Help! Homework is killing me.
By Dr Andrew Martin

Every couple of years – or maybe every year – the debate over homework erupts. Some argue it’s necessary, some urge that those in power should abolish it, some say it’s good for older kids but not for younger ones, some suggest that it’s good for all students but in small doses, and others argue it’s okay for all kids provided it is stimulating and directly beneficial to them.

I should really emphasise that homework is quite a complex thing. On the face of it, it looks quite simple and straightforward – the child sits down for an hour or so and does work assigned by the teacher. In reality, there are five major influences on homework:

  • The teacher has a major influence in designing and structuring the homework and then monitoring how it turns out.
  • The student obviously has a big influence in using his or her discretion over where, how, and when it’s done.
  • The home has an influence in creating an environment that helps or hinders the homework process.
  • Friends have an influence because they can play an assisting and motivating part in the process, or they can be a distracting or interfering presence in it.
  • The community also has an influence through the leisure and other activities (e.g. sport, part-time work) that compete with homework time.

It is because of these multiple influences that homework can be quite a difficult thing to get right. As you can see, there are quite a few points where the process can go off the rails.

How can you get involved with your child’s homework?

The involvement of parents in their children’s homework seems to have a number of positive effects. Parental involvement is associated with higher rates of homework completion, greater attention to homework, more time spent on homework, and more positive attitudes towards homework. Parental involvement with homework has also been linked to higher achievement and confidence in students.

Research shows that teachers have more positive feelings about teaching the more parents are involved in their child’s homework (and education more broadly). Research also shows that when schools actively seek out and invite parental involvement, parents tend to get involved.

There are a few reasons why parents get involved in their children’s homework. It has been found that parents are most likely to get involved when they believe their involvement will make a positive difference in their child’s life and when they are confident they can make such a difference. That is, their belief in their positive influence and their confidence are the two keys to most parents’ involvement. This is important for schools to know when they try to get their parents involved.

Below are eight ideas for enhancing your involvement in the homework process.

  1. Value homework and tasks assigned by the teacher. When your child believes that you see homework as important, he or she is more likely to see it’s important too.
  2. Establish an environment at home that makes it easy for your child to do homework. Try to have quiet time in the house before big exams, provide well-lit areas to do homework, set up reasonably regular routines that make homework and study planning easy. If home is a difficult place to do homework or study then you’ll need to find other suitable places. For example, you might use the local library or hook into the after-school homework program run by the school.
  3. Respond to communication from the teacher or the school. This can range from signing completed homework to meeting with the teacher on a particular matter.
  4. Monitor your child’s homework. There are three aspects of homework that you can monitor. The first is the process, to check your child is travelling well, not hitting roadblocks and not getting lost midway. The second is through monitoring the quality, checking your child is giving quality responses and answers to the work assigned. The third is through monitoring completion and checking that your child is finishing the work assigned. Monitoring these three will give you a clear idea of how your child is dealing with the schoolwork being given.
  5. Help with the homework task itself. This will often be a result of the monitoring that happens in the previous phase or as a result of your child asking for help.
  6. Provide emotional support. This will include praise for good work and encouragement if your child is finding some of it tough going. It can also include ad hoc discussion with your child about school and schoolwork, some of the challenges facing them, and possible ways to deal with these. This is also an important opportunity for you to communicate your positive expectations about your child’s ability to do homework and provide them with the necessary confidence to ask for the teacher’s help if needed.
  7. Reduce or eliminate distractions in the home or in your child’s life. This may mean better scheduling of television time, phone calls, the use of the Internet, friends dropping over, snack breaks and the like.
  8. Look for opportunities to develop important skills needed to do the homework. These can include time management, prioritising, planning, organising a study area, breaking work into manageable chunks, goal setting and so on.
There is another way that some parents get involved with homework and I recommend against this type of involvement. This involvement is where the parent (or someone else) actually does the child’s homework. Although there’s no problem helping children with their homework, actually doing it for them is no help to them in the medium to longer term. If you find this is the only way your child can complete the homework then you need to have a close look at your child’s homework skills (e.g. time management, prioritising), your child’s skill and knowledge in a particular school subject (e.g. does your child need tutoring in maths?), or the sheer amount or difficulty of work being assigned by the teacher. On this last point, you might like to talk to other parents to see how their kids are travelling. If you all find the homework is excessively onerous, you might like to talk to the teacher.

There can be a fine line between involvement and actual interference. Particularly as your child gets older, being too controlling may backfire. As with most things, balance is the key. Negotiate some of these things with your child rather than impose them with no consultation. Also be aware that the house rules may need to change depending on the time of year – distractions early on in the term are less problematic than distractions close to exams.

Dr Andrew Martin is a psychologist and researcher specialising in educational psychology. In 2003, Dr Martin was listed in The Bulletin's SMART 100 Australians and ranked in the Top 10 in the field of Education. In 2002, the American Psychological Association judged his PhD the world's Most Outstanding Doctorate in Educational Psychology and prior to that the Australian Association for Research in Education judged his PhD the Most Outstanding Education Doctoral Dissertation in Australia. Dr Martin has conducted extensive research into student motivation, engagement, and achievement as well as work into boys' education, gifted and talented, disengagement, educational resilience, effective teaching, parenting, teacher-student relationships, and Aboriginal education. Dr Martin is Research Fellow at the Self-concept Enhancement and Learning Facilitation (SELF) Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney, and is Director of an educational consultancy (www.ajmartinresearch.com). He lives in Sydney with his wife and children.
 
Banner