There is a form on my website where I ask people to tell me their greatest concerns/challenges regarding homework. It is probably no surprise that a significant number of teachers have responded with comments like this:
"Students don’t do it."
If you are like me, then you probably don’t have fond memories of homework yourself, but you likely did it.
It was not because you liked it.
It was not because you couldn’t find anything better to do. (Yes, we had TV as kids. Some of us even had video games, too. We are not that old…)
You did it because you wanted to get a good grade. Or, you did it to avoid having to answer to your mom who would give you "That Look" and ground you until you were dead. Or, you did it because it just needed to be done.
So, the real question is, "Why don’t students seem to care about homework?" There are a variety of possible answers, but the best advice I can offer is this…
You, of course, can provide additional insight. Share your experiences with homework when you were younger and then explain why you value it as an adult. The more relevance children see to the "real world" the more likely they are to value homework.
Meanwhile, I would venture to guess that many of their answers will sound like these:
- "What’s the point? Why do I need to do it?"
- "It takes too much time!"
- "Homework causes fights in our family."
- "It’s just a couple of assignments…what’s the big deal?"
- "I lose my homework a lot."
- "I don’t know how to do it."
Each of these responses could inspire their own book, but we will settle for a few quick comments:
"WHAT’S THE POINT? WHY DO I NEED TO DO IT?"
The child who asks this question is begging to understand a real-world purpose for homework. They need help understanding that homework is not just practice on the topic taught in class, but practice for developing responsibility. Homework may not be fun, but completing it on time is good practice for the day when they are employed and have to complete a project on time. It is practice for paying bills and keeping a roof over their head.
Doing homework helps build responsibility skills in the same way that lifting weights build muscle. They literally program neuron pathways in the brain that develop responsibility. Developing "responsibility muscle" will directly impact their ability to earn more money in the future.
"IT TAKES TOO MUCH TIME!"
Homework takes too much time because students do not know strategic learning skills for doing homework more efficiently. They are also busy "multi-tasking" by doing homework while texting, watching TV, or surfing the internet which is a major time drain. Teach your children time-management and study skills to help them cut homework time or enroll them in a study skills class.
"HOMEWORK CAUSES FIGHTS IN OUR FAMILLY."
As I have said many times, homework is the greatest lever of control that a student has over their parent(s). They may not quite realize they are striving for control, but they do know that they don’t like being told what to do.
"IT’S JUST A COUPLE OF ASSIGNMENTS. WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?"
Children are often oblivious to the impact one or two "zeros" have on their overall grade. Encourage them to track their grades so they can see the math for themselves. If your school makes grades available electronically, have them log in and see how their grade changed after that big ‘ol "0" was plopped in the homework column. In 95% of middle and high school classes, students can pass with a "C" if they simply turn in all homework and show up for tests and quizzes. It’s not rocket science... but they think it is until they see the math for themselves.
"I OFTEN LOSE MY HOMEWORK!"
In most cases, your children do not deliberately lose homework. Imagine if we, as adults, had several different email accounts to manage each day?!? We would be completely overwhelmed and frustrated! The same is true for students who are trying to manage dozens of papers along with a couple dozen folders, notebooks, and textbooks that must be transported to-and-from school and individual classes each day. Students need a system to simplify and streamline all of their supplies.
"I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT."
Children are often afraid to ask for help. Their teacher may have offered help to the class and posted "Tutoring Lab" hours on the board, but many are afraid to step forward and admit they need help. Or, they may simply believe that the help is for "someone else" and may not realize the potential value for themselves. As you know, there is almost always a resource for students who are willing to get extra help. Some may simply need an extra nudge.
The key to this discussion is to listen 85% of the time. Let them be honest about their feelings towards homework and acknowledge them. Brainstorm problem-solving ideas together and allow your child to have some ownership over some solutions.
On my website you can download a free Homework Rx Toolkit that includes "25 Ways to Make Homework Easier Tonight." Use that document as a starting point to identify workable solutions together. As the parent, you have to set expectations and boundaries, but you can also set the stage for cooperation.
© 2009 Susan Kruger, All rights reserved. You are free to reprint/republish this article as long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.
