenging.

Ways to communicate
The first thing you need to do is communicate your concerns with school. How you go about this is up to you. Here are some options.
  • Email is good because you can often more clearly communicate your concerns and if you are in high frustration mode, you can more easily choose your words. Plus, it’s easy to keep track of these communications because your computer will do it for you.
  • written note works as well but is sometimes a victim of a child’s forgetfulness.
  • telephone call is another way to communicate concerns. I suggest that you make a short list of your concerns so you can bring up each one. It’s sometimes best to start the call with, “I have 3 concerns about my son’s homework.” That way, if the discussion gets off track, you can refer to this introduction to say something like, “This brings me to my second concern…”
  • Set up a meeting if you think a face-to-face discussion would be the best way. Again, a list is a good way to clarify your concerns.
  • Be sure to attend all parent-teacher conferences. If you can’t make it during conference hours, reschedule. But if a problem comes up before then, don’t wait, communicate your concerns when they happen.

Ways you can help communicate your concerns
  • Be respectful – assume the teacher wants to help.
  • Keep track of the time that your daughter spends on homework for several nights and what issues arise.
  • Keep track of things you’ve tried and the outcomes.

Ways teachers can help
There are many strategies teachers can use to support a student and his family around homework issues. Here are a few:
  • Monitor recording of assignments – both by checking that he has written it accurately and by checking that he understands what is expected.
  • Help the student organize his papers.
  • Send home assignments early so he can work on them ahead of time when possible. My son’s teachers sometimes sent home spelling homework on Friday so he could get it out of the way.
  • Reduce/adjust assignments. Some students get quite overwhelmed by a whole sheet of problems. Would it be possible to do just the even-numbered problems?
  • Clearly say how parents can best support a particular assignment. Read a chapter aloud? Let the student dictate his answers? Help make flashcards?
  • Prioritize assignments – What assignments are absolutely essential? Are there any that could be given less attention?
  • Break down longer assignments – When those dreaded (and sometimes fun) long-term assignments come up, could the teacher break down the work into manageable pieces?
  • Give an answer sheet if homework is something that’s unfamiliar to the parent. Sometimes confused by your child’s homework? Join the club! I was dismayed when my son’s homework covered things I either never learned or had totally forgotten. If you have a good relationship with your child’s teacher, consider asking for an answer key when you know you’ll be on the front line during homework time. You won’t use it to supply answers but you can use it to check if you have a clue yourself!

Reinforcing positive homework behavior
In an ideal world, kids would do their homework out of joy of learning. But joy of learning comes from many things – sports, dramatics, play, video games (to name a few). Homework often comes in last place. This is when it doesn’t hurt to sweeten the pot.
Consider setting up a list of reinforcements that your child was willing to work for. A simple cumulative plan is best. My suggested procedure:
  • Ask your child to list 5-10 things she is willing to work toward by completing homework. These can be things, activities, lack of chores…
  • Determine what these things are worth. They may be worth all the same, some may warrant more work to earn.
  • Write a simple cumulative plan. For example:
For each completed homework assignment, I get 1 point (or sticker). When I get __ points, I get (thing) / can do (activity) / don’t have to do (chore).
  • Strong suggestion: avoid plans that expect certain performance in a certain time. For example, avoid plans such as If I do all my homework this week, I get ____. Such plans have a built-in punishment system. In a cumulative plan, like above, the child gets to keep on working towards a reward. It’s much more motivating.

 Other people
Occasionally, teachers just don’t understand your child’s homework struggles. Personally, I never came across this, but I know it happens. If this is the case, consider enlisting the support of others, such as
  • principal
  • school counselor
  • guidance counselor
  • pediatrician
  • social worker

Next week I’ll offer one more post on the complex issue of homework. In my research, I came across several books that tackle homework. I’ll review several of them. Have you read any that you would like to suggest? Please write them in the Comments box.

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