Survey a few adults and ask about their memories of school homework. Most will roll their eyes and make a disparaging comment or two about their experience. Most have memories of banal exercises, repetitive worksheets, contracts, or worse still, projects that were supposed to polish up their time management skills. Years later a few are able to convince themselves of the virtues that must have been ingeniously embedded in homework, but admit it was difficult to appreciate this when they were seven, nine or thirteen years of age.
Let's be honest. The thought of tackling homework after a day at school is not exhilarating stuff, especially when there are so many other distractions, interests and passions outside of school. Those who want homework say it encourages good study habits and recaps on the day's learning. They deem that the earlier students start the better. They also argue that secondary school students have too much work to be covered during lessons making homework necessary. Those parents arguing against homework say it obstructs family life, contributes to family tensions, accelerates burn-out, and because of its sedentary nature, is in part responsible for growing childhood obesity. They insist that the pressure of homework each night (sometimes as much as five and six hours in senior years) results in their children having to curtail healthy, balanced lives. There is also an argument that homework discriminates against students. Students with reliable and structured home environments, strong parental support, their own room, a desk, a computer, rapid internet connection, and abundant software reference material have a distinct advantage over students without these.
As for students, they generally fall into three categories. They either like homework, comply or reject it.
It's your child's homework. Allow them to learn by experiencing the consequences at school for success, avoidance, disorganisation or forgetfulness.
Communicate with your child's teacher. Know when assignments are due, and develop an arrangement to let the teacher know if the homework task was too difficult.
Make homework a daily expectation. If it does not sparkle as important in your routine then don't expect it to feature in your child's.
Appeal to your child's natural strengths. If working on the computer is more engaging then arrange for them to do as much homework as possible on the computer.
Talk with the teacher and agree on modifications if necessary. While "busy-work" is the icing on the cake for some children, for others it is just too much.
Gradually, guide your child to develop a logical pattern of thinking. For example, get them to
Decide on the first task to be tackled for homework
Estimate how long it should take (sometimes use the kitchen timer to check this out)
Work at it for the estimated time
THINK. Was the goal achieved?
If it was, great!
If it was not, encourage them to think about why not, and make an adjustment
Work out the next goal and return to work for another 10 minutes
- Page 178 -
It's a parental responsibility to organise and maintain a place where pencils, pencil sharpener pens, textas, lined paper, graph paper, glue sticks rulers, stapler, erasers, protractors, compass and so on are kept. This reduces frustration and eliminates some avoidance tactics. It is also a parental responsibility to work out the best location for a child to tackle homework. Perhaps shut in their bedroom is not a perfect place for the avoider, nor is the centrally located kitchen table in a busy household suitable for the easily distracted.
Resist the temptation to sit and continuously work on homework together. Be on call to answer a question, to suggest an idea or to demonstrate. Spend no more than two five minute periods every twenty five minutes perched by your child. Otherwise, no matter how you justify your action, you are drip-feeding your child with a powerful NO CONFIDENCE message. It says, "I don't trust you to think your way through your homework without me."
Children need to know their homework effort is valued. Ensure you constructively recognise your child's efforts.
At the start of each year, go back to basics. Explain your homework approach by setting up formal meetings with parents accompanied by their child. Explicitly teach parents how to work with their child, how to complement your approach and how to best communicate with you.
If, after a term, there remains a small group of students and families continuing to experience difficulties then follow-up with renewed workshops targetting these families.
Know why you set homework. Try not to allow your own opinion, which may be philosophically different from the school's homework policy, to compromise your delivery and follow up.
Teach parents that homework time should not be a "let me teach you how to do this" session Homework has a different agenda. Make a strong distinction between the two.
Expect homework to be done. If it is not, then follow it up the next day at school at your most convenient time, and the student's most inconvenient time. Refrain from doubling up on missed homework for the next evening as it often compounds the difficulty.