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What's the Real Problem with Homework?

It's a dreaded task for most students, and the source of complaints, power struggles, and poor grades. Part 1 of a series.

Imagine a world without homework where kids get enough sleep and parents have fewer gray hairs. We would not have to spend our evenings embroiled in a never-ending power struggle.

Homework is, by far, the biggest complaint my students have about school. It is also the number one reason why students’ grades slip. The problem isn’t just students who are not doing their homework. Believe it or not, a good portion of students who actually do their homework consistently fail to turn it in. If I had a dollar for each time I pulled a crumpled, completed homework assignment from the bottom of a kid’s backpack I could probably pay for my son’s college education, or maybe one semester – okay, his used books for one semester, but you get the idea.

This not doing/not turning in homework is a serious pattern among students at all grade levels. However, during elementary school, students usually receive almost all their instruction in one classroom by one teacher who typically has a basket or other system for turning in homework. 

In middle school and high school, however, students have different teachers for each subject with different assignment and collection methods. Teachers no longer run after students for homework. If the teacher doesn’t get it, you get a failing grade. End of story.

I spend a lot of time asking students why they didn’t do their homework. Even though the schools hand out agendas, many students fail to write in them. Why? I’m still working on that one. Some students say they don’t have time in class or didn’t hear what the teacher said. But, mostly they don’t have a reason at all except they don’t like doing it. 

Even more frustrating are the students who do their homework but don’t turn it in. They say they didn’t hear the teacher ask for it (usually because they are chatting with their friends) or there is no clear collection method (no more wire homework baskets). Then, there is the ever-popular, “I turned it in but she/he lost it and/or didn’t mark it down” excuse. When called out, blame someone else!

On first glance, it seems to be a question of responsibility. I mean, doing it and not turning it in because you were talking when the teacher asked for it? Really?

But, maybe it is more than what appears on the surface. What if kids are so overwhelmed by the amount of homework they just shut down? What if there was a uniform collection method used by every teacher in the school like, I don’t know ... a wire homework basket?

Next week I will share some ideas that help my students remember to do, and hand in, their homework. In the meantime, if you have some great ideas, please share them in the comments section. 

Author’s note: Do you have a new freshman?  If so, please attend “Terrific Transitions” at on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. for an informative panel discussion (yes, I will be on the panel) and free snacks! Send an email to artfrl822@gmail.com to register.

Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com.

free2be September 12, 2011 at 05:50 PM
I have a daughter who in 6th grade would forget here and there to hand in assignments. It affected her grade, and was a rude awakening. We'll see how 7th grade goes. I personally think too much homework is given. When a child has homework nightly from 5-6 different teachers, that's asking a lot.
Erik Blazynski September 12, 2011 at 05:51 PM
I think that kids should learn at home from sites like khan academy and when then do their homework (you would rename it school work) they do it at school with a teacher to reinforce and answer questions. This would provide a standard curriculum across the board and allow the kids to learn at their own pace, look up remedial material without holding everyone back, etc...
jessie February 27, 2013 at 05:47 PM
no homwork no homwork hate scool

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