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Interactive homework for increasing parent involvement and student reading achievement.

Although many researchers report that parental involvement will increase a child's academic achievement (Cooper, Jackson, Nye, & Lindsay, 2001; Epstein, 1994; McCarthey, 2000; Snow, 1999), little research focuses on how parental involvement efforts can be focused to improve parental interactions with students during completion of homework. Yet research indicates that parental interaction during the completion of homework is an important factor for improving parental involvement, thereby improving the home-school connection (Barbour, 1998; Comer & Haynes, 1991; Cooper et al., 2001; Epstein, 1994; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2001; McCarthey, 2000; Segel, 1990; Snow, 1999; Swick & Graves, 1993; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988). Despite the fact that parents indicate that they want to be involved in their children's schoolwork and researchers recommend such parental involvement, a concomitant increase in children's achievement has not been forthcoming (Epstein, 1994; McCarthey, 2000). In light of this phenomenon, it is important to recognize the variables that keep parents from being more involved in their children's schoolwork. This article will describe Interactive Reading Homework (IRH), a concept I developed during the course of my dissertation study (Bailey, 2002) as a means of increasing parental involvement and student achievement.

For the scope of this review of research, IRH is homework that requires parents to 1) listen to and discuss reading vocabulary lists with students, 2) listen to students' reading while serving as tutors, 3) participate in parent/student discussions related to stories that are instigated by inferential questioning, 4) complete a parental behavior checklist regarding the degree of their involvement in the completion of the IRH assignment, and 5) assemble a reading project intricately related to the reading selection. IRH assignments require students to 1) read and discuss reading vocabulary lists with a parent; 2) read to a parent; 3) participate in a parent/student discussion related to the story, instigated by inferential questioning; and 4) write journal entries to reflect on parent/student discussions (Bailey, 2002).

When designing IRH, the teacher should strive to connect the classroom activities to real-world activities related to children's home lives, thus making schoolwork more meaningful and relevant (Auerbach, 1989). Since they complete home learning assignments away from the teacher's supervision, homework affords students the opportunity to exercise self-direction about when and how to do an assignment, or even whether or not to do an assignment. Through IRH assignments, teachers can encourage parent and sibling participation and create stronger home-school connections (Cooper et al., 2001). Parental interest in an assignment will influence their participation and whether or not students are likely to benefit academically from the assignment. To motivate parental involvement, teachers should structure IRH to facilitate completion, promote self-directedness/self-management, and reflect a diverse population of students.

Using Homework To Improve Home-School Connections and Parental Involvement

Homework is necessary for students' optimal learning (Auerbach, 1989; Barbour, 1998; Cooper et al., 2001; Fagella, 1990; McCarthey, 2000; Ratnesar, 1999; Snow, 1999; Worrell, Gabelko, Roth, & Samuels, 1999). Research-based recommendations for homework assignments can improve parental involvement and thus strengthen home-school connections. This section will address strategies for teachers that will facilitate these home-school connections.

Home literacy bags can be an excellent way to encourage pa rents to participate in their children's education (Barbour, 1998). At one early childhood center that was being observed, three teachers participated in the development of these bags, which contained various books and homework activities that children and parents could interact with at home. Parents' feedback indicated that the bags' contents encouraged them to read to their children and to realize how their involvement, or lack thereof, affected their children's literacy. Teachers of low-income students should use strategies that allow students to connect their home experiences to their textual reading in school, such as making inferences from reading selections (McCarthey, 1994, 1995). These strategies can include sending books home every night for children and parents to read, and encouraging families to talk about the books after their reading sessions, using natural conversations, and then taking notes on the conversations. The notes should be given to the teacher; these can be compiled in a class library. This strategy has been successfully used to make connections between the child's schoolwork and his school life (Shockley, Michalove, & Allen, 1995).

