Strategies For Improving Home-School Communication About Homework For Students With Disabilities

Parents and teachers often wonder how to discipline a child with behavior problems. Although some children truly have challenging behaviors regardless of what strategies we try, many children just need to have the adults in their lives make changes in the way they react, respond, or interact with them. This article gives 10 simple strategies that you can start implementing right now to encourage positive behavior in your child/students. All of these strategies are positive in nature and will help you connect with your child/student(s) in a way that will increase their confidence, self-respect, and respect for you. Children with good confidence and a healthy respect for themselves and the adults in their lives show better cooperation and make healthier choices.

10 Simple Strategies to Promote Positive Behavior

1. Verbally acknowledge children’s efforts. Tell your child/student(s) specifically what he/she did that you are proud of. For example, you can say “You were so focused on your math homework tonight! Keep up the good work,” “That was so nice the way you helped your brother with his math homework.” When children get praised for doing the right thing, they want to do more of it. Virtually all children want to please adults (whether they show it or not) so for most children, praise makes a positive impact. Praise is also an easy way to give your child attention which many children so desperately crave.

2. Use positive body language to show approval for positive behavior. Positive body language can include a smile, thumbs up, high-five, pat on the back, etc. Keep in mind that some children do not like to be touched and would respond better to something like a thumbs up than a pat on the back. Get to know your child/students to know what they like.

3. Use humor with your child/student(s). Make jokes, listen to their jokes, smile often, say something silly, sing something you would normally say, or anything else that would make them smile/laugh (make sure it is age appropriate).

4. Show your child/student(s) that you are happy to see them. Smile at them when they come into the room; for parents…put your arms out for a hug. Ask about their day, weekend, etc. and really listen when they talk.

5. Remind your child/student(s) that they should be proud of themselves (e.g., “You worked so hard on that science project. You should be so proud of yourself!”). This helps build internal confidence in them, so they can learn to be proud of themselves for being persistent, working hard, being kind to others, etc. If they feel successful they will be successful.

6. Take an interest in your child’s/students’ interests. Ask them what they enjoy, get excited about their creations or accomplishments, ask them what they want to learn about, ask them their opinion about things, etc. Teachers…try to incorporate students’ interests in the classroom. Parents…do activities with your children (academic or otherwise) that involve something they are interested in, even if it may not be your favorite activity. Let them choose topics of interest for certain activities.

7. Acknowledge your child/student(s) feelings with empathy. Be understanding when they are nervous because they are trying something for the first time, frustrated because a writing assignment is difficult for them, disappointed because they didn’t get invited to a birthday party, or embarrassed because other students laughed at them. Avoid saying things like “Stop making a big deal about it,” “You’ll get over it,” or “Why are you having such a hard time with this; it’s easy.” Instead, make empathetic statements like, “I understand that this assignment is frustrating for you” or “I understand that you are nervous, that’s common when trying something new.” Also, let them know that you are there to help in any way you can.

8. Be open minded and don’t pass judgment on your children/student(s) if their thoughts, values, feelings, or ideas don’t match yours. Of course it is okay to share your opinion (and unsafe or hurtful behavior is unacceptable), but in general, don’t make them wrong for their opinion. They need to feel like they can be open and be themselves around the adults in their lives. When children feel like they won’t be judged or made wrong, they are more likely to talk to us when there is a real problem.

9. Be a role model for good behavior. If you want your child to treat others with respect, you do the same. If you want your child to be an honest person, set an example of honesty for them.

10. Follow through on your promises and rules (barring unforeseen consequences) and stay away from empty threats. If you tell your child/student(s) that they can pick a favorite book to read after they finish their math assignment, make sure you stick to your end of the bargain. If you tell your child that he can go on the computer after his sister has a turn, make sure he gets a chance to do that. Have consistent rules that teach your children that they need to stick to their end of the bargain as well. For example, if you have a rule such as  “Homework first, then TV.” stick to that rule by making sure your child completes homework before watching TV. Stay away from empty threats such as “If you don’t stop I am going to leave you here” or “I’ll throw all of your toys away if you don’t clean them up.” First of all, these statements can be scary for children leading to crying, tantrums, etc. and in all probability you are not going to do those things. If you keep making empty threats your child will learn that you don’t mean what you say and will also learn to not take you seriously. If your children/students have faith in what you say, and know the boundaries you have set for them, they will feel a sense of security and trust which leads to confidence in themselves and respect for you. Children with confidence and respect feel good about themselves and the people around them, making them more likely to cooperate with requests and make healthy choices.

