Parents are not expected to know or teach specific information to their children, particularly as their children get older. Parents can be an enormous help, however, in creating an environment at home that allows learning to take place. Teachers can also help create situations that allow parents and educators to work together to strengthen all learning, including what takes place at home.
Connecting with some parents can be a challenge. Many parents lead exceptionally busy lives. Some don't place as high a priority on homework as do teachers. The parents themselves may be in turmoil. Not all parents can help with homework to the extent that many teachers might hope.
Still, Ms. McNally explains, "When parents send us their child, they are sending us the very best they have, the very best child they could produce. They really care." The vast majority, she believes, "really want to help."
Teachers can do many things to improve communication:
Contact parents early in the school year -- before problems arise. Let them know you are available to talk about homework or any other aspect of their child's education. This information can be communicated at back-to-school nights, or at parent-teacher conferences scheduled for early in the school year. Telephone calls and notes home that must be signed and returned can also help convey this information.
Make a special effort to communicate with parents and caregivers who don't initiate contact with schools and teachers. Making these parents feel welcome in the school is the first step to improving communication. For example, communications can be improved by telephoning parents who don't come to parent-teacher conferences.
Tell parents how they can reach you, and when. Would you prefer that they telephone? Write a note? Set up a meeting with you? What hours would you prefer that they call? May they call you at certain times at home, or would you prefer that they do so at school?
Tell parents about homework problems as soon as they arise. Parents are best able to work out a solution with the child and teacher if they know about the homework problem before report cards are distributed.
Tell parents and caregivers how you want them to be involved with homework. Different teachers have different expectations, which can confuse parents. The parents' involvement will need to change as students mature and can assume more responsibility.
Below are ways you might suggest parents be involved. For example, they can:
Set a regular time for homework - one that works for their child and their family. Research shows a correlation between successful students and parents who create and maintain family routines.
Pick a fairly quiet study area with lots of light and supplies close by. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many youngsters the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine.
Remove distractions. Turn off the television and discourage social telephone calls during homework time.
Provide supplies and resources such as pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper, an assignment book, and a dictionary.
Provide aids to good organization, such as an assignment calendar, book bag, and folders.
Encourage parents to check with you, the school counselor, or the principal if they cannot provide their child with the necessary supplies, and resources.
Look over the homework, but do not do the homework for them.
Review teacher comments on homework that has been returned and discuss with their child.
Contact the teacher if there's a homework problem or need they cannot resolve. Teachers may need to be flexible in scheduling meetings with parents to discuss homework problems in order to accommodate inflexible job schedules and other demands.
Provide parents with a list of questions to ask their child:
What's your assignment today?
Is the assignment clear?
When is it due?
Do you need special resources (e.g., a trip to the library or access to a computer)?
Do you need special supplies (e.g., graph paper or posterboard)?
Have you started today's assignment? Finished it?
Is it a long-term assignment (e.g., a term paper or science project)?
For a major project, would it help to write out the steps or make a schedule?
Would a practice test be useful?
Encourage parents to monitor television-viewing and select with their children the programs they may watch. Inform parents that more then two to three hours of television-viewing on school nights is related to lower student achievement. Moderate television viewing, especially when supervised by parents, can help children learn.
If problems with homework arise, work out a solution together with the parent(s) and the child. The strategy will depend on what the problem is, how severe it is, and the needs of the student. For example:
Is the homework too hard? Perhaps the child has fallen behind and will need extra help from the teacher, parent, or tutor to catch up.
Does the child need to make up a lot of work because of absences? The first step might be working out a schedule with the teacher.
Has the child been diagnosed with a learning disability or is one suspected? If so, the child may need extra help and the teacher may need to adjust some assignments.
Does the child need extra support, beyond what home and school can give? A mentor program in the community might be able to provide it, with the child being paired with an adult volunteer who can help with the youngster's special needs. Many good mentor programs operate in schools, universities, community organizations, churches, and businesses.
In resolving homework problems, make sure communication is clear. End a meeting with a parent only after you are sure that everyone understands the strategy planned to ease the problem. Follow up to make sure that the approach you agreed to is working.