If your child has special needs, you know that there may be some reluctance regarding academics in general. This may be especially true when more difficult content pushes your child outside of their comfort zone. Luckily, there are effective motivational strategies for students with special needs, including how to provide feedback throughout your instruction and following assessment of your instruction.

Children with learning differences often have difficulties determining their own levels of understanding and proficiency. As a result, they may need more frequent, direct feedback as well as support with evaluating successes and challenges. To counteract a potential history of past difficulties, your feedback needs to be both informative and appropriately supportive. Finally, usage of the feedback is important to make the feedback meaningful for learning (i.e., rather than just providing grades).

Here are some suggestions for how to engage students with special needs in learning through the feedback you provide:

Providing the Right Amount of Feedback

As a homeschool parent you can provide quality feedback on a regular basis. However, the amount of feedback is also crucial. If, as a well-meaning homeschool parent, you provide detailed feedback on every small task, your child may feel over-monitored. Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or not, your child may become very self-conscious regarding their performance. The result may be that your child shuts down.

However, not providing enough feedback can backfire in that your child is left unsure of success and may not continue to be motivated. Here are some suggestions for providing the right amount of feedback:

  • Check Performance In-Progress: All students–and even adults–get frustrated when they complete an entire task and then find out that they didn’t do something right early on. Especially on larger projects, you will want to check the work of your child with learning differences at key points: to make sure the directions are understood, after the first problem of a given type, following each draft of written work, etc.
  • Use Constructive Criticism Appropriately: Make sure that your child will not be overwhelmed by the amount of constructive criticism. For example, if your child needs to develop writing skills, you want to avoid covering his/her draft with marks (especially red marks). Instead, focus on just a few areas for improvement at a time. Identify those areas and make a simple checklist for the next draft.
  • Use Praise Appropriately: In order to be a supportive parent of your child with learning differences, you may tend to over-praise. While many educators believe that praise can be used appropriately for skills that are developing, frequent use of generic praises (like “good job”) and extensive praise of even specific skills can create what is known as a “praise junkie” (Kohn, 2001). A praise junkie will often stop while working to ask whether something is right. Rather than provide immediate praise, ask your child to show you why something is right. Put the onus on your child to feel good about their performance. Try using encouragement, interest in your child’s work, enthusiasm, and gratitude as alternatives to praise (Lavoie, 2007) to motivate your child.

Providing the Best Type of Feedback

When you do provide feedback, you want to make sure that the feedback informs your child about strengths and challenges while supporting and encouraging resilience and persistence. You want your child to want to feel good about accomplishments, continue to try to improve, and take chances with more difficult material.

Here are some methods for providing feedback that is likely to do all of this:

  • Be specific: Generic feedback like “good job” does not tell your child what they did correctly.  Rather, state specifically what your child did that was good or correct. For example, you may say, “Yes, the cheetah is the fastest land animal” or “Sharing like that really helps us move along.”
  • Identify both positives and negatives: Especially when reviewing assessments, you want to be sure to include what was done well or correctly as well as what needs improvement. You might say or write: “You have a lot of good detail here. Just make sure to watch your pronoun use.”
  • Address the task rather than the child: Especially when you are criticizing work or behavior, be sure to focus on the task or behavior rather than on the whole child. For example, rather than describing the child as “smart” or “naughty,” address the child’s creative use of adjectives or the poor decision that resulted in a misbehavior.

Using Feedback to Further Learning

Once feedback has been provided, be sure that its purpose is not finished. Allow your child to make corrections or revisions. Incorporate the feedback into a later lesson or a lesson in another subject and refer to the feedback directly. For example, you might say, “Remember that we are working on our pronouns in our writing. Get out your checklist after you have written this paragraph.” If your child masters a particular skill or strategy, consider challenging your child to apply it in another subject or with more difficult material. Also, be sure to keep assignments over time so that you can show your child their progress—especially for areas of challenge. Your child will love to see the growth!

Incorporating Self-Assessment

While the feedback you provide to your child is important, perhaps the best support you can give your child with learning differences is in self-assessment. Create rubrics or checklists for your child to complete (with your assistance at first). Have your child grade their own work. Consider practicing goal setting and assessment of goal achievement using SMART goals (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, realistic/relevant, and time-bound). You will not only be helping to develop important skills, you will also be empowering your child to evaluate and celebrate success!

Remember that there is one more upcoming blog on supporting your child with learning differences when homeschooling. Learn about other content you can include in your instruction to specifically benefit students with special needs. Stay tuned!

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