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Getting the Hang of Homework: A Survival System for the New School Year

When you help your child with homework, do you worry that you’re doing too much? If your student needs lots of help, you’ve probably asked yourself this question. I certainly did when I was working with my dyslexic daughter. Now that she is an adult and a successful college graduate, I can unequivocally say that you are most likely not helping too much—unless you’re doing the homework while your child is indulging in screen time.

Here are my time-tested strategies for helping a struggling who is student with homework.

1. Read Aloud, Then Talk it Out

Because my daughter struggled with reading, I had to read her textbooks aloud to her. I could have gotten books on tape. But she needed me to read and then have a discussion with her, so she could understand and remember the information. When we discussed the information, I wrote notes about key points for her to review later. (Obviously, if your child is not reading well enough, you’ll skip the note taking.) I would then quiz her on the information if a test was coming up.

2. Break Big Assignments into Digestible Chunks

Book reports were challenging. Students with learning difficulties often have trouble knowing which facts are important. They want to retell the entire book, which would be daunting for anyone. When doing book reports I would read a chapter, then we would discuss what we read and which information was important. Then I would type her ideas into the computer. When we were finished reading the book, our book report was also finished! Students with IEPs or part of an intervention program should be allowed modifications. As a parent, you are also entitled to make modifications to help your child complete homework assignments. For example, suppose your child needs to to copy sentences and underline parts of speech, but copying sentences is laborious. You could write the sentences yourself, and then underline the correct words together.

3. Identify & Work Toward a Goal

The key is to ask yourself: what is the goal of this homework? If the point is to learn about nouns and verbs, then copying the sentences is a shortcut that you can help with. Once the goal has been met, you should be done. However, it’s always a good idea to write the teacher and let him/her know the modifications you made and your reasons for using them.

4. Be a Good Role Model

I can assure you that your child is learning while you do these tasks together, even if it feels like you are doing all the work. Once my daughter got to her second year of high school, she became independent with her homework. I saw her doing many of the things I had been modeling for her. For example, she began taking her own notes while reading a textbook. I then realized I had not done too much! While we worked together, she was learning how to be a great student!


Debra Gawrys is the founder of Connections Learning Center. This blog allows Debra to share her expertise as a special education teacher and as the parent of a daughter who grew up with dyslexia and a son who had sensory integration issues.