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 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://www.eosmith.org/uploaded/Library/Student_Services/Main_Office/Student_Perspectives_on_Homework.pdf
Resources >> Browse Articles >> Fostering Study & Homework Skills
Why Students May Not Be Motivated to Do Their School Work
The following may be reasons students aren’t motivated to complete their homework. Are you a motivational teacher? Take our quiz and find out.
• The work is too difficult
• The work is too easy
• Their work may not be appropriate for a significant number of students
• They are distracted by someone sitting near them
• They are distracted by an event that happened at home or in the neighborhood
• The work is booooooring!
• They don’t know what to do how to do the work
• They are perfectionists and are fearful of failing
• They are ill
• They live in a culture with different values from the values of their school
• They need special assistance with school work and do not receive it
• They need activities that encourage them to be active, but are in a classroom where they are expected to work quietly and passively
• They lack confidence
• Their goals are unrealistic
• They do not see the connection between the daily work they do now and the successful future that they could have
• The offered rewards do not appeal to them
• They have little or no curiosity about the lesson
• They do not relate well with their classmates
• They perceive their teacher as uncaring
• The learning style of an assignment is very different from their preferred learning style
• They lack the prerequisite skills to master the work successfully
• Their peers mock them for school success
• There is no long-term planning in their home lives
• They are tired of being told what to do
• They have no plan for managing their time, materials, or work
• The work is not relevant to their needs
• Their work is relevant to their needs, but students don’t understand that it is
• They do not have enough background knowledge to connect present learning to previous knowledge
• They can’t read or write well enough to do the work quickly and efficiently
• No one at home stresses that they need to do well in school
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Julia G. Thompson
Julia Thompson has been a public school teacher for more than thirty years. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is an active speaker, consultant, teacher trainer, and workshop presenter. Her most recent book, Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, Second Edition, written with busy high school teachers in mind, has just been released. Author of the best-selling The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide and The First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, she also publishes a Website (http:juliagthompson.com) offering tips for teachers on a variety of topics, maintains a Twitter account with daily advice for teachers at TeacherAdvice@Twitter.com, and a blog at http://juliagthompson.blogspot.com.
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