Welcome Foster Parents!

If you are a foster parent with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, you may recently have received our brochure in the mail.  If so, welcome!

We are currently recruiting both students and tutors for our January start.

Students will ideally be in grade 6, 7, or 8.  We are recruiting crown wards only, for our first session.

Tutors will ideally be in grade 9 or 10, with at least one high school math credit underway or completed.  They can be any child in your home, including foster children, adopted children, or biological children.  They don’t need to be superstars in math; a willingness to help is the most important criteria!  Older students are also welcome.

I encourage you to call the number, or email the address, on the brochure to speak to me in person with any questions.  You’re also welcome to leave a comment on this page and I will respond for everyone.

How much homework?

This is the second of a series of articles inspired by a session I led for foster parents with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. In this series I am exploring how to resolve homework issues with teenage foster children.

Previously…what is homework?

How Much Homework?

Many people know of the popular “ten minutes per grade” rule of thumb. For a child in grades 9 to 12, this works out to 1.5 to 2 hours of homework every evening. At least some research (Cooper) has reinforced that this rule is a good one for high school students, showing that there is a correlation between the amount of homework students do and their marks. (There is less correlation in middle school, and, surprisingly, none at all in elementary school.)

Doesn’t it seem odd that we even discuss it in minutes? Some students are fast writers, some struggle; some whiz through math problems and others puzzle over them for what seems like forever. Mix in learning disabilities or FASD, and you’ll easily see that two students in the same class will take very different amounts of time to complete the same work.

Also, new teachers don’t always accurately estimate how much time the homework they assign will take. As a new teacher I would routinely plan class activities that I thought would take ten minutes—and then be surprised that they took the whole period!

A study by the Toronto District School Board (Sinay) looked specifically at what they called academic resilience, and which factors helped students with low socioeconomic status succeed in school. They found that homework completion was the student characteristic most associated with academic resilience, finding that students were about 1.5 times more likely to be successful if they regularly completed their homework. This means that as foster parents, we can directly affect the success of the children in our care simply by helping them with homework completion. (I’ll be exploring how to do this in future posts.) But the amount of homework assigned to a student can, of course, impact their ability to complete it, and therefore to succeed.

When It’s Just Too Much

Several foster parents in the session I led with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society shared stories of students with excessive homework. They worried about students having to regularly stay up late, quit co-curricular activities that they enjoyed, and pass up social opportunities. There will always be crunch times when homework is temporarily heavier, but you may find yourself in a situation in which, over a period of weeks, even with good time management, a child’s life is becoming unbalanced due to homework. I encouraged those foster parents to try limiting the homework a student does. This needs to be planned and implemented carefully. If you are able, speak to the teachers involved and explain that you’re seeing negative impacts of too much homework on your foster child, and tell the teacher that you will be limiting the homework.

If you are planning each evening’s work with the student (again, more about that later), you can help them prioritize which items to work on, and how much time to spend on each. You may be able to look at a list of math questions, for instance, and tell your foster child to do only every other part, or only every other question. Write a note for the teacher, either on the margins of the assignment or on a separate piece of paper. Keep it brief and polite; you need only say “I told Asha to stop at this point,” and sign it. Involve the student in the conversation—this is an area where you want to develop their critical thinking as well. I don’t mean “critical” in the sense that they criticize the teacher and the homework! Rather, you want them to think about what they’re good at, what they need to practice more, and which of their assignments is going to help them do better.

I don’t claim this is a foolproof strategy. A clever child might try to take advantage of the policy by dawdling over one worksheet for a full two hours so they don’t have to do any other homework! But judiciously limiting homework is an important tool for foster parents to have on hand, and they should feel free to use it if it helps their foster child to succeed.

Next up…not enough of a good thing?

References:

Cooper, Harris. “Homework for All – in Moderation.” Educational Leadership 58.7 (2001): 34. Print.

Sinay, Erhan. “Academic Resilience: Students Beating the Odds.” 2009: 1–2. Accessed from http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/AboutUs/Research/V5_I1AcademicResilience.pdf on Nov 9, 2013.

Just what is “homework”, anyway?

This is the first of a series of articles inspired by a session I led for foster parents with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. In this series I am exploring how to resolve homework issues with teenage foster children.

Why We’re HereID-10090175

Few students love doing homework, and few parents love forcing them to do it. In fact, in 2007, the Canadian Council on Learning stated that 72 percent of parents across Canada “report that homework can often be a source of household stress”. Although this is a statistic from the general population, I think we can assume the number would be as high or higher if just foster parents were interviewed.

What is Homework?

Well, obviously, it’s work that students do at home. But there are a few different types of homework and a variety of reasons teachers assign it.

Cathy Vaterrott, associate professor of education at the university of Missouri-St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework, says:

Good homework helps kids cement what they’ve learned, but it isn’t busywork, isn’t given in extreme amounts, and definitely doesn’t require parents to become substitute teachers at home.

The most traditional view of homework breaks it down very simply:

  • projects – assignments too big to complete in one class, or the allotted class time
  • studying – moving information and skills from short-term to long-term memory
  • preparing for tests – making sure the skills and information already acquired can be accessed quickly

Some teachers learn that homework can be sorted into four types:

  • preparation – material given to students before a lesson, to pique their interest
  • practice – the traditional type, which consolidates a skill just after it has been learned
  • extension – goes beyond what was learned in class, often applying skills to new situations
  • integration – applies many different skills to a problem

A teacher might diligently follow this breakdown and even label the homework assignments by type. For example, a teacher with the best of intentions might try to activate students’ prior knowledge by assigning a series of questions about a topic they haven’t yet started learning about. An anxious student might read the questions and panic, exclaiming, “But we haven’t learned this!”

Especially in the younger grades, the traditional reasons that teachers give homework are almost entirely unrelated to the individual subjects. This homework is assumed to teach children:

  • responsibility
  • confidence
  • persistence
  • goal setting
  • planning
  • ability to delay gratification

In this view, homework is for students to learn self-discipline and time management. However, students who have missed school or have significant learning gaps may not have learned these skills in elementary school. These students are at a severe disadvantage when they reach high school, with teachers assuming they can handle the increased workload and subject-specific assignments they are given. Many foster children fall into this category, with many having poor attendance, multiple changes in schools, and a lack of parental involvement at home during their elementary school years.

One of the topics we’ll tackle later in this series is how to explicitly teach older students these skills, so that we can close the gap and move them towards more success with their homework.

References:

Canadian Council on Learning.  2007 Survey of Canadian Attitudes toward Learning: Results for elementary and secondary school learning.  Ottawa, 2007.  Web.  Accessed from http://www.ccl-cca.ca/pdfs/SCAL/2007/SCAL_Report_English_final.pdf on November 8, 2013.

Harvey, Virginia Smith, and Louise A. Chickie-Wolfe. Fostering Independent Learning: Practical Strategies to Promote Student Success. New York: Guilford, 2007. Print.

Vatterott, Cathy. Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2009. Print.

Rope image courtesy scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.