Thursday, August 13, 2009


Homework is an important part of any child's educational program--whether they have special needs or not. (In my opinion, anyways.) It should provide practice for students on material they have already mastered--homework should never work on new skills or skill that have not been mastered--you want to be there to teach those. The only exception I can think of would be ADLs, such as washing clothes, some cooking skills, like those requiring a stove, or taking a shower--those that you may not have access to equipment in your school or cannot teach for safety or privacy reasons, but you, the student, and his caregivers have deemed to be important.

As an elementary school teacher, I had no qualms about giving homework. It was a very small school and all of the kids were aware of homework because we had a system of color coded folders (yellow for math, blue for language arts, green for science) and red for homework. So each day they would see their peers getting out their red folder and removing their homework.

Also, homework was written on those large charts that have spaces for each subject that was quite similar to their school provided agenda. In some classes, one of the first things a student was expected to do each morning was to copy down their homework. The other part of the agenda book was that a parent or responsible older sibling was to look over the book each day, read or make comments and sign the agenda to show that they were aware of the homework their student should have completed the previous night. My students participated in the homework routine in some way--either with a red homework folder or agenda and parent signing or both.

In high school, I thought about homework a bit more. My kids were rarely included with their general ed peers, the school provided agendas had only monthly calendars with small boxes to write homework down (even the general ed kids complained about the size) and it was a very different school from my elementary school. In the end, I stuck with my homework plan that I have generally followed since college:

  • I give homework every day except Friday. Everybody deserves a break!

  • Homework should be a skill that has been learned on that day (i.e. that day's new Edmark word) or a skill that is at the maintenance stage (i.e. counting money).

  • Homework should not take more than 15-30 minutes.

  • Homework should be attempted, however, if it is too frustrating or too hard (meaning the skill was not learned as well as I previously thought, not that the student is tired of homework), the caregiver should write a note to me on the homework stating that they tried the homework and encountered a problem.

  • Homework should go back and forth from school in the homework folder.

  • There will be consequences for not attempting homework. This was typically a loss of a break or choice time, doing homework during recess or a loss of a privilege.

I requested either a red or yellow folder for homework each year. I chose those colors (but accepted any color) because they are easy to find (in a messy room, in a hurry, and typically don't blend in to any decor!)/see.

I believe that our students with significant disabilities need homework for the following reasons:

  1. It's a part of school. Even on those teen/tween shows, the kids complain about homework.

  2. Homework teaches responsibility. Learning that they must be responsible for bringing something back and forth between home and school is a great precursor for adults who need to take their bus pass/metro card/work id/what have you back and forth between work and home each day.

  3. Homework teaches prioritizing. Some students have other activities or even TV shows they want to watch. Students learn that they need to get their homework done even though they have other things to do. This happens to all of us in real life.

  4. Homework helps reinforce and practice skills learned.

  5. Homework allows caregivers to plan for non school time--whether this is an after school schedule, weekend trips, toys/things to buy.

  6. Homework allows caregivers a way to bond with their students about school beyond behavior. When caregivers see their students showing off their skills, its a pretty cool moment. It's another chance for positive reinforcement for skills learned. It also gives them a peek into the classroom.

For the most part, I expected that homework should come back the next day. In return, I would check/correct and go over the homework immediately. (The only exception was in high school when we had a block schedule so we didn't have reading or math every day, then we would go over it at the next class period.)

Some examples of homework I have given in the past:

  • Edmark extra practice worksheets

  • Rereading guided reading books (rereading boosts comprehension)

  • Money worksheets from

  • Basic math fact worksheets

  • Teacher designed worksheets about concepts

  • Edmark Black and Purple Cards

  • Counting by 5's worksheets

  • Small sorting tasks that were easily containable

  • Extra worksheets from News-2-You

  • World News from News-2-You with a standard Who, What, Where, + 3 facts worksheet

Another great example of homework I have found is this one, made by Kimsmith, located at Adapted Learning.

I really like it for two reasons:

  1. It covers many vocational skills and these skills are just as important as the academics we teach at school.

  2. It gives the caregiver another helper in the house.

  3. It's easily customizable for each student.
Hopefully this helps you when you start to think about your homework policy this year!


  1. I totally agree with everything! Homework was given in my self contained class every day except Fridays and holidays too. My students and parents were told there was homework every day unless I was dead or they were dead and then they didn't have to do it. Otherwise, expect it and do it. Students struggled and pushed the limits at the beginning but when they knew I would stand fast to my policy and parents backed me up, they complied. If they didn't do their homework, my paraprofessional would escort them to the lunchroom to get their lunch and they would have to eat and do it during lunch. This meant they couldn't socialize which really hit them where it hurts! This didn't happen too often before they learned to do their HW.

  2. Pat--Love it! I think it's so important for kids to learn the consequences of their actions--both positive and negative!