Middle school homework intervention improves student grades

iStock_000007173732XSmallStudents with organization problems waste a lot of their time and energy–and a lot of their parents’ and teachers’ time and energy–getting their homework done.  Disorganized students also get lower grades, a trend that escalates as students progress through school.

School Psychology Review reports that a middle school intervention to improve organizational skills was effective in raising the GPAs of a group of students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Students participated in the Homework, Organization and Planning Skills (HOPS) intervention in 20-minute sessions during the school day. The 11-week intervention in this controlled study was administered by school counselors and school psychologists.

Previous research has found that organizational skills interventions work well, researchers report. But those studies used trained research staff. This study uses local community providers to deliver the intervention.

Effects stable at 3-month follow-up

The positive impact on grades was still stable 3 months after the 11-week intervention was completed, according to the researchers. Improved parental ratings of their children’s organization and planning skills, homework problems outcomes and life interference from organizational skills problems were also maintained at 3 months follow up.

“In contrast to parent ratings, significant effects on organizational skills were not observed on teacher ratings,” the researchers report, a finding that echoes previous research.

Over an 11-week period, SMH providers conducted 16 sessions of HOPS with students. Sessions were held twice a week for the first 5 weeks and then once a week for the last 6 sessions. In the first 5 weeks, SMH providers focused on the following skills:

  • School materials organization–How to organize binders, backpacks, lockers and to transport home to and from school.
  • Homework recording and management–How to accurately and consistently record homework in a planner.
  • Planning/timing management–How to break up assignments, project and studying into manageable parts and how to plan for the completion of work. Students also learned how to balance extracurricular and after-school activities with the demands of school.

During the last 6 sessions, SMH providers focused on problem-solving difficulties, self-monitoring and maintenance. The providers could refer to a HOPS manual with detailed information on how to conduct interventions.The Homework, Organization and Planning Skills (HOPS) intervention included a point system.

Students accumulated points and could trade them for gift card rewards. Students got points at the end of each session based on how they did on the skills checklists (e.g. they could get 1 point for no loose papers in their book bags).  At each HOPS session, the SMH provider visually inspected the student’s binder, bookbag and planner. Students could also get points for effectively planning for tests and projects. Checklists were created for each intervention session and contained from 8 to 11 items.

The HOPs intervention included two 1-hour parent meetings during which parents were instructed in how to review the HOPS checklist of skills and continue to provide rewards to their children once the intervention was over.

Participants were 47 students ages 11-14 from 5 school districts and 12 schools that met the study’s ADHD criteria. Half of the students were randomly assigned to the study group and the other half was assigned to a waitlist comparison group. The HOPS intervention was refined with input from the school mental health providers. SMH providers recommended briefer intervention sessions during the school hours and limiting meetings with parents to no more than 2 meetings.

SMH providers indicated strong satisfaction with the practicality of implementing HOPS during the school day, agreed that the HOPS manual is user-friendly and indicated they would be willing to use HOPS in the future, said the researchers. Providers also believed that HOPS could benefit other students besides those with ADHD.

At 3-month follow-up, researchers found that the majority of parents continued monitoring and rewarding students. Some 80% of parents continued monitoring homework completion and 55% of parents continued monitoring organization skills with the HOPS skills checklist. This suggests that HOPS intervention is not only reasonable for SMH providers, but is also parent-friendly.

“Evaluation of the Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS) Intervention for Middle School Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as Implemented by School Mental Health Providers,” by Joshua Langberg, School Psychology Review, 2012, Volume 41, No. 3, pp. 342-364.

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