Seven Practical Pointers for Parents | Setting up a School Area In Your Home | Homework How-To's

Seven Practical Pointers for Parents
(sends you to a popup from Oprah Winfrey's site)

Back to the top

Special Space and Schedules for Home Study

By having a regular plan to complete work, you will:

  • Avoid conflicts over when it is time to get started
  • Know where materials are kept that are needed for assignments
  • Eliminate unnecessary distractions that prolong completion of assignments
  • Establish a positive environment that encourages children to work hard academically

The first thing to do is to have a designated place in the house where home study is to be completed. Regardless of what room you have space in, there are certain things that will greatly help your child complete his or her work.

  • A desk or table should include a large work surface and comfortable chair that provides good posture.
  • The work area should be well-lit for reading and writing.
  • A more comfortable chair can also be placed in the homework area for reading assignments.
  • A computer with Internet access and a printer.
  • Use a dry-erase calendar or agenda for you and your child to monitor homework assignments. Write down the assignments on the date they are due and cross them off as they are finished. This will give your child a sense of accomplishment. For larger projects, set deadlines for when specific steps should be completed and write these down on the calendar as well.
  • Put together a supply kit or containers complete with regularly needed items in an easily accessible location. All of these materials should have a "home" in the work area, so that when they are needed they are easily found.

    1. pencils, pens, erasers, markers, crayons, highlighters, colored pencils
    2. calculators, pencil sharpener, stapler, rulers, compass, protractor, tape, glue, scissors
    3. construction paper and loose-leaf paper including graph paper, ruled, or handwriting paper.

  • Set up "in" and "out" boxes or “to do” and “completed” folders for your child's unfinished and finished work to help them get organized. This also allows you to be able to subtly check their progress.
  • Set up a reference library that includes a dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, atlas, encyclopedia set, etc. There are many on-line resources. Also subscribing to history, science, geography periodicals can be a good resource.
  • Keep a portfolio of representative work in each subject. Designate a filing cabinet for student papers, tests, etc.
  • Maintain attendance records, reading logs, grade reports, and hours completed.

Likewise, there are certain things that should not be a part of your child's work area. Televisions should not be a part of any planned work area; radios, personal stereos, hand held video games, and other electronics should also be kept away. Computers, while often very helpful in the completion of research or other fact-gathering, should be closely monitored by an adult, so you may choose to have the computer in another area of your home. Also, calculators should also be part of the work area only on an as-needed basis.

When a home study area has been established, create a routine regarding your home study rules for doing assignments. It helps to establish a daily agenda of assignments so the student knows what must be completed and how much time needs to be devoted to each activity. There should be some time given to take a break from their studying with a snack, some music, or a quick game outside. Then, there should be a set time when work begins. By having this regular schedule, students know what is expected of them, and over time, they will settle themselves accordingly.

  • Once you and your child have set up a certain amount of time each day that he or she must spend studying, a timer can help the student monitor his/her own time.
Times can be adjusted to meet the changing needs of your schedule, but consistency in this will bring the best results for everyone. When work has been completed, be sure that it is checked to be sure everything is completed well and that it is put in its proper location.



Back to the top

Homework How-To's
Tanis Bryan and Karen Sullivan-Burstein
TEACHING Exception Children
Vol 29, No 6
July/August 1997

PARENT: "Homework has dominated and ruined our lives for the past 8 years"

TEACHER: "Assigning and evaluating homework is the least enjoyable part of my job ...Sometimes it's my worst nightmare."

Each school day, in homes and classrooms nation-wide, parents and teachers utter similar laments (Baumgartener, Bryan, Donahue, & Nelson, 1993; Bryan & Sullivan, 1995a). Yet homework has been part of U.S. education systems since the beginning of this century. Teachers depend on homework to complete unfinished classwork, provide additional practice, and to keep parents informed about their children's progress (Polloway, Epstein, Bursuck, Jayanthi, & Cumblad, 1994).

