When Talking To Parents Teachers Should Give Homework

Despite all evidence to the contrary, a myth seems to persist among students and parents that teachers relish giving out homework – the more, the better! This is especially sensitive when you start talking about the amount of homework elementary school children get assigned. I am was personally surprised when my first grader (now in second) started coming up with ample homework.

Homework can be a divisive issue between teachers and parents, especially if there is poor (or no) communication around the issue. It’s important to keep a dialogue open so that everyone understands that homework is part of the larger puzzle: A comprehensive, well-rounded educational experience for the student.

Here are 7 ideas to keep in mind:

1. Set expectations early. As much as possible, keep parents looped in about how much homework their kids can generally expect, per night and per week. Obviously, this is going to vary from child to child – not to mention throughout the year – but even rough guidelines can be helpful.

2. Explain why homework is necessary. As a parent, I really want to understand how much homework is expected of my children and whey. As an educator, you understand that sometimes the learning process has to extend beyond the four corners of the school day. This point isn’t always as clear to students and parents as you might think, so make a point to talk about it.

3. Help parents help with homework. Think of it as “Homework 101” for parents. Explain that their children optimally need a quiet, dedicated space at home to do homework, that leaving everything until after dinner is often a recipe for disaster, and the things parents should have on hand (such as basic research materials, like a print or online dictionary) to help their children succeed at the task. It’s imperative that parents try their hardest to provide the right environment for homework to get done.

4. Tell parents (politely) to not get overinvolved. We’ve all seen parents get too involved in homework, sometimes to the extent of doing entire projects all by themselves with nary a glance from the student. Oftentimes this is simply good intentions gone overboard. Clearly explain to parents the difference between facilitating their child’s homework (good; see above) and doing it for them (becoming helicopter parents; bad).

5. Stay positive about homework, and encourage parents to do the same. Just between us, we know that you teachers don’t like grading homework in the evenings any more than the kids like doing homework in the evenings – and that grading is often one of the least favorite parts of any teacher’s job. That having been said, it’s important to stay upbeat about the process so that parents and students don’t turn against it and get discouraged.

6. Post assignments in a central online location. MemberHub, of course, is perfect for this. You never want to encourage students to leave things to the last minute, but it happens. Help them (and their parents) out by making it easy for them to figure out what’s due when – even if inspiration doesn’t strike until 9:30 pm on a Saturday.

7. Reinforce your availability to talk about homework challenges. Sometimes, a student’s particular courseload can explode into a “perfect storm” of homework overwhelm at some point during the year. Sometimes a student may have procrastinated him- or herself into a homework pit of despair. And, sometimes, challenges with homework assignments can be a red flag for more serious issues that need to be addressed, such as learning differences or problems at home.

Whatever the problem, if you encourage parents and students to come to you with their questions and concerns, you are all far more likely to resolve the problem in a productive, satisfactory manner – rather than being unfairly flagged as “that teacher who gives too much homework.”


Click here for your copy of our free eBook, 9 Effective Strategies for Parent Engagement at Your School.

At the start of the 2013-14 school year, the Fentress County School District in Tennessee announced that it would enforce a district-wide ban on graded homework assignments.

Administrators explained their decision by pointing to the large majority of students who lacked at-home resources to help them with their homework. Anywhere between 65%-75% of each school’s student body qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, so it was  decided that students should not be singled out for failing to adequately complete take-home assignments.

“We don’t want kids to be unfairly penalized for their work because they don’t have the resources or support they need at home,” explained Randy Clark, Fentress County Schools’ Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor. “Our new motto for assignments is ‘review and preview.”

That means that homework in the district now constitutes an ungraded review or preview of current course work that’s the students’ responsibility to independently complete. Spelling words, vocabulary practice, and study guides for testing all fall under this purview.

The Great Homework Debate
Some educators aren’t fans of the new policy. Tammy Linder, a sixth grade teacher at Allardt Elementary School, is one of them.

“Students have not had that daily homework practice in any subject that keeps the concepts ‘alive’ and moving in their brains, so that means that much of the practice time and teaching time and testing time had to come during the class time each day,” Linder says.

