Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Homework

Homework is on my mind right now, as many of my 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders will soon be missing 2 weeks of speech as it is standardized testing season.  Language homework can be difficult to figure out for your higher level students, but articulation homework is so easy, there's really no excuse.

I think homework is extremely important for my students.  I know that all of us have had at least one student who is at 0% accuracy on their speech sound in the hallway when talking and then the “light switch” flips and then they are 100% in conversation in the speech room.  Homework is one way to get those good productions out of my room and into the classroom and home.   The short homework time allows parents to hear the progress their child is making.  It also gives the child an experience using the right sounds with their parents.  The parent becomes more in tune to correct and incorrect productions and can positively reinforce when the child starts to generalize into conversation. The child starts to think that the parent is listening to the correct productions and starts monitoring the speech at home.  And for me?  It’s a win-win as I dismiss another one and reduce my caseload. 

I have several rules for all homework I assign.  

1. Signed by a Parent
All of my homework needs to be signed by a parent and when the student returns it they get an extra sticker.  3, 6, or 8 stickers are redeemed for prizes, depending on how many times a week I see the student.   I think we all are familiar with the system.   My kids also earn stickers for following the rules of the room during their therapy sessions.  The nature of the district I work in means I’m pretty flexible about the definition of a parent and typically say “mom, dad or whoever takes care of you.”  I’ve gotten back papers signed by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, big sisters and mom’s boyfriend.  As long as my students are practicing with someone they regularly communicate with

2. Clear Time Limit on the Assignment
One thing I try to be clear about when sending things home is to make sure that kids and parents are aware of is that I expect my homework to take about 5 minutes.  Families’ lives are so busy and many of my kids need extra help for both speech sounds and other homework things.  Once you add in sports and parent’s lives beyond kids, there is precious little time for extra.  By keeping such a short time limit on it, the less involved parents are able to spend a short amount of time and the student still has extra practice.  On the other end of the spectrum, the highly involved parents don’t make their child spend an hour practicing the same ten words.

3. Kids Pick Their Own Words to Practice.
There is more than one reason for this.  The first being, I simply don’t have enough time to select 10 new words for each student every time I send homework.  The second, and primary reason, I want kids to pick words that they practice.  They need to practice words that they need to say.  I’ve had more than one student add a sibling or friend’s name to their list of things to practice.  I’ve even had a few pick my name, Liz, for either L or Z sounds.  Once I have kids practicing reading in therapy I may also add words that they are struggling with to their list of things to practice, such as multiple s/z words or complex blends so their homework targets specific things they need to work on.  And for a bonus point – writing down homework words keeps hands and brains busy while other students are practicing.

4. When to Send Homework?
I send homework on one the last session for a given week, or when there is a break during speech therapy.  I will typically send homework right before my indirect service week (I do the 3:1 service delivery model) and all other breaks in school such as Winter and Spring breaks.  My second through sixth grade articulation students, who are at or beyond the word level, get some kind of homework at least every other week.  The ones who ask for homework will get it a little more often.

Now that we’ve got the rule system worked out – what to send home?
Articulation kids are relatively easy.  I just have them pick 10 words off their word list and write them down to take home to practice.  When they get further along in the therapy progression, I have them start doing thinks like working doing their reading homework while paying attention to their speech sounds, and having 5 minute conversations with their parents using good speech sounds.  For each sticker I typically make kids do things 2-3 times rather than just once.  

I have a separate half-sheet for both words and sentences.



The google docs are here:

What do I do when the homework doesn’t come back!?!
Before I start this topic, I should start with a disclaimer – I’m not big on having consequences leave my room (outside of extreme situations).  99% of the time my students will not earn a sticker and life goes on.  I might be working on speech and language skills, but the reality is that I’m a kind of therapist.  I want my students to feel like we’re in a safe space.

This is the thing that I struggle with most.  I require a parent/guardian signature to comeback with homework.  For some of my kids, heartbreakingly, it’s really too much to ask.  I’ve had them practice with afterschool instructors, big-brother/big-sisters and working things out with the classroom teacher is another option.  I work things out for these students on an individual basis and I usually know which parent's aren't going to be involved.  For some of these students, I will stop sending homework because of the stress it causes the student.

The second reason that my homework comes back is because homework in general is not coming back.  Many of my kids who have this problem are on the EBD teacher’s caseload.  I continue sending homework and hope it comes back.  The few assignments I get back are better than nothing.  School in general is typically very hard for these kids.  I don’t like putting added pressure on them for homework as some days getting them to my room is challenging enough.

The third type of non-returner of homework I’m currently dealing with is the student who just can’t be made to care about speech.  They try their best every time they are in the speech room and do fairly well.  Out of sight and out of mind.  No homework, no practice, not even awareness of the next speech session….  The most effective thing I have is taking good data right before and right after any service break or long weekend.  If they don’t practice, you can show the student how they did before the break and how they did after and the difference.  Some of these students are counting the days until they get out of speech and this can be an effective ‘carrot’ to encourage practice.

Please share any ideas you have for homework with students!  In the past, I’ve printed or copied picture pages from No Glamour Articulation (Lingusystems) or the Webber Jumbo Articulation Book (Super Duper) and even gotten wordlists from the HELP for Articulation (Linguisystems).  For younger students, I will often tear a “mastered” page off the front of the picture-packet for them to take home to “show mommy and daddy how good you’re doing!”

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