Are you thinking “I am doing all of these things and it is not working?” These are ten great strategies, but they need to be used in conjunction with several others. Check out

Using all of these strategies together will most likely lead to positive behavior changes over time. Although, there is no magic solution, as a mother, educator, and behavior specialist, I have personally found these evidenced-based strategies to be the most effective over 19 years in this field. Just like a patient who does not respond right away to medical treatment, we do not give up. We keep trying.

If your child is significantly struggling with behavior, despite several positive strategies being in place, talk to your child’s doctor or a mental health professional to help determine the next steps you should take. If you are a teacher who is having significant behavioral difficulties with a student (despite several positive strategies) talk to the child’s parent and your school team (administrator, guidance counselor, etc.).

Always keep in mind that some children truly have difficulty controlling their behaviors or making a better choice because they have not yet learned alternative/more acceptable methods to get their point across, or their behavior happens so quickly (almost impulsively) before they have the opportunity to slow down and think of an alternative. This often happens when when children feel anxious, scared, sad, or angry. While this is frustrating for adults, imagine how it feels to the child who frequently gets punished, singled out, or yelled at because they don’t have the coping skills, communication skills, or control to do something different. For a related article on impulsive behavior see 9 Practical Strategies to Decrease Impulsive Behavior in Children.

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Written by Rachel Wise

Rachel Wise is the founder and CEO of She is also a nationally certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a master’s degree in education. Rachel has 20 years of experience working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs.


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Five Homework Strategies for Teaching Students with Disabilities. ERIC Digest. 

by Warger, Cynthia 

Homework is one aspect of the general education curriculum that has been widely recognized as important to academic success. Teachers have long used homework to provide additional learning time, strengthen study and organizational skills, and in some respects, keep parents informed of their children's progress. Generally, when students with disabilities participate in the general education curriculum, they are expected to complete homework along with their peers. But, just as students with disabilities may need instructional accommodations in the classroom, they may also need homework accommodations. 

Many students with disabilities find homework challenging, and teachers are frequently called upon to make accommodations for these students. What research supports this practice? This digest describes five strategies that researchers have identified to improve homework results for students with disabilities. 


Teachers need to take special care when assigning homework. If the homework assignment is too hard, is perceived as busy work, or takes too long to complete, students might tune out and resist doing it. Never send home any assignment that students cannot do. Homework should be an extension of what students have learned in class. 

To ensure that homework is clear and appropriate, consider the following tips from teachers for assigning homework: 

* Make sure students and parents have information regarding the policy on missed and late assignments, extra credit, and available adaptations. Establish a set routine at the beginning of the year. 

* Assign work that the students can do. 

* Assign homework in small units. 

* Explain the assignment clearly. 

* Write the assignment on the chalkboard and leave it there until the assignment is due. 

* Remind students of due dates periodically. 

* Coordinate with other teachers to prevent homework overload. 

Students concur with these tips. They add that teachers can: 

* Establish a routine at the beginning of the year for how homework will be assigned. 

* Assign homework toward the beginning of class. 

* Relate homework to class-work or real life (and/or inform students how they will use the content of the homework in real life). 

* Explain how to do the homework, provide examples and write directions on the chalkboard. 

* Have students begin the homework in class, check that they understand, and provide assistance as necessary. 

* Allow students to work together on homework. 


Make any necessary modifications to the homework assignment before sending it home. Identify practices that will be most helpful to individual students and have the potential to increase their involvement, understanding, and motivation to learn. The most common homework accommodations are to: 

* Provide additional one-on-one assistance to students. 

* Monitor students' homework more closely. 

* Allow alternative response formats (e.g., allow the student to audiotape an assignment rather than handwriting it). 

* Adjust the length of the assignment. 

* Provide a peer tutor or assign the student to a study group. 

* Provide learning tools (e.g., calculators). 

* Adjust evaluation standards. 

* Give fewer assignments. 

It is important to check out all accommodations with other teachers, students, and their families. If teachers, students, or families do not find homework accommodations palatable, they may not use them. 


Both general and special education teachers consistently report that homework problems seem to be exacerbated by deficient basic study skills. Many students, particularly students with disabilities, need instruction in study and organizational skills. 

