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December 5, 2013 | Volume 9 | Issue 5
Table of Contents
How to Guide Parents in Homework Help
Homework can be a major source of strain on relationships between schools and families. It can cut into family time and be stressful for the family member who feels responsible for proctoring homework completion. In Rethinking Homework: Best Practices to Support Diverse Needs, Cathy Vatterott provides guidelines for designing homework policies and tasks with purpose and about how to communicate homework reforms to families. Here she suggests ways to guide parental involvement in homework.
Most parents are unclear about what their role in homework is supposed to be. They often get different messages from different teachers as to what and how much they are supposed to do. They need more guidance and more communication from the teacher about expectations, but they also want teachers to respect what they as parents are willing and able to do in the homework process.
Parents should be encouraged to be less involved with the child's actual homework task and more involved in communicating with the teacher—writing notes when students don't complete work, asking for adaptations, or documenting how much time the child spent on the task. Parents should be encouraged to be observers, not enforcers (Goldberg, 2007).
If the child cannot do the homework without help, parents should be directed to stop the child and write a note to the teacher. If doing homework with their child is causing stress or conflict, parents should be directed to stop helping (Margolis, 2005). Parents should inform the school if they believe their child's homework load is excessive.
It is logical to expect parents to be somewhat more involved at the elementary level, less involved at the middle school level, and rarely involved at the high school level. During middle school, parents should be encouraged to wean their child off their homework help. Parents can be instructed to tell their children, "It's time for me to quit helping you with your homework" or "Mom's not taking algebra this year" (Vatterott, 2005). At the middle and high school levels, parents should back off tasks such as correcting mistakes, proofreading, or reviewing for tests. By this age, students should be self-checking and working with classmates to study or peer-edit. Homework advice for 7th and 8th grade parents should be "Don't touch it, don't pack it." At the middle and high school levels, teachers should work with students directly to make sure homework is completed and turned in. This assumes, of course, that school strategies are in place to prevent the student from failing as a result of incomplete homework (see the discussion of homework support programs in Chapter 5).
When designing homework guidelines for parents, wording is important. The phrases parent guidelines or parent options suggest a voluntary process, that parents have choices in what they will or will not do in regard to homework. Parent expectations, however, indicates that teachers expect parents to do certain things, meaning that if parents don't do those things, they—or their children—may be judged poorly. An example of suggested guidelines for the parent's role in homework is shown, below.
Suggested Guidelines for Parental Involvement in Homework
Parents are encouraged to …
Parents may, if they wish …
Parents should not …
Goldberg, K. (2007, April). The homework trap. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.
Margolis, H. (2005). Resolving struggling learners’ homework difficulties: Working with elementary school learners and parents. Preventing School Failure, 50(1), 5–12.
Vatterott, C. (2005, October/November). Mom and Dad aren't taking algebra this year. Our Children, 4–7.
Source: From Rethinking Homework: Best Practices to Support Diverse Needs (pp. 48–50), by C. Vatterott, 2009, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Copyright 2009 by Cathy Vatterott. Reprinted with permission.
ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 5. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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