In The Complex Issue of Homework Part 1, 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.
- 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.
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.
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
Same Homework, New Plan by Sally G. Hoyle, PhD
Home Sweet Homework by Sharon Marshall Lockett
Research Ate My Brain: The Panic-Proof Guide to Surviving Homework by Toronto Public Library
Homework Talk: the art of effective communication about your child's homework by Cheli Serra, M.Ed. and Ruth Jacoby Ed.D.
Homework Heroes by Drew and Cynthia Johnson
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
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! —Gail Terp
Gail Terp is the creator of the blog Best Blog for Kids Who Hate to Read, a family blog for reluctant readers and their parents. She is a retired elementary teacher. She writes kids’ books; and connecting kids to books they love is her passion. Her blog is a 3-day-a-week blog:
Monday - Books
Wednesday - Parent Post
Friday - Fun Stuff