A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Helping Your Students With Homework: A Guide for Teachers - February 1998
Tips for Getting Homework Done
1. Lay out expectations early in the school year.
Before handing out the first homework assignment, go over the ground rules. A written explanation of the homework expectations increases chances that assignments will be completed successfully.
Let students know that:
homework is important and has meaning; and
doing assignments -- or not doing assignments -- has consequences, which may include lower grades if assignments go unfinished or undone.
All students need to be held to high standards; research shows that students make greater academic gains when teachers set and communicate high expectations to them.
Let students know how much and when homework will be assigned. Many teachers believe a consistent homework schedule helps students remember to do assignments--every Monday and Thursday night, for example. A consistent schedule can also help busy parents remember when their children's assignments are due.
Parents or other caregivers also need to understand the teacher's homework policy and expectations, particularly parents of younger students, who will be more actively involved in the assignments. All parents, however, need to know that their support and encouragement can be critical to the successful completion of assignments.
Teachers can communicate this information in many ways. Some teachers write notes home laying out their expectations, which parents or caregivers are asked to read, initial, and return. Some talk with parents about homework at back-to-school night. Some telephone parents and caregivers. Special efforts should be made to communicate with those who are hardest to reach.
- A Kentucky eighth-grade teacher of math, Mary Dunn, does two things every September to help her students complete math assignments successfully. First, she poses a question: "Do you want to pass?" She then tells them that if they want to do so they will have to complete their homework. Second, she makes consistent assignments. She tells them to expect a short assignment every night that they must take home, look at, and try to complete. "I demand a lot," she says. "I accept kids where they are, yet my standards and expectations are high--reachable, but high."
- At the start of each quarter, Jo Ann S. Harman asks students to sign a contract, which she believes improves the homework completion rate. As a part of the contract, this West Virginia teacher asks her junior high and high school French and English students to write down for her the grade they want for the 9-week grading period. She then asks them what grade they want for the semester, as well as the lowest grade with which they will be satisfied. She also asks students to write down what they need to do to achieve the goal, what they need to stop doing to achieve the goal, and how she can help them achieve their goal. Finally, students are asked to check one of the following two statements: "I am willing to change my habits to achieve my goal" or "I am not willing to change my habits to achieve my goal." Mrs. Harman urges students to set realistic goals. "Parents are glad to see that someone is urging their son or daughter to set goals and map out methods by which their goals can be met," she says. "This has brought about excellent results in the classroom. I can go back to the students if their grades are dropping and say, `You and I don't want this.'"
- High school students in Cynthia Appold's visual arts/computer graphics classes also sign a contract with their teacher in which they spell out educational and personal goals for the year. The New York teacher asks her students to emphasize weak areas that interfere with their getting a good education. Homework expectations are a part of the contract. Parents review and initial the contract, making them as well as the students and teachers active participants in the students' education. Ms. Appold believes the contract builds trust among parents, students, and teachers--and makes it harder for students to ignore assignments.
- For the first few weeks of each school year, Rosemary Faucette calls one middle school student in each of her English classes each night to ask whether they have done their homework. If they say yes, the Arkansas teacher asks them to read it to her. If they say no, she asks when she can call back. "This takes time, but it is worth it," Ms. Faucette says. "They think you are the kind of teacher who will check." Word spreads quickly that she calls students at home. After the first few weeks of school, phone calls are no longer necessary--students know to buckle down and complete their assignments on time.
[Overcoming the Obstacles]
[2. Create assignments with a purpose]