School & District Management Opinion

Helping Parents Support Students at the Kitchen Table

By Starr Sackstein — November 06, 2016 2 min read
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Guest post by Connie Hamilton

It wasn’t until I began to experience the homework struggle as a parent that I really reflected on how educators contribute to these scenarios and how little we do to support families to make them more productive and less painful for everyone involved.

It isn’t just the students who are tossing their pencils down announcing to their parents “I don’t get it. My teacher didn’t teach this to us.” Moms and dads also have homework anxiety, dreading the feeling of not knowing how to help their child with history or math even if they have the time to do so.

Even when parents came to conferences with comments like, “homework is such a battle,” the solutions I offered were more about establishing a routine, breaking up the time, making a study spot in the home, or if necessary, coming into class early to get extra help.

None of these suggestions help bridge the gap between home and school to help parents learn the power of prompts and cues to trigger memory and use of strategies that students can activate at home. Without these instructional techniques, it isn’t surprising that parents often resort to spoon feeding the answers, sending their children to school the next day without the ability to repeat the skills they were supposed to be reinforcing at home.

Connecting the strategies I’ve learned through the study of questioning or the benefits of prompts has allowed me to serve more of a supportive role to my high school students who are focusing on content details I’ve long since forgotten.

Sharing some common instructional moves with parents to arm them with a fistful of ways to respond to common phrases often heard during the homework hours can not only help students be more successful with their at home learning, but also reduce the tension between parents and their kids.

If the focus is to keep the heavy lifting on the student, then when they throw questions and comments at their parents, they can boomerang them right back to students with questions and prompts like these:

  • How can you help yourself?
  • What strategy can you use?
  • Can you break the problem/question/prompt into smaller parts?
  • Where should you start?
  • What do you already know? How can you use that knowledge?
  • Does your response make sense?
  • What evidence do you have?

None of these responses offer answers; nor do they require content knowledge from the person posing them. Encouraging parents to use these replies with students gives some authenticity to our quest to build partnerships with parents and provide consistency for students in the way they can deal with challenges they might face in their learning. Nobody said learning was easy.

On the contrary, researchers like Carol Dweck suggest we should affirm and celebrate challenges so we have the opportunity to grow our brain. Simply getting the right answers, even if it means copying down what Mom or Dad said, doesn’t allow students to sustain their learning and transfer it back and forth from home to school.

However, these simple comebacks can be used by parents to build perseverance, support a sequence of learning, and provide patterns in how we want students to interact with learning wherever they are—at school and at home.

How can educators help to build the bridge of learning from school to home? Please share.

Connie Hamilton Ed.S. is a curriculum director for Saranac Community Schools in Saranac, Mich., and a national presenter focusing on questioning, best practices, and leadership. Her experience as a mom, teacher, coach, principal, and connected educator provide multiple perspectives on important educational topics.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.