Dealing With Students Who Won’t Complete Homework

Here are six ways to encourage students to complete and return their homework – and none of them involve you dishing out a never-ending stream of detentions or making promises of certificates and other treats (a.k.a. ‘Bribes’!)

1. Make sure the work appeals to them – It sounds obvious but the more appealing you can make your homework in terms of having sufficient challenge, interest and practical value, the more chance your students will attempt it. With competitors like television, games, friends and the now-ubiquitous Facebook, if they see no point in it or if it’s too boring/dull/easy it’s obviously not going to appeal. As a long term strategy, if students gain a sense of pride and accomplishment when they finish work, they are more likely to attempt future tasks.

2. Make it achievabe – Ideally it should be continuation of class work (rather than introducing something new) so they know how to do it. They need to know exactly what they’re aiming for and what the finished product should look like. There’s no point in giving them something they haven’t a clue about, it just won’t get done.

3. Include an element of choice – Choice is an incredibly powerful motivator so it should be included in homework tasks. Give them a choice of task (‘any 3 tasks from the following 5’) or a choice in the presentation method – produce a mind-map, report, illustration, magazine article or model etc. (See ‘Creative Homework Assignments’ & ‘Ten Tips For Setting Homework’ in Behaviour Tool Kit Appendix).

4. Write it down – Always make sure students have the task (and any helpful instructions) written down clearly before they leave the room or post the task up on a blog/website so that they can access it any time. It cuts out the ‘I didn’t know what to do’ excuses and provides them with a reminder should they get stuck

5. Include group interaction – We know that students like to work together so there is some merit in the idea of occasionally (or even regularly if it proves successful) setting a project which requires students to work in groups for completion. The individual accountability from peers involved in group work gives extra impetus to get the task completed

6. Get parents/carers involved – If you have children you’re no doubt fully aware how much of a problem the whole issue of homework can cause at home. Parents do the cajoling, reminding, threatening, punishing and bribing while kids do the lying, avoiding, promising, making excuses and delaying. In many homes World War III breaks out over this single issue almost every night while in others it isn’t even mentioned. With this in mind, many parents/carers (even those that appear totally unsupportive) will welcome help & direction from school on the subject of homework and this can be a very effective way of gaining their support in return.

If you have trouble getting support from some parents the key is to convince them that you are trying to help them and their child and make life easier for all. You don’t want to come across as if this is for your benefit or to meet school targets.; rather, it’s to help their child progress, succeed and do well. You need to show them how a little bit of support from them is going to have a dramatic effect on their child’s progress in school and consequently on home life – happier child, easier life, fewer arguments, fewer detentions, fewer requests to visit school for a ‘little chat’ etc. (See ‘Sample Homework Letter To Parents’ & ‘Ten Tips For Parents To Help With Homework’ in Behaviour Tool Kit Appendix)

Begin by explaining to parents that homework involves the efforts of three separate parties – school, child, home – and that each party is dependent on support and input from the other two if the system is to work properly. Show them a record of any homework tasks that have been missed and explain the school policy and procedure for dealing with missed homework. Show them that it is neither pleasant nor beneficial for the student. If possible show them statistics for the effect of missed homework on overall grades.

Then show them the specific things they can do to help together with the days/times when this should happen. They’ll need a copy of the homework schedule showing the days the work has to be handed in together with the suggested time to be spent on a task. Setting a regular, definite block of time – say 4:30-5:30pm – helps teach them time management.

Try to encourage them to set a time early on in the evening so that a) the child is still fairly alert and b) X Factor hasn’t started. The idea is to create a habit, a routine which doesn’t interfere with evening entertainment too much.

Another reason to set an early time is that it enables consequences to be brought into play . If homework is allowed to be last thing at night and the child is allowed to play on a computer or watch TV all night before that, how can consequences be applied?

They’ll need a list of necessary materials and supplies to make available at home (in some cases the school could supply these) and you could even provide them with a set of ‘parent notes’ for a task the child is likely to find challenging so that they can take part and provide some assistance and instruction. I’ve dealt with many parents with severely academic limitations and they were delighted when I gave them these.

Finally, they may benefit from some behaviour management guidance  in use of suitable consequences such as withholding TV/computer game/mobile phone/pocket money until homework is completed. The easier you can make it for them to take part, the better the chances they will.

Whenever we’ve done this in schools the feedback from both the parent and the child has been very positive – parents enjoy spending some quality time with a child they have possibly had very little quiet contact with for a long time, while the students start to enjoy a sense of achievement as well as increased parental contact/attention.

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