Involving families, communities, and school staff in homework means working together to support student achievement. It entails establishing communication among school day teachers, afterschool staff, and families to support students' homework efforts. It also involves making the most of community resources such as mentors and tutors, and donated materials and supplies.
Begin by connecting with the school-day teachers. They can provide helpful insights about students and homework assignments. Let school-day teachers know homework help is available and ask teachers about what types of materials and resources are typically needed. Invite school-day teachers to participate in afterschool homework time periodically to help establish priorities and procedures, and to provide direct support to students who may need additional help completing complex assignments.
Involving Families and Communities
Invite families to visit and participate in the afterschool program during homework time. This gives families examples of positive homework environments, and provides an opportunity to discuss strategies parents can use at home to help with various subjects. This is an opportunity to explain to parents that checking in with students, using homework logs, and asking students to keep track of questions they have provides structure and accountability.
Make the most of community resources such as libraries and museums that have programming related to content covered during homework time. Also connect with businesses that reward student achievement with incentive programs. These organizations may be a way to obtain tutors and materials needed during homework time.
Establish multiple mechanisms for consistent and direct involvement. A monthly schedule with rotating assignments can provide a way for family, community, and day-school staff to participate in homework time. Make certain program staff understand that this type of consistent participation is important. As programs increase involvement from families, community organizations, and school staff, these partnerships should be evaluated periodically to ensure that they continue to benefit students.
The PDF tools in this toolkit provide the means to communicate information among these groups. It's important to let them know what is going on during homework time, and how their contribution helps.
Establishing and maintaining a network for parents, communities, and schools provides a continuum of support for students' homework success. When parents, teachers, and afterschool staff understand homework objectives, challenges, and strategies to support students, those students are more likely to complete their homework and master the skills that homework reinforces. Students' accountability increases when they know that their teachers are communicating with families and afterschool staff about homework assignments.
The purpose of this section is to explore some of the skills and procedures shown in the video vignette, Involving Schools and Families. In the video, you can see how a real afterschool program implements elements of this Homework practice.
You may want to watch the video once prior to reading this section so that you can become acquainted with how this afterschool program supports student success in homework by working closely with day-school teachers and families. Jot down notes as you watch. Next, read about suggested ideas in Build Your Homework Help Practice, and answer the accompanying questions. If time permits, view the video a second time. Compare the strategies that the instructors use in the video with your own current practice.
The Berlin Junior High School Afterschool Program is based on a strong connection to the school day. Before the afterschool hours begin, an afterschool coordinator is at work as a liaison between school-day teachers and afterschool staff, collecting information about homework assignments from teachers so that afterschool staff know exactly what students should be working on during homework time.
Homework is the first thing that students do in the afterschool program, and the staff begins by checking in with students and reviewing the assignments. Students are grouped by grade level (the color coding indicates different grades), so each group is working on similar assignments and skills. The lead teachers in the afterschool program are also school-day teachers who rotate among the groups during homework time, answering questions, offering help, and tutoring individual students in specific skills.
Communication with parents happens regularly, mostly by phone or e-mail, or informally at pick-up time. Occasionally, a formal parent-teacher-student conference is scheduled. Regardless of the format, the focus is the same: teachers, parents, and students are encouraged to raise questions, discuss any concerns, and list goals to work toward—either academic or social.
1. Review the list of homework assignments collectively. In the video, when students first enter the homework center, the instructor broadly reviews the list of homework assignments collectively with the whole group and then takes attendance.
How can you find out what types of homework assignments to expect? Why is this a good strategy? What could students do while you take attendance?
2. Group students for work during homework time. An example of grouping in the video is the use of red, green, and gold groups, based on grade level. Some ways to determine your grouping strategy could be based on the types of assignments, the ratio of instructors to students in a particular area, or the schedule or rotation of students through areas of the homework center.
What grouping strategies do you use currently? Why did you select these strategies? How do you know these strategies are working? What grouping strategies do you think work best for students in your program?
3. Teach and reinforce good study habits and organization skills. Communicate with the school-day teachers to have students complete homework assignment sheets that they bring to the homework center each day. Provide a blank copy of an assignment sheet or
Homework Log (PDF) as needed (PDF).
Do teachers instruct students to use an assignment sheet or homework log regularly? Do you have one for students if they need one? How will you help students keep track of their progress on assignments?
4. Provide feedback about students' homework progress on a regular basis to the school-day teacher. Work with afterschool instructors to determine a satisfactory communication schedule, such as daily or once per week. Work with school-day teachers to explain the communication schedule and the tools, such as a homework log signed by the afterschool instructor as a way to continually assess students' learning and homework progress.
5. Interpret the assignment sheet for each student. Surprisingly, many homework assignments are completed incorrectly or not at all because of a lack of student understanding. Sometimes they are overly confident that they understand when they truly do not. Your major role is to make sure that students understand what the assignment is, and what it is asking them to do.
6. Check in with individual students every five minutes or so—even if it is just a quick look over their shoulder as they work to make sure they are on the right track.
Why is it important to make sure students understand the assignment sheet? How might they misinterpret what they are being asked to do? Why is it important to check in frequently on students' progress? What are some ways to check in on their progress without asking questions about the assignment or their work?
