A time of exams and a time of testing
Here in the UK we are rapidly moving towards the Y11 and Y13 examination or key stage 2 testing phase in our schools. These are significant transition points in education and carry with them considerable pressures. Get it right and learners have life choices, get it wrong and we are “picking up the pieces” in a number of ways.
How can parents help their children during this time?
The question I want to look at in this article is “What can parents do to support their children at such times as these?” It is a summary of the workshop I offer to schools and parent groups. I also want to provide strategies that can help both the parent and the child deal with the upcoming challenges by way of a PARENT acronym.
The issue of homework
Whilst examinations and tests are points of high involvement and stress for parents there is the issue of homework too. Homework tends to increase prior to periods of testing and is often seen as synonymous with revision. Much of what I say here applies to the daily issue of homework, especially if we aim to foster lifelong learning and don’t want the morning ritual in many homes that starts with the question “Have you got your homework?” and ends with both parents and children being stressed.
Let’s start by looking at things from the learner’s perspective.
They will have had mock examinations or practice tests by now and be rehearsed in the practices that are involved in taking them. They will be trying to reach expectations or maintain progress towards them. For some it may be an expectation too far, they may already be beginning to fold under the pressure. Even if they have done well so far there is the pressure to do it for real when the time comes. Revision and homework don’t have to be lone activities, you being in the same room can be a form of support. Without a strategy and without support we are expecting a great deal from our children.
The learning environment
Remember we are all different and where you like to study is not the same as your child’s. There are a number of myths around where study should take place but the common one is on your own and in a quite place. Think for a moment, at a time of stress and anxiety do you relish the idea of being sent to your room, to be isolated? Few of us do. I even moved my own home office into the “flow” of the home rather than be isolated from the energy that is part of family life. Remember we look forward to things we enjoy and put off the things we don’t! Working at the kitchen table, lounging on the sofa or on the bed, indoors or outdoors . With bright light or dim light, with music or without. These are all acceptable places and ways to study. The key though is to be organised.
Remembering the ways to help
Here is an acronym or mnemonic (I am not sure which you would call it) that can help PARENTs be supportive of learners and I am going to use it to outline the strategies parents can use to effectively engage with their children. A more detailed workshop can be provided for a group of parents or you can request a copy of “The Parents Guide to Study” from the link at the end of this article. The basic approach is to be “gently” involved, think of your role as being more of a “guide” than a task master or time keeper.
The meaning of the acronym PARENT is to:
Participate, Ask questions, Reflect, Encourage, Negotiate, Time
What each letter means
Participate – Find out what is going on. Know the dates and key times of all examinations or tests. Provide a reason and relevance for doing their best (not rewards). Work at using peer groups to provide support and not distractions. Understand what learning needs and preferences your child has (for example some like the quiet and others like a busy background). Homework does not have to be alone work either.
Ask questions – but do not interrogate – AVOID using “Why?” , it makes us defensive (try it, ask somebody why they are doing whatever it is they are doing and see what response you get). Find out what topics are being studied and see what you know about them. You can ask about how they remember best or what new things have you learnt. You can ask your children to explain things to you (pretend if you do know or understand that you do not). Ask how they think they can improve. Use positive emotional triggers – “How did you feel when you did well at….?”
Reflect – find or make opportunities for your children to reflect, recap, internalise, or explain. Short periods work best and if you can make them spontaneous so much the better. Remember mistakes are part of the learning process. Work at building self-esteem, it’s going to take a battering!
Encourage – it’s important you stay positive and purposeful and not to let negativity build. Focus on getting better and not just results. Show how much you believe effort leads to success and set a good example. Praise only when praise is due and make it specific.
Negotiate – it’s about goal setting and creating win/win situations. AVOID bribery. Talk about consequences and be consistent. Remember choice is a powerful motivator but not if it is free choice.
Time – our lives are influenced by every second. A break or leisure activity are as important as studying if managed properly. They can keep us fresh and can break negative moods. Plan ahead to try to minimise anxiety and stress where you can. Rehearse what will happen at key times so they are part of the process and as ‘normal’ or familiar as they can be.
The PARENT Poster
To make it easier to remember the parent role I have designed a poster that you can put on a wall, cupboard door or any place you find yourself passing by regularly.