Here is a list of organizational strategies basic to homework: 

* Identify a location for doing homework that is free of distractions. 

* Have all materials available and organized. 

* Allocate enough time to complete activities and keep on schedule. 

* Take good notes. 

* Develop a sequential plan for completing multi-task assignments. 

* Check assignments for accuracy and completion before turning them in. 

* Know how to get help when it is needed. 

* Turn in completed homework on time. 

Teachers can enhance homework completion and accuracy by providing classroom instruction in organizational skills. They should talk with parents about how to support the application of organizational skills at home. 


Students with disabilities often need additional organizational support. Just as adults use calendars, schedulers, lists, and other devices to self-monitor activities, students can benefit from these tools as well. Students with disabilities can monitor their own homework using a planning calendar to keep track of homework assignments. Homework planners also can double as home-school communication tools if they include a space next to each assignment for messages from teachers and parents. 

Here's how one teacher used a homework planner to increase communication with students' families and improve homework completion rates: 

Students developed their own homework calendars. Each page in the calendar reflected one week. There was a space for students to write their homework assignments and a column for parent-teacher notes. The cover was a heavy card stock that children decorated. Students were expected to take their homework planners home each day and return them the next day to class. 

In conjunction with the homework planner, students graphed their homework return and completion rates-another strategy that is linked to homework completion and improved performance on classroom assessments. The teacher built a reward system for returning homework and the planners. On a self-monitoring chart in their planner, students recorded each time they completed and returned their homework assignment by: 

* Coloring the square for the day green if homework was completed and returned. 

* Coloring the square for the day red if homework was not done. 

* Coloring one-half of the square yellow and one-half of the square red if homework was late. 

If students met the success criterion, they received a reward at the end of the week, such as 15 extra minutes of recess. The teacher found that more frequent rewards were needed for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. 


Homework accounts for one-fifth of the time that successful students invest in academic tasks, yet students complete homework in environments over which teachers have no control-which, given the fact that many students experience learning difficulties, creates a major dilemma. Teachers and parents of students with disabilities must communicate clearly and effectively with one another about homework policies, required practices, mutual expectations, student performance on homework, homework completion difficulties, and other homework-related concerns. 

Recommended ways that teachers can improve communications with parents include: 

* Encourage students to keep assignment books. 

* Provide a list of suggestions on how parents might assist with homework. For example, ask parents to check with their children about homework daily. 

* Provide parents with frequent written communication about homework (e.g., progress reports, notes, letters, forms). 

* Share information with other teachers regarding student strengths and needs and necessary accommodations. 

Ways that administrators can support teachers in improving communications include: 

* Supply teachers with the technology needed to aid communication (e.g., telephone answering systems, e-mail, homework hotlines). 

* Provide incentives for teachers to participate in face-to- face meetings with parents (e.g., release time, compensation). 

* Suggest that the school district offer after school and/or peer tutoring sessions to give students extra help with homework. 


The five strategies to help students with disabilities get the most from their homework are: 
1. Give clear and appropriate assignments. 

2. Make accommodations in homework assignments. 

3. Teach study skills. 

4. Use a homework planner. 

5. Ensure clear home/school communication. 


Bryan, T., Nelson, C., & Mathur, S. (1995). Homework: A survey of primary students in regular, resource, and self-contained special education classrooms. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 10(2), 85-90. 

Bryan, T., & Sullivan-Burstein, K. (1997). Homework how-to's. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 29(6), 32-37. 

Epstein, M., Munk, D., Bursuck, W., Polloway, E., & Jayanthi, M. (1999). Strategies for improving home-school communication about homework for students with disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 33(3), 166-176. 

Jayanthi, M., Bursuck, W., Epstein, M., & Polloway, E. (1997). Strategies for successful homework. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 30(1), 4-7. 

Jayanthi, M., Sawyer, V., Nelson, J., Bursuck, W., & Epstein, M. (1995). Recommendations for homework-communication problems: From parents, classroom teachers, and special education teachers. Remedial and Special Education, 16(4), 212-225. 

Klinger, J., & Vaughn, S. (1999). Students' perceptions of instruction in inclusion classrooms: Implications for students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 66(1), 23-37. 

Polloway, E., Bursuck, W., Jayanthi, M., Epstein, M., & Nelson, J. (1996). Treatment acceptability: Determining appropriate interventions within inclusive classrooms. Intervention In School and Clinic, 31(3), 133-144. 

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