This parent involvement study shows that students
do better when parents mark their homework ... and both the children and their families
enjoyed the experience.
By Laurie Mitchell
The Grade 5/6 kids at Glen Dhu Public School in Whitby are
spending their math lesson wrapping a present that is, after they figure out how
many square centimetres of wrapping paper they need. Then, they will ask another group to
measure the wrapping paper for them to find out if their calculations were correct.
Later on at home, they will be applying their understanding of measurement on a
follow-up homework sheet and asking their parents to check their work. Hoping to find an
effective way to include parents directly in the new Ontario curriculum, I invited them to
mark homework such as this for an entire unit.
Parents responded enthusiastically to the idea of marking their childrens
homework and shared my interest in the outcome. To see if we could measure the effect of
parental involvement, the parents agreed to alternate homework marking on consecutive
units. In this way, all of the parents became involved in marking homework during this
The Grade 6 math measurement strand was chosen for our first project and homework
sheets that would demonstrate an understanding of the Ontario curriculums
measurement expectations were designed. These expectations were stated clearly at the top
of each page and the homework sheets had matching answer sheets for parents, complete with
a marking scheme.
All students took part in the same lessons in class and were assigned identical
homework sheets to complete within one week. However, the class was divided into two
groups of roughly equivalent ability levels and the answer sheets were provided only to
one groups parents.
The processing of the homework and answer sheets prompted immediate, and in some cases
unexpected, correspondence from the parents. I started to receive notes describing the
difficulties and successes that the parents were experiencing at home.
Some parents asked for their children to be given extra help for specific questions.
Others requested more challenging work. A few parents asked for assistance in
strengthening their own understanding and one well, I suppose there had to be one
found a mistake on one of my homework sheets.
I also received many anecdotal reports from parents who shared with me some information
about how they were doing at home, how much time they were spending together, how much
assistance their children required, and other useful information.
Some parents expressed concerns, for example, "My child is overwhelmed by
#2," and, "We cant go over this unit too lightly!"
These observations helped increase my understanding of the students strengths and
weaknesses and gave me an opportunity to respond to their individual needs. I asked
myself, "What if the parents hadnt been comfortable communicating their
concerns?" Who knows how long it may have taken me to find these insecurities without
the parents observations? The flow of questions, comments and responses between home
and school created a genuine partnership in which we were united by our goal of trying to
help each student gain mastery over the units expectations.
At the end of the unit, after collecting homework sheets from all students, both groups
were given a test on the unit. (However, because of the nature of this research project,
the marks were not recorded for report cards.) Not surprisingly, the test results
confirmed my hypothesis. The group whose parents had marked their homework had higher
marks on average than the other group.
To re-test this hypothesis, check for balanced abilities in the two groups and offer
all parents the same opportunity for interaction, the experiment was repeated on a new
unit with answer sheets being provided only to the opposite groups parents. This
unit was also a math strand number sense and numeration. I believe, though, that
this methodology could be instituted in other subject areas.
Once again, on the follow-up test at the end of the new unit, the students whose
parents had been invited to mark their homework had better results. These results were
more gratifying because this was the same group of students whose average had been lower
on the first units test. In fact, on a total of four repetitions of this method, the
parent-involved groups marks were consistently higher than the other groups
marks with an average improvement of 5.8 per cent.
What was happening at home?
Parents were the first ones to see how their children were doing. Here is one
parents explanation: "I enjoy marking my daughters work. It lets me know
where she has trouble and I can help her with it. Also, sometimes things that are
explained in different ways my way versus the teachers way helps kids
to grasp ideas better."
Not all parents tutored their children, but clearly most became generally more involved
in the unit of study. This could have, in turn, prompted a greater effort or a higher
sense of responsibility, importance or pride in the students.
During a subsequent discussion about the experiment, students offered enthusiastic
reports of parents spending time helping them and sharing their experiences, insights and
How did the parents respond to the experiment?
On a questionnaire sent home at the conclusion of the research project, parents
indicated that they liked to be informed of the specific Ontario curriculum expectations
that their children were fulfilling, that they felt the homework assignments made them
more aware of their childrens progress and that they found it useful to have an
The majority of parents were enthusiastic about the unit and about helping their
children. Karin Kennedy, a Grade 5 parent, said, "I believe we both benefited from
the experience. We look forward to the next assignment."
By the end of the study, I had collected a bank of parent comments. After re-reading
them, I decided on three improvements that I would like to incorporate if I were to invite
structured involvement of parents in the future. I would like to integrate parents
suggestions into my ongoing classroom lessons; I would make each assignment short,
focusing on the essential concepts; and I would develop a response and self-evaluation
sheet for each student. The parents had not only contributed to their childrens
success in the units we completed, but had also contributed to my effectiveness in
teaching future units.
The increase in communication between home and school and the improved student
understanding of the units content were gains that I had anticipated. As the term
continued, however, I realized that there had been other subtle advantages of having
parents mark the units homework sheet:
- Throughout the unit, the students interest level in the classroom lessons had been
outstanding. There had been a surge of support behind the students efforts as the
parents and I unified our goals.
- Giving a week to complete and mark the assignment had allowed parents time to work their
participation around other family activities. Sending the work and answer sheets home
rather than making it necessary for parents to attend the school during the school day
suited the needs of the many working parents.
- Each phase of the experiment began with a phone call home. This became an opportunity to
begin to develop rapport with the parents and, of course, to ensure that the answer
sheets fell into the appropriate hands.
- The return rate on the homework assignments was very high.
- While some parents will become involved in their childrens homework without being
specifically asked, giving parents an answer sheet and collecting the students
marked work had been successful in drawing all parents into the classroom without
challenging any parents ability level.
- When specific curriculum expectations are identified on the homework sheets and marked
by parents, the parents share in the formulation of evidence for their childrens
report card, reducing the possibility of a report card "surprise."
- Creating the homework sheets was time-consuming. However, these sheets ensured that each
expectation would be addressed. With this in place, I had greater flexibility in creating
lesson plans that could focus on the enhancement of student comprehension, applications,
problem-solving, group work, etc.
Parents are a powerful resource for teachers. If communication between home and school
is strong, then the parents and teachers separate efforts toward educating and
guiding children can work in harmony. This review is presented, not to recommend that my
methodology necessarily be adopted, but to encourage other teachers, students and parents
to work together and enjoy their synergy.
Laurie Mitchell is a graduate student at the Institute of Child Study, University
of Toronto. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She thanks Cathy Brown, David Werry and the Grade 5/6 families of the Durham boards
Glen Dhu Public School, and Dr. Janette Pelletier of the Institute of Child Study,
University of Toronto, for her guidance.