Fostering social interactions is crucial for developing an understanding of reading activities. Teachers must encourage parents/families to discuss reading materials and reading-related activities with extended family members or friends. Families' willingness to discuss their reading is often used to predict how motivated the family or child will be to continue family reading activities (Alvermann & Guthrie, 1993).

Homework and Student Achievement

Considering that a significant number of researchers report that homework can and often does serve to improve parental involvement and strengthen the home-school connection, the question remains as to whether homework can improve student learning outcomes. Teachers need to know that when they use specific strategies to encourage parental involvement in homework, students experience greater academic success (McCarthey, 2000). Teacher-parent workshops can help foster greater reading proficiency and improved home-school connections. In the workshops, teachers can provide opportunities for parents to learn how to model the techniques used in the classroom to teach reading; for example, teachers can involve parents in activities designed to teach inference-questioning techniques when helping with homework (Davis & Golden, 1994). Students benefit academically from consistency between home and school strategies.

Parental participation in the completion of homework assignments also influences students' academic achievement (Swick & Graves, 1993; Villas-Boas, 1998). Elementary students perform better on English as a Second Language (ESL) assignments because of parent participation during the completion of homework tasks. Teachers who participated in the ESL English project reported that parent participation in homework is crucial for improving children's language fluency and reading skills.

Volume of Homework

Given researchers' arguments for homework and other home literacy activities, one could conclude that homework is necessary for creating greater home-school connections and for increasing school outcomes (Auerbach, 1989; Barbour, 1998; Cooper et al., 2001; McCarthey, 2000; Snow, 1999). However, a remaining question regarding homework is whether or not greater volumes of homework foster closer relationships between homes and schools and increase school achievement. To many educators, the remedy for poor classroom performance is an enormous amount of ditto homework sheets that mimic classwork (Ratnesar, 1999; Worrell et al., 1999). Researchers reported that in the 1990s, American children spent twice the amount of time on homework as their counterparts did in 1981, but their academic progress resulting from the increased amounts of homework was not significantly worthwhile (Ratnesar, 1999). The high volume of homework forces parents to contend with high levels of stress their children experience as a result. Yet there are no indications that assigning heavy volumes of homework is effective for increasing elementary students' academic aptitude (Fagella, 1990). In fact, Cooper et al. (2001) reported no significant correlation between the amounts of homework elementary students received and their academic outcomes.

Students in the United States have many other responsibilities besides their academic work, and so they often choose not to complete homework (Morse, 1999). Although several reports indicate that students who complete moderate to heavy amounts of homework are more successful students, Slavin (1991) and O'Melia and Rosenberg (1994) presented powerful arguments against teachers assigning enormous amounts of homework. As increasing the volume of homework is positively correlated with increased parent and student stress levels, it may have a negative impact on homeschool relationships or school outcomes. The question, then, is, "What kind of homework should teachers assign to promote parental interaction with students and encourage the completion of reading homework?"

Constructivist Practices To Improve Parental Interactions and Student Outcomes

This examination of homework, and its potential to create home-school connections and increased reading proficiency, will identify elements of meaningful homework and homework acceptable for diverse populations. These include goal setting to improve homework accuracy and designing constructivist components of meaningful homework.

Training Teachers To Design IRH. Considering the research evidence that homework is beneficial (Auerbach, 1989; Cooper et al., 2001; Fagella, 1990) yet increasing the amount of homework does not build better home-school relationships, the question, then, is what type of homework should be used to create stronger home-school relationships? One key component of a constructivist homework assignment is the degree to which it allows for parent/child interactions. Children learn best when they have opportunities to interact with their environments (Piaget, 1954/1981). Parents are a crucial part of children's environments; therefore, teachers must create avenues for increasing parent-student interactions.

Although designing homework to allow for parent/child interactions is crucial, teachers still must consider how to facilitate children's construction of knowledge during the interactions, and avoid parent domination of the homework process (DeVries, 1997). Effective homework models revolve around the social constructivist theory of learning, which operates under the premise that learners must be allowed to actively construct their own knowledge within contexts that allow interaction with their environments (Vygotsky, 1978).

