4 Keys to Managing Homework for Children with Learning Disabilities
By Dawn Matera, M.S., Special Education
As curriculum demands increase and classroom teachers are forced to cover more ground, homework assumes a greater role in education. Some students are able to manage their homework on their own, but more often than not students require parental involvement to get the job done—especially students with learning difficulties.
Children who struggle to keep up with the daily rigors of school often come home exhausted from the physical and cognitive energy it takes to complete their day. By the time homework rolls around they have few resources left to deal with it, leaving their parents to act as the educator, cheerleader, and therapist—whatever it takes to get the job done.
There is no magic wand, and no single technique that works for all. But there are some strategies that if used consistently over time may help your child become more successful with homework.
- Build meta-cognitive skills (thinking about thinking):
Begin every homework session with a thoughtful review of your child’s day. “What did you do in school today?” or “Do you have homework?” are not questions likely to elicit a positive response.
Having a list of questions that you ask every day will help guide your planning of the homework session. Effective questions include, “What did you learn in Science today?” “Did you take notes?” “Did you get handouts?” “Was homework assigned?” These questions will open up a dialogue that will help you understand the context of the assignments.
Reflecting on each class helps your child make connections to her day and helps her recall both homework assignments and the concepts that were covered in class. Remember that the goal is to have your child invested in her learning process and to build a bridge to the daily homework session.
- Focus on Executive Function Skills
Implement daily planning activities by using calendars and checklists. Visuals enable students to “see” their plan, as well as reflect on the order in which they will tackle their assignments. Allow your child to draw his plan if he prefers, creating his own visual of the completed work. Many enjoy checking off a task once it is completed.
Some students benefit from getting quick and easy assignments out of the way early, gaining needed confidence. Those that fatigue easily may benefit from tackling a longer, more difficult assignment first. Individualize the plan and offer breaks depending on your child’s learning style and needs. Additionally, by modeling your own planning of your day’s activities, your family vacations, or even your trip to the grocery store, you will be creating important lessons that adults use planners, checklists, and prioritizing every day.
- Use task analysis
Fatigue, lack of comprehension, attentional difficulties, or even anxiety can make any homework assignment seem overwhelming. Breaking down homework tasks into manageable parts helps to mitigate that problem.
Start by highlighting and reviewing the directions with your child. Discuss strategies for work completion prior to beginning the task, preview difficult words, and model the thinking process for taking things one step at a time.
For the most reluctant workers, divide the assignment into two or three parts, allowing your child to tackle one piece at a time. A little scotch tape and an explanation to the teacher may be warranted, but is well worth the confidence your child will gain. Sticky notes can be used to cover parts of the assignment that may be visually overwhelming. Hints can be written on sticky notes and placed on the assignment as reminders to follow a certain strategy or step.
- Use Timers
Students often have a false sense of time when tackling homework assignments. Remind your child that for you, ten minutes spent at the beach and ten minutes scrubbing the bathroom are both ten minutes, but certainly feel quite different. Having your child estimate how long she thinks it will take to complete a task, then comparing it to the actual time it takes will help her to become more self-aware and accurate when planning her own homework assignments.
The goal is to have your child tackle homework independently, efficiently, and with confidence. You may need to scaffold your homework support, offering more modeling and strategies early on, before your child’s confidence begins to increase. By slowly removing the supports and allowing him to practice the strategies on his own, you can help guide your child toward independence.
The author is the Executive Director of A Way to Learn , a private practice that offers educational support services to students with learning disabilities.