How to beat the home­work blues

National Post (Latest Edition) - - PRIVATE SCHOOLS - Kathryn BoothBy

The home­work bat­tle has been fought at kitchen ta­bles around the world for decades. Is it pos­si­ble to ease the ten­sion and turn home­work from bore to boon?

Chang­ing the mind­set starts with un­der­stand­ing the pur­pose of home­work.

For kinder­garten and ele­men­tary stu­dents, home­work takes the form of read­ing and in­quiry. “Par­ents can ask ques­tions about what might hap­pen on the next page of a book, or why a char­ac­ter is happy or sad. When th­ese types of ques­tions are built in to read­ing, they can help with lan­guage skills and al­low more let­ter­sound as­so­ci­a­tions to be de­vel­oped,” says Todd Cun­ning­ham, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of the teach­ing stream at the On­tario In­sti­tute for Stud­ies in Ed­u­ca­tion (OISE).

In high school, home­work is to help con­sol­i­date knowl­edge. It is not about learn­ing a new sub­ject, nor should it mean com­plet­ing some­thing that was left un­fin­ished in class. “This is of­ten where home­work falls apart. When stu­dents don’t know what to do or how to do it, they be­come frus­trated and un­mo­ti­vated,” says Cun­ning­ham, who is also a school and clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist.

Where home­work ex­cels is in ac­tiv­i­ties that can be done in iso­la­tion or as an ex­ten­sion of a project. “In class you have an hour with an ex­pert who can give im­me­di­ate feed­back. Tak­ing home the key con­cepts learned and ap­ply­ing them to a prob­lem is a much more ef­fec­tive use of time. It comes right back to the pur­pose of home­work,” notes Cun­ning­ham.

The home­work pol­icy at TFS - Canada’s In­ter­na­tional School is con­stantly un­der re­view and up­dated based on the lat­est re­search, feed­back from fac­ulty, stu­dents and par­ents, and the use of tech­nol­ogy, says Su­san El­liott, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the school’s Learn­ing Fo­rum. “We teach in French at the school, and we live in a multi-lin­gual so­ci­ety where many lan­guages are spo­ken in the home. As such, we do not ex­pect that par­ents can help with home­work. Our stu­dents need to be able to do the work in­de­pen­dently,” she says.

The keys are com­mu­ni­ca­tion, en­gage­ment, and in pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional sup­port where needed. “If a stu­dent is strug­gling it means they have not fully un­der­stood or mas­tered a sub­ject,” says El­liott. “Feed­back at all lev­els helps us en­sure stu­dents know what to do and have done enough in class to work in­de­pen­dently, and that we are giv­ing the right amount of home­work (TFS uses 10 min­utes per day per grade level as a gen­eral rule). It also helps iden­tify ar­eas where we may need to do things dif­fer­ently for the in­di­vid­ual child and/or the en­tire class.”

TFS also has a home­work club where stu­dents who may be strug­gling learn from peer men­tors how to do home­work ef­fec­tively.

“We teach stu­dents time man­age­ment and or­ga­ni­za­tion skills, and how to break work into man­age­able tasks. When they grad­u­ate from home­work club they have the tools and skill sets nec­es­sary to do their work at home,” El­liott says. “Ul­ti­mately, we want our stu­dents to feel pow­er­ful be­cause they un­der­stand the work, have ac­com­plished their goals, and are pre­pared for class.”

In ad­di­tion to open com­mu­ni­ca­tion and sup­port, Cun­ning­ham and El­liott of­fer th­ese straight-for­ward tips to help achieve home­work nir­vana:


1. Don’t over-pro­gram your child. “It’s about bal­ance and un­der­stand­ing the power of down­time,” notes El­liott.

2. Un­der­stand what hap­pens be­fore home­work. “Brain re­search shows that after two hours of video games, stu­dents are not able to sus­tain at­ten­tion. It is bet­ter to do phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity to oxy­genate the brain prior to home­work,” ad­vises Cun­ning­ham.

3. Have a sched­uled rou­tine in an area with lim­ited dis­trac­tions.

4. Do a time check. “If home­work is tak­ing longer than ex­pected, voice con­cerns to the school so it can be quickly ad­dressed,” says El­liott.

5. Mon­i­tor be­hav­iour. “If there are al­ways tears or anger, talk to the teacher and work as a team to de­velop a bet­ter plan to ad­dress home­work,” sug­gests Cun­ning­ham.


1. Ditch the video games prior to home­work (see above).

2. Find a quiet place away from the dis­trac­tions of tele­vi­sion, ring­ing phones, play­ing sib­lings and fam­ily gath­er­ings.

3. Choose a time of day when you have your op­ti­mal amount of en­ergy. “That may be as late as 10 p.m., but it is cer­tainly not at one in the morn­ing,” em­pha­sizes Cun­ning­ham.

4. Plan it out. Do not wait un­til the night be­fore it is due. Leave enough time for re­search and to com­plete all the steps nec­es­sary to achieve the goal. Or­ga­ni­za­tion is an es­sen­tial life skill, after all.

5. Do not be afraid to look on­line. “There are a lot of places on­line to get in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing videos that can help con­sol­i­date the knowl­edge you al­ready have,” says Cun­ning­ham.

High school is of­ten where home­work falls apart. When stu­dents don’t know what to do or how to do it, they be­come frus­trated and un­mo­ti­vated. — Todd Cun­ning­ham, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of the teach­ing stream, On­tario In­sti­tute for Stud­ies in Ed­u­ca­tion We want our stu­dents to feel pow­er­ful


Stu­dents at TFS - Canada’s In­ter­na­tional School ben­e­fit from many home­work sup­ports, in­clud­ing a home­work club with peer men­tors.

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