Homework is an important part of the school learning experience. Guidelines for homework are 20 minutes for elementary age children, 60 minutes for middle school and 90 minutes for high school. It is not unusual for students with dyslexia to take 2 to 3 times that amount of time to get their homework completed each night. When this happens, any benefit a child might derive from the extra practice and review is negated by the frustration and exhaustion they feel. While accommodations are often used in school to help students with dyslexia complete their work, this is rarely done with homework. Teachers need to be aware that it is easy to overburden and overwhelm a child with dyslexia by expecting the same amount of homework to be completed in the same amount of time as the students without dyslexia.
The following are suggestions to share with general education teachers when giving homework:
Write the homework assignment on the board early in the day. Set aside a portion of the board that is free of other writing and use the same spot each day. This gives students plenty of time to copy the assignment into their notebook. Some teachers provide alternate ways for students to get homework assignments:
- A bulk email is sent to all students, or their parents, listing the homework assignment
- An online calendar lists homework assignments
- The classroom telephone message is changed each morning to reflect the homework assignments. Students can call the classroom to get the assignment
- Students with dyslexia, ADHD or other learning differences are paired with another student who checks the student's notebook to make sure the homework assignment was written correctly
- Form a homework chain. Each student writes the name of two other students in the front of their notebook who they can call to ask questions about the assignment.
If you must change a homework assignment because a lesson was not covered, give students plenty of time to amend their notebooks to reflect the change. Be sure each student understands the new assignment and knows what to do.
Explain the reasons for the homework. There are a few different purposes for homework: practice, review, previewing upcoming lessons and to expand knowledge of a subject. The most common reason for homework is to practice what has been taught in class but sometimes a teacher asks the class to read a chapter in a book so it can be discussed the following day or a student is expected to study and review for an upcoming test. When teachers explain not only what the homework assignment is but why it is being assigned, the student can more easily focus on the task.
Use less homework more frequently. Rather than assigning a large amount of homework once per week, assign a few problems each night. Students will retain more information and be better prepared to continue the lesson each day.
Let students know how homework will be graded. Will they receive a checkmark simply for completing the homework, will wrong answers be counted against them, will they receive corrections and feedback on written assignments? Students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities work better when they know what to expect.
Allow students with dyslexia to use a computer. This helps to compensate for spelling errors and illegible handwriting. Some teachers allow students to complete an assignment on the computer and then email it directly to the teacher, eliminating lost or forgotten homework assignments.
Reduce the amount of practice questions. Is it imperative to complete every question to receive the benefits of practicing skills or can the homework be reduced to every other question or the first 10 questions? Individualize homework assignments to make sure a student gets enough practice but isn't overwhelmed and will not be spending hours each night working on homework.
Keep in mind that students with dyslexia work hard each day just to keep up with the class, sometimes working much harder than other students just to complete the same amount of work, leaving them mentally exhausted. Reducing homework gives them time to rest and rejuvenate and be ready for the next day at school.
Set time limits for homework. Let the students and their parents know that after a certain amount of time working on homework the student may stop. For example, for a young child, you may set 30 minutes for assignments. If a student works hard and only completes half of the assignment in that time, the parent may indicate the time spent on homework and initial the paper and allow the student to stop at that point.
Specially Designed Instruction
When all else fails, contact your student's parents, schedule an IEP meeting and write new SDI's to support your student's struggling with homework.
Remind your general education partners to protect the confidentiality of students who need accommodations to homework. Learning disabled children may already have low self-esteem and feel as if they don't "fit in" with other students. Drawing attention to accommodations or modifications to homework assignments can further damage their self-esteem.
"A Dyslexic Child in the Classroom, 2000, Patricia Hodge, Dyslexia.com
"Effects of Instruction in an Assignment Completion Strategy on the Homework Performance of Students with Learning Disabilities in General Education Classes," 2002, Charles A.Hughes, Kathly L.Ruhl, Teaching LD Newsletter,Volume 17, Issue 1