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What to Do when Students Won’t Do Their Homework


What to Do when Students Won’t Do Their Homework

And the Best Way to Address the Issue

Homework Teaching can be a beautiful experience, but no teacher in the world will tell you that it’s a walk in the park. In particular, students who don’t turn in their homework can be enough of an obstacle to ruin days and weeks. It can be tempting to get adversarial with these students—but the solution is simpler than that. In fact, as with a lot of solutions to complicated problems, it’s so simple you might not even think of it. If you want to understand why students don’t do their homework, ask them.

Here’s Why Students Won’t Do Their Homework

Imagine being in elementary school in 2016. When you come home from school there are flashing colors on TV and on the iPad that are all competing for your attention, your friends are calling, there are piles of leaves to jump in—and you’re supposed to diagram sentences and practice addition? On paper? And once you’ve forced yourself to sit down and do it, you need your parents’ help to make any progress, and soon they’re angry at you for taking so long. You work into the night, until it’s finally done, then go to bed resenting your parents. And nobody even tells you why it’s important.

These are the kinds of responses education expert Susan Kruger got when she asked her students why they didn’t do their homework. Kruger’s responses varied, but they fell into a few broad categories: students didn’t know what the point of the work was, or didn’t want to make waves at home, or simply didn’t know how to do the work in the first place. None of these students were mean or lazy. On the contrary, most of them were as frustrated as the teacher.

In cases like this, traditional discipline will only make the problem worse. Punishing students for not doing homework that they’re scared to do in the first place is not going to make it any less scary. These students need a teacher who can bridge the gap between school and home, and who can work with their parents to make homework make sense.

…the first step to fixing chronic homework problems in your classroom is to talk to the students themselves. @yesphonics Click to Tweet 

How to Win Over Parents and Influence Students

Like we pointed out above, the first step to fixing chronic homework problems in your classroom is tohomework talk to the students themselves. The next step is to talk to their parents. In 9 cases out of 10, parents want the same thing you do: student success. If parents have become part of the reason their kids have chronic homework problems, they’re probably not doing it on purpose. It’s more likely they’re just using the wrong techniques, as explained in this article on Teachervision—they’ve fallen into habits that enable homework delinquency. Parents who finish assignments for their students are rewarding passivity, while parents who give too much negative feedback are punishing effort. Your goal as a teacher is to identify those habits and find alternatives.

If parents are hovering near their kids during homework, encourage them to take a step back. Perhaps their child should have to do every other problem on their own. If parents are letting homework take all night, consider offering partial credit on unfinished assignments if there’s a note from mom. Find a system that rewards students when they make an effort and punishes them when they don’t. If you work, patiently and regularly, in a system that has clear rewards and punishments, you’ll start to see improvement in your students.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to chronic homework problems. Meting out impartial justice will get you nowhere. Personal attention and strong relationships with parents, on the other hand, can make all the difference in the world.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

photo credit: Chris Yarzab Homework via photopin (license)

photo credit: Barrett Web Coordinator Creates 13 via photopin (license)

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About Griffin Johnson

Griffin Johnson grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and went to college in the suburbs of Minneapolis before moving west in 2015. He tutors writing at the University of Montana and writes about education, literature, movies and pop culture.