If the homework is not coming back

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(Another post especially for newbies in challenged and challenging districts with a few thoughts for us all.)

So you are part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in your school. Your school has developed a curriculum for all to use and your PLC is busy creating lessons to use across your grade. All the science teachers are sending home that same fill-in, homework sheet on solids, liquids and gasses. You explain the assignment and send everyone out the door with that homework, hopefully after reminding them to put the sheet in their folder and their folder in their backpack where they can find it.

The next day, five kids bring back the finished homework. Twenty-two do not. Most have not started, but some did a few problems. A number have no idea where that homework has gone. What to do next?

Extending the due date is a bad idea. Unless a tornado passed through the area and cut off power, or another cataclysmic event occurred, the kids just blew off your assignment. They can’t earn a reward like an extension for that behavior.

Getting upset with the class probably should be a last resort, too, unless you are positive that the class could all do that worksheet. If you know without doubt that your homework was doable, raising a little hell is a perfectly acceptable option. So is calling home to enlist parents in getting the homework done.

I am going to suggest that you try something else first, though. Make another set of that worksheet. Then give students that sheet in class during testing conditions. No talking, no sharing, no helping. See if your students can actually do that homework by themselves while using their textbook. If they can’t do the work, that homework should never go home.

You are establishing habits at the start of the year. Homework helplessness leads to homework noncompliance, a habit inimical to long-term student success. If you absolutely must use the your group’s required assignments, but you know students cannot do these assignments on their own, start the assignments in class as classwork. Do the toughest problems while you are present to help. Then send home the easiest problems to finish.

You can’t let students begin regularly skipping homework. The homework habit has to be established early in the year. But as a previous post observed, students who cannot do the work will not do the work. (Or they will cheat.) Make sure the homework is doable. That’s the place to start.

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More on this topic later.