Facilitating Parent-Child Interactions Through IRH. Interactive homework promotes meaningful conversations between parents and their children about schoolwork (Epstein, 1994; Cooper et al., 2001). Epstein described the Teachers Involving Parents in Schoolwork (TIPS) model, which is designed to encourage students to explain to parents their interpretations of the skills to be addressed within a particular assignment. Following the explanation, students are encouraged to demonstrate their understanding of the assignment by using the "Now Try This" section of the TIPS homework. This interaction between families and students helps to promote educational interest and academic achievements. Epstein reported that interactive homework assignments encouraged positive attitudes toward writing, increased students' enjoyment of their work, and enhanced skills that are critical to gathering ideas, editing, and revising their writing.

Teachers must consider research related to parental involvement in interactive homework assignments and student outcomes. For example, Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2001) reported that active parental/family support improves student attitudes related to achievement, such as perceptions of personal competence, and self-management. Such parental interactions during homework consequently improved student academic achievement. Additionally, low-SES, low-achieving readers made significant improvement in their homework completion rate, and experienced overall improvement in academic performance, when teachers used a variety of approaches to structure homework assignments to involve parents (Bryan, Burstein, & Bryan, 2001).

Parent and Student Interest As Components of IRH. In general, teachers need to consider parents' interests when designing homework (Bryan et al., 2001; Cooper et al., 2001). Parental interest can be measured by the degree to which parents participate in school meetings and monitor their children's homework, and through data collected on Interest Inventories to ascertain information about family hobbies, extracurricular activities, religious affiliations, and organizational memberships. This information should be used to create a family profile so that homework will be suitable for families of diverse backgrounds.

Parental interest in homework can facilitate student interest, which enhances students' motivation to complete homework assignments using self-directed and self-management strategies (Cooper et al., 2001). Elementary students often lack adequate attention spans or the independence needed to complete homework assignments, even when they are motivated to complete the work. Therefore, there is a weak correlation between homework completion and student achievement for these students. On the other hand, a positive correlation exists between academic achievement and high school student homework completion rates. Teachers must consider these findings in order to increase their ability to design effective interactive homework that benefits academic outcomes.

Some early childhood educators are convinced that young children fail to gain any benefit from homework assignments. Others only assign skill level homework assignments that are void of opportunities for students to reason and solve problems on their own. Unfortunately, such assignments deprive young children of opportunities to benefit from meaningful homework assignments that involve parents (Warton, 2001). Teachers should design IRH activities that encourage parents to assist students. Educating parents on strategies for deciphering homework problems serves to increase homework completion rates and student achievement (Bailey, 2002). They should encourage the facilitation of learner-generated questions and comments at every stage of instruction, including homework (Cole, 1993). The generative/constructivist learning model should focus on students' interests and encourage the learners' independence by monitoring learning through the generation of questions. Consequently, the student should be able to explore answers to his questions during home journal writing sessions. Parents should be encouraged to monitor and discuss these journal entries.

Reasoning As a Component of IRH. Along with provisions for children to construct their own knowledge while interacting with their parents, IRH assignments must include a reasoning element. The concept of reasoning is a key component of activities that capture children's interest--for example, as they interact with countable objects during the acquisition of math skills (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987). Based on this constructivist theory, children's and parents" ability to reason with objects and scenarios based on their interests makes an activity more authentic for dealing with daily problems (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987). Stager (2001) interpreted Piaget's philosophy on students' problem solving and stated that it is necessary for teachers to understand children's mistakes in order to help them make corrections. When children take work home, it is often unclear to educators at what point during the homework process that children made their mistakes. Therefore, teachers must engage students in dialogue to arrive at solutions for mistakes made on homework assignments. A clear line of communication between parents and teachers is also necessary to help parents understand how homework should be completed. This line of communication should result in a collaborative parent-child process of homework completion, in which students arrive at, and understand, solutions to homework problems with the assistance of parents.

