When Kids Don’t Return Homework – What can we do?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management).

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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The organizing of homework can be a real nightmare, especially for inexperienced teachers.

I was no exception.

I thought I knew it all when I got my first teaching job in North Wales, at 23-years-old. However, I soon found it a real challenge to….

  • Set homework regularly
  • Remember to collect homework in
  • Mark homework promptly
  • Return it to the the kids and………..
  • …… the real killer – dealing with kids who didn’t hand-in their homework on time

I used to be one of those teachers who would deal with each of the above five challenges separately: not realizing that they are, in fact, very intimately connected – the way we set homework, for example, affects the frequency at which it is handed-in.

Using this holistic approach to the management of homework I’ve discovered a few simple techniques to get our students compliant with regards to handing it in. I’ve also discovered some ways to make up for any gaps in knowledge that arise when work hasn’t been done on-time.

So buckle up, grab a coffee and make some notes (that’s your homework for this week, by the way)!

Homework busting tip #1 – have some lenience (the first time)

Having too-strict an approach can cause major problems for you and your students. Whilst I’ve never, ever heard the classic ‘the dog ate my homework’, kids can and do:

  • Leave their homework at home by accident
  • Write the homework on paper and lose the paper
  • Submit it electronically but lose the work/forget to save it

Our kids are learning basic organizational skills, and we must understand that. Don’t be too strict. Allow another day to hand it in. However, if homework lateness becomes persistent then……..

Homework busting tip #2 – give a detention

It’s not nice for the teacher or the student (you lose your free time and so does the kid), but it’s definitely worth it. We simply can’t allow our students to fall behind.

I wrote some months ago about the effective use of detentions. I mentioned that detentions must always have a distinct purpose. In the case of a ‘homework detention’, the purpose isn’t to punish the kid – the detention time should be used for the student to complete the missing homework.

When detentions for homework lateness are used to complete the homework, there’s a sense of fairness in it all – you’re doing this because you care about the student and you want him/her to understand the concepts being covered in the homework.

When this approach is consistently applied, you’ll soon find that kids will hand-in their homework. They don’t want to sit in a detention just as much as you don’t want to supervise it.

Homework busting tip #3 – use recurring homework tasks

Set homework on the same day/days each week. Collect it in on the same day/days each week. It really is that simple.

This builds a routine into your schedule and your kids’ schedules, making it less likely that they will forget about their homework.

When I first started teaching I would get my KS3 students (11-14 years old) to actually write, on the first page of their notebooks, their homework schedule:

“I will receive homework every Monday. I will hand-in my homework every Thursday”

…..or whatever their schedule was.

You may also want to consider using a Learning Journals system with your kids (read more about that here).

Homework busting tip #4 – share the news with key colleagues

Have you got some kids who consistently don’t hand homework in on-time? Share that info with the kids tutor/homeroom teacher. He/she can contact parents and reinforce your message – that homework must be completed on-time.

Homework busting tip #5 – contact parents

For consistent offenders it may be necessary to call parents as ask them to come into school for a chat. However, the conversation you have must be dealt with very delicately.

The aim of such a parent-meeting should be to find solutions to the problem of incomplete homework. You may want to discuss:

  • The difficulty of the homework being set
  • The student’s schedule and ways in which time can be set aside for homework completion
  • Things that you can do to support the student

With a relentless and consistent approach you’ll soon find that even the ‘toughest nuts’ can be cracked.

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Homework busting tip #6 – offer support and help

Some students are simply too shy to ask their teachers for help. We must combat this.

When you set a piece of homework, make it clear to the students that they can see you for help between now and the deadline. Tell them that it is your pleasure to help them: that you’re happy to help them when they get stuck.

Crucially, tell your students exactly when you’re available to help. You may be busy on Tuesday lunchtime, but after-school on a Wednesday you’ll be in your room doing marking so your students can see you then.

When we encourage our students to seek help from us we are showing them that we care, and that we are approachable. It also solves the classic excuse you’ll get – “I couldn’t do my homework because I didn’t understand the questions”. Really? If you didn’t understand the homework, then why didn’t you come to see me for help like I told you to?

When we are supportive and open to offering help then there’s no ‘hiding place’ for our students.

Further reading

I’ve written a number of blog posts that deal with the subject of homework. You may find them useful:

Tips for Organizing Homework

Should We Set Homework for the Summer Vacation?

Homework: A Headache we can all Easily Cure

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

One thought on “When Kids Don’t Return Homework – What can we do?

  1. Homework issues become even more complex in high school. All of your suggestions have the possibility of success. The crucial element is: do students care? Many start developing apathy and they truly don’t care about school or turning in their assignments. That one isn’t an excuse—it’s a choice.

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