The Role of Homework

Teachers and parents believe that doing homework helps students take responsibility for themselves and develops character and personal management skills. The significant role of homework is underscored by the finding that homework accounts for about 20% of the time students spend on academic tasks (Cooper & Nye, 1994). Yet frustrations continue- yes, abound (see box).

Homework Frustrations Abound

Frustration and controversy among teachers have marked the use of homework as an instructional strategy, a mode of communication, and a way of building character. Researchers have estimated that 28% of students in general education classrooms and 56% of students with learning disabilities have difficulties in completing homework (Polloway, Epstein, & Foley, 1992) . Thus, students with disabilities; in both general and special education settings experience significantly more problems doing homework (Bryan, Nelson, & Mathur, 1995).

Bryan and Nelson (1994) found that students with learning disabilities:

· Expressed a higher incidence of negative feelings toward homework.
· Were less likely to complete assignments.
· Expressed boredom and resistance to assignments.
· Perceived themselves as less competent than their peers in doing assigrments.
· Reported that they received less help and vencouragement, and more criticism from parents.

Polloway et al. (l992) and Epstein, Polloway, Foley, and Patton (1993:); found that parents and teachers described students with behavior problems and learning disabilities as having the following difficulties with homework:

· Were more likely to procrastinate.
· Needed to be reminded.
· Needed to have someone in the room.
· Tended to daydream.
· Were easily distracted.

Because homework accounts for one-fifth of the time that successful students are engaged in academic tasks and because so many students in both general and special education programs experience problems, we must help students acquire skills for doing schoolwork at home. Here lies the difficulty: The classroom teacher assigns and evaluates homework, but students complete it in environments over which the teacher has no control (Olympia, Sheridan, & Jensen, 1994). Thus, addressing homework problems requires teamwork-by teachers, students, and parents.

We conducted a study to find out how all concerned can improve the homework skills of students (see box, "A Study of Homework"). This article discusses what we learned-how teamwork can help solve homework problems for many students, both with and without learning disabilities.

A Study of Homework
As part of a program funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, we worked collaboratively for 2 years with a team of first- through sixth-grade special and general education teachers to design and field-test strategies to improve students homework completion and study skills (Bryan & Sullivan, 1995c). Participating teachers, across grade levels but especially special education teachers, observed that homework problems were exacerbated by generally deficient basic study skills. Teachers also recognized that aspects of family life influence students homework completion. Home supports include:

· Provision of a place, time, and supplies.
· Monitoring of television viewing.
· Encouraging completion of homework.
· Participation in other schoolrelated activities.

Teachers defined parent cooperation in the homework process as a necessary component for the effective use of homework. The team agreed that its primary goals were to develop methods to help children acquire homework and study skills and to develop efficient, effective communications with parents.

The team reviewed research on homework to identify successful classroom approaches. Teachers surveyed parents to determine the correspondence between their own and parents evaluations of students with homework problems. Teachers examined the impact of their homework practices on students (e.g., the amount of time students spent on homework). Based on these various activities, the team selected and systematically tested several different approaches and their effect on students homework completion rates and weekly performance on math and spelling quizzes.

Although a certain percentage of students may need more individualized assessments and interventions, the approaches field-tested by the team-assigning meaningful tasks, giving reinforcement, using Homework Planners, and graphing homework completion-significantly increased general and special education students completion of homework assignments and performance on weekly math and spelling quizzes. The participating teachers selected strategies that fulfilled the following criteria.

· Highly feasible.
· Consistent with the organizational
· Structure of their classrooms.
· Neither time consuming nor costly.

The strategies included evaluating current homework practices-including a survey of student and parent opinions; planning homework activities that motivated students to complete them; instructing students in study and organizational skills; involving parents in homework; and encouraging students to work together.

We believe that many teachers in both general and special education may find these strategies useful in their classrooms.

