Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Handle Homework Hassles, Part I

With schools back in session, we know you want to prepare for the homework blues before they become nightly battles. For the next few weeks, we'll share advice from experts, many of whom are first and foremost parents of children with ADHD. Some have additional expertise as educators, psychologists, social workers, or pediatricians. Let us know what other topics you'd like to read about!

by Maureen A. McQuiggan, EdD

Tips and tricks for surviving the homework wars fill volumes. Strategies intended to “help” with homework often leave both parent and child feeling like they are just adding to the workload. The real key to success with homework rests in identifying strategies that work for all homework all the time. Here are three basic interventions that get the job done and build valuable lifelong habits:

  • Process is more important than product. In recent years, educators have perfected the art of outlining explicitly the product they expect from students. Rubrics and assignment contracts spell out clearly what teachers expect to see handed in. The missing link often rests with the process. Help your child get from “I haven’t even thought about the assignment” to handing in a quality product by creating process cards. Together with your child, outline clear and simple steps to completing the task. Cards for tasks such as learning new vocabulary and outlining reading materials can be used repeatedly to build both confidence and good work habits. Start each step with a motivational check box that can be ticked off for a sense of accomplishment.
  • All reading assignments must be active. Asking a child with ADHD to simply read a chapter for homework is like asking him or her to watch grass grow — many will comply, but in the end the grass and child remain unchanged. If reading assignments are not active, the brain is not engaged, attention wanders, and learning does not take place. Active reading strategies can involve asking students to locate key ideas in the reading, color coding answers to the end-of-chapter questions, or creating questions based on the reading. 
  • Build basic skills. Basic skills are the gifts that keep on giving. Devoting a chunk of time in the summer to targeted basic skills practice such as increasing reading fluency, improving written language skills, or committing math facts to memory will help build your child’s automaticity. Students who read more fluently, compute with speed and accuracy, and write with ease will realize the benefits across all academic tasks.

by Sheila Grant, MS, RN

As a parent, I have experienced the stress and tension of trying to get my kids to complete their homework. When you break it down, the steps required to complete homework can be especially challenging for a student with ADHD:

  1. Figure out the assignment. (Big problem, because it is not always written down.)
  2. Do you have the right materials to complete assignment? (Is the book at home?)
  3. Do you have an understanding of what is required? (Your child may have the assignment, but does not really know what is required.)
  4. Complete the assignment. (This is the hard part.)
  5. Hand in the assignment. (How many times does your child finally complete homework, only to leave it on kitchen table?)

After many stressful nights, tears, and fights, hiring a homework helper was the best thing I ever did for my family when my kids were in elementary and middle school. I hired many wonderful college students and graduate students over the years. Some were studying to be special education teachers.

Once or twice a week, the homework helper sat in the kitchen with my child and supervised homework. The job included going through the backpack to find all of the errant papers, checking assignment books, working on organization, and making sure the assignments were complete and put away in the backpack. I was able to prepare dinner quietly; there were no fights, and my children felt a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their ability to do the work.

Homework helpers do not cost nearly as much as a tutor; figure on paying between $8 and $15 per hour. Here are my tips:

  • If you have a university near you, try posting an ad. There are always students who need jobs and are perfect for elementary age through high school. Mature high school students would work well for elementary-age children.
  • Be prepared to change homework helpers if they do not work out. Look for one that is very organized, very kind, and comfortable setting limits with your child. For example, if you asked my son if he had any homework, he would frequently say no because he simply forgot. The effective homework helper did not stop there, but went through the backpack and the assignment book and almost always found something that needed to be done, even if it was simply organizing school materials or reviewing material. 
  • Ask for an extra set of books to be kept at home. This accommodation should be a part of the child’s IEP or 504 Plan to ensure you get that extra set of books.
An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Maureen A. McQuiggan, EdD, is director of curriculum and professional development for the Radnor Township School District in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct professor in special education at Immaculata University. She is a member of the professional advisory board for Chester County/Main Line CHADD and the parent of two children affected by ADHD.

Sheila Grant, MS, RN, is the coordinator of Chester County/Main Line CHADD, where she facilitates the parent support groups. She is a psychiatric nurse on the adjunct faculty of Immaculata University.

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