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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Homework – To Help or Not to Help

By Rachel H

For parents with children of all ages, this is a tough decision. Some parents feel that when they don’t help their child, they are not involved enough in their schoolwork. Others feel that if they help too much, they are not teaching their child how to be responsible. I have asked teachers from all different grade levels to please give us advice on how to handle homework with our children. These are just a few opinions from teachers that I highly respect. Most importantly, please remember that any decision such as this one should be based on the individual child. You know your children best and you also know what may hinder or help them. Read the advice below and use what you can! Thanks so much to all these wonderful teachers for taking time to give us their “two cents”!

Preschool & Readiness Classes
Jan Bullins – Homework is rarely sent home at this young of an age, but it is always beneficial to help children at home with skills like learning to using scissors and glue. In my own classroom, I have actually thought about including a suggested activity with the newsletter every week to further reinforce what we studied in class, but it is one more thing to do----for all of us!---and it hasn't happened yet. IF I did, it would be expected to be a "teachable moment," as you as a parent are your child's first and best teacher!

Jean Biscombe – At the preschool where I teach, we rarely send home assignments with the children, but every once in a while we do have a project that the children are asked to complete at home. For items such as this, we want the parents to get the child started and help them understand directions. After that, I encourage the parent to let the child complete some of the work on their own while the parent supervises. It is OK if something looks messy or isn’t done exactly right. It is all about learning, and the children are usually proud of themselves and the work they produce.

Kim Fansler - I definitely think that the parents need to help their children with homework in Kindergarten. Although, hands-on help may not necessarily be what each individual child needs. They may just need the parent to assist or watch them complete the homework activity. At the elementary school where I teach, the homework that the Kindergarten teachers assign is designed for the parents to do with the children. Homework time should be a time when the parents are reinforcing what the teacher has been teaching, or a time where they watch the child practice what they have been working on at school.

First Grade
Janet Fulp – At the first grade level, students will need a lot of guidance to make sure the homework actually gets completed. In the case of take-home reading, the child needs someone to hear him/her read. But the level of help in actually doing the homework should be low. If the book is too hard - it's not an appropriate take-home reader. If the student can not complete any other homework without a lot of parental instruction, it is an indication that either your child is struggling with a first grade concept or the homework is inappropriate. (This doesn't include enrichment activities - which I will send at times but is optional.)

Second Grade
Michelle Ruby – The single most important thing I could say about second graders and their homework is for parents to initially let their children do their homework by themselves. Second graders should be able to do their subject area homework and then have a parent check it. Parents can then, at that time, give their child any help with misunderstandings or incorrect answers. Second graders still need a parent to listen to them read. A misconception for parents is that they think since their child is a good reader, then they can go read independently. Second graders still need assistance with new, more complex vocabulary. Second graders need to work on making inferences (reading between the lines). They need an adult to read along with them and point out places in a story where the author is giving the reader a clue toward the important theme or message.

Third & Fourth Grades
Christina Aho - This age is very transitional for kids and parents. Parents still need to take an active role in their childrens’ homework, but students at this age need to learn a bit of independence, too, to prepare for Middle School. Parents can mostly act as supervisors. Parents must use their good judgment and learn to pull away when necessary as well as step in when necessary. Stay in contact with your child’s teacher if you are having trouble deciding what your student may or may not need. Once again, it is often an individual decision since every child is unique.

Fifth Grade
Victoria Johnson – I feel that fifth graders should be very independent. They should be able to come home from school and start their assignments alone. They should also be able to complete all of their homework without much help. Although, if a student is struggling with a particular assignment, by all means – help them out! Nothing saddens a child like an entire Math assignment being done incorrectly, when he/she thought it was correct. It would be wonderful for parents to take an extra few minutes to look over the assignment and just make sure your child was on the right track. (I do not think every math problem or science question needs to be checked individually unless the student has been struggling.) I also think parents should look at their child’s homework planner and double-check that all assignments were completed. Sometimes when a certain child struggles with organizational skills, I will even ask parents to initial their homework log each night after they have checked to see that an assignment was complete. Help them out with organizational skills as much as possible now, because when they enter Middle School they will have many different teachers asking them to complete many different assignments.