Successful Homework Strategies Examine Practices

First, evaluate your own practices. In our study, we found that teachers sometimes underestimated the amount of time it took students to complete assignments; the assignments may have been too difficult for some and too easy for others, and there was little consistency in homework assignments from class to class even in the same grade in the school. Here are some effective ways to assess your own practice:

  • Jot down how long you think an assignment should take students to complete. Ask students to indicate on a corner of their completed work how long it took to complete. Examine whether there is a match between your expectations and students reports. The student who takes much longer than expected may not have understood the assignment, may not know how to do it, may have attention problems, or may have distractions at home. Your assignment also may have been much more difficult than you assumed.
  • Put smiley, frowning, and neutral faces on the corner of assignments. Have students circle the one that describes their feelings about the assignments (e.g., it was too easy, too hard, or just right). Use student s responses in a discussion. Provide students with your rationale for doing (unpopular) assignments, or consider changing assignments.
  • Talk to other teachers in your school about their homework assignments. Try to reach consensus about the length and frequency of assignments. Special education teachers often do not want to burden their students with homework. Not giving assignments to students with special needs, however, may result in their spending significantly less time doing schoolwork and in acquiring independent study skills.
Develop Innovative Homework Assignments
  • Work with other teachers to adopt similar practices. For instance, develop a standard style for homework headings. This reduces the need to teach students how to head their papers every year.
  • Use games and fun activities as home work assignments. Teachers in our study found many games and activities that were not only fun, but also reinforced the principles they were trying to teach. Students can make these activities in class (e.g., games like Go Fish and Concentration ) and take them home to play with other family members. Older students can do oral-histories and interview family members or others involved in events related to their studies (e.g., earthquakes, war).
  • Effective assignments are relevant to the child s life outside of the class room. Help children make the connection between what they learn in school and their lives outside of in school. For example, use the newspapers TV listings and children's favorite television programs to help children learn how to tell time. Home chores and projects are also good sources of effective homework. For example, have students measure walls at home and estimate the cost of paint ing them; keep track of money spent on groceries; or estimate the amount of ingredients necessary to make their favorite foods. Games and relevant assignments help develop the under standing that learning takes place everywhere, and that our children are capable of learning everywhere. These activities provide pleasant ways to involve other family members in the child s school-work.
  • Give students rewards for homework completion. Ask students to select possible rewards (e.g., free time on Friday, extra recess time). One class asked to make up cheers, and to do the cheers.
Use a Homework Planner

Independent learners acquire self-monitoring skills. As adults we learn to use calendars or other aids such as notes to selfmonitor our activities. We record and track the various events in our lives, important dates, tasks and chores, meetings and plans. Many students can benefit from using such structured notes.
  • Use a homework planner to help students acquire organizational skills. Students need to be shown how to use the planner-which can be a small calendar, with pages divided into sections. Demonstrate where to write assignments, how to write them in shorthand, how to note that their assignments have been completed. Help students identify study times by filling in their other activities (e.g., meal times, scout activities).
  • Use the planner to communicate with parents. Ask parents to sign it when assignments have been completed. Invite them to send you messages about how well their children did on the assignment. Use the planner to send brief messages home to parents.
  • Show students how to graph their homework completion in the planner. In our study, students used Magic Markers to color green for completed assignments, yellow for late assignments, and red for assignments not turned in. Yellow became green or red depending on the child s followup. A sea of red ink speaks loud and clear to parents about their children s failure to complete homework assignments. A sea of green ink is cause for celebration.
Teach Study Skills

Many students need to learn study skills. We developed the "Sequenced Study Skills Program" (Sullivan & Bryan, 1995; see box, "Suggested Resources" ) to teach the following.
  • Basic Strategies: Identifying a time and place for doing homework, having the necessary materials, placing completed work in a safe spot, remembering to bring it to school, and reducing distractions generated by other family members, pets, or television.
  • Metacognitive Skills: Monitoring the impact of television viewing and other distractions on time to do homework, recognizing signs of fatigue and lack of attention, and developing methods to cope with fatigue and lack of attention.
  • Specific Study Skills: Taking notes, using strategies to increase reading comprehension, and using mnemonics as memory helpers.
Make parents part of the process. Table 1 shows some of the objectives and parent connections in the program. Teachers, parents, and students may develop other objectives, such as having healthy snacks available, learning how to plan long-term projects, and brainstorming ideas with other family members. Students may even decide that they can teach their parents a few things, such as notetaking skills and computer skills.

