A Simple, Effective Homework Plan For Teachers: Part 1

doing homeworkDealing 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.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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21 Responses to A Simple, Effective Homework Plan For Teachers: Part 1

  1. David Ginsburg (aka Coach G) August 1, 2010 at 5:41 am #

    Good stuff, Michael. A lot of teachers I train and coach are surprised (and skeptical) at first when I make the same point you make about NOT involving parents. But it’s right on based on my experience as a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator the past 17 years. More important, it’s validated by Martin Haberman’s 40 years of research on what separates “star” teachers from “quitter/failure” teachers (http://www.habermanfoundation.org/Book.aspx?sm=c1)

  2. sendy May 1, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I love the articles about “homework”. in the past I feel that it is difficuty for collecting homework. I will try your plan next year.

    • Michael Linsin May 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      I think you’ll be happy with it, Sendy!

      :)Michael

  3. Alicia October 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    How do you confront students who do not have their homework completed?

    You state in your book to let consequences do their job and to never confront students, only tell them the rule broken and consequence.

    I want to make sure I do not go against that rule, but also hold students accountable for not completing their work. What should I say to them?

    • Michael Linsin October 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Hi Alicia,

      They are two different things. Homework is not part of your classroom management plan.

      Michael

  4. Angela October 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’m a first-year middle school teacher at a private school with very small class sizes (eight to fourteen students per class). While I love this homework policy, I feel discouraged about confronting middle schoolers publicly regarding incomplete homework. My motive would never be to humiliate my students, yet I can name a few who would go home thinking their lives were over if I did confront them in front of their peers. Do you have any ideas of how to best go about incomplete homework confrontation with middle school students?

    • Michael Linsin October 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      Hi Angela,

      The idea isn’t in any way to humiliate students, but to hold them accountable for doing their homework. Parts one and two represent my best recommendation.:)

      Michael

  5. Lorraine Shaifer-Harriman January 22, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    I believe that Homework is a vital part of students learning.

  6. tracy May 30, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    I’m still a student–in a classroom management class. So I have no experience with this, but I’m having to plan a procedure for my class. What about teacher sitting at desk and calling student one at a time to bring folder while everyone is doing bellwork or whatever their procedure is? That way 1) it would be a long walk for the ones who didn’t do the work :), and 2) it would be more private. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks. 🙂

    • Michael Linsin May 30, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      Hi Tracy,

      I’m not sure I understand your question. Would you mind emailing me with more detail? I’m happy to help.

      :)Michael

  7. Ana July 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    I think what you talked about is great. How do you feel about flipping a lesson? My school is pretty big on it, though I haven’t done it yet. Basically, for homework, the teacher assigns a video or some other kind of media of brand new instruction. Students teach themselves and take a mini quiz at the end to show they understand the new topic. Then the next day in the classroom, the teacher reinforces the lesson and the class period is spent practicing with the teacher present for clarification. I haven’t tried it yet because as a first year teacher I haven’t had enough time to make or find instructional videos and quizzes, and because I’m afraid half of my students will not do their homework and the next day in class I will have to waste the time of the students who did their homework and just reteach what the video taught.

    Anyway, this year, I’m trying the “Oops, I forgot my homework” form for students to fill out every time they forget their homework. It keeps them accountable and helps me keep better track of who is missing what. Once they complete it, I cut off the bottom portion of the form and staple it to their assignment. I keep the top copy for my records and for parent/teacher conferences.

    Here is an instant digital download of the form. It’s editable in case you need different fields.

    Thanks again for your blog. I love the balance you strike between rapport and respect.

    Cheers!

  8. TeachNich April 12, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Your site is a godsend for a newbie teacher! Thank you for your clear, step-by-step, approach!

    I G+ your articles to my PLN all the time.

    • Michael Linsin April 12, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      You’re welcome, TeachNich! And thank you for sharing the articles.

      :)Michael

  9. Dan Hanzlik September 1, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    Hi Michael,
    I’m going into my first year and some people have told me to try and get parents involved as much as I can – even home visits and things like that. But my gut says that negligent parents cannot be influenced by me. Still, do you see any value in having parents initial their student’s planner every night so they stay up to date on homework assignments? I could also write them notes.

    • Michael Linsin September 1, 2014 at 7:15 am #

      Hi Dan,

      Personally, no. I’ll write about this in the future, but when you hold parents accountable for what are student responsibilities, you lighten their load and miss an opportunity to improve independence.

      Michael

  10. Lisa September 17, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    I am teaching at a school where students constantly don’t take work home. I rarely give homework in math but when I do it is usually something small and I still have to chase at least 7 kids down to get their homework. My way of holding them accountable is to record a homework completion grade as part of their overall grade. Is this wrong to do? Do you believe homework should never be graded for a grade and just be for practice?

    • Michael Linsin September 18, 2015 at 6:52 am #

      Hi Lisa,

      No, I think marking a completion grade is a good idea.

      Michael

  11. Nancie L Beckett February 23, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

    I’ve been teaching since 2014 and we need to take special care when assigning homework. If the homework assignment is too hard, is perceived as busy work, or takes too long to complete, students might tune out and resist doing it. Never send home any assignment that students cannot do. Homework should be an extension of what students have learned in class. To ensure that homework is clear and appropriate, consider the following tips for assigning homework:

    Assign homework in small units.
    Explain the assignment clearly.
    Establish a routine at the beginning of the year for how homework will be assigned.
    Remind students of due dates periodically. And Make sure students and parents have information regarding the policy on missed and late assignments, extra credit, and available adaptations. Establish a set routine at the beginning of the year.

    Thanks
    Nancie L Beckett

  12. Meredith April 14, 2016 at 3:58 am #

    Dear Michael,

    I love your approach! Do you have any ideas for homework collection for lower grades? K-3 are not so ready for independent work first thing in the morning, so I do not necessarily have time to check then; but it is vitally important to me to teach the integrity of completing work on time.

    Also, I used to want parents involved in homework but my thinking has really changed, and your comments confirm it!

    • Michael Linsin April 14, 2016 at 6:51 am #

      Hi Meredith,

      I’ll be sure and write about this topic in an upcoming article (or work it into an article). 🙂

      Michael