8 Things Your Child’s Teachers Want You to Know About Homework
You may well have read that the best indicator of a child’s success at school is not the wealth or education of their parents.
Instead, it’s the level of interest and support that the parents have in their children’s education. Put simply, parents who support their children’s education development, take an interest in what they’ve been learning at school and generally convey the idea that they think their children’s hard work at school is to be celebrated end up having children who do better at school than their peers.
But of course, it’s not as straightforward as this. It’s not always clear where the line is between supportive and pushy; or between interested and interfering. You want to help your children in whatever way you can, but you probably don’t want to engage in helicopter parenting, especially by the time your children are in their teens. We asked British schoolteachers what they would like parents to know about their child’s homework – here’s what they said.
1. Homework is there to support what they’re learning – not to be the learning
It’s important to remember what the purpose of homework actually is. It’s not to keep your children occupied in the evenings or to co-opt you as an underpaid teaching assistant. Nor is it supposed to be a time when your children teach themselves the syllabus that they were supposed to be learning in class. Instead, it’s supposed to be a time when your children review and revise what they learned in class in a different context, practising the skill of working independently and checking that everything they were supposed to have learned in school has actually sunk in.
This means that if you’re repeatedly finding that your child is learning things from scratch while doing their homework (distinguish homework from coursework here, if you have older children), then something has gone wrong. Perhaps they’re not paying enough attention in class, or their teacher is making incorrect assumptions about how much they’ve picked up in their lessons. The opposite scenario – if their homework just duplicates what they’ve been doing in class with no added value – is also not what schools intend when they set homework.
It’s useful for you to know this as a parent; if it seems to you that your child is coming home with homework set that echoes what they have learned in class but asks they to look at it from a different perspective or in a slightly different way, don’t worry – that’s exactly how homework is supposed to work.
2. Homework shouldn’t take over their lives
There are a few times when your children won’t have time to do anything of an evening except their homework. This can be the case when they’ve procrastinated on some deadlines or they have major tests coming up. But if this is happening on a daily or even weekly basis, then something has gone wrong. Your children – whatever age they’re at – ought to have sufficient time beyond school and homework to get involved in hobbies and have a bit of a social life.
If their homework is taking them so long every evening that this isn’t possible, it’s worth investigating why – have they chosen particularly work-intensive subjects? (There are some combinations of A-levels that aren’t recommended for this reason). Are they procrastinating, so that the hours they spending ‘working on their homework’ are actually 10% homework and 90% social media? Are they taking too perfectionist an approach, such as producing beautifully presented homework that only needs to be rough? Or have their teachers significantly underestimated how long the homework they’ve been set should take? Talking to your child to figure out the answer to this is a very sensible thing to do, not only for the sake of their academic work but also for their work/life balance.
3. If necessary, do their homework with them; never do it for them
This feels obvious, but there comes a time in every parent’s experience when they feel tempted just to take their child’s homework from them and do it for them. Perhaps it’s because of tears, or stress, or a competitive instinct in themselves or their children that they want to satisfy. Whatever the reason, do your utmost to resist this inclination, as it is deeply unhelpful. You aren’t the one at school; whatever it was that your child’s teacher intended them to gain from the homework when it was set is highly unlikely to apply to you. What’s more, your child’s teacher will be able to tell who did the piece of work, even if they keep it to themselves.
That’s not to say that you can’t do your child’s homework with them if they’re having difficulties. You don’t necessarily need to understand the work to be able to do this, either; asking questions or getting them to explain it to you can also help them to figure out where they might be having difficulties. However, don’t forget that homework is intended to be an independent activity. If your child is spending a few minutes pondering and looking confused, it’s fine for them to struggle for a bit and then work it out for themselves; swooping in at the first sign of difficulty will be counterproductive in the end.
4. It’s always helpful to show an interest
If you want to help with your children’s homework but don’t want to run the risk of doing it for them, or the subject isn’t one that you know about, there’s one thing that’s always useful and doesn’t require any specialist knowledge at all: merely showing an interest. That can be a case of simply asking them to explain what it is that they’re doing (although ideally not when they’re short of time or deep in concentration!) and then make some positive comments about it.
‘Positive’ is the operative word here. If it is a subject you know well, you might spot errors, in which case it seems helpful to point them out. But there’s a fine line between showing an interest and criticising. You will want to ensure you do the former, not the latter, or this won’t be encouraging at all. One technique that’s often recommended is the ‘compliment sandwich’ – say something positive, then something negative, then round it off with something else positive – assuming that you can do so sincerely.