As you teach each study skill, send a short note to parents that outlines the objective of the lesson and suggests an activity for parent and child to do together. Figure 1 shows activities for a lesson on locating a place to do homework. This lesson requires teamwork among students, teacher, and parents: discussing current problems with distractions at home, listing what student needs for concentration, making a specific place available, and sticking with it.

A second example (not illustrated here) is teaching students about the impact of watching television on their performance. As a homework assignment, students compare the number of math problems they complete with and without the TV playing. Students are encouraged to share the results of their experiment with their parents. A third example is helping students recognize signs of fatigue and giving strategies that might help them maintain their attention. Students discuss how sometimes their minds wander and they daydream while trying to study. Students generate strategies that they can use to cope with daydreaming and fatigue. In the Parent Connection, students interview their parents about the strategies that they use to combat fatigue and attention problems.

Work with Parents

Parents are much more likely to be supportive of your efforts if they have a clear understanding of your expectations, rules, and standards regarding homework.
  • Let parents know how much homework you plan to assign, and approximately how long assignments should take.
  • If there is a discrepancy between the child's performance and your expectations, treat this as diagnostic information. If you have informed the parents about what you expect of the child, the parents can be part of the solution by providing descriptive data concerning what happens at home during homework time. Sometimes the solution requires parent intervention, such as when other siblings are interfering with the homework process. Sometimes the solution requires that you adapt assignments to the child s capabilities, such as giving less or different homework. Sometimes the solution focuses on the child, such as when the child fails to bring home assignments or tells the parent there are no assignments.
  • Suggest activities that parents can do with their children. Games and activities that the whole family can participate in, that can be done in the car or waiting in the doctors office, or that are part of grocery shopping are effective ways to increase students learning time.
  • See if the parents feel comfortable working on schoolwork with the child. For example, some parents might read aloud to children or drill them for quizzes. Students can also read aloud to parents.
  • Ask the parent to play the role of student and have the child play the role of teacher. Explaining concepts to others is one of the best ways of learning the concept.
  • Ask the parent to sign completed homework. Invite the parent to write short notes about how well the child is doing. Parents complain that they are not aware that their children are doing badly until parent-teacher conference time or until they receive report cards. Signing homework and exchanging short notes are frequently effective in alerting both parents and teachers that the child is experiencing problems. Early warnings allow time to address the problem before it is too late in the school year.
  • Encourage parents to talk to the child about what happened during the school day. For example, during dinner, each member of the family can take turns relating what they did that day. Model positive responses for parents; for example, So you worked hard and really got it!
  • Encourage the parent to reward the child for homework completion. Rewards can be small treats, but they go a long way in defining schoolwork as important.
Figure 1. Lesson on Locations: Come into my Parlor Said the Spider to the Fly
Estimated time: 15 minutes Actual time:______

Goal: Students will recognize the value of doing homework in an established place.

Objective: Students will establish a location that is relatively free of distraction for doing homework.

Materials/Equipment: Overhead projector, chalkboard, handout for each student, Parent Connection copies to take home.


1. Show Overhead

2. Veronica at Work (in Sullivan & Bryan, 1995). Veronica B is doing her homework at the kitchen table with the dogs playing, her two 9 sisters arguing, the television on, the telephone at her ear, and her mother cooking dinner. 2. Does this scene look familiar to any of you? (Wait 10 seconds) Do you ever find yourself trapped in situations in which you just can t think because of the commotion and noise? (Wait 10 seconds) Do you think that this is the way to reach your dream job? (Wait 10 seconds)

3. The handout that I am giving you has a list of three possible places that would make good homework areas. I would like you to visualize your house and list three possible places that would be appropriate for you to choose as a homework area. (Develop a handout that lists three places.)

