ABCs of IEPs: H is for Homework


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. So, here are some things to think about, things to look at as far as your particular situation, and things you can ask for, for your child in Special Education or their IEP…as far as homework strategies and accommodations.

First things first. Something to ask your teacher in 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/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/year, and the child is expected to learn these concepts on their own?
  • Is it to reinforce learning that took place that day or week? And 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 their 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 I provided above. But 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? Just the child just not want to do it (perhaps from an ODD diagnosis)? Is it lack of focus? Do they not have the skill set to do the homework?

Identify specifically, and for what subject areas (it may differ) the child is struggling. Describe specifically what it looks like. “They say they cannot do this” or “they don’t remember.” Identify the struggle or problem area, then take into consideration what the purpose is of the homework. For example, if it is just for reinforcement and not to test for knowledge, ask for accommodations. If they 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 they simply cannot master the same amount of content in the same amount of time as their non-disabled peers. Ask if your child must be graded on every assignment that their peers are graded on. Perhaps if they do it more for practice and less for testing, will take some of the pressure off. (this of course 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. For some kids, they have to be direct taught everything and this is not realistic for them.

Keep data on your child’s homework

This doesn’t have to be complicated. Just 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.

The teacher only sees the homework in front of them

Your child’s teacher only sees the assignment that was handed to them. If you helped your child significantly and it took 90 minutes to do one worksheet…they need to know that! All they see is a completed worksheet. So keep the data in your notebook at home and let the teacher know. Depending on age or social appropriateness, write it on the homework. Or, send in a separate note or email. But they need to know!

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

  • Identify the struggles and make sure team is aware of all of them
  • Keep data on the homework process that takes place in your house
  • openly communicate on how much time and assistance your child needs with homework
  • Work with IEP team for either reduced work load, time limits, do “only what is essential” or whatever else 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, keep us posted of 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.



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