It seems simple enough. Answer a few questions about what the class read today. Practice a new math skill by completing 10 problems on your own. Read the next chapter in the textbook so that you will be ready for the lesson tomorrow. None of it should take very long, and if you do it, you will be prepared for class tomorrow and ultimately, you will be more successful in the class.
So, why are my students not completing homework?
So, why do some students choose not to complete homework assignments like these? In some cases, the answer may be that they simply did not have the uninterrupted time to complete the assignments. Some students who are involved in extracurricular activities may go to practice or competition immediately after school and not get home until well after dark. Other students might have family obligations, such as taking care of younger siblings while their parents work. Some students may have unstable home environments, such as the over 1.3 million children who are classified as homeless.
To first understand the myriad of reasons why students may not be completing homework, take some time to get to know your students. Work to establish a relationship with each student, and build rapport. Find out what your students do in their spare time, what nights of the week are the busiest in terms of extracurricular commitments, and whether or not they have a quiet place at home to complete assignments. Knowing your students and what factors might affect their ability to complete homework will help you to plan for their success. Perhaps you give homework assignments out on Monday but don’t collect them until Friday. This allows students to work on them as they have time during the week. It might also be a good idea to talk with your colleagues about when they assign homework. In a study of student perspectives on homework, Wilson and Rhodes (2010), the researchers found that 77% of students reported that they would do more homework if teachers would assign it on different days.
Great, you think! But, that doesn’t solve the entire problem. There are some students who still won’t complete homework assignments, even though they have plenty of time and space. So, what might be going on there? Not surprisingly, Wilson and Rhodes (2010) reported that 73% of the students in their study did not like to do homework, and 84% found homework to be boring. What might surprise teacher is that 43% of the students said they didn’t do homework because they did not understand what to do. A smaller percentage (31%) did not feel that the homework assigned was meaningful.
These student-reported barriers to homework completion are valuable for teachers, and should lead to some strategies for increasing the percentage of students in your class who do complete their homework.
Ensure that your students understand how to do something before you assign homework on the skill.
Homework should be a time for students to practice skills to build fluency. They should not be asked to work independently until the teacher has observed them completing the skill. This is especially relevant in math. The progression of instruction should be from teacher as a model, to teacher as a monitor, and then to independence. Don’t give homework if you think your students, on the whole, are still learning the skill. One way to increase the time for you to monitor student work is to allow students to begin the homework during class—you will quickly see who might struggle with the assignment independently, and you can provide additional support before students go home.
Ensure that your students understand the relevance of completing an assignment.
Students today are apathetic because they just don’t see the connection between the work they are doing in school and their real-world experiences. Just as you should connect your daily lessons to relevant, real-world phenomena, homework assignments should also be relevant. At the very least, explain to students how engaging with the homework is relevant as it prepares them for class, or for future success.
Make the homework meaningful by providing feedback to students on their work.
If you treat homework as “busy work,” students will view it that way as well. Make sure that you don’t ask students to do homework regularly, but you only take completion grades and move on to the next lesson without any discussion of the previous night’s task. For the homework to be meaningful, and to be a teaching and learning tool, students must receive feedback on their work and a chance to have questions answered. You don’t always have to take a grade on the homework, but there should at least be some time for discussion and for student questions.
You may not ever get 100% of your students to do their homework. But, a little reflection, planning, and willingness to increase the meaning and relevance of homework assignments should go a long way in getting more of your students to buy-in to the work you’ve asked them to complete at home.
United States Department of Education (2016). Supporting the success of homeless children and youth: A fact sheet. USDOE. Available: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160315ehcyfactsheet072716.pdf
Wilson, J. & Rhodes, J. (2010). Student perspectives on homework. Education, 131(2), 351-358. Available: https://web.archive.org/web/20170813063404/http://www.eosmith.org/uploaded/Library/Student_Services/Main_Office/Student_Perspectives_on_Homework.pdf