As some school children in Australia head off to school today, signalling the end of the summer school holidays it seems timely to focus on the issue of homework for day 6 in our Off to School We Go 2015 series. Homework – one of schools most contentious issues.
When the issue of homework is discussed it can be difficult to tell who has more issues with homework – the parents who have to supervise and enforce school homework policies or the children who are asked to complete it.
For parents of children who are just beginning school there won’t be homework immediately but it is an issue that most parents need to face during the course of their childs school life. The time spent and nature of homework can vary dramatically from school to school, even class to class. Research has proven it also varies dramatically across socio economic groups.
Today I want to chat, as a teacher and a parent, about some issues regarding homework. The post might get long but hopefully will be comprehensive and open up discussion on a controversial issue – you know I love a good chat.
Are you ready?
Why do my kids get homework?
Homework continues to be an institution within educational systems. Originating as an extension to drill and repetition style teaching methods in the early days, homework was believed to be beneficial in the retention of concepts and improved academic results.
Homework is issued today by most government schools due to Education Department stances on education and school homework policies. Personal opinions on the value of homework amongst teachers may vary. Many set homework because the school demands it of them.
I will also add that in all my years of teaching I have NEVER taught a class without, at some point in the year, a parent demanding MORE homework for their child. Yes some parents love homework because it keeps their children occupied.
Homework should not, in my personal opinion, be an extension to the school day just to cater for an already overcrowded curriculum.
Do kids have to do homework?
The answer to this question depends on where you have chosen to enrol your child and the schools homework policy. Many parents reject the idea of homework because the power of the parent to dictate what happens in the home environment becomes determined by an external factor.
Ideally if homework is set for students then it should work as a bridge between the home and school environment, engaging family in the learning experience. However many could argue that better bridges could be built then those that are erected on the grab at free play time of a child.
If you decide to not have your child do homework then this is your right. Perhaps there are set tasks that you feel fit well into your family routine while others you do not feel are appropriate. Discuss this with your child’s teacher so you can communicate openly on the issue.
Perhaps the question parents should be asking is should my child do homework and if so, what kind?
I will also add here that if you enrol your child at a school with a policy of setting homework then please support your child to do the homework, unless you have communicated your intentions to do otherwise. Provide a space which is quiet where your child will be able to work. If you do not have internet access then explain this to the class teacher so they do not set tasks reliant on this.
Homework Pros and Cons
There is no denying that there are both positives and negatives to homework otherwise schools would not continue to issue it. However the positive effects of homework when set for younger children have become so over rated that they have become almost myth like.
The positives and negatives of the homework depend on the type of homework that is being set and the quantity of it.
- Reading every night has been seen to show significant improvements for children of all ages. Reading should ABSOLUTELY be part of a nightly routine for all children and for young children sight word reading boosts confidence.
- Homework can provide an opportunity for time management
- Homework can allow for children to reinforce concepts being taught
- Homework presents an intentional opportunity for adults to engage with children about their learning
- Homework gives students a chance to work on areas of weakness in a familiar environment
- Homework can eat into a child’s sleep time with children staying up late to complete homework and study
- Homework reduces a child’s time for free play – children are learning while they are playing.
- Homework does encroach on family together time – but then so does X Box and Playstation
- Kids with learning difficulties who are facing challenges in the classroom, and who are given homework, find that homework often adds to existing difficulties and can overwhelm students
- Homework can stir up emotions of anger, frustration, sadness and anxiety which can be challenging to deal with at the end of the day.
What homework should my child be getting?
This is not a post about how to set good homework for teachers (although I could write that). But here are some guidelines that can help you assess whether the homework your child is set is worth the effort of them completing.
When you have the Teacher Meet and Greet Night in Term 1 discuss the issue of homework. Ask how it is created and why? What variations the teacher will accept? How late submitted work will be dealt with – will it still be marked? Clarify whether the work set is the work being done in class? Enquire whether any resources can be sent home to help eg number lines.
Have reading every night
As children age the nature of the text will change as children shift from learning to read to reading to learn but all parents should be seeing books come home to be read every night. If your child is not yet able to read then read to your child. Mem Fox was right when she said children find a life long love of reading on the laps of their parents.
Be time limited
As children grow older the time they spend doing homework will likely increase. In the school homework policy a guideline will be outlined. Follow this guideline. If your child takes longer than the time expected to complete the activity draw a line where they got up to or write the teacher a message. The teacher can then revise the work that is set for your child. If you do not tell the teacher then they won’t know.
Be concepts already taught – relevant and able to be completed independently.
