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Old School Tips For Handling Homework (For Those Without A Dog)

22/03/2016 10:20 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Dog with homework sign in mouth.

The initial back-to-school glow has well and truly worn off for most students. If you're lucky, it's back to the routine of wake-up, school, homework, mealtime, bedtime... not necessarily in that order.

If you're unlucky, you've probably got a battle on your hands when it comes to the homework part of this routine.

Yes, homework once again rears its ugly head to cause more parent-child arguments than any current technology issue; bring more disruption to family-life than the most robust sibling argument; turn more students off learning than any boring lesson a child may sit through at school; and become the number one culprit behind the current deterioration in parent-teacher relationships.

Yes, homework has a lot to answer for.

Homework is a topic that divides parents and professionals alike. From my experience, teachers generally see homework as a necessary evil. They know there's value in it but they are also aware that it has inherent problems for students, parents and themselves as overseers.

Parents, on the other hand, generally take extreme views on homework, with precious little middle ground.

There are the homework hardliners. "The more homework the better" is their mantra. These parents have high expectations for their children and even higher expectations for the schools -- expecting them to set, monitor and correct every skerrick of schoolwork done at home. Some hardliners will even complete their child's homework if they deem it too difficult rather than send a child to school with incomplete work. Hardliners often harangue teachers for not giving enough homework or for committing the cardinal sin of not correcting the homework they set.

At the other end of the parent scale are lifestyle advocates. "Kids do enough learning at school" is their mantra. After school is a time for relaxation, mucking about and expanding kids' personal interests, according to lifestyle advocates. These parents may support their school's homework policy but their hearts aren't usually in it. If homework is too hard, then kids don't have to bother. If there's something else on after school then they excuse kids from completing their homework. Any relationship grievances lifestyle advocates have with teachers generally revolve around too much homework being set, or the unspoken expectation that they should help kids with their homework.

Whether you're a homework hardliner, lifestyle advocate or fall somewhere in the middle, if your child struggles to do homework then it's likely to become your 'Number One Problem' as a parent. So I'd like to offer a little constructive advice to teachers and parents about this contentious issue.

Before doing so, I need to declare my hand. I believe there is a definite place for homework, but it needs to assist rather then deter student learning, and it definitely shouldn't harm parent-child relationships. Homework is a contract between students and teachers, so if teachers are to set homework then they need to ensure that it's done. Being the homework marshal is not a parent's job.

Advice for teachers

1. Set at-home learning tasks in line with your school's current homework policy and steer clear of ad-hoc arrangements that cause so much parent angst.

2. Communicate early and often both the objectives of the homework you set and the role that you expect parents to play when schoolwork is to be done at home. Clearly stated objectives are essential to homework success.

3. Provide assistance, advice and relief for those parents who, in your professional judgement, may struggle to get their kids to 'do homework'. If kids struggle to get tasks done at school then there's every chance they'll struggle at home too.

4. Make sure the homework that kids get has a clear purpose and is different than the type of work they do at school. Unless students are in the last few years of secondary school, 'more of the same' is a homework turn-off. Just as variety is the spice of life, a mixed bag of homework activities helps maintain student interest and motivation.

5. You set it; you make sure they do it. Have consequences for students who don't hand in homework on time.

6. Ensure parents have the knowledge and resources needed to assist their children do home tasks. The bane of a busy parent's life is to be told by their child on Thursday that their child must build a scale model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa by Friday. And there's no instructions; no materials; and your child has no idea what to do. If this is you, rest assured you'll be cursed by every parent in your class.

Advice for parents

1. Find out your school's homework policy and your child's teacher's take on this policy. Understanding their homework goals will give you direction and clarity.

2. Your job is to encourage, assist, read through, help organise, even entice children to tackle homework. But, ultimately it's their responsibility to do it, and the teacher's responsibility to follow through.

3. Encourage strugglers to work quickly (not erratically or poorly) rather than procrastinate, or worse, get lost on one of the many screens that may be available to them. 'Short, sharp and focused' is a great homework strategy.

4. Do not, under any circumstances, complete homework for kids. You'll make a rod for your own back. By all means work alongside your child to help them understand what they are doing, read through difficult instructions, and help them make a start, but leave it for them to complete.

5. If your child has difficulties completing homework, communicate clearly and respectfully to the teacher concerned the challenges your child encountered. Work with your child's teachers to devise a workable home plan that suits your child in the future. Enlist their help for ideas and strategies to help you at home with your child's homework.

6. Reading every night should be a non-negotiable. If your child doesn't read every night then someone should read to them or with them.

Homework is a contentious issue but it's not one that will go away. You are blessed if your child enjoys homework and your biggest problem is putting limits on how much they do. You are doubly blessed if your school communicates homework goals clearly; is cogniscent that students and parents have busy lives outside school; and sets interesting, stimulating home tasks that motivate kids to learn.

Life will not be so easy if you have a homework recalcitrant. But you'll benefit from a school who is willing to work with you to make homework less of a battle, more educationally useful and sticks to the aforementioned basics.

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