Five Homework Strategies for Teaching Students
with Disabilities. ERIC Digest.
by Warger, Cynthia
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 digest describes five strategies
that researchers have identified to improve homework results for students
with disabilities.
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:
* Make sure students and parents have information regarding the policy
on missed and late assignments, extra credit, and available adaptations.
Establish a set routine at the beginning of the year.
* Assign work that the students can do.
* Assign homework in small units.
* Explain the assignment clearly.
* Write the assignment on the chalkboard and leave it there until the
assignment is due.
* Remind students of due dates periodically.
* Coordinate with other teachers to prevent homework overload.
Students concur with these tips. They add that teachers can:
* Establish a routine at the beginning of the year for how homework
will be assigned.
* Assign homework toward the beginning of class.
* Relate homework to classwork or real life (and/or inform students
how they will use the content of the homework in real life).
* Explain how to do the homework, provide examples and write directions
on the chalkboard.
* Have students begin the homework in class, check that they understand,
and provide assistance as necessary.
* Allow students to work together on homework.
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:
* Provide additional oneonone assistance to students.
* Monitor students' homework more closely.
* Allow alternative response formats (e.g., allow the student to audiotape
an assignment rather than handwriting it).
* Adjust the length of the assignment.
* Provide a peer tutor or assign the student to a study group.
* Provide learning tools (e.g., calculators).
* Adjust evaluation standards.
* Give fewer assignments.
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:
* Identify a location for doing homework that is free of distractions.
* Have all materials available and organized.
* Allocate enough time to complete activities and keep on schedule.
* Take good notes.
* Develop a sequential plan for completing multitask assignments.
* Check assignments for accuracy and completion before turning them
in.
* Know how to get help when it is needed.
* Turn in completed homework on time.
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 selfmonitor
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
homeschool 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 parentteacher 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 ratesanother 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 selfmonitoring
chart in their planner, students recorded each time they completed and
returned their homework assignment by:
* Coloring the square for the day green if homework was completed and
returned.
* Coloring the square for the day red if homework was not done.
* Coloring onehalf of the square yellow and onehalf of the square
red if homework was late.
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 onefifth of the time that successful students
invest in academic tasks, yet students complete homework in environments
over which teachers have no controlwhich, given the fact that many students
experience learning difficulties, 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 homeworkrelated concerns.
Recommended ways that teachers can improve communications with parents
include:
* Encourage students to keep assignment books.
* Provide a list of suggestions on how parents might assist with homework.
For example, ask parents to check with their children about homework daily.
* Provide parents with frequent written communication about homework
(e.g., progress reports, notes, letters, forms).
* Share information with other teachers regarding student strengths
and needs and necessary accommodations.
Ways that administrators can support teachers in improving communications
include:
* Supply teachers with the technology needed to aid communication (e.g.,
telephone answering systems, email, homework hotlines).
* Provide incentives for teachers to participate in faceto face meetings
with parents (e.g., release time, compensation).
* Suggest that the school district offer after school and/or peer tutoring
sessions to give students extra help with homework.
SUMMARY
The five strategies to help students with disabilities get the most
from their homework are:
1. Give clear and appropriate assignments.
2. Make accommodations in homework assignments.
3. Teach study skills.
4. Use a homework planner.
5. Ensure clear home/school communication.
RESOURCES
Bryan, T., Nelson, C., & Mathur, S. (1995). Homework: A survey of
primary students in regular, resource, and selfcontained special education
classrooms. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 10(2), 8590.
Bryan, T., & SullivanBurstein, K. (1997). Homework howto's. TEACHING
Exceptional Children, 29(6), 3237.
Epstein, M., Munk, D., Bursuck, W., Polloway, E., & Jayanthi, M.
(1999). Strategies for improving homeschool communication about homework
for students with disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 33(3),
166176.
Jayanthi, M., Bursuck, W., Epstein, M., & Polloway, E. (1997). Strategies
for successful homework. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 30(1), 47.
Jayanthi, M., Sawyer, V., Nelson, J., Bursuck, W., & Epstein, M.
(1995). Recommendations for homeworkcommunication problems: From parents,
classroom teachers, and special education teachers. Remedial and Special
Education, 16(4), 212225.
Klinger, J., & Vaughn, S. (1999). Students' perceptions of instruction
in inclusion classrooms: Implications for students with learning disabilities.
Exceptional Children, 66(1), 2337.
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),
133144.
