Homework is a frequent source of tension between teachers and students. For most teachers, homework is both a way to reinforce academic skills and an opportunity to teach children to be independent learners. For many students, however, homework is an unpleasant burden to be avoided, forgotten, or raced through.
The challenge for the teacher is to encourage students to take homework seriously and turn it in on time, and to not spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with homework stragglers.
Homework, of course, is the responsibility of students, and you'll want to reinforce that idea in various ways; however, parents also are a key resource in your efforts to ensure homework compliance.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Communicate your homework policy to parents. Send home a letter explaining to parents the purpose of homework, when and how often it will be assigned, how much time you expect students to spend per night on homework, and what resources are available if their child has difficulty with an assignment. In your letter, you also might offer some homework tips to parents (for example, have your child do the harder assignments earlier in the evening when he is most alert).
Make your assignments available by telephone or the Internet. Your school might have a system for recording homework assignments on a telephone message system or the Internet. If not, talk with your principal about starting such a program, or check out TeacherWeb.com, a Web site that allows you to post homework assignments, announcements, and other educational material on your own classroom bulletin board. That technology allows absent students to keep up with homework and prevents students from claiming they didn't know what the homework was. You might also send to parents e-mail messages listing daily assignments, so they can monitor their child's homework.
Have students begin homework at the end of class. That allows students to ask questions about the assignment and enables you to identify problems they are having understanding the directions or completing the work. Pay special attention to students who typically appear to struggle with homework.
Reward students who have completed all assignments with an end-of-week activity. Schedule a Friday afternoon activity for students who have completed all homework and seatwork. Students who have work that is not completed must spend that period catching up on assignments in a separate area of the classroom or, if feasible, in another room with adult supervision.
Establish an assignment folder for absent students. Keep on your desk a folder containing assignments dating back a week or so; students can go there to get missed assignments. Keep a separate sign-up sheet for each day's assignments; have students sign the appropriate sheet to indicate they obtained that day's assignments.
Have students complete a missing homework form. Require that students who fail to bring in homework complete a form for every missed assignment. The form might include the following questions:
The simple act of filling out the form might be enough to deter students from missing future assignments.
Assign students homework partners. Partners can help each other make sure assignments are recorded correctly and necessary materials are taken home. They also can call each other at home to check on the homework assignment.
Adapt the homework to students' needs. If an assignment appears overwhelming for a student, consider shortening it. For example, you might have that student do a four-paragraph composition instead of a longer essay. As the student's confidence and skills improve, you can increase the length of the assignment. If a student's skills are well below grade level, consider a different assignment altogether. If motivation, rather than ability, is a factor in the homework resistance, try to design assignments to reflect the student's interests and strengths.