Dealing with homework can be the source of great stress for teachers; it’s a rare week that I don’t receive at least one email asking for advice.
So for the next two weeks I’m going to outline a homework plan–four strategies this week, four the next–aimed at making homework a simple yet effective process.
Let’s get started.
Homework Strategies 1-4
The key to homework success is to eliminate all the obstacles—and excuses—that get in the way of students getting it done.
Add leverage and some delicately placed peer pressure to the mix, and not getting homework back from every student will be a rare occurrence.
Here is how to do it.
1. Assign what students already know.
Most teachers struggle with homework because they misunderstand the narrow purpose of homework, which is to practice what has already been learned. Meaning, you should only assign homework your students fully understand and are able to do by themselves.
Therefore, the skills needed to complete the evening’s homework must be thoroughly taught during the school day. If your students can’t prove to you that they’re able to do the work without assistance, then you shouldn’t assign it.
It isn’t fair to your students—or their parents—to have to sit at the dinner table trying to figure out what you should have taught them during the day.
2. Don’t involve parents.
Homework is an agreement between you and your students. Parents shouldn’t be involved. If parents want to sit with their child while he or she does the homework, great. But it shouldn’t be an expectation or a requirement of them. Otherwise, you hand students a ready-made excuse for not doing it.
You should tell parents at back-to-school night, “I got it covered. If ever your child doesn’t understand the homework, it’s on me. Just send me a note and I’ll take care of it.”
Holding yourself accountable is not only a reminder that your lessons need to be spot on, but parents will love you for it and be more likely to make sure homework gets done every night. And for negligent parents? It’s best for their children in particular to make homework a teacher/student-only agreement.
3. Review and then ask one important question.
Set aside a few minutes before the end of the school day to review the assigned homework. Have your students pull out the work, allow them to ask final clarifying questions, and have them check to make sure they have the materials they need.
And then ask one important question: “Is there anyone, for any reason, who will not be able to turn in their homework in the morning? I want to know now rather than find out about it in the morning.”
There are two reasons for this question.
First, the more leverage you have with students, and the more they admire and respect you, the more they’ll hate disappointing you. This alone can be a powerful incentive for students to complete homework.
Second, it’s important to eliminate every excuse so that the only answer students can give for not doing it is that they just didn’t care. This sets up the confrontation strategy you’ll be using the next morning.
4. Confront students on the spot.
One of your key routines should be entering the classroom in the morning.
As part of this routine, ask your students to place their homework in the top left-hand (or right-hand) corner of their desk before beginning a daily independent assignment—reading, bellwork, whatever it may be.
During the next five to ten minutes, walk around the room and check homework–don’t collect it. Have a copy of the answers (if applicable) with you and glance at every assignment.
You don’t have to check every answer or read every portion of the assignment. Just enough to know that it was completed as expected. If it’s math, I like to pick out three or four problems that represent the main thrust of the lesson from the day before.
It should take just seconds to check most students.
Remember, homework is the practice of something they already know how to do. Therefore, you shouldn’t find more than a small percentage of wrong answers–if any. If you see more than this, then you know your lesson was less than effective, and you’ll have to reteach
If you find an assignment that is incomplete or not completed at all, confront that student on the spot.
Call them on it.
The day before, you presented a first-class lesson and gave your students every opportunity to buzz through their homework confidently that evening. You did your part, but they didn’t do theirs. It’s an affront to the excellence you strive for as a class, and you deserve an explanation.
It doesn’t matter what he or she says in response to your pointed questions, and there is no reason to humiliate or give the student the third degree. What is important is that you make your students accountable to you, to themselves, and to their classmates.
A gentle explanation of why they don’t have their homework is a strong motivator for even the most jaded students to get their homework completed.
The personal leverage you carry–that critical trusting rapport you have with your students–combined with the always lurking peer pressure is a powerful force. Not using it is like teaching with your hands tied behind your back.
Homework Strategies 5-8
Next week we’ll cover the final four homework strategies. They’re critical to getting homework back every day in a way that is painless for you and meaningful for your students.
I hope you’ll tune in.
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