We are well into the school year now. While some districts still start after Labor Day, most have been pushing back into August. A number have pushed back into July. The more days before that test, the better, administrations seem to believe. I’ll suggest that probably depends on the quality of school air conditioning, but that’s another issue.
Homework has become a huge issue on a number of fronts. How much homework? What kind of homework? How do we grade that homework? How much do we count that homework toward the final grade? Should all teachers give the same homework? How much differentiation should be allowed/required? How do we convince students to do the homework?
That last question’s a toughy, depending on your district and situation. In some districts, the problem only arises in pockets. In this college-bound district where I live, one of our high schools made the U.S. News and World Report list of 100 best high schools a couple of years ago, based on the fact that nearly 100% of graduates attended college. I can attest to the fact that children in that school did their homework and groups of them even sometimes pulled all-nighters. By 4 A.M. giddy giggles, frustrated objections and clattering pans would drive me to earplugs. Yet in the district where I worked, I knew teachers who had all but given up on homework due to the poor return rate.
School culture becomes a huge factor in school and even class homework return percentages. This post should have been finished in August or September, but better late than never. If the inbox has been light lately, I’d pull out the big rewards, assuming you are not straightjacketed by inflexible administrative requirements. For example, you could try something like, “If I get 90% of homework papers for the week, then we will have a Christmas party.” I’d do the classwide parent call, too — at least for all students who are slacking off. Consider lunch or after school detentions to finish homework. In some cases, before school detentions may be possible. Both carrots and sticks can be helpful.
Eduhonesty: You can’t let this go now. My guess is many teachers have been trying homework completion interventions for weeks. You might even be tempted to walk away in some cases. Please hang in there. If you have not tried this yet, you may succeed with a nightly homework log. This log requires parents to sign nightly after students complete the day’s homework. Regular calls or texts to parents will back up homework logs and other interventions. Texts obviously save time when possible. A quick evening texting session to concerned parents only takes a few minutes and will up completion rates. Rewards at the end of the week for students who have turned in all assignments will also boost completion rates.
P.S. If you have homework completion problems in your classes, I recommend against assignments over Winter Break except for possible extra credit. The problem with uncompleted or “lost” assignments or packets rests in habits that are not only not established, but even undermined. Vacation packets are less likely to come back than nightly homework — and the message conveyed when only a minority of kids arrive with finished work does not help your long-term efforts to reel in the daily homework. I recommend generally against any assignments that you are certain most students will not complete. We don’t want to build bad habits — and low-return assignments can do that over time.
Holiday extra credit assignments can work. Kids like extra credit. (Unfortunately, some of them even try to rely on extra credit. Again, another issue.) You don’t lose face when groups of students don’t turn in the extra credit, but you may prevent learning loss in students who put effort into their winter break reinforcement activities.
P.S. For those who may be worried about the picture above, I promise every student in that classroom celebrated Christmas. No religious groups were excluded.