Homework is not the time to teach new concepts. The work should be relevant to what is being taught in class. It should be work that the student is able to complete by themselves. If the concept is not what is being taught in class I would challenge it. Random worksheets from a book is not quality homework. If your child claims the concept hasn’t been taught actually have a look in their books. You would be surprised how forgetful kids can be. If the concept is one your are unfamiliar with then send a note asking for a resource on the best way to help your child with the activity.
At the beginning of the year it can take a moment for teachers to work out the level of their students. Spelling words set for homework can be an issue. If your child is being given 20 spelling words each week and only managing 4 correctly for their spelling test then the homework needs to change – either the difficulty of the words or the number to be learnt. Homework does not have to remain on the same level for weeks at a time. As the parents ask the teacher to change the homework to suit your childs needs.
The same goes if your child requires extension. Homework needs to be set for the individual needs of the student.
Incorporate an element of choice
Homework which is designed for repetition on an area of weakness is frustrating and challenging and not going to build a child’s self esteem. Homework which is thoughtfully designed involves an element of choice and allows students to demonstrate their knowledge in a method which shows of their strengths and talents. Information which is required to be researched but can be presented in a powerpoint, a written report, a speech, a movie. Kids will engage with tasks and learn more when they have a choice.
If your child has a learning difficulty or disability you are also within your rights as a parent to request a change to assessment and testing methods in the homework for your child.
Common Homework Issues and How to over come them
Still with me?
In my time as a classroom teacher I have heard endless stories of homework sagas in households. While I have slightly less conventional opinions on set homework for students, particularly young children, I believe that homework is an issue because it can push some parenting buttons.
Here are the problems and some simple suggestions:
Be the parent – set the rules.
Homework can be an issue not because of the work set but because it demands that parents establish routines and boundaries for homework to be successfully completed. Homework is also going to be checked by someone and so parents can feel that accountability.
Most children will need support to engage with homework routines. You will almost certainly have to step in at some point to ensure the set homework is completed.
I have had parents tell me that their child cannot complete homework because they are busy – playing Playstation. When challenged by this they told me “I can’t ask them to put the playstation away”. In this household the homework is not the issue – boundaries are.
If you are happy with the homework set, have decided you would like your child to do homework then be the parent. Set boundaries. Establish clear consequences. Enlist teacher cavalry support if this is a challenge.
No teachers wants homework to be stressful. If your child does not follow instructions at home and homework is a battle then seek teacher help.
“My child won’t sit still at a table to do homework”
Homework that incorporates the senses is incredibly valuable. Kids don’t have to be sitting at a single desk in an upright chair to learn best. Let them use household items to complete maths tasks, read a book out on the grass or in a comfy chair, up in the cubby house or on the computer.
Break the tasks up into smaller manageable tasks with lots of bounce breaks in between.
“My child will only do the homework if I am right there with them – I need to cook dinner/watch other kids”
This is a common complaint with K-2 parents and often the child is needing feedback and reassurance.
Make sure your child understand the instructions.
Sit close or work close by but do not hover or sit right on top of them
Resist the temptation to do the work for them – the teacher can tell anyway
Do not jump quickly to their rescue if you think they are capable of completing it. Give them some time to learn to focus their energies on the task at hand
Give lots of praise
“My child whinges and whines and makes excuses”
This can be extremely draining when you have been at work all day. Teachers understand this. My suggestion is to look at the homework and assess whether it is an ability issue. Check that the excuses are in fact excuses.
Then have your child identify the part that looks simplest/easiest/most fun. Get them to tackle this first
Do not nag your child or get drawn into a debate. Remind them of the consequences and let them make a choice
Set small goals with your child and reward them for completing smaller sections of the homework
“The last minute procrastinator – the project is due tomorrow”
Don’t you hate this – the “mum help me I have to hand this in tomorrow”. My number one suggestion is DO NOT BAIL THEM OUT. You may write a letter explaining the circumstance to the teacher and the teacher will either grant an extension or not but do not spend all nighters helping the kids out. This teaches them nothing.
Make sure the homework can be completed in a comfortable space
Agree on routines and a schedule that works in your household (eg factoring sport or other lessons)
Support their time management skills – this can happen when they transition to highschool and become overwhelmed with the volume of set work
Prove them with a timer to maximise on focus time.
“My child doesn’t try and just makes careless errors”
The child with this issue isn’t engaging with the work. They just want the process over and done with. Homework we want quality not quantity. Nagging is not going to help this situation – neither is tearing the work over or “you will need to do this all over again” threats.
Discover why they are rushing. Is the work too hard? Would they prefer to present the work or show their learning in another way?Would they prefer to do the homework in shorter amounts?
Check your child knows how to monitor their own work and is able to recognise and correct their mistakes.