How to Get Students to Do Homework
Are you looking for ways to motivate your students to do their homework? If so, you’re not alone. Getting students to do their homework regularly can be a source of frustration for teachers. We know students who consistently complete homework will achieve more academically, particularly in high school, and students who don’t do their homework will falter.
As a teacher, you want your students to benefit from good work habits — for success in the classroom and life. After all, effective homework strategies teach responsibility and self-discipline while instilling confidence and motivation. So how do you make an impact? What are your options?
We’ve put together this guide to help teachers make the most out of homework time and motivate their students. Here, we discuss some reasons students don’t do their homework, what to do when students don't do their homework, how to create engaging assignments and the best approaches to take with your students in the classroom. We also offer tips to get your students organized and develop effective work habits.
Reasons Why Students Don’t Do Their Homework
When a student leaves school for the day, you hope you have done enough to set them up for homework time, but many factors are beyond your control. If a student frequently fails to complete assignments, consider what may be going on at home. Understanding the root of the problem can help you get a better handle on the situation. You may want to connect with the student in a different way, reach out to the parents or offer additional support.
Reasons why students may not complete homework include:
- Lack of understanding
- No positive role models
- Parents are unavailable
- Extracurricular activities or sports
- Afterschool jobs
- Too much time watching TV or engaged in social media
- Constant disruptions
- No quiet place to study, or lack of space
- Lack of consistency, the family moves around
- A troubled home life
- Teenage pregnancies or parenting at a young age
- Drug or alcohol use
How to Motivate Students to Do Their Homework
Communicating information effectively can set students up for success at home. On the first day of school, take a confident, upbeat approach with your students regarding homework. What you say and do in the classroom can help get students on track during homework time.
Below are seven approaches to take with your students regarding homework. For the greatest impact, put these strategies into practice early in the school year.
- Explain the purpose of homework.
Students need to understand why it’s important to do their homework. Homework is intended to be a positive experience that furthers learning, and your students should never view it as a punishment. Make it clear every assignment has a purpose, and mastery only occurs when students work independently, without the safety net of the classroom. Let students know you will always explain how a given assignment will fit into the big picture.
Emphasize how homework is a way to solidify the concepts students learn in the classroom, and the best way to accomplish this is through consistency and repetition. With this practice, students will feel confident in their skills and transition well into the next day’s lesson. When students do their homework well, more learning can take place in the classroom every day.
- Set expectations on the first day.
Studies show students are more successful when teachers set high standards, so make your expectations clear. Explain students who complete their homework assignments will be successful in your class. For those who don't, it will be a tough road ahead.
Keep your tone positive and let students know what to expect regarding workload. Clarify how you will grade homework and the consequences of missed assignments. Spell everything out in a homework contract and have students sign it. Just make sure to explain it, too, so the information sinks in.
- Give homework daily.
Assign each evening's homework in manageable chunks. If you send students home with a weekly packet of information, they may become overwhelmed. Some students may procrastinate and leave the entire packet until the last minute, which defeats the purpose of daily practice. Over time, daily assignments become part of a student routine and part of life, not a chore.
- Provide clear instructions.
Make sure to provide clear instructions and post homework in multiple locations, such as in your classroom and on your website.
- Set aside classroom time for independent learning.
Teachers often make the mistake of creating an environment of dependency in the classroom. Some students may overly rely on teachers and peers for guidance and information. To truly master the day’s material, students need the opportunity to work independently through the learning process before they leave for the day. If this piece is missing, students may become frustrated when they sit down to do their homework.
- Earn respect.
You need to gain a student’s respect before you can expect to influence their homework habits. To gain respect, be likable, build rapport with your students and always follow through. When students respect you, they will start to trust what you tell them, and through your influence, you can inspire a strong work ethic.
- Take a personal interest in the lives of your students.
Get to know your students. Try relating to students by engaging them in conversations about topics that interest them. Once you've established a personal connection, they are more likely to listen to you, and it will mean more when you tell them to complete their homework.
