2000 Conference Proceedings

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Adapting Homework With Technology

Janet Peters
Pacer Center
Minneapolis, MN

Homework assignments can be an integral part of ensuring that students are as successful in school as possible. Well-designed homework can help students practice new skills, reinforce a lesson, reteach concepts a student hasn’t fully understood, and give students the opportunity to evaluate their own work. Many researchers agree that homework fosters student initiative and responsibility.

But how can parents help their child with homework in meaningful ways? Simple strategies and technologies can help make a student’s homework task successful.

Help students become organized

Parents can help at the beginning by making sure their child understands the requirements of the assignment. Sometimes children have difficulty keeping track of their assignments and the information they will need to complete them. The teacher may have explained the requirements, but for various reasons, sometimes disability-related, students may miss important information. And when they don’t understand what is asked of them in the first place, it is very hard for them to do well.

Technology can help students organize and clarify assignments. One low-tech solution is to try a homework/travel folder. By keeping all take-home papers in one place, students caught up in the end-of-the-day rush are less likely to leave important papers at school. Create a "To-Do" pocket for new notes and homework and a "Done" pocket for completed assignments, signed report cards or quizzes, notes from parents, and so on. Once a week, parents should encourage their children to clean out their travel folders, filing work at home.

Many higher-tech solutions, too, can help students organize their homework and school communications. For example the Alphasmart Pro 2000 (Intelligent Peripheral Devices 408-252-9400) is portable text input device. Text can be entered into eight different files, each accessed by a function key. This simple device is very durable. Students can record homework assignments for each class in a different file and teachers can type messages for the parents as well. For children who use communication devices, a button or two can be left for parents and teachers to communicate with each other and track assignments.

Parents and students benefit most from homework when they understand the larger purpose of the assignment. Many times homework is designed as practice for skills students need extra time learning. Many education software titles can help students practice specific skills. The best software programs allow students to work independently and give positive feedback. Look also for programs that let adults customize the lesson to fit the child’s learning needs.

Two good examples of educational software that have these features are Spell It Deluxe (Davidson, Inc. 1-800-545-7677). This game offers five different spelling activities, including a spelling bee. Parents can type in their child’s specific spelling list with sentences and word pronunciations. The program tracks correct and missed words for each activity and store them in a user file.

Math Workshop Deluxe (Broderbund 1-800-521-6263) offers several math skills activities for ages 6–12. It has different leveling capabilities, and one activity allows parents to enter math problems targeting their child’s specific needs. Some activities have a progress-tracking option, and the program stores the student’s results in a text file that can be printed or exported.

Help students complete assignments independently

Parents can help students identify the problems they are having with the assignment. Parents help most when they act as troubleshooters but allow their child to solve problems independently. The child should be doing work that offers opportunities for success and reaches toward identified goals, such as the academic objectives in the child’s IEP.

Technology can also play a vital role at home by ensuring the child has the ability to do the homework. Working with the school on accessible homework is very important. Programs such as Access Math ( Don Johnston, 1-800-999-4660) allow the teacher to create math worksheets that students can complete on the computer. Teachers who use this method of creating homework can adjust the number of problems and the difficulty. Students who can access the assignment on the computer then have many input options, such as switches or alternative keyboards.

If much of the child’s homework needs to be customized, technology can offers great benefits. Authoring tools with built-in scanning allow teachers and parents to create their own storybooks, quizzes, and software. Two authoring tool programs that are easy to use and learn are Intellipics (Intellitools, 1-800-899-6687) and Hyperstudio (RogerWagner Publishing, 1-800-421-6526).

Help students polish their work

Parents can help students evaluate the quality of their homework and check if it was completed correctly. Parents do not "grade" their children’s work but rather help them learn to evaluate their own work objectively and think about the whether the assignment was completed correctly.

Technology is especially useful to help children with disabilities to produce quality work. Word processors with good spelling and grammar checking features, storybook and animation creations, and drawing and graphing programs provide.

A list of additional resources is available free of charge. Call the PACER Computer Resource Center 612-827-2966.

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