I often think when approaching reading and homework with my own children or setting homework at school what hat should I wear?
My son hates homework. My son hated reading when he was learning and my son hates practising his spellings. Being dyslexic myself, being a class teacher plus having a specialist knowledge of dyslexia has bought about some interesting battles in my house… Interesting because lots of the battles are in my head! It has been a challenge to know what hat to wear and where to draw the line because I see it from all sides! I know the pressure a teacher faces for pupils to make progress and to cover the curriculum. I know the dangers of pressure and the need to learn to read differently for dyslexic learners as a specialist. I know how it hurts and pains the child to need to do more of something that makes them feel so bad all day and I know the dread a parent feels asking their child to read or complete homework knowing that you are teetering on the edge of a man made battlefield you are about to create!
So as teachers and parents which battles should you fight to win and which ones can fall to the wayside?
The battle of reading daily is one I consider as a teacher, specialist and parent as one of the most crucial ones to win because I know and I have seen the positive difference that daily reading at home can have for pupils, especially dyslexic ones. When my son started school he struggled immensely to learn to read. He just did not seem to be developing a sight vocabulary and he just did not see what he had to do, he just did not get it. As a teacher I knew how important it was to read everyday and how he needed to practise. This was his window of opportunity and it is not a big one! Initially I battled… and I did battle, (bearing in mind I worked 3 days a week, had a 2 year old and was pregnant with my third during his reception year and had a disinterested and struggling son) to hear him read every single school night, (we had weekends off). Was it a battle worth fighting? Yes I believe it was… Dyslexics will only learn to read by practising. I needed to give him the opportunity to practise.
As a 4 year old boy he did not undestand the importance or consequences of needing to be an effective reader. He did not understand the significance but it was a battle I had to make him fight. It was exhausting and painful to watch and would often end in tears. To watch him break down words he should have just been able to have remembered letter by letter on page after page and to watch him bark at the text night after night was heart breaking for me and I know it was excruciating for him. It would often take 20 minutes to read just 4 or 5 lines, but I gave him the time and I know he hated me for it at the time, but I knew without this extra practise he just would not get it! How did I do it? My advice to you is to build in time into your daily routine. It’s the only way. You have to find and make time to learn the basic skills. If you make it part of the routine it is much harder to escape from for you and your child!
I think sometimes in the pressure battle to teach children who are struggling to read as teachers and as parents we miss out on teaching children that reading is supposed to be enjoyable. Reading holds the key to knowledge, escapism and adventure. Some nights I knew my son was just too tired to read! That’s ok you know! I read to him instead. He listened to the words and the language. I would ask him to find words in the text. I would ask him questions about what we were reading about the characters and about what he thought would happen next. I would write in his reading record explaining he had not read but outlining what we had done instead. Teachers want and need children to be exposed to texts. It doesn’t matter which texts, or how they are exposed to texts. In fact in someways the dictative reaching scheme books do become dull, so to sprinkle a few Roald Dahl or Tom Gate books amongst the reading scheme books read by a parent can help immensely. It gives the child something to aspire too. It gives them hope and it opens doors for them.
Equally reading and homework needs to be meaningful and purposeful to the child or pupil. Dyslexics read and write much better if there is a clear intention and purpose. I expect you have all made cakes with you children and looked at the recipe. This is reading and can be recorded in a reading record. I bet boys look at magazines and car manuals and computer games. This is reading, just record it!
Spellings and tables are often regular homework! I think again here routine is vital to being successful. This is also a battle worth fighting… if you have the energy after reading! A dyslexic will only learn by visiting, revisiting, practise and more practise but not in massive chunks of time. 10×2 minute sessions will be far more beneficial than a big 20 minute battle and slot. My son used to bring home the look cover write check sheets. We would do a few at a time. I would also ask him verbally whilst driving along in the car or over breakfast. It was actually these snatched moments that had the biggest impact on him remembering them, not the moments where we sat for periods of time writing and rewriting them. This is becasue in these snatched moments he is relaxed. There is little pressure to sustain concentration for a long time and he knows it will be over quickly! This frees up space in his working memory and keeps his anxiety low!
It is important to remember that dyslexics have to work twice as hard and are often really exhausted at the end of a school day, or reading or homework session. Not only because of the additional strain with reading and writing but simply because they will have spent all day trying to stay ahead of the game, trying to keep up, pretending that they understand and generally keeping themselves hidden from view! The fact that they are exhausted is not an excuse this is absolute fact. I can remember coming home from school as a teenager and sleeping for half an hour. My son comes home and completely zones out, watches TV or just plays on his own in his room. It is really important that a dyslexic is given this time to just ‘chill’ for a better word. A dyslexic needs to find their safe zone and recharge their batteries. I still do now, as an adult, after a day at work need to process and make sense of what has happened, but also I need to just switch off from the world. So my advice for parents is simple… pick your moment. Give them a chance to unwind before approaching anything reading or writing related! Give them space and take the pressure off your child, but also take pressure away from yourself as a parent. You are mummy or dadddy and this is sometimes what your child needs most at the end of the day! Lovely time with mum or dad not another battle ground.
