Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Help!!! Homework is Back!!!!

Concerned parent: “How was your day?” 
Indifferent child: “Fine.”

Parent:  “What did you do?”

Child: “Nothing.”

Parent:  “Do you have any homework?"

Child: “Nope.”

Sound familiar?  The conversation could go on, with the parent desperately trying to engage, and the child getting more and more frustrated.  It is a common conversation.
A  struggle for students with disabilities is, typically, homework completion.  The key to heading these problems off at the pass is to start early, stay consistent, and model and teach the processes and strategies the student will need to be independent.  Most of the time, students don’t do their homework for a reason, and it is not just to annoy their parents.  9 out of 10 times there is an underlying issue causing students some difficulty, and therefore, they would rather avoid the homework than working through a difficult process.  Some key points to get you started:
1.        Think Routine!  Same time, same place.  Start young-in elementary school.  Set up a place free of distractions, comfortable, and where you can be close by.  This is THE place to do homework---at all times.  This routine will become habit, and having a structure to rely on is important for all kids.  Homework gets done at the same time and place everyday. (depending on schedules of course, but make it as routine as possible day to day and week to week)
2.       Think System!  Review your child’s planner or assignment book, etc.  Take the first 10 minutes of homework time to review the homework that was written down, look at their binders and books.  Help them to organize their materials.  Have a three hole punch handy.  Everything gets put in its place.  It is amazing what you will find in their binders and books---this will often give you clues to what is for homework, and this review will also help jog their memory.  Role model how to organize and review their belongings, etc.  Do this every night.
3.       Think List!  After looking through everything, have the student  WRITE A  TO DO LIST.  Make one list of all the things to do tonight.    If there are more than 3 or so items, include break times after every couple of items.  If a student sits for ½ hour, let them get up and walk around, get a drink, etc……about 5 minutes should do.  Then, the expectation is to sit for another half hour if necessary.  Again…..if you follow this every day, all the time, it creates a clear expectation, and a structured system.  It will become habit, and it will become second nature.
4.       Think Reward!  What is the reward for a job well done?  This is especially important for students who have had a hard time with completing homework historically, and they are able to do this successfully.  But, it is good for all students, who might just be starting with this structure.  When we are thinking of rewards, we are not thinking of large rewards or monetary rewards.  Small things work….like time watching tv, reading, playing video games.  Or outdoor activities if there is time for that.  The key is that the child picks something he/she likes and wants to do.
Consistency is the key to forming good habits.  A parent or other supportive adult needs to lead this process and do it with their child at first.  The hope is that, over time, parental support fades.  If you are starting this with young children, you can be more involved at first, then they will be able to do it on their own with decreasing support.  If you are starting this with an older child, who has struggled, you need to figure out a way to review these ideas, offer the suggestions on how to do it, but don’t hover and don’t argue about it.  But some things should be non negotiable…..such as same time, same place, no distractions.  So, for a high schooler for instance, if they have sports and other commitments right after school, maybe they do their homework after dinner.  So, from 8-10 every night, at their desk or at the kitchen table, no radios, tvs, ipods, or cell phones, breaks on the half hour, with ½ hour of tv/computer/video games at 10.  If their homework is not done at 10, they continue on, but they must do a minimum of two hours each night.  If you set the expectations, and stick to it, 99% of students will be able to form the habit.  (this scenario applies to “typical” students or those  with learning disabilities, high functioning autism/aspergers, ADD, or mild to moderate emotional disturbances-students with significant disabilities may need something different)

This is just a start, certainly not an all inclusive list, but hopefully, will get you to a good place, so that arguments and frustration start to go away, and homework completion rates go up!  
What are some of your homework tips???

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Preventative Maintenance! Quick Tips to Get Started!

When I get contacted by parents of students with special needs, it is usually at the crisis stage.  One of the best things to do as a parent from the very beginning of your child’s educational career is to practice preventative maintenance!!!!!  Be proactive, and be an involved parent.  If you start as an involved partner to the process, you will feel less helpless when tough times arise, because you will have already formed a good working relationship with your child’s school.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be any rough times, but the more proactive you are, the better off you will be.  Here are some quick tips to get you started.


