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Homework Practices that Support Students with Disabilities
Research Connections
Spring 2001

Views From the Field

Students say teachers can make homework easier by...

  • Assigning homework toward the beginning of class.
  • Explaining how to do the homework, including providing examples and writing directions on the chalkboard.
  • Giving students time to begin the homework in class and checking for understanding and/or providing assistance at that time.
  • Assigning homework in small amounts.
  • Relating homework to classwork and/or informing students how they will use the content of the homework in real life.
  • Checking homework and giving feedback on it to students.
  • Establishing a routine at the beginning of the year for how homework will be assigned.
  • Allowing students to work together on homework.

Looking for ways to enhance the effectiveness of homework? Researchers, practitioners, and family members-in many cases, with OSEP support-have studied various aspects of doing homework that affect its completion, accuracy, and ultimate learning benefit.

After School Program Support for Homework

Increasingly, schools are offering after school programs in which homework is a major activity. With OSEP support, University of Miami researcher Marjorie Montague has been studying the effect of these after school programs on students' academic progress.

Montague found that students must participate in after school programs at least 50 percent of the time to attain any academic benefits. Montague believes that this is related to the fact that teachers appreciate students who turn in their homework. "As a student routinely begins turning in homework assignments, you start to hear comments from classroom teachers that the child is doing better and that his or her grades are improving-although we did not study this phenomenon yet, it is a pretty typical occurrence."

Montague points to the results of program evaluations in two schools she has been studying. In one school, children who attended the after school program at least 50 percent of the time improved their overall reading grades from the previous year, and in another school, children who attended the after school program at least 50 percent of the time improved their overall reading and mathematics grades from the previous year. In both cases, attendance in the after school program positively correlated with school attendance. Focus group interviews also revealed that children and their parents overwhelming credited after school homework support for improved academic progress.

According to Montague, some students with disabilities just need to do their homework— are students who need you to get them started and to monitor them until they are done. There are other students who need to know what they are supposed to do— literally have forgotten that they have an assignment. Similarly, some students have forgotten how to do the assignment and need help understanding it. Finally, there are students who may do their homework, but never get it back to their teachers. These students need help remembering to turn it in. Montague suggests several things that after school program staff can do to enhance accurate homework completion for students with disabilities.

  • Communicate with the day school staff. At the very least, administrators should arrange for day staff to meet after school staff.
  • Facilitate ongoing communication between the day staff, after school staff, and parents by using homework notebooks.
  • Use older students and graduates of the school as helpers (e.g., middle school students for elementary students).
  • Build instruction in study skills and learning strategies into the homework program.

As part of one of Montague's OSEP-funded grants, she produces the free quarterly publication, Afterschool Extensions, which provides practical strategies and approaches for supporting students with disabilities in after school programs, including homework. To be put on the mailing list, visit the web site at http://www.education.miami.edu/afterschoolnet/index.html or e-mail nfonseca@miami.edu.

Student Feedback Yields Constructive Information

"When teachers know which accommodations and adaptations are most useful, they can better identify appropriate practices to implement, thereby potentially increasing students' involvement, understanding, and motivation to learn," Sharon Vaughn of the University of Texas-Austin points out.

With OSEP funding, Vaughn and her colleagues have been studying students' perceptions of instructional adaptations in inclusive classrooms, including those made for homework. "Homework is unique with regard to accommodations," Vaughn explains. "Unlike instruction and grouping practices where all students find it acceptable and fair for teachers to make adaptations for students with disabilities, this is not the case for homework-in fact, students think it is not a good idea to change the nature of a particular student's homework."

Vaughn suspects that underlying this perception is the fact that homework often serves as an organizer for after school social communication. Often homework is the major stimulus for students to call each other from home. "If a student has a different assignment, he or she is essentially cut out of the social loop," Vaughn cautions. "We need to make sure that all students feel a valued part of their learning community, and this includes how they participate in homework."

In one study, Vaughn and her colleagues synthesized the research literature on students' perceptions. Tips on facilitating homework derived from this review are shown in the sidebar.

Parents— Important Component in Homework Success

Families have implicit and sometimes explicit expectations for being involved at various points with their children's homework assignments. The Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights-better known as the PACER Center-addresses many topics for families with children with disabilities, including homework. According to >b>Leslie Sparks, who co-coordinates the Minnesota Parent Center housed at PACER, "All families need support with homework; however, the needs are often more intensive when the child has a disability."Sue Abderholden, associate director at PACER and Sharman Davis-Barrett, co-director of the OSEP-funded Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers at PACER concur. "There are huge expectations placed upon families," Abderholden remarks. "There is so much information to keep up with that the best parents often find the amount of information overwhelming."

What support do families need if they are to ensure a positive homework experience? Here are some PACER staff suggestions for teachers:

  • Remember that children need time to enjoy the non-academic aspects of life. Too much homework or homework that is too difficult can take its toll on children and their families, especially since it often takes children with disabilities longer than their peers to complete assignments.
  • Make homework assignments useful. Children need ways to practice their new learnings in the home setting. They do not need busy work.
  • Send home required texts. It makes it very difficult for families to help their child when they do not have access to the information.
  • Provide all materials needed for the assignment. Do not expect families to purchase or locate materials.
  • Offer ways for parents to check on homework after hours. Also, provide a way for families to get help with homework.
  • Establish consistent routines for students to use in bringing homework home and returning it. Teach the routine to the children and inform families of it.
  • Send home assistive technology devices used at school. Tell families about strategies and accommodations that work in the classroom.
  • Share resources for helping children with homework (e.g., tutoring, after school homework programs).

Sparks also recommends several tips for family members. "At the beginning of the school year, parents need to make sure they have a clear understanding of the entire scope and sequence of curriculum for the year and of the homework requirements." Sparks suggests that parents ask about things like weekly spelling tests or semester term papers so that they can plan in advance to provide family time that incorporates time for homework. Abderholden adds that it also is a good idea to include goals and objectives about homework completion in the child's individualized education program (IEP). "Make sure that if the child needs assistive technology, supplementary supports, accommodations, etc., they are written into the IEP."

Next: Contacts & Resources

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