Self-management/Self-directedness As Components of IRH Assignments. Homework assignments can be designed so as to encourage parent-child interactions, facilitate children's sustained interest in the homework, and increase completion rates (Auerbach, 1995; Cooper et al., 2001; Epstein, 1994; Fagella, 1990; Taylor, 1997). This can be done through the incorporation of goal setting and self-management/self-directed activities (Bronstein & Ginsburg, 1993; Miller & Kelley, 1994; Olympia, Sheridan, Jenson, & Andrews, 1994). Constructivist techniques are useful for fostering students' abilities to self-manage the completion of their own homework. Indeed, Miller and Kelley (1994) examined four parent-child dyads that initially experienced significant homework problems but made substantial progress using goal setting and contingency contracting. Two of the four subjects reported improvements, especially in the area of on-task behaviors. Olympia et al. (1994) examined the effectiveness of self-management for improving the rate of homework completion and accuracy rates in mathematics homework. The subjects were 6th-grade students facing difficulties answering the homework assignments correctly, and exhibiting low rates of homework completion. The students were trained in the use of self-management techniques to deal with the difficulties they encountered with homework; the majority of the students significantly improved the amount of homework they completed, although the researchers reported mixed and insignificant amounts of gains in terms of the accuracy of the homework. Consequently, parents reported experiencing fewer problems in helping their children complete homework assignments (Olympia et al., 1994). These techniques facilitate autonomy, a trait that enables students to complete homework assignments at a greater rate than those not intrinsically motivated and self-directed (Bronstein & Ginsburg, 1993).

Thus, homework designers must consider whether or not homework allows for students to construct their own meanings of homework assignments while arriving at solutions to homework problems. At the same time, the homework must be designed in such a way that it fosters parent-child collaborations and self-management/self-directedness.

Homework for Diverse Student Populations. After teachers have mastered the integration of IRH and constructivist components into their homework assignments, their next task is to ensure that the assignment is appropriate for diverse student populations. Homework that does not take into consideration students' backgrounds can be patronizing, and therefore ineffective (Auerbach, 1995; Taylor, 1997). Through teacher-parent collaborations, the teacher is fully aware of children's and parents' backgrounds and fully regards them (Auerbach, 1995; Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001; Fagella, 1990; Taylor, 1997). Teachers must consider parents' backgrounds and input when constructing homework assignments. When parents feel they are homework stakeholders, their interest in interacting with their children during the completion of homework is heightened (Fagella, 1990). Teachers also should develop a system for disseminating and explaining homework assignments in a way that will alleviate unnecessary confusion.

Most teachers and administrators say they want parents to be more involved in their children's homework. To achieve this goal, they must devise new approaches or more organized strategies for delivering homework in a way that helps parents productively interact with their children. Bryan et al. (2001) recommend that educators use cost-effective methods that require less time and effort, such as telephone networks and answering machines, to deliver homework assignments.

Conclusion

ha conclusion, researchers agree that increased parental involvement is necessary if low-SES, underrepresented student populations are to overcome a history of reading deficiencies. However, the fact remains that parental involvement alone is insufficient for achieving desired academic outcomes. Teachers must design interactive/constructivist homework assignments that interest both students and parents in order to build greater home-school relationships.

This review of literature presents recommendations for training teachers to design meaningful homework, using the Interactive Reading Homework method. This approach enables teachers to design effective homework assignments that establish better home-school connections and lead to improved reading achievement. Moreover, it provides a means for parents to support their family literacy efforts and sustain children's interest in home literacy activities.

References

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Lora Battle-Bailey is Assistant Professor, College of Education, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
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Title Annotation:Review Of Research
Author:Battle-Bailey, Lora
Publication:Childhood Education
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Date:Sep 22, 2004
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