It’s a big source of conflict at home and at school. Even bright students seem lazy when it comes to homework. But even bad students can work hard to prepare a party with friends. Before you start accusing your students, take a break and try to understand what’s happening. If most of them forget their assignment, there is probably a reason. I’m not saying that you’re making mistakes. It’s a common issue. It happens. But it’s the responsibility of the teacher to understand and find solutions. Maybe you’ll have to call the parents or give detention. Just consider a few options before you do that. Maybe…
They don’t have time.
Don’t forget that you are only one teacher amongst many. Your students also have a life at home. They have chores to do, siblings to take care of. They have the right to play with friends. Yes, just try to remember when you were a kid.
How many hours do they already spend at school? Compare it with your working week. In the New Generation Schools, the standard is 40 hours. It’s good, but it’s huge. In my estimate, a single teacher should not expect his students to work more than 10 minutes each day on his subject, as a routine. Maybe a little more if they need to memorize a difficult lesson. Longer assignments should be planned one week or two in advance, not just given for the next day. Students need some flexibility to write down an essay, for instance.
To estimate the required time, do the exercise yourself and don’t forget that you’re much more efficient than your students. I hope so at least. You can reasonably multiply your time by 3 or 4.
In many cases, finishing an exercise begun at school is enough homework.
They don’t take note of the assignment.
This is a lack of commitment and should not be tolerated. However, ensure that they hear your instructions in the first place. Stop all activities a few minutes before the end of the session, so that they are in good condition to take notes. Write the assignment on the whiteboard. And give the opportunity to ask questions. With younger students or with those who have troubles in writing, check the homework diary. You’ll avoid unnecessary frustration.
They don’t understand the assignment, or they lack information to do it.
Don’t give a totally new exercise as homework. In the classroom, you should model it and let the students try a few times. Homework is for additional training.
Don’t forget that most students don’t have anyone at home to reexplain the lesson. Incomprehensible exercises are a nightmare for the families.
They find the exercises too easy or too hard.
Too easy, the exercises aren’t interesting enough to make students open their bag. Too hard, well, why try the impossible?
They don’t have good incentives.
Students feel that the homework doesn’t really matter. For instance, the teacher never takes a look at their work. He just gives the solution and doesn’t consider the attempts made by the students. A lack of attention from the adults is one of the worst things a child could experiment. If you don’t care, they don’t care either.
Note that they need proofs that it matters to you. When it comes to motivation, feelings are just as important as facts. No sign of consideration is just the same as no consideration at all. So, praise when the exercise is good, even if it’s small. Blame when it is poorly done. Support the students when they make mistakes. Do all of that as much as possible, not only from time to time.
Of course, you can’t correct every notebook individually, but at least you can check if the work is done. And a few students every day can display their skills by writing the answers on the whiteboard. When I was a beginner, I preferred writing them myself, to save time. It was a mistake. The minutes you save are nothing in comparison to the loss in motivation. You should definitively resist the temptation to do things that students can do.
Most of the time, a smile or a frown are enough incentives. Sometimes, you can grade the works or punish lazy students, but a carrot-and-stick policy isn’t the best choice, if you can avoid it. Also consider that a student who doesn’t do his homework isn’t likely to do a punishment as well, unless it is some kind of detention. Check the possibilities before you make a decision. You must do something but be wise in your choice. Redoing the exercise on a loose sheet might be sufficient. Making the parents sign it is a good way to make it more important.
Of course, that question of incentives is much more complex. It can also involve other levels in the school system: the organization of the exams, the obligation to go to school, the curriculum. We won’t talk here of what is out of your reach.