Still, other districts across the country are taking second looks at the practice. The principal of Gaithersburg Elementary in Maryland decided to ask students to spend only 30 minutes in the evening reading. The decision was reached out of the realization that worksheets and other assignments had been assigned merely out of a sense of obligation to dole our homework to students.

Across the country, parents, teachers, and students are also voicing their opinions in the homework debate. On the issue of the actual educational value of homework, it may seem straightforward to many educators that reviewing lessons and practicing concepts after school would correlate to a greater retention of course material, but studies suggest that the link between assigned homework and academic achievement is drastically overinflated.

Researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education found in a 2012 study that math and science homework didn’t correlate to better student grades, but it did lead to better performances on standardized tests. And when homework is assigned, the help provided by parents often mitigated any of the positive effects of the work. Critics of this type of parental involvement say it can be counterproductive because parents may assume too great  a role and/or may not fully understand the lessons being taught.

In April, Denise Pope, a researcher at Stanford University, found that too much homework can negatively affect kids by increasing stress and sleep deprivation and generally leaving less time for family, friends, and activities. According to Pope, homework should not be simply assigned as a routine practice.

“Rather, any homework assigned should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development.”

Video: Do Students Really Have Too Much Homework?

No Homework the New Norm?
“There are simply no compelling data to justify the practice of making kids work what amounts to a second shift when they get home from a full day of school,” says Alfie Kohn, an expert on child education, parenting, and human behavior, as well as the author of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

Should schools then assign less homework or at least reevaluate what they assign? No, says Kohn, school shouldn’t assign any homework. Teachers who do assign it need to have a very compelling reason for extending a student’s school day.

“My general suggestion is to change the default: No homework should be the norm,” Kohn says, “Six hours of academics is enough—except on those occasions when teachers can show strong reason to infringe on family time and make these particular students do more of this particular schoolwork.”

Still, homework is so ingrained in the fabric of schooling that studies revealing its minimal positive benefits have been largely shrugged off or ignored altogether. For most educators, completely cutting homework out of schools isn’t a viable alternative – at least not yet. And many, if not most, teachers are unconvinced that gutting homework from their repertoire of learning tools is the best idea anyway.

Tammy Linder says that teachers haven’t had the amount of teaching time they usually need to enforce classroom lessons and concepts. With the heavy focus on standardized testing already in schools, losing precious out-of-school homework time drastically diminishes how long teachers can devote to thoroughly covering a given subject, as well as the depth and amount of topics they can cover in a school year.

“I have calculated that I have averaged only two to three ‘teaching’ days per week, depending upon re-teaching for those hard to conquer standards and testing,” Linder says. “My students have not covered as much material as students in the past have because of these factors. Nightly practice of any concept keeps the brain engaged in the topic and helps the student focus.”

Karen Spychala, a teacher in San Jose, believes homework has value, but is concerned about its potential to consume too much time outside the school day.

“Homework has its place: to practice skills and most importantly to involve families in their child’s learning” Spychala explains. “But too much homework that takes over everyone’s lives should never happen. There should be agreed upon standard homework times per grade level.”

Reinventing Homework
Are there ways to deemphasize the overreliance on standard homework assignments and allow students to learn through other conducive means?

One option is changing the paradigm of assigned homework to infuse hands-on, student-led engagement with class lessons as a way of piquing student interest in the material. And instead of simply limiting homework to the teacher/student/parent sphere, allowing students the opportunity to show off exceptional homework to a larger audience can give them a further incentive to put in their best effort.

Angela Downing, an elementary school teacher in Newton, Massachusetts, has found great success in displaying excellent student homework on the walls inside and outside of her classroom. By doing so, homework becomes disassociated from the standard teacher-student relationship and gains a whole new level of importance that draws students into the assignment.

“This practice sends the message to students that their work and their learning are important and valued,” Downing says. “Students take special care to do their best work when they know that the final piece will be displayed in the hall or on the classroom bulletin board.”

But for Bonnie Stone, an elementary school teacher in Tulsa, too much homework is too much homework. She saw the impact on her own children and vowed to curtail what she assigned her students.

“As a result of their experience, I vowed never to assign more than 30 minutes of outside reading enrichment for my students,” Stone recalls. “They work hard in class all day. After that, they need to be kids and teens. And I’ve seen no change in the achievement level of my students since I stopped assigning homework.”

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