Before I begin, I feel I should point out that I agree with homework. I quite often set homework at the end of a tutoring session: sometimes it’s because I can see they understand what we have been working on but I feel that they need more practice for the method to become embedded. Sometimes it’s because I want to see whether they have the confidence to work through a problem without me sitting next to them saying, “Yes” every time they ask, “Is this what I do next?” And sometimes it’s because I want to see how they do with a particular topic before I decide how, or if, I need to teach it.
Regardless of the reason, we’ll go through the homework together afterwards. If it’s maths, we’ll address any areas where they went wrong; if it’s English, we’ll look at what was good about what they wrote, and identify any areas where they could improve. But their independent work is always used as a basis for “where next?”
When I go to a child’s house to tutor, they or their parents will often ask me to help with homework. I’m happy to do that – helping children to understand what they do in school is my job. Obviously I never do the homework for them, but I make sure they understand how to approach it. Increasingly however the homework in question is some sort of puzzle such as sudoku or a wordsearch, which leaves me wondering, “What is the point?” What are the children going to learn from Sudoku? How is it embedding or improving their maths skills?
And wordsearches? So many times I have had children tell me they are stuck with their homework and saying they can’t find some of the words. I do give wordsearches sometimes – I use them to help children focus on vocabulary or spellings, but I tell them why they have a wordsearch and what to do if they can’t find the words. Where is the learning in not being able to find the words in a wordsearch?
As I said at the beginning – I do believe homework is a useful idea….as long as it is meaningful. I can’t help but feel sometimes that children are given homework for the sake of homework.
What do you think? Do you agree with giving homework and how do you decide what to set?
A few years ago I was engaged to tutor a Year 6 girl who was desperate to get a Level 5 in her SATs, because she really wanted to be in the top stream when she started secondary school.
Her school had said she was very behind where she should be for her age, and when I assessed her in the first session I put her at about a 2A.
Katie* wanted a Level 5 so badly that she said she was prepared to work hard and do as much work in her own time as she could fit in. I told her I would help her improve as much as possible, but gently explained that to get from a 2A to a 5 in 2½ terms was really unrealistic.
Each week I worked with her on things that she had found difficult in school, and each week I gave her homework to practise what we had worked on. Sometimes when I leave homework for children they don’t do it. That’s OK – I know they have homework from school and that has to take priority. But Katie did her school homework AND the homework I gave her, and quite often found extra work for herself.
She worked hard for the whole year. The week of the SATs arrived. She was as prepared as I could get her in the time we’d had and we just had to wait for the results and see.
After the SATs, Katie didn’t stop working hard – she carried on with tutoring and with homework. The results of the SATs arrived: Katie had achieved a 4A.
From a 2A to a 4A in 2½ terms is a great achievement, but it wasn’t the 5 she had set her heart on. You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, if you work hard enough, you can. Katie started secondary school in September and guess what? She got into the top set.
* not her real name
To book a private maths or English tutor in north Birmingham (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Streetly, Sutton), contact me via my website.
It’s difficult. You want to support your child with their homework, but you don’t want to do it for them. So, how much help should you give them and what’s the best way to go about it?
The first thing you should do is make sure that you child has somewhere comfortable to work. By this I mean that they should have enough space to spread their books out, and there should be enough light for them to see what they are doing. Also make sure that there are no distractions, such as from the television or other siblings. This may be all the help that they need.
If they are struggling with the task itself, read through it yourself to make sure you understand what they have to do. Then try breaking it down into a series of smaller tasks for them, but instead of giving them a list of steps to follow, give them a list of questions to answer.
Click here for ideas for helping with English or literacy homework
Click here for ideas for helping with maths homework.
If your child is struggling with their homework on a regular basis it may be worth talking to their class teacher to see if they are having general difficulties. Sometimes children can benefit from having a private tutor who can give them some one-to-one help to help them catch up with their class.
Finally: everyone likes to be praised so make sure you do this. If your child has found the homework particularly hard then it may be better to praise the amount of effort they have put into it rather than the end results.
As a private maths tutor, I often get asked by parents, “How can I support my child with their maths homework without doing it for them?”
In the short-term, the best thing you can do, is to read through it first to make sure you understand it yourself, and then break the problem down into a serious of questions like this:
What’s the first thing you need to work out?
Which operation (ie + – x or ÷) do you need to use?
If your child is unsure, you may need to ask supplementary questions:
Will the answer you get be bigger or smaller than the numbers used in the question?
Which two operations will give you a bigger/smaller number? (If necessary, try both of these to see which answer looks more sensible)
What’s the second thing you need to work out?
Which operation (ie + – x or ÷) do you need to use?
What’s the third thing you need to work out?
How can you use the answers from the first two steps to help you?
In this way, you are helping your child to see that there are lots of small steps to be taken before the final answer can be worked out, but they still need to do the work for themselves. Think about it like a building job – the scaffolders always come first so that the builders have a safe environment to work in, but they still have to carry out the building work themselves. My worksheets for breaking down word problems into simple steps is available for download from my free resources page.
In the long-term, make sure that your child is confident with everyday maths such as times tables, and number bonds as this will help them in the rest of their work.
If you live in north Birmingham (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Streetly, Sutton) and would like to book a private maths tutor for your child, you can contact me via my website.
Related post: How can I help my child with their English homework?
As a tutor, one of the questions I get asked most often by parents is, “How can I help my child with their homework?” They understand that they shouldn’t be doing the homework for their child, but are not sure how to go about supporting. My recommendation is to read through the homework yourself first, and then give your child a series of questions to answer.
For example if they have been asked to write a recount of an exciting day and they don’t know where to start, try breaking it down as follows.
Where did you go?
Who came with you?
What did you do in the morning?
What did you do in the afternoon?
What was the best bit of the day?
If their task is to write a review of their favourite book, you could break it down like this:
What is the book called and who wrote it?
Who is the main character?
What sort of book is it (adventure, mystery, horror, fairytale, etc)?
What’s the best thing that happens in the book?
Is the ending expected or a surprise?
Who else in your class would like this book?
Would you read another book by the same author?
In this way, you are giving them a framework to support their writing, but they are still having to think about how they will answer the questions for themselves, so the homework will still be their own work.
If you live in north Birmingham (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Streetly, Sutton) and want to book a private English tutor for your child, contact me via my website.
Related post: How can I help my child with their maths homework.