Web as Resource
School Web Sites
School Web sites offer a means of communicating directly with students, staff, parents, and the larger community. School sites can include interactive elements, photo galleries, and other multimedia content, as well as individual pages published by teachers. Some schools enlist students to design and maintain Web sites, giving students opportunities to use their technical and creative skills for an authentic purpose. The best school sites are the ones that offer students, parents, and other community members compelling reasons for returning.
Web publishing software includes various applications that run on a machine to enable users to build Web pages. Software ranges from the most simple html-text editors to expensive visual editing tools. For educators, the main goal is to find software that is easy to use and runs on your machine. To publish content to the Web, a user needs publishing software and server space (to store the pages you want people to view). School Web pages offer a forum for communicating with parents, students, and other community members. Class Web pages provide teachers with an online space for posting assignments, sharing student work, and communicating with parents.
Clarifying parents' role in homework improves school-family relationships
Martina Schultz began teaching sixth grade in a large urban middle school this year after teaching third grade for five years. Each of her classes has 30 or more students. The school neighborhood includes a large, federally funded housing unit. Many of her students are still learning basic skills and are below grade level. All of them struggle with homework.
This lack of success is hindering students' academic progress. Currently, her students are in the middle of a science unit on habitat and species adaptation, and most of the basic concepts are unfamiliar to them. They need time to practice and deepen their understanding. Schultz believes she must enlist help from her students' families if her students are to reach grade-level standards. Family involvement in her school's educational activities has typically been low, so she needs a strategy that will increase involvement and homework success for her students and their families.
Parents' beliefs and attitudes about education influence children's perception of their abilities. All parents, including low-income parents, want their children to be appropriately challenged in school and prepared for the competitive world of work
Research offers two key recommendations about homework.
Schultz found she needed to modify her expectations of parents. If she assigned homework at the correct level students could focus on practicing the skills they had learned in class. Her initial plan for parents helping students increase content knowledge was inappropriate.
Parents may be relieved to learn that their job is not to do or help with homework. Homework is usually for practice, and practice should be on content students know relatively well. If students are stuck, they have been given homework that is too hard. Instead of having to be content experts, parents should set regular hours and clear expectations for where and when their children will work on homework. When parents set the stage for students to do their homework, they communicate the value of learning, and encourage skills such as responsibility, confidence, persistence, goal setting, planning, and the ability to delay gratification.
Only about 35 percent of school districts have an established homework policy (Roderique, Polloway, Cumblad, Epstein, & Bursuck, 1994). Schultz's school did not have one, so she shared this research with her principal. She showed her the examples of other school and classroom homework policies she had found online. They brainstormed an approach that they hoped would increase communication with parents and improve student success with homework.
The homework policy of a school in a poor neighborhood must be well-thought out, with appropriate guidelines and consequences as well as high standards. Because parent involvement and successful homework influence student achievement, clear policies can make a difference.
The principal and Schultz created a homework policy they thought would work. The staff contributed to the final document. The schoolwide effort established consistency for the entire teaching and learning community.
Later, the principal worked with the specialist responsible for the school's Web site to create a new section called "Homework Success." It outlined the new policy and provided helpful tips for parents. It even shared some of the research findings.
Using her classroom computer, Schultz redesigned her template for the class newsletter. She knew most of the parents received and read her newsletter, since the students helped create it. She wrote about the school's new policy and explained how she would now provide a "Homework Column" with ideas and tips for helping children. She also shared the formula to find the appropriate number of minutes for homework: multiply the grade level by 10. For her sixth-graders one hour of homework each night was about right, unless they were studying for a test or working on a special project.
Schultz had four classroom computers, and she assigned a group of students the responsibility of writing the weekly newsletter, including outlining the homework for the week. That way she included them in the learning and communicating, and created another authentic project that used technology.
Schultz's students paid more attention to homework now that they wrote about the assignments for the newsletter. When parents called to ask specific questions about homework, this gave her new opportunities to build school-family relationships.