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How to get your students to do their


Creating meaningful, engaging, and relevant homework fully integrated into classroom learning and activities is a vital part of what we do as teachers. Students benefit enormously from quality homework. They expand their learning, gain independence and confidence, develop responsibility, and enhance their in-class experiences. Failing to expect homework limits student learning. Low homework expectations, especially in "low-track" courses, can be seen as a form of discrimination against minorities and lower socio-economic groups. Yet it is not always easy to create good homework assignments, and, at times, even more challenging to get all of your students to do them.

Interns and new teachers confront special difficulties with assigning homework. Above all, you don't know your curriculum or your students well-this takes time and experience. Moreover, trying to raise expectations without your mentor or colleagues behind you may jeopardize your relations with students. Remember that change takes place by beginning with where things are, aiming for where you want them to be, and taking one step at a time.

Of course, to get students to do their homework you have to know The Secret Code of Schoolwork Expectations.

1) Homework needs to be at an appropriate level of difficulty, neither too hard to be frustrating or too easy to seem like busy work. Find ways to adjust the level of the homework, such as previewing reading, creating study questions, creating peer support, beginning it in class, etc. Even the most tracked classrooms still have a great diversity of student abilities-all students need to be challenged while experiencing a high level of success when they do homework.

2) Homework needs to be meaningful and well-integrated into class activities. If students are assigned reading, for example, that reading ought to be discussed or addressed in class the next day. Are you using an historically grounded, thematic curriculum that is relevant to student lives and interests?

3) Homework needs to be clearly assigned. Write it on the board, pass out written instructions, talk about it at the beginning and the end of class. Make sure students have each other's phone numbers so they can ask each other questions about the homework.

4) Students need to know that homework is important. Talk frequently about the positive values of doing the homework and why it is useful to what you are doing in class. Avoid point systems, petty rewards, or grade threats. Teach students how to do homework and the study skills they will need for academic success.

5) Homework needs to be fun, creative, and involve high-level thought. A key measure of this is how you feel responding to the homework: truly creative and intellectually meaningful homework is something the teacher looks forward to reading.

6) Homework needs to be closely monitored. Collect homework from individual students at their desks. Return homework that you have responded to quickly, preferably the next day.

7) All students need to be held accountable for doing homework. When students don't have their homework, be sure you let them know that you expect it. Meet with them after class, find them during your "prep" period, call them at home, develop contracts. Your personal relationship with each student is vital to inspiring students to do the work in your class. When a few students get away with not doing homework, the atmosphere in the whole class will deteriorate.

8) Inform parents about homework expectations, and let them know when their child is falling behind. Enlist their help, support, and involvement (but don't blame them for students not doing the work in your class-hat is your responsibility and that of the students, not the parents).

9) When several students are not turning in homework, it is important to have whole class discussions about the homework. "I noticed several people did not have the homework done, what is going on?" might be one way to start such a discussion. Involve students with helping each other with the homework and supporting each other with turning it in.

10) Learn from your students, don't blame them. When students are not doing their homework that does not necessarily mean that they are lazy or don't care. Instead it is an important piece of information for the teacher that something is not right either with the curriculum, the homework itself, or the way it was assigned.

In addition to these suggestions, you will find excellent advice in First Day of School by Harry Wong.

[Western Michigan University] WMU English Department [WMU English Education]

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Revised Date: 4/98