4. Now rank them from the best as number one, to the second best, and then the third best.

5. Tonight, please take this list home and discuss which area your parents think is the best.

6. Agree on this location as your Homework Area.

7. The sheet that I am passing out now is your own personal Do Not Disturb sign. You may decorate it as you wish; please hang it on your door when you are hard at work studying. (The sign reads "Scholar at Work! Please Do Not Disturb !" )

8. Hand out a Parent Connection sheet for students to take home. (This is a short letter to parents about finding a homework location, approving the location, and agreeing to keep distractions to a minimum. For example, see Letter 2, A Special Place, in Sullivan & Bryan, 1995).

Solve Homework Problems

When children fail to complete their homework or do an unacceptable job, enlist parents support in solving the problem. Keep in mind that some parents feel that criticisms of their children reflect badly on their parenting skills. You must establish rapport with parents if you expect to engage their help in solving the problem.
  • Meet with the parent. Be positive; say nice things about the child.
  • Acknowledge the problem. Ask for the parent s assessment of the problem.
  • Listen carefully and take notes. Record positive and negative descriptors.
  • Ask the parent to keep a log or develop a checklist of what happens at home around homework time. Parents who, get home late from work may not be able, or willing, to do this. It would help to have objective descriptions of what is taking place so as to distinguish between problems caused by the child (e.g., attention problems), by the school (e.g., assignments that are too difficult or long), or by the family setting (e.g., sibling interference).
  • Based on the parent s input, develop a strategy for solving the problem. Select one behavior to change and one strategy to try. Be specific about who is going to do what and when.
  • Set a date for the next meeting and follow through. Check on the effectiveness of the strategy. Choose another behavior or another strategy. Be sure to follow through.

Encourage Peer Support

Peers are a potent source of child influence that often are overlooked. Peers can help students who are having homework problems. O Malia and Rosenberg (1994) developed an approach to homework based on the principles of cooperative learning. Here are some effective ways to harness positive peer influence.

  • Establish BuddyStudy pairs or cooperative groups.
  • Teach students how to work together. Coach them on how to take turns practicing skills being learned, how to quiz each other, how to correct each others work, and how to say nice things to each other.
  • Give students assignments and have them meet for about 10 minutes at the beginning and end of class. Students check each others (a) understanding of the assignment and (b) completion of the assignment. Team members help each other correct their home work papers.
  • Record the completion and accuracy of homework assignments.
  • Give students points for completion and accuracy. Add team members scores, and give a special reward to those who meet a specified criterion (e.g., 80% correct).
  • Let teams graph their scores each week.
Lifelong Homework

Homework requires a set of skills that are not directly taught by parents and teachers. Yet the skills involved in doing homework, such as time management and organizational strategies, are important well beyond school years. Corporations and adults continue to seek methods to improve their skills, often at considerable personal cost. Teachers and parents intuit students needs to develop these skills. Teachers can do much to help students assume responsibility for their own learning, and to acquire these basic, lifelong skills.

Suggested Resources

The authors of this article have developed several homework guides for parents, teachers, and students. For pricing and ordering information send e-mail to Tanis Bryan at

  • A Teacher's Guide to Homework (Bryan & Sullivan, 1995 b). This guide includes background information about homework, exercises to help teachers systematically assess their classroom situations, and strategies for solving homework problems.
  • A Parent's Guide to Homework (Bryan & Sullivan, 1995 a). This Guide includes exercises to help parents assess their child's homework problems, strategies for solving homework problems, and suggestions for helping students acquire skills in reading, writing, and math.
  • Sequenced Study Skills Program (Sullivan & Bryan, 1995). This program helps students acquire study skills and encourages home support. The program consists of 20 lessons conducted by teachers in the classroom. The lessons take about 15 to 30 minutes each and are appropriate for all students, with and without disabilities, in elementary and middle school. Every lesson includes a "Parent Connection" - an activity or message that the child takes home to discuss or do with a parent.
  • Personalized Weekly Planner (Sullivan & Bryan, 1995). This organizer helps students keep track of assignments and has a place for parents to add comments.
Back to the top