For most school-going children, homework is another task which has to be undertaken and it is done without any great difficulty - part of the normal routine, supported and assisted by parents. However, for other parents and children, homework is very different. It is problematic, stressful and, from my experience in meeting these parents and children, it appears to cause more grief and distress than any other area of home and school life. For this group the time spent at homework is often very trying: tempers begin to rise and the parent-child relationship frequently comes under severe strain. This situation can continue right through primary school into second level. The great majority of parents expect and want homework for their children; the amount of homework covered is often seen as a measure of the pupil's progress. Teachers who do not see the value in giving homework, or at least big amounts of it, may be viewed suspiciously by many colleagues and parents.
What is homework meant to achieve? In my view, homework is given to ensure that what is taught in school is reinforced, more firmly grasped and - in some situations - extended by the pupils. Homework is another learning tool to help pupils to gain a greater understanding of what they have been taught and thus make them more comfortable with and ready for new learning.
For example, if pupils are learning a new concept in mathematics such as addition of fractions, they will reinforce the concept in their minds through doing further examples at home. In English, questions can be given for homework on a piece of written text which has been worked on in class, to give the pupils a greater understanding of the text and open up other ideas on it.
Parents have a very important part to play in homework. We can:
encourage and where necessary support our children in getting it completed;
provide a comfortable and suitable "place of work" without unnecessary interruptions;
encourage our children to develop a routine each evening for doing their work;
if needed explain and discuss aspects and areas of subjects;
help with accessing information;
have fun with our children as they learn - do quizzes, e.g. on history or English; ask amusing or tricky questions; dramatise some stories or scenes; count things, weigh things, measure things, cook things - get any basic science book and you will find that most of it happens in the house or garden;
listen to reading or spelling;
examine work which has to be learned by rote;
offer advice and direction;
most importantly, give praise and encouragement.
We can do much to assist and support our children in completing their work and in ensuring that it is presented in an appropriate manner - but we must not do the work for our them.
Good homework habits can start very early - drawing a picture, having a book to look at, learning a nursery rhyme, collecting items for counting such as leaves. It need not be much, but it will start a pattern of child and parent working together which will develop and continue during school-life. It is much harder if you do not develop good homework habits in the early school years.
As parents involve themselves in the homework they need to have a clear picture of what is to be done each evening. They need to be guided on which subjects to expect, what will be given on the different days, how much time it will generally take and, most importantly, how they can be helpful. Parents need to be encouraged to talk about the work and praise their children.
The best encouragement teachers can give them is to show them and the pupils that homework is very important by checking it and if necessary giving helpful feedback. There is no greater turn-off for pupils and parents than to have homework unchecked.
The bright pupils feel bad enough about this scenario. Can you imagine how damaging it is be for the child who struggles, for all types of personal or social reasons, to complete homework? Luckily this is a rare occurrence and generally only happens if other work crowds in on it during classtime.
If homework is to promote successful learning it must be:
geared towards being done within a time limit;
relevant and interesting for the pupils;
related to school work;
capable of being done by the pupils (not the parents);
capable of providing scope for further opportunities to learn;
capable of actively involving parents;
supported by the parents through their active involvement in it;
acknowledged and corrected by the teacher as soon as possible;
something that the pupils can come back to the teacher on if they do not understand it and cannot do it.
If at all possible it is very beneficial if there is in a school:
a consistent homework policy across the school;
a homework (home-school) journal with the school policy;
a meeting or at least an advice sheet at the beginning of the year or each term detailing (a) what will be covered in class during the period and (b) the homework itself and how parents can support it.
Can homework be successful for all children?
Homework is meant to involve the parents in the education of their children and create links between home-learning and school-learning. It is also meant to support the child in developing the motivation and the ability to learn independently.
This happens for some pupils but unfortunately not for all. If homework is causing problems for your child, and if it is creating difficulties between you, your child and your child's teacher, it is in everybody's interest that you do something. Teachers and parents working together and supporting one another will change the situation - and at the same time ensure that pupils learn.
Well planned, well structured and parent-supported homework is designed to ease the child's passage through school and lessen anxiety about learning. If it is properly and carefully planned, homework will lead to successful learning for the pupils and help them to develop an active interest in learning.