  1. Introduce yourself to the classroom teacher as soon as possible and discuss with them any special circumstances with your child.
  2. Attend and participate in open houses, parent teacher conferences, IEP meetings and back to school nights.
  3. Volunteer in the classroom if at all possible.
  4. Check in with teachers using short chats, phone calls, or written notes.
  5. Be proactive—if there is something going on with the child that will affect school performance let the teacher know before hand.
  6. Take part in Parent Associations.
  7. Be a chaperone of school events or field trips.
  8. Attend your child’s sporting events, concerts, plays, etc.
  9. Ask questions—find out all the information and don’t jump to conclusions and overreact to situations.  There are 2 (sometimes more) sides to every story.
  10. Communicate with school about both positive and negative things.  Don’t contact school only about the bad things.
  11. Use of a communication log or book for students with special needs can help teachers and parents understand what has happened with the student during the day or evening.
  12. Ask questions and address situations right away.  Don’t ignore problems or wait for the issues to build up before discussing them.  The school won’t know if there is a problem if you don’t mention it, and they may be caught off guard with a huge issue that could have been “nipped in the bud” right away.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's that time of year again!!!

Are your ready for your child's annual IEP review???  Here is a quick review of some tips......
   1. Make sure you have your documentation ready to go.  Be prepared with all IEP progress checks, report cards, and any other testing information like the NECAPs etc.
   2. Review what these documents say, and make sense of them before you go to the meeting.  What do the results all mean?  Is your child making progress in a way that is measurable and functional?  Can you tell that he or she is making progress or not?
   3. Write a list of any questions that you have so that you don’t forget to ask them.
   4. Make sure that when the teachers review progress at the meeting that they are using specific examples and measurements of progress.  Just saying that “he has come a long way”  or “ she is doing great in class” doesn’t cut it.  By how much have they improved?  Has his reading level gone up ½ a year?  Can she multiply fractions or not…to what degree can she do it?  Etc…  Remember to always ask for measurable and specific examples of progress.
   5. Make sure the IEP is updated appropriately.  Present levels of performance need to reflect the year’s growth (or lack thereof), add new strengths and needs as appropriate and make sure that all goals and objectives are rewritten.  An IEP shouldn’t be the same year to year—progress is not being made if it is, signifying that the programming is not appropriate.
   6.  Do you have concerns about regression of skills over the summer, or that extra time is needed to catch up?  If so, make sure you have a discussion about Extended School Year services.  If your child will regress during the summer months without school programming, make sure you ask for specifically what you think is appropriate for your child.
   7. Remember….document, document, document.  Take your own notes from the meeting and get copies of the school’s notes.
   8. If you are uncomfortable going into a meeting alone, remember that you can bring someone with you to the meeting for support.
   9. Remember, you have 14 days to sign the new IEP.  Do not sign on the spot.  Take the document home and review it and make sure you are comfortable with it.  Have someone else look at it and give you a second opinion.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This is new…..and illegal….

So, in my work as an education consultant working with families and students around the state, a new problem has started to creep up.  I have heard it three times now, from three different high schools.  I am wondering where this message is coming from, as it is highly illegal, and smacks of civil rights abuse.  Maybe some of you have heard this one before…if so, let me know!  Some high schools are telling parents and students that the student can’t take college prep or honors level classes because they don’t offer special education support for that level of class.  The first time I heard that, I thought I just misunderstood something.  Then I heard it again, at a different place, then again from yet another school.  If a student has a disability, yet is able to take college prep or honors level courses, whatever services are required by the IEP are required to be provided in all of the student’s classes, regardless of level.  There are many very very VERY smart individuals who are in honors classes who might also have a disability.  Einstein was learning disabled for Pete’s sake and failed out of school….that should have taught us something.

Now, it may be true that there is not enough time in the school day to provide the necessary supports if a student choses to take college prep classes, as often these students take many courses, and given the nature of the high school schedule, I can understand that problem.  Of course, it doesn’t mean the school doesn’t provide the services, it means that they need to figure out how and when they will provide the services.  In these circumstances, a school would need to provide time after or before school, for instance, for a student to get the services they might need. 

But….a school CAN NOT say that because of a disability a student can’t take a college prep or honors course, and by saying that they will not provide the services at those levels, they are essentially saying that.  That is illegal, and goes against all the IDEA and Civil Rights Laws stand for.