ABCs of IEPs: H is for Homework



















Editor's Note: Homework can be a struggle for any child, and it can cause a lot of stress for the whole family. For a student with learning differences, homework brings additional challenges. Here's how to work with your child and the school to tackle homework in a way that doesn't overwhelm her and that expends effort only on what is essential and benefits your child's learning.

Welcome to another day of ABCs of IEPs. Today is H is for Homework…and I know so many families are tired of the tears, the battles and the general unpleasantness that is homework, especially if your child has an IEP. Here are some things to think about,  to look at based on your particular situation and things you can request for your child in Special Education or in his or her IEP regarding homework strategies and accommodations.

First things first. Here's a question to ask your child's teacher at the very beginning of the year.

What is the purpose of the homework?

Homework is something we just accept so passively. But what is the function of this teacher's/subject’s homework?

  • Is it to test the child’s Executive Functioning skills and not really the content?
  • Is it that there are not enough hours in the school day or year, and the child is expected to learn these concepts on his own?
  • Is it to reinforce learning that took place that day or week? Will it be graded?
  • Is it to test learning of a concept that day or week?

The first one — executive functioning skills. Perhaps this assignment or project is not to test students' knowledge of the content but to see how well they manage materials or a project. If you know that EF issues are a struggle for your child, ask for EF goals and strategies. There are many examples in the link above.  Nothing can make your whole house more anxious than an upset student who cannot find his homework, let alone do it! So if EF is the issue, stay on top of that.

What is the struggle with homework?

Aside from not being able to find it (see above), what are the struggles with homework? Is the content too hard? Does the child just not want to do it (perhaps from an ODD diagnosis)? Is it lack of focus? Does the child not have the skill set to do the homework?

Identify specifically in what subject areas (it may differ) the child struggles. Describe specifically what the struggle looks like: “They say they cannot do this” or “They don’t remember.” Then take into consideration the purpose of the homework. For example, if the goal is just  reinforcement and not to test for knowledge, ask for accommodations. If the child cannot complete the assignment in 45, 60, 90 minutes, then they stop anyway. You also will have to establish baselines to see how much your child can complete in one hour. This, of course, varies with age. But in my mind, no child should have to spend 5-6 hours a night on homework, especially if that amount of time doesn’t even result in correct, completed assignments.

Talk about homework at the IEP meeting. Set reasonable time limits and go from there. Your child may need modified content if she simply cannot master the same amount of content in the same amount of time as her non-disabled peers. Ask if your child must be graded on every assignment that her peers are graded on. Perhaps if she does the assignments more for practice and less for testing that will take some of the pressure off. (Of course, this approach could backfire by putting added weight on test scores and grades, which may not be great either!)

Our kids often have to work twice as hard to get half as far. It’s not fair, but those are the cards we were dealt.

If the homework is to test knowledge and your child has strategies for test taking, the same strategies should apply to homework. If the homework is to teach or learn something there isn’t time for in school, you may need specific accommodations for that. Some kids have to be directly taught everything and homework on new material is not realistic for them.

Keep data on your child’s homework

This process doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep a notebook in the area where you do the homework. Write down the date and what homework you worked on, for how long and how much assistance it took. It’s just a different way of doing the homework. The idea is not to give moms and dads more work to do, but you do need the data to get your child supports and services, so monitor the data and keep it.

Teachers only see the homework in front of them

Your child’s teachers only see the assignments that are handed to them. If you helped your child significantly and it took 90 minutes to do one worksheet, the teacher needs to know that! Keep the data in your notebook at home and let the teachers know. Depending on your child's age or social appropriateness, write it on the homework. Or send in a separate note or email.

In summary, here are the things you can do as a parent to help end the homework wars:

  • Identify the struggles and make sure your child's team is aware of all of them.
  • Keep data on the homework process that takes place in your house.
  • Openly communicate with teachers on how much time and assistance your child needs with homework.
  • Work with the IEP team for either a reduced workload, time limits, do “only what is essential” or whatever accommodation is appropriate for your child.
  • Keep your chin up. It can be hard to stay motivated and keep your child motivated every day.
  • For other ideas and strategies, see 500 SDIs for an IEP.

Good luck, and keep us posted with new ideas and questions you have by leaving a comment. Thanks!

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.

Categories: MomSpeak