Homework Problems and Solutions Part I

kidsDear Parents,

Homework is a huge issue for many families and a frustration for many teachers – and it’s one of the things that kids hate most about school.

A common educational myth is that all children need to do homework every weeknight. Research tells us that for elementary school children, homework has little or no effect on academic achievement. A head start on establishing good study habits is probably the most positive outcome from elementary homework – that, and an opportunity for parents to keep track of their child’s progress in the curriculum. Homework in middle school has a moderate effect on achievement, but it’s really not until high school that homework becomes an important factor for academic progress.

Parents are often concerned about the amount of time their children spend on homework – either too much or too little. Many school systems have a “rule of thumb” about how much homework is appropriate: ten minutes per grade level is the most common. So your first grader should have 10 minutes of homework, your fifth grader should have 50 minutes of homework, and so forth. By the time students are in high school, a general expectation is 1 to 2 hours of homework every weekday evening.

Another policy issue is the effect of homework on the final grade. Many students get poor grades because they don’t do homework and get zeroes in the grade book. In my school system, the homework policy recommends that homework be no more than 15% of the grade in elementary and middle school, and no more than 20% in high school.

We all know that homework can make evenings a living hell. When children have piles of homework every night in elementary and middle school, it’s often because they aren’t finishing their work at school. In other words, they’re doing a day’s worth of work, plus homework, every evening. I’d cry too! Your child may be struggling with the school work or he may need to develop organized study habits. In any case, if homework seems excessive or if your child gets upset every night, it’s time to take four steps:

  • Find out if your school has an official homework policy and read it.
  • Schedule a parent/teacher conference.
  • Establish a homework routine.
  • Work out an incentive system for homework completion.

We’ll discuss steps one and two in this article. Next week we’ll talk about steps three and four, so stay tuned!

The first step is to find out if there is an official homework policy. In my school system, it’s under School Board Policies on the system website. If you can’t find it, ask the teacher. If there isn’t one, you have an excellent project to suggest to the principal, the superintendent, or a school board member. The homework policy lets you know how much time your child should be spending on homework and how it affects grades.

The second step is to schedule a parent/teacher conference. Teachers want children to complete assignments and learn the material, but they also want children and families to have time at home to relax. Your goal at the conference is to find out two things:

  • How much time the teacher expects the students to spend on homework every night.
  • What’s going on in class that’s causing the problem if your child’s homework load is greater than it should be.

Then it’s your turn! Tell the teacher how much time your child’s homework is actually taking, and share any observations you have about your child’s work or work habits.  If your child is forgetting to bring home assignments and books, ask about setting up a check-out system at the end of each day. If your child is fooling around all day and not completing work, suggest a home/school behavior plan. If your child is struggling with the work, ask about academic interventions and progress-monitoring. Write down the plan, and schedule a follow-up conference. Be clear about what the teacher will do and what you will do. Involve student support staff (school psychologist, guidance counselor, school nurse) as necessary.

Teachers can also offer accommodations to help your child complete homework.  This is very common for children with special needs, but any child can be accommodated.  Here are some ideas to discuss:

  • Agree to the amount of time your child will spend on homework. The teacher will then accept the work that was completed and give a grade based on what the child actually finished.
  • Reduce the homework load.  For example, a reduced spelling list or completing only the odd math problems.
  • Do the assignments a little differently.  For example, write one word answers instead of complete sentences for social studies questions.  Dictate longer answers to a parent or complete the assignment on a computer.  Allow a parent to read the assignment to the child, or take turns reading.

Next week we’ll talk about how to establish a homework routine and set up an incentive system.

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