As a PARENT learn to stand back
Although PARENTS is also a useful acronym I have left the “s” out of the acronym as it stands for “stand back“. Learning to stand back is probably the hardest thing for a parent to do. Let them make mistakes, it’s part of learning. Your job is not to do it for them. I know this can be nail biting and frustrating but better to learn the lessons of life early. I have worked with college/university students who are in a terrible state because they have not developed the skills to cope on their own or do not know how to handle failure.
Well that is how to be a PARENT at a time of examination or testing and during homework time. I hope you found it useful.
Using the PARENT poster.
I am happy for you to download and use the graphic in this article but please acknowledge the copyright. The poster in high resolution pdf format is available via a request sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, just put Parent Poster in the subject box.
If you are a school and want a license to print as many posters as you wish, starting at £25 a year, get in touch at email@example.com and I will send you the details
PS – Possible book for parents
I am considering extending this article into a guide for parents “The Parents Guide to Supporting Home Study”. If this is something you would like to see then please let me know (via twitter @4c3d or e-mail)and I will put pen to paper!
Is there anything special about the home learning environment and the student’s ability to manage it to meet their learning needs?
We know that schools are but one learning environment, although of many hues, and that students are able to access others either through the internet or more traditionally at home. To see just how important is the home environment in influencing achievement we can look at the work of Hattie. Hattie’s work attempts to answer the question “what has the greatest influence on student learning?” Hattie[i] calculates that home environment has an effect size of 0.57 (just over a grade) the same as socioeconomic status. By comparison the class environment scores an effect size of 0.56 and a student’s disposition to learn 0.61.
What do these figures tell us?
Taking the above effect sizes together the environment, be it at school, or at home, has a significant influence on learning. I doubt few teachers would argue with this. My argument with LQ is that where the learning environment suits the learner they learn better. These figures suggest this is true. My rational for developing LQ is for the occasions when there is no natural match between learning needs and the learning environment, for when the learner finds themselves in a “toxic” learning environment. The opportunity for homework could be a way of overcoming a toxic environment before the learner develops their LQ and understands how to manage the environment to meet their needs. This would only be true if the home learning environment differed from that of school and more closely met the learner’s needs. If the home environment mirrored that of the school then without developing LQ we would see no discernable difference in a student’s disposition to learn or their achievement.
Just how important is homework anyway?
Now let us look at the effect homework has on achievement. Hattie suggests an effect size of 0.47, almost a grade. The trouble for teachers is that they have no control over how this work is completed. This opens up a dark side to homework. One where the learner is passive “companion” rather than active “explorer” in completing homework. I refer to those occasions where as a teacher what you see before you has in your opinion obvious parental finger prints all over it. Or has it? We may only make this assumption because the quality of the work is out of context when considered in the same light as classwork. One reason for the improved performance could be that we are creating a classroom environment which actually limits the learner and when at home he/she is in a learning environment better suited to their needs and therefore is able to produce much better work. This is not something we as teachers are likely to easily accept but is there any supporting evidence for this theory? I’ll return to point this later but if you have been following the articles on LQ you may have already guessed that I think there is. If not start with a look at “The LQ rich environment” (http://wp.me/p2LphS-3u) in this blog.
What about the “home” in homework?
The home environment varies enormously from ones where education or learning features little to those that actively promote learning and value it highly. Access to the internet and on line learning resources has the ability to level this playing field a little but only if it is actively sought as a support for learning. Parental influence has always been shown to be a major influence on a student’s engagement in learning. This influence can be in the form of encouragement and establishing values to actively providing resources and activities that support homework. The home is obviously not a level playing field but despite this some learners produce original and good quality homework. A learner who needs quiet reflection time in order to assimilate and apply knowledge may find such opportunities at home and not in school. A learner who likes to discuss concepts and tasks may find he/she is allowed to do so at home whereas class discussion may be discouraged. Could we see this as further support for finding ways of matching learning needs to the learning environment and therefore developing LQ in learners?
Will any homework in any conditions do?
If we accept Hattie’s findings then the nature of homework and the value given to it as a way of learning can be a significant factor in student achievement. There are two important issues at play here. The first is the characteristics of the learning environment associated with the home and how this supports homework tasks. I have briefly mentioned this above. There is though the aspect of the benefits of collaborative homework that can take place in the home environment too. The second is quality of the homework and perhaps the motivation for the setting of homework (I believe there is often a link between these two).
