Getting students to complete their homework is a huge obstacle that frustrates teachers on a daily basis. I’ve come up with a list of tips that may help you improve your homework return rate.
1. Agenda: Make sure your students have their homework written down. They are more likely to complete their homework if they have their homework written down in their agenda no matter what grade level they are in. Make sure there is a set time during class that they are to write their homework into their agenda that can become a routine. Make sure your assignment is in an obvious place in the room and is written neatly in that spot everyday. I like to have my students write their homework down right after they do the opener or bell ringer at the beginning of the class. This gives me the opportunity to check their agendas during the mini-lesson while they write their notes. I stamp their agendas, which is faster than writing my initials, if it is done correctly. If it is not, I tell them to fix it and wait next to them while they do it. Other teachers like have their students write down their homework at the end of class and then check it. I used to do that but I noticed that at least once a week, I would run out of time and wouldn’t be able to check it or I would create a traffic jam at my door as I checked them as a ticket out the door. Having students write their homework in their agenda at the beginning of class eliminates those problems.
2. Time: In middle school, each core teacher (math, social studies, science, and language arts) should only be giving about 10-20 minutes of homework a night.
3. Ability Levels & Appropriateness: Think about the students you have in your class. Do any of them read lower than grade level? Does someone have dyslexia, ADD or ADHD or other special needs? Do you have any ELL or ESOL students? I have never met a middle school teacher that has ever had a class that was full of on grade level readers and had no accommodations or interventions due to special education, ELL, or the RTI process. Our students usually span from kindergarten level to college with their reading levels. So if you choose to assign a reading assignment out of the textbook or on a tablet, if your school is tech savvy, and it is on grade level (Did you know that most textbooks are actually written above grade for the grade they are approved for?), it will take your students that are on a lower ability level or in special education or receive ELL services 3 to 4 times longer to complete the reading assignment because they will not only have to comprehend but decode as well or their medicine will have run out and will not be able to concentrate. I have a few ideas that can help you get these students to return their homework completed.
a. Rewrite the chapter at a lower reading level for students who are not on grade level. This is time consuming but most teachers will use the same textbook for at least five years so in the long run, it’s really not so bad. Co-teachers can help out with this.
b. Assign only the paragraphs that are necessary to answer the questions that you assigned to make sure they comprehend the reading. Have students either flag the paragraphs with strips of sticky notes or put a light dot next to the paragraph with a pencil. This reduces the quantity of reading they have to do but doesn’t reduce the quality of the reading.
c. Use a slotted reading assignment (slotted notes or questions for each paragraph assigned) that will force them to answer questions as they go through the reading. This will force them to stop while they read and make sure they are comprehending. I recommend doing this only for the paragraphs that are the most important as this may actually increase the amount of time that is spent reading. It is worth it though because it makes sure that the students are comprehending what they are reading. It is a great technique to use as an intervention and as an accommodation.
d. Allow students on a lower reading level, students that have dyslexia, ADD or ADHD 2-3 days to complete reading comprehension homework by breaking the chapter up into several days. A piece of it should be due on each of the days the assignment is spanning otherwise your procrastinators will just wait until the night before anyway and your efforts will be for not.
4. Consistency of Grading: Teachers need to be consistent with grading homework. It should only take a teacher 3 days maximum to return a homework assignment to a student with a grade. The sooner you return homework, the better for the student. They need to see the effects of their effort before they forget about the effort, or lack there of, that they put into it. If you do not plan on grading something, don’t assign it unless it’s to study something like vocabulary which could be graded during a quiz the next day.
5. Quality not Quantity: You do not have to assign homework. If you don’t have something that will help preview, review or enrich then don’t assign it. Do not give students busy work. It’s a waste of their time and because you should be grading everything that they do for homework, it’s a waste of your time as well.
6. Communication with Parents/Guardians: If students are consistently not returning their homework then teachers should contact home. Their parents may not be aware of it.
7. Start in Class: Allow students to begin their homework in class during the last five minutes. This allows you to go over the directions with them and if they don’t understand something then you can explain it to them.
8. Class website: Update and post the homework assignments and the due dates on your class or teacher website/webpage so if students forget their agendas, they can check what they are supposed to do when they get home.
These suggestions are not going to make you have a 100% homework turn in rate. They should help increase it though. If you have more suggestions on how to improve the homework return rate, please comment so I can approve it. I love to hear new ideas and techniques that can help my students.