Monday, August 10, 2015

6 Steps for Starting a Homework Program

A comment by a reader last week gave me the idea for today’s blog post, which is about starting a homework program for students.  Today I’ll write about laying the groundwork for such a program and in future posts, I’ll write about how to implement it and make it a success.

Not all students approach school like Tia Mowry did and for many ELLs, completing homework can be problematic.  Language issues exacerbate the difficulty of doing homework.  A lot of homework nowadays assumes parents can assist their children in doing it but many parents of ELLs either work at night or don’t themselves have the language skills necessary to help.  Also, many children think they understand what their teachers say during class only to realize when they get home and attempt to do an assignment that, in fact, they didn’t.  Sometimes the directions are just too complicated or confusing for students to comprehend.  Or the students said they didn’t have time to do homework because they had other things to do.  There are many reasons why an ELL--or any student--doesn't do his or her homework and laziness is not always one of them.

6 steps for starting a homework program.
Homework -- Bane or benefit? Source: The ESL Nexus
I saw all these issues with my students and I decided to do something about it.  I felt that it wasn’t fair for ELLs to be penalized for not turning in homework if they didn’t understand what to do. (Homework counted for a certain percentage of students’ grades at my school.)  Since most ELLs took a bus to and from school, staying after at the end of the day to get help from me wasn’t an option.  What they could do, though, was come before homeroom.  All middle school students spent between 10 – 25 minutes out on the playground, depending on when their bus arrived, before being let into the school building.  As a non-homeroom teacher, I was assigned one of these morning duties and had to supervise kids every day for the entire year.  I didn’t feel it was an especially good use of my time and, frankly, I hated being outside in wintertime, so I thought establishing a program in which my students could get help with academics would solve two problems.  My principal was amenable and so I started what I called the “before-school homework help program.”
6 Steps for Starting a Homework Program
Temperature outside my MA house in February--brr! Source: The ESL Nexus
Here are my suggestions for getting a program going:
* First of all, determine there is actually a need for such a program.  Ask yourself: Are there students who are not doing homework who would benefit from getting this kind of support?  If possible, find out whether students are doing their homework on time and what the quality of it is.  You can ask subject-area teachers and also, if available to you, look at report cards.

* If the answer is yes, figure out how many students would be involved.  Write up a list of names and students’ grades.  It’s good to have something in written form!

* Determine what kinds of support you will provide.  I helped students understand instructions for assignments; explained concepts they didn’t understand, especially in math and science; helped students study for tests, let students use computers to type assignments; printed out work for students; photocopied worksheets they’d misplaced  (if a classmate had one), let students work on projects, gave art materials to students so they could do projects, and let students have a quiet space to work on their own if they just needed more time to complete their homework.

* Determine how long the program will last.  I think there should be at least 20 minutes available because students need time to unpack their materials and then pack them up and get to homeroom, which takes away from actual time spent working.  Less than 15 minutes of time for doing homework probably isn’t worth it.

* Determine who can participate.  My program was targeted at students currently in the ESL Program but FLEP students—former ELLs who had exited out—were also eligible.  If you allow FLEPs, you can look at the forms used to monitor their performance (required by Federal law for two years after leaving an ESL program) to see if they would benefit from this support.  Anyone of those students in Grades 5 - 8, which was middle school in my district, could participate.  On rare occasions, students who were not ELLs also came and I will discuss that in a future blog post.

* Decide on the rules that students have to follow.  For example, will they be allowed to eat breakfast in your room?  Many of my students ate breakfast at school but the principal didn’t want them bringing food from the cafeteria upstairs to my classroom.  Will they be allowed to play music on their phone or iPod (iPods were popular when I started the program).  Can they use computers to play games?  What will they do if they finish their work but it’s not yet time to go to homeroom?  Do they need a pass to come to the program?

6 Steps for Starting a Homework Program
Not everyone enjoys homework! Source: Pixabay
Once you have all the logistics figured out, you can write up a proposal and go to your school administration to present your idea for supporting the ELLs and helping them be more successful in school.  If you have good reasons and a well thought-out plan for implementing the program, there is a greater likelihood that your administrators will approve it.

Click HERE to read Part 2, how to ensure that the program runs smoothly and students gain the maximum benefit possible from it. And click HERE to read Part 3, how you can prove your homework program is a success.

If you have any tips for implementing a homework program successfully, please share them in the Comments below.