Homework that is not done is of no good. The common outcome of this is sanctions and a negative learning experience as well as time expended by the teacher on enforcing rather than encouraging. Homework that has little substance and does little to aid the learning process is of little value other than in establishing routines and expectations. Neither of these examples I believe would rate an effect size as substantial as almost a grade increase as suggested by Hattie.
So why homework?
Well let’s consider LQ and homework. Homework offers the learner an opportunity to explore the link between the learning environment and learning needs and the effect on achievement. This will only occur though if there is discussion about the link. It is my experience that this rarely happens. The learner is kept in the dark about how the environment impacts their learning. What is more they are not supported in developing their LQ to overcome environmental limitations or effects. I believe strongly that when we are explicit about the impact of the learning environment on learning and discuss learning needs then we are able to develop LQ in learners. Knowing what to do about your learning environment and how it is affecting you is a critical factor in raising achievement. It is my contention that used appropriately homework gives us an opportunity to develop LQ.
Could homework be the antidote to school?
There has been a long running debate about the value of homework and even if Hattie had not shown an effect size of almost a grade many would continue to say it has no value. Perhaps I have just added to the debate by suggesting that homework could be the antidote to the learning environment we know as school.
Continued Professional Development Opportunities
I am now offering Continued Professional Development (CPD) courses about LQ and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to include building LQ awareness in your staff development programme.
Also on offer is a course on understanding and promoting learning relationships. You can find details here at the Good CPD Guide. http://goodcpdguide.com/courses/promoting-learning-relationships
Homework, do you think it is:
a) a really effective way of promoting independent learning and reinforcing knowledge and understanding or
b) a waste of time that consumes far more effort than it provides for learning rewards?
Whichever side you fall on there is no doubt that homework can trigger all sorts of issues both at home and at school.
As a teacher I can recall having to set homework because it was the school policy. The policy ignored if the homework would be relevant or provide any learning benefits. It may be the policy propagated the belief that a lot of homework equals a ‘good school’? I can remember marking homework and not seeing a lot of effort.
As a parent I remember the all too often chant ‘Have you done your homework?‘ or the ‘Where is your homework?‘ followed by ‘Have you any homework?‘.
As a student I can remember leaving my homework to the last possible minute or thinking up excuses for having not done it.
There appears to be more time and effort spent avoiding homework at times than there is actually doing it.
It is not all negative though.
As a teacher I can remember being impressed by the passion and enthusiasm some students had for the work. The task was of obvious interest to them and I would have had little indication of this if it had not been for the homework. It was their opportunity to be in their “element” as Sir Ken Robinson puts it.
As a parent I remember sharing the learning journey and allowing my children to teach me and share in their wonder. This was a fantastic time and brought us together as a family.
As a ‘student‘ I have never stopped having homework. As a lifelong learner you can not avoid it!
In a Linkedin discussion about homework I made the following comment and thought it appropriate to share it to a wider audience.
“I think one of the problems, and there are a few, with homework are the ‘what if’ scenarios that occur and often lead to conflict and non productive workload/administration time.
1) What if the homework is not really relevant or supportive of the learning?
2) What if the child does not do it a) at all b) in time or c) well enough to be of any learning value or d) it gets ‘lost’?
3) What if parents don’t get involved in supporting homework?
4) What if the parents do too much ‘support’ in helping complete the homework?
5) What if the homework is set only to meet a policy requirement?
6) What if there is no follow up or consequence for not completing homework?
7) What if only a few in the class do the homework?
8) What if the homework is not about collecting, making or writing it down. How would it be acknowledged?
In an ideal situation we would want the child to have a sense of enquiry, to want to explore and find out more and record it in some way for themselves. I would worry though if this became part of the curriculum, an aspect of the extended school if you like which had a direct or limiting impact on the level of achievement that could be reached. I can see a whole load of ‘what if’ questions popping up if it did.
As has been mentioned it is about having the right balance, children have a right to play, to explore to sit and wonder and for it have nothing to do with a curriculum, life chances or future opportunities.
I believe parents have a crucial role as for as homework is concerned and it is not about insisting there is more. Parents need to be co-explorers in the learning, they need to celebrate inquiry and demonstrate the value by their actions through active involvement.
If we could have a debate about why the school day need to be extended through the use of homework and why school based learning needs to pervade the home perhaps we could identify and share the benefits in a way that makes good use of this additional time.”
What do you think, is it still a case of choice a) or b)?
Find out how Learning Intelligence and homework can work together to improve learning in this article: