Five Homework Strategies for Teaching Students With Learning Disabilities

By: Cynthia Warger (2001)

Homework is one aspect of the general education curriculum that has been widely recognized as important to academic success. Teachers have long used homework to provide additional learning time, strengthen study and organizational skills, and in some respects, keep parents informed of their children's progress.

Generally, when students with disabilities participate in the general education curriculum, they are expected to complete homework along with their peers. But, just as students with disabilities may need instructional accommodations in the classroom, they may also need homework accommodations.

Many students with disabilities find homework challenging, and teachers are frequently called upon to make accommodations for these students. What research supports this practice? This article describes five strategies that researchers have identified that help students with disabilities get the most from their homework. They include:

Strategy 1. Give clear and appropriate assignments

Teachers need to take special care when assigning homework. If the homework assignment is too hard, is perceived as busy work, or takes too long to complete, students might tune out and resist doing it. Never send home any assignment that students cannot do. Homework should be an extension of what students have learned in class. To ensure that homework is clear and appropriate, consider the following tips from teachers for assigning homework:

Students concur with these tips. They add that teachers can:

Strategy 2. Make homework accommodations

Make any necessary modifications to the homework assignment before sending it home. Identify practices that will be most helpful to individual students and have the potential to increase their involvement, understanding, and motivation to learn. The most common homework accommodations are to:

It is important to check out all accommodations with other teachers, students, and their families. If teachers, students, or families do not find homework accommodations palatable, they may not use them.

Strategy 3. Teach study skills

Both general and special education teachers consistently report that homework problems seem to be exacerbated by deficient basic study skills. Many students, particularly students with disabilities, need instruction in study and organizational skills. Here is a list of organizational strategies basic to homework:

Teachers can enhance homework completion and accuracy by providing classroom instruction in organizational skills. They should talk with parents about how to support the application of organizational skills at home.

Strategy 4. Use a homework calendar

Students with disabilities often need additional organizational support. Just as adults use calendars, schedulers, lists, and other devices to self-monitor activities, students can benefit from these tools as well. Students with disabilities can monitor their own homework using a planning calendar to keep track of homework assignments. Homework planners also can double as home-school communication tools if they include a space next to each assignment for messages from teachers and parents.

Here's how one teacher used a homework planner to increase communication with students' families and improve homework completion rates:

Students developed their own homework calendars. Each page in the calendar reflected one week. There was a space for students to write their homework assignments and a column for parent-teacher notes. The cover was a heavy card stock that children decorated. Students were expected to take their homework planners home each day and return them the next day to class.

In conjunction with the homework planner, students graphed their homework return and completion rates. Another strategy that is linked to homework completion and improved performance on classroom assessments. The teacher built a reward system for returning homework and the planners. On a self-monitoring chart in their planner, students recorded each time they completed and returned their homework assignment by:

If students met the success criterion, they received a reward at the end of the week, such as 15 extra minutes of recess. The teacher found that more frequent rewards were needed for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

Strategy 5. Ensure clear home/school communication

Homework accounts for one-fifth of the time that successful students invest in academic tasks, yet students complete homework in environments over which teachers have no control. Given the fact that many students experience learning difficulties, this creates a major dilemma. Teachers and parents of students with disabilities must communicate clearly and effectively with one another about homework policies, required practices, mutual expectations, student performance on homework, homework completion difficulties, and other homework-related concerns.

Recommended ways that teachers can improve communications with parents include:

Ways that administrators can support teachers in improving communications include:

References

Bryan, T., Nelson, C., & Mathur, S. (1995). Homework: A survey of primary students in regular, resource, and self-contained special education classrooms. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 10(2), 85-90.

Bryan, T., & Sullivan-Burstein, K. (1997). Homework how-to's. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 29(6), 32-37.

Epstein, M., Munk, D., Bursuck, W., Polloway, E., & Jayanthi, M. (1999). Strategies for improving home-school communication about homework for students with disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 33(3), 166-176.

Jayanthi, M., Bursuck, W., Epstein, M., & Polloway, E. (1997). Strategies for successful homework. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 30(1), 4-7.

Jayanthi, M., Sawyer, V., Nelson, J., Bursuck, W., & Epstein, M. (1995). Recommendations for homework-communication problems: From parents, classroom teachers, and special education teachers. Remedial and Special Education, 16(4), 212-225.

Klinger, J., & Vaughn, S. (1999). Students' perceptions of instruction in inclusion classrooms: Implications for students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 66(1), 23-37.

Polloway, E., Bursuck, W., Jayanthi, M., Epstein, M., & Nelson, J. (1996). Treatment acceptability: Determining appropriate interventions within inclusive classrooms. Intervention In School and Clinic, 31(3), 133-144.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ericec.org).

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