Homework: What to Do When Students DON'T Do It

There is a form on my website where I ask people to tell me their greatest concerns/challenges regarding homework. It is probably no surprise that a significant number of teachers have responded with comments like this:
“No motivation.”
“Students don’t do it.”
If you are like me, then you probably don’t have fond memories of homework yourself, but you likely did it.
It was not because you liked it.
It was not because you couldn’t find anything better to do. (Yes, we had TV as kids. Some of us even had video games, too. We are not that old…)
You did it because you wanted to get a good grade. Or, you did it to avoid having to answer to your mom who would give you “That Look” and ground you until you were dead. Or, you did it because it just needed to be done.
So, the real question is, “Why don’t students seem to care about homework?” There are a variety of possible answers, but the best advice I can offer is this…
Ask them!
You, of course, can provide additional insight. Share your experiences with homework when you were younger and then explain why you value it as an adult. The more relevance children see to the “real world” the more likely they are to value homework.
Meanwhile, I would venture to guess that many of their answers will sound like these:
* “What’s the point? Why do I need to do it?”
* “It takes too much time!”
* “Homework causes fights in our family.”
* “It’s just a couple of assignments…what’s the big deal?”
* “I lose my homework a lot.”
* “I don’t know how to do it.”
Each of these responses could inspire their own book, but we will settle for a few quick comments:
The child who asks this question is begging to understand a real-world purpose for homework. They need help understanding that homework is not just practice on the topic taught in class, but practice for developing responsibility. Homework may not be fun, but completing it on time is good practice for the day when they are employed and have to complete a project on time. It is practice for paying bills and keeping a roof over their head.
Doing homework helps build responsibility skills in the same way that lifting weights build muscle. They literally program neuron pathways in the brain that develop responsibility. Developing “responsibility muscle” will directly impact their ability to earn more money in the future.
Homework takes too much time because students do not know strategic learning skills for doing homework more efficiently. They are also busy “multi-tasking” by doing homework while texting, watching TV, or surfing the internet which is a major time drain. Teach your children time-management and study skills to help them cut homework time or enroll them in a study skills class.
As I have said many times, homework is the greatest lever of control that a student has over their parent(s). They may not quite realize they are striving for control, but they do know that they don’t like being told what to do.
Children are often oblivious to the impact one or two “zeros” have on their overall grade. Encourage them to track their grades so they can see the math for themselves. If your school makes grades available electronically, have them log in and see how their grade changed after that big ‘ol “0” was plopped in the homework column. In 95% of middle and high school classes, students can pass with a “C” if they simply turn in all homework and show up for tests and quizzes. It’s not rocket science… but they think it is until they see the math for themselves.
In most cases, your children do not deliberately lose homework. Imagine if we, as adults, had several different email accounts to manage each day?!? We would be completely overwhelmed and frustrated! The same is true for students who are trying to manage dozens of papers along with a couple dozen folders, notebooks, and textbooks that must be transported to-and-from school and individual classes each day. Students need a system to simplify and streamline all of their supplies.
Children are often afraid to ask for help. Their teacher may have offered help to the class and posted “Tutoring Lab” hours on the board, but many are afraid to step forward and admit they need help. Or, they may simply believe that the help is for “someone else” and may not realize the potential value for themselves. As you know, there is almost always a resource for students who are willing to get extra help. Some may simply need an extra nudge.
The key to this discussion is to listen 85% of the time. Let them be honest about their feelings towards homework and acknowledge them. Brainstorm problem-solving ideas together and allow your child to have some ownership over some solutions.
On my website you can download a free Homework Rx Toolkit that includes “25 Ways to Make Homework Easier Tonight.” Use that document as a starting point to identify workable solutions together. As the parent, you have to set expectations and boundaries, but you can also set the stage for cooperation.

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