On Homework

Yesterday, (Spetember 9, 2013) Robert brought homework from school.  Moreover, that was a homework he was fully capable of doing himself.

I consider an appropriate homework for children with special needs to be a very important tool fostering both academic and behavioral development. The homework connects school and home. It teaches students with special needs that they, too, have some responsibilities.  That they are like all other students. Homework conveys the idea  that what is learned at school, might affect the life beyond it, at present and in the future. A relatively easy homework for children with special needs can buster their self-esteem a lot.  Homework allows parents to understand better what their children are learning.  Is it too difficult?  Is it too easy?  How relevant are the curricula  to their children’s lives after school.

This last question, is the most troublesome as it doesn’t have simple answer. Both, parents and representatives of school (administrators, specialists, teachers) ask that question often. Too often in one context and not often enough in another.

This question is rarely asked in relation to the education of typical children although so many adults assert that they have forgotten more than a half of what they learned at school, and have never used huge chunk of what was taught to them.

If the value of education was reduced to what the person remembers all through his/her life or  what the person applies explicitly in his/her work, the answer to the question above might be simple.  But the effects of education are stretched beyond that.  It is the learning process itself that might be the most  beneficial to the person’s development. The processes of acquiring and assimilating information, the efforts to solve problems through deduction, induction, or trail and error approaches lead to the most important, although the hardest to asses gains in development.

A homework obligates the teacher to match his/her students abilities.  The range of those abilities in one, small special needs classroom might be quite wide and  might require the teacher to give different homework to each of the students. If he/she gives too easy assignment, the parents would be concerned asking   if their child is learning anything at all at school.  If the assignment is too difficult, the parent and the student will end up terribly frustrated as they would not know how to support their son’s or daughter’s attempts to complete the assignments.  They might just do homework themselves and vent their frustration on the child and/or the teacher.  (Parents of so-called “typical”  students are sometimes completing their children homework themselves, and they are also frustrated about that. I still remember the uproar over so-called ‘Everyday Mathematics”‘ curriculum, which had to go because the parents didn’t know how to help their children.)

It is clear that from the special education teacher’s perspective, homework not only requires a very good understanding of what students is or isn’t  capable of  doing, and a lot of work with students and his/her parents (to explain what to do and how to do it if the the  need for assistance arises) but it also can lead to frustration when the student doesn’t complete the assignment, and parents feel burdened and powerless.

From Robert’s perspective, however, there was a feeling of completing an important mission.  Although upon returning from school, he placed the most of his school papers on the table, as he usually does,  he brought  his math journal to me.  I asked as I always do, “Do you want to do it now or later?”

Robert as always rushed with a quick and almost automatic answer, “Later, later, later.”  Then he stopped, analyzing what he had just told me and taking time to retrieve the right word, said, “NOW”.
It has be added, that after I posted this blog, Robert never again brought any homework home. Very sad and very telling about the state of special education.