Dear Dr. Fournier: I am the grandmother of four wonderful grand-children, but I do not understand why doing their schoolwork is such a problem. One of them is even failing because he won't turn in his homework. His mother has worked with him for years but can't do it anymore because of the fights they get into. In looking for ways to help my grandson, I've realized that he is not the only one having this problem. What is going on?

The assessment: With all the talk of educational reform and 21st century schools, homework appears to be one area that has yet to be redefined.

Instead of debating the needs of the "21st Century Classroom," I believe we need to devote our attention to developing 21st century minds. Homework can help our children prepare for the demands of the next century, but we must revise our old habits and expectations if we want to produce different results.

At a minimum, I believe homework must meet the following four criteria:

- Homework must be a doable extension of classroom learning.

Homework must reinforce learning that has already occurred in the classroom.

- Parents must monitor homework but not become at-home teachers.

- Homework must give students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, without fear of humiliation.

The best way to make homework an integral part of the learning process is to have students correct their own papers in class the next day. Handing back graded homework, without an opportunity for self-assessment or self-correction, often results in panic - particularly with parents. In an attempt to help their children succeed in school, parents "overreach" or try to do too much of the thinking. As a result, some children make 100s on homework but fail their tests in school.

- Homework must be relevant.

"Why am I doing this?" Many students refuse to do their homework simply because they cannot answer that basic question. What to do: When a child has difficulty completing homework, look at the 21st century criteria and ask yourself:

- Does my child have the confidence to do the work assigned?

Have him do the task in small portions and, at the end of each, help him see what was done well.

- Does my child know how to do the work assigned?

- How will my child learn from this assignment?

Even if homework is self-corrected in class, insist that all assignments be brought home so you can go over them with your child.

- What is the reason for this assignment?

Children only reject doing what seems meaningless or what they fear. As parents, we can easily get caught up in the emotion of rejecting the task. Instead, we have the opportunity to help our children find purpose and confidence in all that they do.