Some children have a great advantage in terms of language and culture when it comes to getting homework done. What can teachers and parents do for students who come from diverse backgrounds so they can be just as successful in completing their homework?
First, it is a big mistake for a teacher not to know or to disregard the
students', or for that matter the parents', backgrounds.
Everyone knows that people's backgrounds have a lot to do not only on how
they perceive reality, but with their core values.
Today in the United States we are facing a demographic shift. In fact, 45
percent of children under the age of 5 years in this country are racial or
ethnic minorities, many of whom speak a language other than English at home.
These children are coming to the classroom door in the morning and leaving
school each afternoon with homework assignments in their binders.
Will their homework be done? Will learning take place or will frustration
and hopelessness fill not only these children, but eventually their parents?
What to do? Without a doubt, teachers and parents need to communicate so
teachers learn about both the children's and parents' language and culture.
This might be done through parent-interest questionnaires, clear homework
instructions and short explanations of key vocabulary terms for different
homework assignments (in a language the parent understands).
Such culturally aware preplanning can lead to homework assignments that
focus on parent and child interest and interaction.
Interaction between the parent and child is more likely to occur when the
teacher designs homework where students need to reason through the
instructions and see the relationship between homework and home experiences.
It is this connection between the homework and what happens at home where
the parents can interact with their children. Analogy is a powerful teaching
When that link is made, students are more likely to dialogue with their
folks making valuable connections. These connections help the family focus
on what needs to be done.
From there it is a direct path to fill in the homework sheet, write the
paper or solve the math problem.
This allows the child to begin to reason through problems as a self-directed
learner as the homework gets done.
But, we are not finished yet.
Mere completion of the homework is necessary but not sufficient. The teacher
needs to create an ongoing process that continues to stimulate a
child-parent dialogue about schoolwork in general and homework in
This can be accomplished by the teacher evaluating the homework assignments
the child turns in, collecting these assignments into a portfolio, and
sending them back home again.
These graded portfolio assignments that arrive home provide the child the
opportunity to have a conversation with the parent on what was learned, how
it was learned and finally why this learning is of value.
Parents are then to write a short note responding to their child's
accomplishment and return it with the portfolio of assignments.
The idea is to build a bridge from school to home - a connection that is an
indication to the child that learning is valued, that learning does not just
take place in the classroom.
There is one more lesson to be learned by this collaboration of student,
family and teacher that would make a nice poster in any school room. It
might read, "No one is expected to learn alone."
Surprise resident Mark Ryan has taught at all levels from elementary
classes to university seminars. Contact him at his blog: www.wvblogs.
azcentral.com with your questions. Visit www.dr markryan.com/ for Ryan's
book Ask the Teacher.