As students move into middle school, organization skills can become an issue. They have multiple teachers, multiple assignments to juggle, supplies galore and about eight or nine different classes they need to show up on time for each day. All this can be a bit overwhelming.
Organization skills are key to homework success. A student with crumpled-up papers in his backpack may get by temporarily, but, eventually, things are going to fall apart. To head off homework nightmares, help your students get organized from the start.
Use the following organizational strategies early in the school year.
- Set up a homework file. Students need a simple, fail-safe system to stay organized. Advise students to keep all their homework in a central location, such as a pocket folder. Designate one place, and one place only, for all subjects. If students start filing information in separate notebooks, or corners of their lockers, assignments will get lost.
- Incorporate planning time. Set aside time each week for students to plan their homework schedules. Have students use daily planners to map out after-school activities and schedule in blocks of time to complete homework. They can even schedule in downtime if they choose.
- Offer encouragement. Organizing and planning homework can be tricky for many students. Offer encouragement and praise for any amount of progress. Your feedback goes a long way.
8 Ways to Create Engaging Homework Assignments
Even though you may have exemplary communication skills and the best-laid plans for organization, you still need to keep homework interesting. Homework needs to have a purpose and be engaging. If students don’t see the point or understand the benefits, they will be less likely to complete assignments.
Here are eight ways to create engaging assignments that will keep students motivated.
- Create quality assignments.
If you’re going to give an assignment, make it worthwhile. Give clear and concise instructions and offer relevant resources. Try to narrow down the focus of the task. If you try to reinforce too many concepts at once, students may miss the point or feel overwhelmed. Never give busywork. If you get a reputation for giving busywork, students will not engage consistently and may miss assignments that really matter.
- Give homework as a review or practice.
Homework is an opportunity for students to review and practice what they learned that day. It is not a time for teachers to introduce new material. Independent work solidifies skills learned in the classroom and boosts confidence and motivation. When students realize they can achieve success on their own, they feel good about themselves. When they feel good about themselves, they want to learn more. With the right tools in place, students will be motivated to complete homework assignments on a regular basis.
- Make students think.
Give students the opportunity to have an “a-ha moment” during homework time. Allow them to think independently and extract information from other resources outside of the classroom. Challenge students to think for themselves and explore new ideas. Thinking outside the box can be exciting and motivating for students.
- Offer choices.
Give students options whenever possible. For example, have a few topics to choose from when you give a writing assignment. When students get to make decisions about homework, they become more invested and enjoy the process more.
- Keep assignments interesting.
Mix things up. Students will tire of similar subjects and formats, so aim for a varied approach. One great way to pique a student’s interest is to assign a long-term project.
- Align assignments with skill levels.
Although you can’t be expected to individualize every assignment, you can tailor homework to homogeneous groups within your classroom. For example, at-risk or gifted students may have different assignments than the rest of the class. In high school, students in advanced placement or honors classes typically receive assignments that require more abstract thinking.
- Assign a manageable workload.
Be sure to schedule the right amount of homework. You want homework time to be effective and productive, not exhausting and overwhelming. Many educators follow the 10-minutes-per-grade-level rule. A first-grader would do 10 minutes of homework a night, a second-grader would do 20 minutes and so on, maxing out at about two hours for high school students. Coordinate homework with the other teachers on your team to keep the total amount of time consistent each night.
- Make the connection between the material and life.
If the subject matter is relatable, students are more apt to complete homework assignments. Hands-on assignments that make sense in the real world can spark a student's interest and really sink in. Be entertaining or share information through a story, then send students home with a related assignment.For example, let’s say you are working on persuasive arguments in your language arts class. You could set up a classroom trial where students are lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants or part of a jury. After the lesson and some classroom discussion, you could have students write a few persuasive paragraphs from their perspective for homework.
Teach Effective Homework Motivation Strategies
Good homework habits are key to getting the most out of an assignment and completing it on time, and it’s never too early to start. If you’re a kindergarten or first-grade teacher, consider sending age-appropriate homework home so students can begin to establish a routine. This can be as simple as having a parent read a few pages of a book to the student.