7. Get to know individual students' strengths and needs. School-day teachers who work in the homework center are an added value because they are familiar with teachers and students alike. They know the students' strengths and needs in the homework center as it relates to their school-day work. School-day teachers can provide guidance to other afterschool instructors working in the homework center.
What are some ways instructors can work with school-day teachers to learn about individual students' needs? How can instructors and school-day teachers benefit from working together on identifying students' needs and following up on their progress on homework?
8. Engage with each individual student to help determine and meet their needs, even when they may not think they need you. Students may seem confident about their homework assignments and their ability to complete them successfully, but sometimes they need help staying on track. Some students may want and need help, but don't want to draw attention to themselves because they feel inadequate or self-conscious about asking for help. Consistent and frequent checking-in with all students, without singling out individuals who may need more help or have special learning issues, makes all students feel more comfortable about seeking and receiving help.
9. Conduct periodic conferences with parents and students to monitor homework progress. Parent support for students' performance on homework is key. The parent-student-teacher three-way conference shown in this video is a useful strategy for gaining parent support for students' homework progress. The purpose for the student's participation is defined as a way to hold him or her accountable for the work and performance on homework.
Prior to a three-way conference, work with school-day teachers to determine grades and improvement or areas of homework need. During the conference, lead the parent and student in a discussion of the student's grades as reported by the school-day teachers. Share leadership by including both the parent and student in the conversation. Ask them how they feel about the grades. Ask how homework help is making an impact. Identify ways homework help could be better for the student and parent.
10. Set goals and outcomes for students' homework progress and program effectiveness. In the video, the parent identifies her son's better behavior, increased dedication and commitment to school, and overall increase in confidence associated with the homework help he receives. The parent also identifies the afterschool practitioner's communication about her son's attendance in the homework program as an added value to her son's school success.
Determine ways to assess homework help success of students in your program. One method shown in this video is to ask the parent to identify positive changes, both cognitive and social. Meet with individual students, parents, and school-day teachers to set homework goals at the beginning of each quarter or semester.
Think about your answers to the following questions:
- How do you involve day schools, families, and communities in your program's homework time?
- What did you learn about this practice from seeing it in action?
- What are some new strategies that you would like to try in your program?
- What are the benefits of doing this? What outcomes do you expect?
- What are some of the challenges? What will you need to do this?
What skills do practitioners need in order to involve day schools, families and communities in homework help?
Practitioners need to know how to:
1. Establish communication with school-day teachers to support students' efforts
- Disseminate information about the availability of afterschool homework help
- Collaborate to determine the types of materials and resources that are available
- Collaborate to establish priorities and procedures
- Invite school-day teachers to participate periodically
- Recruit school-day teachers to provide direct support to those students who need additional help on complex assignments
2. Establish communication with families to support students' efforts
- Invite families to visit during homework help time
- Enlist families to participate as helpers during homework help time
- Demonstrate ways to establish a homework center at home
- Discuss strategies parents can use to help with homework in various subject areas
- Teach parents ways to check in with students on homework progress
- Using homework logs
- Tracking (and responding to) students' written/verbal homework questions
3. Identify community resources such as mentors, tutors, and donated materials and supplies
- Utilize libraries and museums for content-specific resources during homework help time
- Seek partnerships with businesses to attain achievement rewards/awards/incentives for students' progress toward homework goals
- Recruit community members and business partners to serve as tutors and mentors
- Evaluate partnerships periodically
Newsletters, a necessary and effective communication tool for afterschool programs, can be used to keep parents as well as regular day teachers informed. Often these can seem like a chore for the program director, however.
One alternate approach is to use the newsletter as an end product to a writing enrichment class. Take a field trip to the local newspaper, discuss importance of communication, study production software, and, finally, write a newsletter. Try to give students at all grade levels an assignment from basic reporting to production to distribution.
Check out online tutorials for developing newsletters on a Mac http://www.education-world.com/a_tech/ (PDF) or a PC http://www.k12.hi.us/~gfujimur/ , whichever technology platform your students use in afterschool.
Weisburd, C. (2004). Academic content after-school style: A notebook and guide. Moorestown, NJ: Foundations, Inc.
Family Guide for Solving Homework Problems
Focus on Effectiveness Classroom Examples: Middle School Homework Policies
Creating a School Newsletter with Word (tutorial from Education World)
A Classroom Newsletter Tutorial
Cosden, M., Morrison, G., Albanese, A., & Macias, S. (2001). When homework is not home work: After-school programs for homework assistance. Educational Psychologist, 36(3): 211-221.
Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J., & Patall, E. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1): 1-62.
Cooper, H., & Valentine, J. (2001). Using research to answer practical questions about homework. Educational Psychologist, 36(3): 143-153.
Cooper, H., Valentine, J., Lindsay, J., & Nye, B. (1999). Relationships between five after-school activities and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2): 369-378.
Muhlenbruck, L., Cooper, H., Nye, B., & Lindsay, J. (2000). Homework and achievement: Explaining the different strengths of relation at the elementary and secondary school levels. Social Psychology of Education, 3: 295-317.