7 Lessons I've Learned About Homework

October 24, 2019

Most of us SLPs struggle to get our therapy-kids to do their homework. We know that extra practice time outside of therapy can really help.

 

But, just because we give it to them, doesn’t mean they do it. Right? 

 

Aye, there’s the rub.

 

Undaunted, perhaps you’ve made a decision to emphasize homework this year.

 

I can relate. I made the same decision a few years back when I was in the schools. The outcome, just so you know, got worse before it got better. Here’s what happened….

 

It was a new school for me, with a large caseload—99 kids. My goals were to help the kids and get the caseload down to a manageable size.

 

I thought ‘homework’ would help improve and move the kids through. To put it mildly, the kids WEREN’T thrilled, “Mrs. Jones didn’t make us do homework last year, why do we have to do it this year?” I can still hear them; things came close to mutiny. I persisted. For two months, I persisted.

 

During those two months I created a reinforcement program (this is just an example; please, create what works for you):

 

 

  • The Speech Bank basically a bank register. Just tally the number of times they practiced as indicated on The Homework Tally Sheet, and equate each practice with money, say, 1 cent per practice. This form stays at school; and, I Displayed tangibles they could “purchase” with their accumulated Speech Bank money. I put the items in three stacking plastic storage bins; the items were priced from 80 cents to $3.00. (I purchased some of the cheaper items, but many were donated by parents and teachers.)

 

After about two months, I started hearing the following from several of the kids, “I’m getting better, aren’t I Mrs. Boshart? Oooh, THAT’S why you wanted us to do homework.”  The lights started going on. Kids started working more when they noticed improvement. And consequently, many were dismissed; we enjoyed some fun graduation parties. 

 

When I left that school three years later, fewer than 50 kids were on the caseload. I loved that school, the teachers (they all pulled together), the parents, and the kids. (Lest you think it was an “easy” school, we had four self-contained classes, many, many second-language learners, and district-wide, we nearly always scraped the bottom in state test scores.)

 

Why do I tell you all this?

 

Here’s what I’ve learned through the years about homework:

 

1. (Almost) no one WANTS to do homework. Don’t expect excitement and compliance to happen immediately.  We can tell them (until the cows come home) about the benefits of doing their therapy-homework, but until they experience it first hand, they won’t understand.

 

2. Hang in there; give it time. It may take two months or more for it to kick-in, i.e., for them to begin to make progress and become motivated by their own improvement via intrinsic motivation.

 

3. Especially during those first two months, enact a super-reinforcement program that motivates them extrinsically and keeps them on track (perhaps something like The Speech Bank that accumulates their “money” so they can eventually “buy” the goodies). THEN, once they realize and acknowledge their own improvement, intrinsic motivation will kick-in and motivate them to continue doing therapy-homework.

 

4. Create speech/language homework that is beneficial. If they consider it busy work, or, if it’s too hard, or too much, you’ll lose them.  Give them challenging tasks that can accomplished with a little work. Show them how to do that work.

 

5. Ask them to do it one time per day (over seven days) and if they practice three or four days, consider it normal, and yourself fortunate.

 

6. It depends on the task(s), but try not to give anything that takes longer than 5 to 7 minutes to do, in its entirety.  (Oral resting posture tasks excluded.)

 

7. Enlist parent/caregiver support. Many of them—even the parents and caregivers that want to help—have no idea what that means or looks like, so tell them what you need them to do.  Following is a form to help you do this: Speech-Language Homework sheet (Click). It’s been revised through the years. Here’s more on this suggestion….

 

Lay your foundation for homework support at a parent meeting (eligibility, IEP, RTI, SST, whatever).  Explain to them how progress is made when we all pull in the same direction.  Ask for their help and involvement.  Also stress to them:

  • Your child will improve more and more quickly (than without the homework).

  • I will show your child exactly what to do.

  • Most tasks are easy, but some are challenging.  Help your child to work them through, then hug.

  • Homework time is minimal (no more than 5 to 7 minutes).

  • I am always available to you if you have questions. Contact me here _________.

You may also consider doing The Accountability Loop (TAL). I wrote about TAL in Therapy Matters #15, Two Easy Ideas to Impact Homework and Communication. I love the TAL strategy. If you want to know more Click Here.  Here’s a little about it that may peek your interest.

 

The Accountability Loop is an easy-to-apply method to motivate and hold kids accountable for doing their homework, and, to communicate with parents/caregivers to enlist their assistance. Start the process at either at a parent meeting (eligibility meeting, IEP meeting, etc.) or phone call to the parent. Then implement it during your therapy sessions—everyone is informed and on track.

 

Go get ‘em!  Have a great week!

 

You can hear more from Char Boshart, MA, CCC-SLP on one of her 12 video courses available on-demand and also on her bi-weekly podcast - The Speech Link

 

 

Char Boshart, MA, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

SpeechDynamics.com

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