Teachers please think carefully about the relevance and purpose of your homework. Is it essential that a child completes it? If they don’t compete it will the next lesson make sense? Is the homework just an opportunity for more practise and to share what they have been doing with their parent? This information is important to share with a parent because as a parent we then know whether to prioritise it or not. Additional practise whilst important may not be essential, where as to secure knowledge or learn key words before a new topic may be crucial to a child making progress and having the best chance. By jotting a note on top of the homework sheet you could make a huge difference to a child and parents weekend! Equally if you are teaching teenagers help them by prioritising what you need them to do. Sometimes they just don’t have the space in their head to be able to do it on their own.
I am the ‘rebel’ if you like when it comes to homework. We as a family don’t always do it and it would not be honest of me to say that when we do do it there are never arguments, screaming matches and tantrums (and that’s just me not the children!) I find homework one of the most infuriating things ever as a parent. I loath Sunday mornings (this is when we attempt to do homework in our house). I brace myself for the incoming inevitable frustrating hour that is about to unfold in front of me and I breath deep, try to smile and try to remain calm and patient! I feel dreadful admitting this as I am a teacher and it should be second nature, but teaching your own children is very challenging as parents out there will know. For ages I felt a failure, then I accepted that to my children I am mummy. They don’t need me to be a teacher they need me to be a mummy! Generally my daughters are ok with homework and at giving it a try but my son… he is more interested in digging in the mud, building lego models or going on bike rides with his dad. If homework is even a tiny bit challenging my son will bolt and make every excuse under the sun not to give it a try. Sometimes we manage to get through it all… other times we don’t. If we don’t get through it all I don’t stress. I have tried and he has tried. I write in his homework book or sheet that we gave it try and how long we spent and that is the best we can both do! My advice to you is, all you can do is do your best… Give it a try! That’s all a teacher can ever ask.
I think one of the important messages here is partnership working. Teachers are humans and they will understand if you didn’t have time, they will also want to know if it was too hard or is causing high levels of anxiety and stress in your household. Parents will understand if a teacher writes a note saying it’s really important that your child does this extra practise please prioritise. However if we don’t communicate with each other we won’t know because as human teachers and human parents we are gifted at many things but mindreading is not one of them! Parents please please let your child’s teacher know if homework is problematic! Teachers please tell parents which homework is key. It will really help all of you involved and I can guaranteed the majority of teachers will be empathetic and I know will help you find solutions… Even if the solution is not always completing it! The majority of parents will support their child by finding the time to do what the child needs if they are informed!
Some of the problem I have in my house is we genuinely have trouble fitting homework in. We are a busy working family. All three of my children have hobbies and we also have a huge extended family who like to visit us lots. Our weekends are filled with social events, long walks, trips to the beach, family bbqs, dance lessons, music lessons, swimming lessons and looking after our house and most importantly looking after each other. Is this not life for most people? As a teacher we know the pupils who have lots of experiences are the pupils who have lots to say and the pupils who are interesting to talk to. The pupils who do lots of activities and have family time are the ones who are able to make connections and take risks in their learning. Perhaps the best homework you can do as a parent is provide opportunity. Provide rich interesting experiences that inspire your children to want to know more. Experiences that perhaps they wish to come home and write about or that they can share with their teacher. Not massively expensive trips to lego land, but walks in the wood, visits to the theatre, visits to landmarks, geocaching, cooking together or learning new skills together.
Please do not sacrifice life experiences for fitting in homework. No teacher wishes you to do this. No teacher wishes a battle to commence at precisely 10am every Sunday. However if amongst these experiences, whilst walking on the beach or in the muddy wood you can write the weekly spellings in sand or mud, or count piles of leaves or trees to do timestables teachers would be really grateful. You’ll be skilling up your child and also this will be a far more successful and fun way of your child retaining and remembering the knowledge.
Homework at primary school is a very different to homework at secondary school! Homework at primary school I guess you can give and take. Research indicates that at primary school homework has little impact on results and overall attainment however homework at secondary school is often integral to a pupil being able to make progress and make sense of their learning so pupils can learn to draw their own conclusions. I think it is again all about routine and building homework into the day so that the expectations are set but so that there is balance. It’s also about teachers clearly communicating to pupils the purpose and priority order. Ensure that teenagers have down time, time to do their hobbies and to enjoy life, this will make them more focused and relaxed in school allowing them to make maximum progress. I worry sometimes that if there is too much emphasis and pressure on completing homework pupils cannot get the balance of life they need. It’s like work isn’t it… We need work life balance and pupils needs school life balance, no matter what age they are.
Homework is always a heated and controversial topic. Some parents hate it, some parents love it. Some children can’t wait to get home and do it, some children detest it. Schools will never be able to get it right for all children and parents will never been able to get it right every time either. I know as a parent of 3 children who are each very different that what is right for one of my children may not be and often is not right for another of them. They are individual… We all know one size does not fit all. As an experienced teacher and now experienced mum I have a battle plan for each child and I am learning which battles need to be fought and that provide long term gain and which ones should just be left because they only provide short term gain.
I believe that the aim and purpose of homework should be about pupils developing skills to become independent and inquisitive learners as this is ultimately the long term goal for pupils and what parents and all teachers are trying to achieve. It is important that we do not loose sight of this from either side. We need to ensure that we work together because this is how we get the best possible outcomes for pupils and children but also the best possible outcomes as teachers and parents.
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