Academic journal article School Community Journal

Homework as a Family Literacy Practice: What Counts as Best Practices for Children Deemed as High Risk for Academic Failure Due to Socioeconomic Status

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Homework as a Family Literacy Practice: What Counts as Best Practices for Children Deemed as High Risk for Academic Failure Due to Socioeconomic Status

Article excerpt


My preschooler gets a weekly packet for Monday-Thursday. He writes his letters and name, matches colors, and gets a cutting sheet. My first grader gets a list for the week with 15 spelling words. He reads a book a week and has 10 or 5 vocabulary words. My older one is in special ed. He gets a pack for the week and has to read 30 minutes a day. I go over it, and I give them a test. They have to write their words 5 times a day.

In the above statement, the parent, a female head of household, demonstrated her familiarity with the varied homework routines of her three children. The ritual of homework provided a nightly school-like activity in the home. The parent, Ms. Turner (pseudonym, as are all names used throughout), viewed homework and other materials sent home with her children as sources of schooling practices that carried over to the home. She extended the homework time by creating her own school-like practices (i.e., "I give them a test"; writing their words 5 times day as directed by the parent). Her response, when describing knowledge of and involvement in her children's homework, was typical of the six mothers included in this study, all living in subsidized housing with school-age children attending Title I schools. This study examined homework as one component of family literacy, defined here as the intergenerational link between children's literacy with that of their parents and siblings.

In the past, family literacy has often been framed from a deficit perspective, presenting parents as holding negative opinions of schooling and needing to be trained to support their children with academic work (Amstutz, 2000). Research, however, has shown that homework as a form of family literacy was often highly valued and made more meaningful through parent involvement, including in the homes of children deemed at risk due to low socioeconomic status (SES) and/or minority language background (Cooper & Valentine, 2001; Deslandes, 2009; Epstein, 2010; Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997; Fox, 2003, 2010). This article presents an investigation which set out to determine answers to the question: What practices were used to support children with homework in families deemed as at risk due to low socioeconomic factors? Through analysis of interview data gathered from six families, findings showed that homework was accomplished in ways which differed from more traditional recommendations and teachers' perceptions of best practices for homework (Fox, 2003, 2010). The successful homework practices in participant homes deemed as at risk because of low socioeconomic factors are of interest in order to better understand how homework practices may be differentiated among families. Practical implications can be shared with teachers regarding the variation or match between school and home expectations for homework.

Homework as a Culturally Disputed Practice

Traditionally, in both the anecdotal sense and in research on the subject, homework has often been characterized as a negative-even potentially traumatic-event causing emotional distress, as in publications such as Homework Without Tears (Canter, Hausner, & MacMahon, 1988), or as a hassle (Beaulieu & Granzin, 2004), as harmful to parent and child relationships (Bennett & Kalish, 2007), and as having little to no positive effects (Kohn, 2007). Adding to this characterization, it was frequently recommended that in order for homework to have a positive effect it should occur in a somewhat isolated and quiet setting, away from distractions such as TV and phones and separate from other family members. Furthermore, the parent should act as a monitor but not participant (Kidshealth, 2015). In a meta-analysis of homework studies in the United States and United Kingdom (State of Queensland, 2004), isolation, special lighting, and a student-sized desk were often included in recommendations for parents. In a review of over 120 studies examining homework, Cooper (1989, 2007) described a synthesis of findings around the negative effects of homework, listing satiation, denial of leisure time, parental interference, and cheating as possible outcomes. …

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