Middle School
Dack Stackhouse - The part about each child's having individual needs can't be overstated, especially at middle school level. My personal experience is that my mom was always right there while I did homework - she was available, but not getting into it. She would look over all my written work and tell me straight up if it was good or not. Rewrites occurred, and she made sure that what I turned in reflected MY best effort (i.e. she didn't fix things, but she made sure that I didn't just crank out some mediocre product). I'm biased, but I think I had a pretty good experience. Parents should definitely know what their students are doing, help with vocabulary/spelling (by calling out or having students do practice tests), and give the OK that something is done completely and to the best of the student's ability. The other rules apply too: Basic materials nearby, no distractions such as cell phones/computers, etc., so that the student can work in a focused manner without interruptions (either from others or for having to go find a pen, marker, ruler, etc.) I personally don't think sending kids to their rooms to do work is a good idea if they have a tv, phone, or computer there. Learn to focus and get the job done (and done well) before enjoying social and entertainment distractions.

High School
Lynn Peterson - Ideally, students should be able to handle homework independently by high school. If your child is struggling with a particular assignment, and you are able to help him or her, then you can work with your child on the assignment. Although, in some cases, you might not be able to offer much help. (For instance, I doubt I will be able to help my children with their high school math homework since I teach English!) Most teachers base homework grades on completion, so as long as your child finishes the assignment, he or she will get a good grade even if the answers are not all correct. All teachers in Forsyth County are required to have a web page, so if you ever want to see what the students are working on, you should be able to check the web page. If your child is not completing his or her assignments on a regular basis, you can check the webpage for the nightly assignments. You can always contact the teacher to set up a system to help motivate your child.

Thank you to all of these teachers for a wealth of information. I think that one commonality you will find in all of these answers is that the parents should always be involved with homework SOMEHOW all the way through their child’s education. Whether it be working with the child every step of the way when they are young, to checking homework when they are older, it is important that parents are aware of the work being done. Let's us know your thoughts!


Anonymous said...

I like these tips. My daughter is in Middle School, and it is like pulling teeth to get her started on HW each day. I must admit that I usually let her complete the work in her room, but after reading this, I am thinking the kitchen table is a better idea. Thanks for the advice.

Kristie said...

Our family just began the ‘homework experience’ this quarter – with 3 kindergarteners in different classes. At first, I was really nervous about it and it took a bit of trial and error, but I think we have a good ‘system’ now. I too was concerned about how much I should ‘help’ as all 3 of our children are at different stages. Abby is very independent - the first time she got her homework packet she did it all by herself at the after-school program before we even saw it! Adam needs more help with reading and understanding the directions and Andrew can read the directions but he needs more reinforcement & encouragement as he completes the work. I spoke to a few of the teachers yesterday because I wasn’t sure how we should approach the reading homework when they need to ‘describe something’ or give an answer that is not really right or wrong. (i.e., “what is your favorite part of the story?"). These are answers that the parents are supposed to listen to and write down. Andrew likes to give one-word answers and I wasn’t sure how to help him elaborate on his answer without doing it for him. I mentioned to the teacher that I have been trying ‘reverse-psychology’ by saying something like: “Was your favorite part of the story when the monkey jumped out of the tree?” (when the story was really about a cat that had climbed up a tree and jumped out of it.) This works wonders to get him talking because he’ll laugh and say “No, it was when the cat jumped out of a tree!” The teacher told me that this is exactly what she does to get kids to use their own words when they can’t seem to start the thought process themselves. I felt that I should share this with other moms who might have a child like Andrew who has difficulty expressing him/her self.

Also, we tried to do homework as a family (since it was all the same) but that did not work well. Each child needs individual attention so we sit down with one at the kitchen table with no distractions and tell the other two to go play upstairs. We have a week to do each of their homework packets so we try to work with one of them each night…if they seem tired or irritated after one or two pages, we finish it another night. Sitting at the kitchen table has been key for us because it is now ‘the place’ that we do homework. I imagine that our concerns and issues will change as they progress to different grades…so I am happy to see opinions on the website to help all of us, whatever stage we are in!

Susan said...

My daughter is in third grade and I am guilty of having her read independently all the time. I am now realizing that I should probably listen to her "take home reader" homework at least once a week. I am sure there are many words that she may skip over or read incorrectly.

Suzanne said...

Awesome advice! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I was browsing your site today and came upon this blog. I love it! Please remind us of it in the fall when school starts back!!!

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