Ending the Homework Headaches Part One: Collecting Data

May 13, 2011 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

Are you experiencing a homework headache every night?  Does it end in tears–either yours or your child’s?As an elementary teacher, the top conversation topic in parent conferences was homework.  For many parents, homework was stressing out their kids, ruining the evening hours, and making the whole family miserable.  These parents were surprised when I told them it doesn’t have to be that way!  But before you can avoid homework headaches, first you must diagnose what the problem is.  The following guide is best suited for children in 2nd-6th grade, but you can adapt the techniques for older or younger children.

Full disclosure:  I am not a huge homework fan.  Although research is mixed, I question the value of homework in the elementary grades, but I recognize that parents need practical solutions to deal with the stress that homework can produce.  There are wide variations in amount and type of homework assigned across schools, grades, and teachers, and differences in how long it takes each student to complete the same assignment.
So, get to work!  Follow these 3 steps to begin the problem-solving process.
1)Lay the groundwork. Tell your child you are going to be collecting information to figure out why homework is such a problem.  Explain that for this week, you will not be getting involved in the homework battle.  No reminding, cajoling, nagging, checking answers.  No driving back to school for a missing book or zipping back home to collect forgotten homework in the morning.CAUTION: anticipate the problems that might arise during this week of data collection.  Will your child have a breakdown if he forgets to bring his reading log to school?  Will your daughter get a lunch detention or miss out of a field trip?  The point is not to punish the child but to get as much information as you need.  You might want to call or email the teacherahead of time: “Hi, Ms. Klink, I wanted to let you know that homework has become a real battle in our house.  We’re working to fix that, so for the next week I’m taking a real hands-off approach to homework.  If Pippi doesn’t have her homework, I want you to know why.”  It’s up to you whether you want your child to face the possible  consequences of missed homework or if you want the teacher to cut your child a break.  (This will depend on the personality of the teacher and your relationship!)2)Gather your information.  Keep a homework journal for a week.  Pretend you are a journalist and write down as many notes as you can.  Be honest with your child about what you’re doing and why so she doesn’t think you are spying on her.  Look in your child’s homework planner.  Is the homework listed for each day?  Are the assignments detailed?  Did the teacher send home instructions? Are there weekly assignments that you are used to seeing?  Do those have written instructions?

Things to note:  the name of the assignment, the subject, the type of work, the due date.

Write down where your child is doing homework.  Kitchen table?  Bedroom?  Is the TV on?  The radio?  Is your child using a cell phone or computer?  Did your child eat a snack before starting?  Have time to play/unwind before beginning?  Is it late in the evening?  Or mad rush first thing in the morning?  Is your child tired?  Wired?  Frustrated?  Does her have all the materials he needs?

As your child works on homework, keep yourself busy nearby–chop some veggies or read–but watch and listen and take notes.  Is your child “in the zone,” working well without distraction?  Is she sighing or grumbling?  Has he gotten up four times in 10 minutes?  Write it all down.  Try to keep track of how long each assignment is taking–and if you’re really ambitious, how much actual time on task (ie. don’t count the bathroom breaks or the time it takes to get out materials, etc.)

When your child is done, did the homework go right into the backpack?  Or is it laying all over the floor?  Interview your child to see what he/she thought of tonight’s homework:  the usual amount?  Too easy?  Too hard?  Take a look at each assignment–you can do this with your child there or without–trust your judgement on whether they should be involved.  Don’t correct the homework but peruse it and look for wrong answers, incomplete pages, length of writing assignment.  How does it compare to their usual work?  Did she complete all the assignments written in her planner?

Repeat this procedure each night for a week.  If there’s usually weekend homework, include that.  Collect any notices/newsletters that mention the week’s work, and keep copies of assignments if possible.

Optional:  Check in with the teacher toward the end of the week to see if what you are seeing matches what the teacher sees.  For example, you think your child completed all of the homework but it turns out she forgot to write down a critical assignment or wrote directions incorrectly.

3) Now that your week of data collection is over, crunch your data.  You don’t need to make a spreadsheet or anything, just look for patterns or anything that jumps out at you.  Maybe with your hands-off approach, the week’s homework actually went a lot smoother.  Or maybe you saw some bad habits that explain why homework takes your daughter so long.  In the next post, we will consider the top issues that create homework headaches!


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3-step solution for solving parenting problems Ending the Homework Headache Part 2: Diagnosis

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