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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Helping parents help with homework

April 20, 2012

This week my 5th grade daughter came home with math homework that involved finding the surface area and volume of pentagonal prisms. She needed help with it, and it was really hard! It was hard because I hadn't worked problems like those for years, and even when I did, I'm not sure how easily I did it. We got through the homework okay (after a looooooong time and several Google searches) but the experience made me think about ways teachers can help parents help with homework.

I've written about homework before here and here. It's tough to be a Mom, an educator, and a blogger without confronting the H word!

One way teachers can help parents help with homework is by encouraging parents to ask questions that encourage thinking about the problem. Rather than being able to solve the problem themselves, parents help their child think through the problem and make a plan for solving it.

A teacher once shared with me a helpful handout on this topic, called Parents as Questioners. The handout describes questions parents should use freely and sparingly, as well as questions to avoid when helping their child think about a homework assignment.

Parents are encouraged to use freely any questions that will help students think about the way they are tackling the problem. These include: What makes sense so far? Is there another way to think about it? Is this like any other problem that you have worked on in any way?

Questions to use sparingly include How might you organize this? Have you tried smaller cases? Can you see any patterns?

Questions or hints to avoid include: That's not quite what I had in mind…Explore it like this…;No, you should….

Some of the "use freely" questions may have helped us this week as we worked through pentagonal prisms. I could have guided Molly's thinking by asking her to think about what she's done with rectangular prisms, and how the current problems relate to that. That may have winded us around and gotten us closer in solving the problems.

Take a look at the suggestions on the Parents as Questioners PDF and let me know if you think that would be helpful to the parents you work with!


This is such a touchy topic! I think the Parents as Questioners is a great resource. Do you have a resource for what to say when a child is reading and incorrectly reads a word? A PDF for that to hand out would be helpful for that too.Thanks!Adrianne Meldrum

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