It can be a challenge for teachers to set homework that strikes the right balance between time requirement, rigour and benefit. That task becomes even more difficult when setting homework for a student who has special educational needs (SEN). If the student struggles in the classroom, why extend this struggle to the home?
More often than not, an SEN student's homework gets lost or remains uncompleted, and after all the effort a teacher may have gone to in order to differentiate effectively, it can feel as if it is a waste of time. And specialists often comment that parents of children who have SEN usually have too much to manage at home to make a battle with their child over homework effective.
Homework can be useful for SEN students, their parents and their schools but the issues of the three groups need to be tackled individually.
Students across the range of SEN issues can struggle with working memory and organisational skills. Homework often ends up being yet another experience of failure as they try to remember what it is, when it is due in and how to go about it.
Teachers add to the problem as they tend to provide variety in homework. This variety is actually one of the key things that can throw students with SEN off course.
A solution to this problem is to establish a pre- and over-learning keywords framework. Pre-learning keywords for a lesson topic - photosynthesis in biology, for example - will help the student to feel more at ease in the classroom during the next lesson, when the teacher mentions the words to the other students for the first time. Over-learning - reviewing those keywords - ensures that the student keeps up.
The framework could be simply a blank exercise book with a list of keywords at the back, provided from your scheme of work. Circle the words that you plan to introduce in the next lesson and the student will know to look these up online or in the textbook, write them out, make pictures of them or use them creatively according to their age and ability. During the next class, when you ask students what a word means, your SEN student may put their hand up, offering the answer before their peers. This will boost self-esteem and ultimately drive attainment.
For the parents of children who have SEN, homework can be an experience of frustration, and much of that can be directed at themselves for not being able to support their child effectively.
It is important for teachers to focus less on the task and more on the situation at home. Support the parent in developing simple skills that you as a teacher have already, such as guiding, questioning and prompting, which can be applied to any form of learning.
Allow parents to feel that they know what to do and to establish a positive cycle of liaison with teachers. Through this type of ongoing conversation, parents can work with teachers to develop other skills. Over time, it would be possible for parents to model structures for effective practice and extend the period of time that their child could spend on homework.
The needs of SEN students vary widely but two common issues faced by teachers are the frustration they feel about setting the bar too high or too low and the constant need to think of imaginative ways of reframing the same simple exercise.
Reading for comprehension is a fundamental principle that applies throughout the mainstream curriculum. Activities that promote this could be set as homework, alongside the pre- and over-learning task above. These activities can take many forms, including non-academic ones such as reading the rules of a computer game or a magazine article about a favourite band, or researching where a popular actor was born. In fact, being guided by students' interests rather than their level can be an effective approach to promoting the value of reading, discovery and articulation of comprehension.
Homework is often a battle with students and, although these ideas are by no means the answer in every situation, they should open doors to a positive experience of home learning, one that benefits students, parents and teachers.
Daniel Soibelmann is a UK inclusion specialist and conference speaker
Try these homework strategies for students who have Asperger's syndrome.
These homework cards aim to get families involved.
Setting homework for students who have special educational needs can be difficult for teachers, but there are ways of making homework effective for all involved.
Pre- and over-learning keywords can be a useful homework task.
Teachers should introduce parents to strategies that enable them to help their child.
Teachers should root homework tasks in the interests of the child and centre those tasks on comprehension.