Homework Practices that Support Students with Disabilities (page 2)
Preferred Homework Adaptations
- Provide additional one-on-one assistance to students.
- Monitor students' homework more closely.
- Allow alternative response formats (e.g., audiotaping rather than writing an assignment).
- 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.
Tips For Assigning Homework
- Make sure the students can complete the homework assignment.
- Write the assignment on the chalkboard.
- Explain the assignment clearly.
- Remind students of due dates periodically.
- Assign homework in small units.
- Coordinate with other teachers to prevent homework overload.
- Make sure students and parents have information regarding your policy on missed and late assignments, extra credit, and available adaptations. Establish a set routine at the beginning of the year.
"Ask students to indicate how long it took them to complete a homework assignment. The student who takes much longer than expected may not know how to do it, may have difficulties with attention, or may have to cope with distractions." Tanis Bryan, Researcher
Today, partly as a result of educational reform, many students are receiving increased amounts of homework. For students with disabilities, homework may pose significant challenges. Some of these problems are related to a student's ability to maintain attention, sustain acceptable levels of motivation, demonstrate effective study skills, and manifest positive attitudes toward homework. Others are related to factors such as how homework is assigned and the quality of communication between home and school about homework.
For over a decade, OSEP has supported researchers in studying effective homework practices, and in return, researchers have produced findings to help students participate and progress in the general education curriculum. This section features the work of several researchers who are advancing our understanding of how practitioners and families can ensure that homework is effective.
Solving Homework Communication Problems
William Bursuck, researcher at Northern Illinois University, has been studying how practitioners and families can make homework a more successful experience for students with disabilities. One thing is clear-parent involvement is critical if homework is to be beneficial.
With his colleagues, Michael Epstein, Edward Polloway, Madhavi Jayanthi, and others, Bursuck has amassed a series of publications, many of which are outgrowths of OSEP-funded research projects, that provide insight into the perceptions of teachers, families, and students.
"Teachers and parents of students with disabilities must communicate clearly and effectively with one another and with students about homework policies, required practices, mutual expectations, student performance on homework, homework completion difficulties, and other homework-related concerns," Bursuck points out. "Unfortunately, too often, communication is either unclear or not present."
With his colleagues, Bursuck conducted a series of studies to identify problems parents and schools were experiencing in communicating about homework, as well as recommendations for ameliorating these problems. Focus group interviews with parents and both general and special education teachers revealed problems in the following areas: initiation of communication, timeliness of communication, frequency and consistency of communication, follow-through, and clarity and usefulness of the information.
Teachers encountered the following problems:
- Insufficient time and opportunity to communicate.
- Too many students on a given teacher's caseload.
- Need for additional knowledge to facilitate communication (e.g., students' needs, whom to contact).
- Other factors that hindered communication, such as lack of phones in teachers' classrooms.
Recommendations for improvement grew out of the discussions. "To test for validity, we checked out all of the recommendations with large survey samples," Bursuck reported. Teachers identified useful adaptations for students with disabilities [see sidebar]. They also suggested strategies for ensuring that homework was clear and appropriate [see sidebar for tips on assigning homework].
In addition, the surveys indicated that teachers preferred the following strategies to maintain effective communication:
- Use technology to aid communication (e.g., use answering machines or e-mail, and establish homework hotlines).
- 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 communication about homework.
- Use written modes of communication (e.g., progress reports, notes, letters, forms).
- Encourage the school administration to provide incentives for teachers to participate in face-to-face meetings (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.
- Share information with other teachers regarding student strengths and needs and necessary accommodations.
If students, teachers, and parents do not find homework strategies palatable, they may not use them. "The ultimate impact of these homework practices on students may depend largely on how favorably teachers, parents, and the students themselves perceive them," Bursuck adds. "Our research underscores the need to check out practices with all stakeholders. Simply put, practices that are not acceptable will not be used."
Reprinted with the permission of the Council for Exceptional Children. © 2006-2007 Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). All rights reserved.
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