Working overtime

Teachers, parents share advice on how to get back to the routine of homework

By Katie Ingram
Photo by Steve Smith/VisionFire Studios

Each school year brings a new kind of homework, which means more stress and more work for most students.

But, it’s not designed to.

According to the Halifax Regional School Board’s Homework Policy, homework is designed to help students review information they already know or something they need to find out for a future activity, practice new skills, increase students’ knowledge of topics and apply it in new ways.

“It should be meaningful to the student,” says Anne Marie Hurley, a Grade 6 teacher at Seaside Elementary in Dartmouth. “It should be something they have already learned in the classroom and can be built upon.”

For Hurley’s students, assignments can include nightly readings, math or science problems, or sometimes research for a topical project or larger assignment.

Hurley does acknowledge that some students may have difficulties when completing homework assignments. Sometimes, it’s merely an issue of finding enough time in-between after school and other activities. 

Ruth McMullen of Sackville has three children, one of whom is in Grade 1. She says time management is an issue for her family.

“If both parents work or if there are younger children in the family, finding that time [for homework] is very difficult,” says McMullen. “It can be a challenge getting them fed and in bed in time let alone fit in time for one of us to sit down and help with homework.”

For some students who struggle, fixing their homework issues might not be as easy as coming up with a better schedule.

“Homework should never be causing them grief or anxiety,” says Hurley. “If it comes to a point where a student is frustrated, it’s time for a parent to contact the teacher and together you can work on new strategies for the child.”

One strategy Hurley says parents should always avoid is giving their children the answers. Instead, parents should guide their children through the problem. 

“The most important thing is for a parent is to see what a child can do independently,” she says. “As a parent they can ask what they’ve done in class to help them with it, encourage them to read a problem more than once and talk about steps the child could take to get certain information.”

This can be hard for parents, as they want their children to succeed.

“I try to resist just reading or spelling the word when my child can’t get it and instead try to guide her through a thought process that will help her learn how to solve the problem by herself,” says McMullen. “I hope that she will get a head-start on trusting her instincts while also being humble and knowing that you can’t know what you haven’t learned and you can only learn what you don’t know.”

If there are still issues after spending some time on a new homework strategy, the problem might be more complex. This is where tutoring centres such as Halifax Learning can help. 

“With the kids we work with some of them have large learning gaps, some have small learning gaps, some of them have had an education assessment and have a diagnosed disability or challenge,” says Eryn Steele, general manager of Halifax Learning. “Sometimes it’s just a proactive mom or dad looking for more support.”

Two landmark programs from Halifax Learning are SpellRead, a reading skills mastery program, and Momentum Math, both of which aim to bring a student’s skills to or above their current grade level.

“It’s [the program] not providing an accommodation, it’s remediation,” Steele says. “It’s an intervention with a beginning and an end with a goal of changing the way the brain learns.”

As a parent, McMullen finds that having access to resources both in and outside of the classroom essential, especially if children are constantly struggling. She finds that extra guidance often helps children’s self-esteem, which in turn will change how they see homework and school. 

“Going around thinking that you aren’t good at something just because you are having trouble learning can lead you to thinking false things about yourself,” she says. “Figuring out a different way to learn something with the help of a good tutor can help open doors to the idea that there is a way to learn anything and we are capable of finding that way.”

After all, homework is supposed to bring people together, as both parents and children can learn something new or build on what they already know.

“When students bring homework home I think it’s a learning experience for the parent as well,” says Hurley. “They can work together and parents can see what their child is learning and what kind of learner they are.”