Regardless of grade level, encourage students to practice good homework strategies. Teach these strategies to the group or individually for students who are struggling.
Encourage students to:
- Take notes during the school day.
- Use a planner.
- Set up a quiet place at home to study.
- Gather and organize homework supplies such as pencils, erasers, calculators, paper, etc.
- Pick a time to do homework that works with the family schedule.
- Turn off cell phones, television or any other distractions during homework time.
- Prepare for a test or long-term assignments in chunks, instead of cramming.
Reinforce Effective Homework Habits
As a teacher, reinforcing effective homework habits is a critical part of the process. When students complete their homework, be sure to acknowledge it, or the pattern probably won’t continue. And, if students don’t complete assignments, make sure you have consequences in place.
Here are seven things you can do to reinforce good homework habits:
- Always check homework.
Only assign homework you plan to review and score. Hold students accountable by checking their homework in front of them each day. Taking time to get this system in place during the first month of the school year can really pay off. Once students realize you are the type of teacher who always checks homework, they'll be more likely to complete it. On the other hand, if you’re too casual about homework, students won’t think it’s important and probably won't complete it consistently. Make sure to grade for effort, as this encourages students of all ability levels.
- Provide prompt feedback.
The sooner a student receives feedback, the more it will resonate. Who can remember the details of an assignment from a week ago? Immediate feedback has a greater impact on student performance than long turnaround times. If a student knows they did well on an assignment, they will feel confident and motivated to move on. If they didn’t do well, you can evaluate why and remediate the situation. But, if too much time goes by, things can start to slip.
- Praise students for both performance and effort.
Everybody responds well to praise, so find something positive to say about a student’s performance or effort. Make sure your praise is genuine, because students know when it’s not.
- Use a points system with incentives.
Assign points to completed assignments and take away points for missed assignments. Offer age-appropriate incentives for students with the highest number of points. You can also modify this system to incentivize the class as a group. Keep in mind, points systems with incentives are best suited for elementary and middle school students.
- Allow make-up work with point deductions.
To reinforce the importance of each assignment, give students the opportunity to make up missed work. Enforce consequences for missed assignments, or you will continue to see a pattern. Since every point counts toward a final grade, make sure students understand partial credit is better than no credit at all.
- Give students a visual to manage missed assignments.
When a student does not turn in homework repeatedly, print out a list of everything that goes into their grade. Highlight each missing assignment and the points associated with it. Some kids may not realize how many assignments they've missed, or how much this impacts their overall grade. Sometimes a visual can help drive the message home.
- Offer help when needed.
Some students have limited resources, and need to know they can ask you for help or guidance. You can set up help sessions before or after school, during lunch or even over the phone. Also, check with your school district to see what they offer. Some schools have peer tutoring programs, homework hotlines and study centers. You can also set up a study-buddy system in your classroom.
Connecting With Parents
Parents need to understand homework policies and expectations. At the beginning of the school year, let parents know they can contact you anytime to discuss homework or anything else. Make them feel like they are part of the team, and that they can make a difference. A good time to do this is at a parent back-to-school night. If parents don’t show up, you can send them an email or give them a call the next day. Let them know when you are available and the best way to reach you.
If a student is struggling with homework during the school year, reach out to their parents. Although some parents are more responsive than others, it’s a good first step. Some parents may just be unaware of the situation and need to begin reinforcing the importance of completing assignments at home.
With all the right pieces in place, you can inspire students to learn and enjoy the homework experience. Motivating students to do their homework regularly gives them confidence and a love of learning. Students usually want to succeed. Giving them the tools to do their best will affect them positively for years to come.
Check out Our Student Planners
At Success By Design, Inc., we help students plan and organize their homework and other activities. We know that, as a teacher, you want to give your students every opportunity to succeed academically and for the rest of their lives. Check out our student planners to get students on the right track at the beginning of the next school year. It will be here before you know it.