Susan Kruger of SOAR(r) Study Skills is a Certified Teacher with a Master's Degree and the author of the book SOAR(r) Study Skills. Her Homework Rx(r) Toolkit at http://www.soarstudyskills.com/toolkit/index.html includes "25 Ways to Make Homework Easier...Tonight!", Homework Scorecard, Homework Inventory for Parents and a free subscription to the Homework Rx(r) eNewsletter to help you and your child get started on the path to homework success.
Next Article: Homework Happiness: Make Studying Fruitful and Fun
It seems simple enough. Answer a few questions about what the class read today. Practice a new math skill by completing 10 problems on your own. Read the next chapter in the textbook so that you will be ready for the lesson tomorrow. None of it should take very long, and if you do it, you will be prepared for class tomorrow and ultimately, you will be more successful in the class.
So, why do some students choose not to complete homework assignments like these? In some cases, the answer may be that they simply did not have the uninterrupted time to complete the assignments. Some students who are involved in extracurricular activities may go to practice or competition immediately after school and not get home until well after dark. Other students might have family obligations, such as taking care of younger siblings while their parents work. Some students may have unstable home environments, such as the over 1.3 million children who are classified as homeless.
To first understand the myriad of reasons why students may not be completing homework, take some time to get to know your students. Work to establish a relationship with each student, and build rapport. Find out what your students do in their spare time, what nights of the week are the busiest in terms of extracurricular commitments, and whether or not they have a quiet place at home to complete assignments. Knowing your students and what factors might affect their ability to complete homework will help you to plan for their success. Perhaps you give homework assignments out on Monday but don’t collect them until Friday. This allows students to work on them as they have time during the week. It might also be a good idea to talk with your colleagues about when they assign homework. In a study of student perspectives on homework, Wilson and Rhodes (2010), the researchers found that 77% of students reported that they would do more homework if teachers would assign it on different days.
Great, you think! But, that doesn’t solve the entire problem. There are some students who still won’t complete homework assignments, even though they have plenty of time and space. So, what might be going on there? Not surprisingly, Wilson and Rhodes (2010) reported that 73% of the students in their study did not like to do homework, and 84% found homework to be boring. What might surprise teacher is that 43% of the students said they didn’t do homework because they did not understand what to do. A smaller percentage (31%) did not feel that the homework assigned was meaningful.
These student-reported barriers to homework completion are valuable for teachers, and should lead to some strategies for increasing the percentage of students in your class who do complete their homework.
- Ensure that your students understand how to do something before you assign homework on the skill. Homework should be a time for students to practice skills to build fluency. They should not be asked to work independently until the teacher has observed them completing the skill. This is especially relevant in math. The progression of instruction should be from teacher as a model, to teacher as a monitor, and then to independence. Don’t give homework if you think your students, on the whole, are still learning the skill. One way to increase the time for you to monitor student work is to allow students to begin the homework during class—you will quickly see who might struggle with the assignment independently, and you can provide additional support before students go home.
- Ensure that your students understand the relevance of completing an assignment. Students today are apathetic because they just don’t see the connection between the work they are doing in school and their real-world experiences. Just as you should connect your daily lessons to relevant, real-world phenomena, homework assignments should also be relevant. At the very least, explain to students how engaging with the homework is relevant as it prepares them for class, or for future success.
- Make the homework meaningful by providing feedback to students on their work. If you treat homework as “busy work,” students will view it that way as well. Make sure that you don’t ask students to do homework regularly, but you only take completion grades and move on to the next lesson without any discussion of the previous night’s task. For the homework to be meaningful, and to be a teaching and learning tool, students must receive feedback on their work and a chance to have questions answered. You don’t always have to take a grade on the homework, but there should at least be some time for discussion and for student questions.
You may not ever get 100% of your students to do their homework. But, a little reflection, planning, and willingness to increase the meaning and relevance of homework assignments should go a long way in getting more of your students to buy-in to the work you’ve asked them to complete at home.
United States Department of Education (2016). Supporting the success of homeless children and youth: A fact sheet. USDOE. Available: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160315ehcyfactsheet072716.pdf
Wilson, J. & Rhodes, J. (2010). Student perspectives on homework. Education, 131(2), 351-358. Available: https://www.eosmith.org/uploaded/Library/Student_Services/Main_Office/Student_Perspectives_on_Homework.pdf