Managing Homework Challenges

If you teach or support students with ADD/ADHD, then at some point you’ll be helping them and their parents with the various homework problems they face.  Our first piece of work is to determine where the student is breaking down. To ask "what's the kid's deal"? And to encourage parents to direct support to those points of performance.

In order for homework to get "done," a number of things have to happen. So when homework is not done reliably and painlessly, there are a number of common points where the project goes awry. The student might, for example:

Fail to write down assignments


Forget the assignment book


Forget necessary materials


Have trouble with the "getting started"


Take hours to do minutes of homework


Hassle parents about when and where to do homework


Lie about having done homework


Need constant supervision with homework


Forget to bring homework back to school


Our intervention will depend upon the student's specific way of not getting the homework done. The student with problems "getting started" might need strong incentives up front. And once he's actually dived into the task he might be more independent.

The student who gets the homework done (usually with good parental supervision) but who fails to get the material turned in the next day needs support with that piece. Faxing the homework to the school office in advance might help, or attaching the work to an email which can be opened, and printed at the school computer lab might be a fun way of getting the material to the teacher.

The student who lies to parents about assignments (I actually hear this complaint fairly frequently) is in a tough situation. She's doing something fun, or at least benign. And Dad asks whether she has homework. Now if she says yes to that question she will have to stop doing something fun and do something less fun, possibly even something hard. It's almost a set-up to tell a fib. I'd rather encourage teacher-parent communication. Some schools have websites for just this type of daily communication about assignments. So parents can maintain an overview of schoolwork there rather than using the student as the primary source of pure truth about necessary assignments which might be dull or hard.


Practical Tips

Ongoing school / parent communication regarding assignments and due dates.

Regular predictable routine regarding where and when homework takes place.

Limit distractions. If your student claims she performs homework better with simultaneous chat/IM or texting, you can definitely inform that in fact multitaskers perform worse on tasks than individuals who perform one task at a time.

Chunk cognitive activities. Commit to working on one single thing for a specified period (length of focused activity will depend on the age of the student). If you like cute, the Pomodoro Technique is a cute way to think about chunking.

Support the “getting started.” If your student has difficulty engaging with even moderate cognitive challenge - they drag their feet, use stall tactics, and so forth, you might consider rewards and incentives which are front-loaded. "I'll give you 4 iTunes downloads if you finish your math homework. And I'll give you 3 downloads just for opening your math text and taking out a pencil." For some students, this strong push to get started might be all it takes. Then, they're moving.

What's your recipe?

Each of has a specific recipe for success. Likewise we have a specific recipe for not getting things done. Mess with my recipe and you change the outcome. The goal here is find where exactly the homework isn't happening and direct support to that point of performance.