In last week’s Homework: Smoothing the Road at Home, 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 assume they 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. Here are some options for doing this:
- Email is good because often you can more clearly communicate your concerns. Plus, it’s easy to keep track of your communications because your computer will do it for you.
- A written note works as well but is sometimes a victim of a child’s forgetfulness.
- A 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 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 child 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 and your child’s understanding of them
- Help him organize his papers.
- Send home assignments early so he can work on them ahead of time when possible.
- 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 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. You won’t use it to supply answers but you can check whether you are on the right track.
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, reading, 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 is 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, but 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.
Occasionally, teachers just don’t get your child’s homework struggles. If this is the case, consider enlisting the support of others, such as
- school counselor
- guidance counselor
- social worker
As I researched this topic, I came across several books that had tips and strategies for helping out with homework challenges.
Homework Talk: the art of effective communication about your child's homework by Cheli Cerra, M.Ed. and Ruth Jacoby Ed.D.
This series has 3 books, each covering a different grade span.
Volume 1: Grades K-2
Volume 2: Grades 3-5
Volume 3: Grades 6-8
Home Sweet Homework by Sharon Marshall Lockett (sorry, no link)
If homework is a problem at your house, please know that you are not alone! However, some simple changes may improve the situation considerably. Good luck!