By popular demand, Educational Therapist Shawn Simon
returned to Learning Ally on September 10 to deliver a free public webinar for parents and teachers of children with dyslexia. Shawn's live tutorial on Getting a Handle on Homework
delivers proven strategies to help students and families manage the stress of homework hour, keep on top of assignments and avoid "backpack disasters." Once again, Learning Ally thanks the Association of Educational Therapists
for collaborating with us on the concept of this webinar and identifying an excellent presenter in Shawn Simon.
Click the video window above to access the recorded webinar conversation and accompanying slides.
Download the presentation slides (PDF).
Audience members submitted many questions, some of which Shawn didn't have time to answer during the live session. They are posted along with Shawn's responses below:
How can I help my child get excited about finishing work in a timely fashion so he can enjoy some free time after school too?
This is where a rewards system can be helpful. Let your child know that if he finishes his work he will get whatever reward you have settled on. Have him choose the reward to entice him to finish.
Is there a "best" way to study spelling for kids with dyslexia?
Helping kids understand that words are made up of sounds and syllables is important. This is called phonemic awareness. However, because the English language doesn't always follow those rules, it's also important for them to practice their words. But, make this fun! Write the words in shaving cream or sand, or write them in different colors. It’s also important for them to say the sounds out loud while spelling. Sometimes jumping up and down while spelling them is helpful. Try different techniques to make it fun while incorporating the different learning styles: auditory, visual, and tactile.
Could severe struggling with homework, but no problems with reading, indicate dyslexia?
Not typically, though I do not diagnose learning disorders. Only a clinical, school, or neuro psychologist can do this. However, typically dyslexia will be evident in reading and writing. Struggling with homework can be so many things, from ADHD, executive functioning deficits, and more. Is the homework itself a problem or is it the amount that is overwhelming? Are they having trouble focusing and attending or do they not understand the work? Answering these questions and more will help to determine what the challenge truly is...
Executive functioning abilities seem all interconnected. Can they be separated and worked on individually?
Absolutely! Many kids I work with only struggle with one or two of the executive functioning abilities, such as time-management and working memory. As an example, they may have no problem focusing and attending in class, but they just can’t manage their time efficiently and juggle the assignments when it comes to homework.
When my son takes a break during homework time, it's difficult to bring him back to the task. What can I do?
This is where rewards can be so helpful. Many kids are not intrinsically motivated to succeed in school, so knowing they will have a reward coming once they complete their work can be motivating. Also creating a set schedule is helpful, so they know that they will start homework at a set time, take breaks at a set time and then get back to the work. Timers can be useful as well, especially if they set the timer themselves. When it beeps, they have to get back to work!
What can I do if my child burns out during the school day, before homework even starts?
This is where a break before starting would be helpful. In addition, scheduling an appointment with the teachers to discuss possible accommodations/modifications with homework could also be helpful to avoid burnout as much as possible. Reducing the homework load might make homework less painful in general.
How do I encourage my son to work on his homework alone, and only come to me when he has a serious question or issue?
Positive reinforcement in the form of a reward can be helpful here. Set up some sort of reward system for every time he works a set amount of time without getting up and asking for help. Make sure your son chooses his reward so he will be invested in earning it.
How can my child learn to self-advocate? His teachers have not been cooperative and seem almost threatened by parental advocacy.
Self-advocating is hard for most children, especially younger ones. If your child is in high school, then it's a good idea for him to learn to fight for his rights. Role-playing is a good way for him to build the confidence to ask for what he needs. Make sure you both settle on what he’s going to ask for (maybe just choose 2 or 3 to start with), and then role-play the conversation with the teacher.
Can you give some examples of the physical break activities for both before beginning homework, and between homework sessions when your young child needs a break? My daughter needs the break, but she wants to watch TV and I find it's hard for her to get started again even after a 30 minute show.
TV is definitely not easy to break away from. Better activities during breaks would be physical activities, such as walking the dog, shooting hoops, playing catch, going for a run, yoga, stretching, etc. Before starting, snack time can be helpful. Eating a healthy snack prior to beginning work can help sustain attention. This is also a good time to look over the work for the afternoon and to decide which assignments to do first, second, etc.
Are executive functioning problems a disability, a deficit of ADHD, or neither?
They are considered a learning disability, especially when it’s part of ADHD. They are also a reality of age. As I said in the webinar, the brain develops from back to front, and executive functioning resides in the pre-frontal cortex, the front part of the brain. This part of the brain is not fully developed in anybody until they are 25 at least... Therefore, the expectations we place on kids are often unrealistic as many of them will not be able to accomplish all we expect of them on their own-- they will need support and guidance.
How can a parent be an effective “homework coach” and avoid power struggles, while still helping support their child?
The best way to do this is to have your child write all of his homework down. Sometimes a big whiteboard is useful. List all the homework on the whiteboard and ask your child to check off, cross out, or erase when completed. This way you will know where he is with homework without having to feel like a nag.
Do you have any suggestions for a good book on executive functioning?
Yes! Here are three:
My son, who is diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia, has a hard time paying attention in class and often gets in trouble for it. Do you have any suggestions to help him focus?
- Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
- Smart but Scattered, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
- Smart but Scattered Teens, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
I would suggest a meeting with his teacher to help her understand your son’s struggles. This can be informal, what we call in California a Student Study Team meeting, or you can try for a 504 Plan, which is a federal law. Both, though, are meant to provide proper accommodations and/or modifications in the regular classroom. The teacher can put a rewards contract in place to help motivate your son, but she can also send him out to run errands for her when she sees he simply needs a break and maybe some fresh air.