Failing that, you can always have a conversation with your child about whether they’re interested in your feedback. Don’t be offended if it turns out that they would prefer you to make some positive noises and then keep the rest of your thoughts to yourself.
5. Quality matters more than quantity
Remember the purpose of homework that we discussed above – to complement your child’s learning at school? One crucial thing that homework isn’t is work set to take up a certain number of hours in the day. Perhaps one of your children seems to get set much more homework than the other, or the amount of homework they get seems to be a lot more or a lot less than your friends’ children come home with. This can be a sign that something has gone wrong, but it doesn’t need to be. In particular, if it seems like your child isn’t getting enough homework, don’t panic. Quality is what’s important, not quantity.
On a related note, if you do try to take an interest in the work your child is doing, make sure that you’re not trying to get them to concentrate on things that don’t matter. For instance, even when you know nothing whatsoever about a subject, you can usually make a sensible comment about the presentation. However, you shouldn’t lead your child into caring more about the presentation of their work than the content. It may well be that this is a rough piece of work where the presentation doesn’t matter at all, or even if the presentation does matter, it only matters insofar as the work needs to be legible, not beautiful. A teacher at parents’ evening will not thank you for encouraging your child to prioritise their handwriting over whatever the lesson was that they were supposed to be learning.
6. A quiet, calm space to work can be one of the best things you can give them
If there’s one thing all teachers wish that their students could have, it’s a quiet, calm space to do their work in. That doesn’t necessarily need to be their own room; it could just be an understanding within the family that if they’re working at the kitchen table, they won’t get asked too many unhelpful questions by their parents and their siblings will leave them alone. Knowing that they will have a particular time to work uninterrupted can be one of the most useful aids to working efficiently and productively. Turning the radio off, making their siblings be quiet and ensuring that the dog is in another room can be very nearly cost-free, but makes a world of difference.
Especially as they get older, your children will also start to need some equipment for doing their homework – pens, pencils, and probably Maths equipment too, like calculators, protractors and compasses. Keep this in one place so that they can find it easily, rather than needing to do a ten-minute hunt for a working pen every time they want to sit down and do their homework. If younger siblings taking things is a problem, keep it all in a box where they can’t reach.
7. Use the available resources, like the school website and the homework diary provided
Every British school ought to have a homework policy, and in many cases this will be provided as a .pdf on their website. This may include the stated aims of homework, and other guidelines, such as how long an individual piece of homework should take, or how much homework your child should expect to have per subject, per week. Depending on the school, this might be provided in a lot of detail, or as a broad overview, but it should at least give you some indication of what to expect. You can always email the school and ask for a copy of their homework policy if it isn’t available online.
Most British schools also use a system of homework diaries to help students record the homework they’re set (or to note down that no homework has been set). You might be asked to sign this on a weekly or fortnightly basis. It’s a useful resource that enables you to keep an eye on the homework your child has been given, and to see if the amount has been excessive. For instance, even with the best policy in the work, two teachers in different subjects might inadvertently set a large piece of homework at the same time. If the school doesn’t use homework diaries as standard, consider encouraging your child to get their own diary and use it to record homework in the same way.
8. If you have concerns, contact the school
If you’ve done all of the points above, you should have a reasonably good idea of what homework is for, how much of it your child should be set, and if they are gaining anything from it. That means you should also be able to notice if your child’s homework isn’t quite going to plan – for instance, if their Geography teacher is supposed to give them one homework a week taking no more than half an hour, and they’ve been doing an hour’s work of Geography homework every night of the week so far.
Schools do their best to monitor homework setting and the time that it takes, but they won’t necessarily know if there’s a problem unless you tell them. No school should object to a polite email that says, “I thought my child should only have 30 mins of Geography homework, but they’ve spent 3 hours on it this week, is that right?”. It may well be that there are special circumstances or that your child misunderstood, but it could also be a Geography teacher who needs reminding of what the homework policy says. If that’s the case, the school will be grateful to you for letting them know!
What have you found helps your child do their homework happily and productively? Let us know in the comments!
Image credits:marked homework; teacher writing; confused child; phone; stop sign; scrabble tiles; stack of paper; puppy; diary; using phone