I've alluded to this in some previous posts, and finally have time to sit down and share what Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I do to encourage homework turn in. (Well, actually I need to fold laundry and clean up the kitchen, but this is more fun.)
First the background. Nearly two years ago The Principal took nine of us to the National Middle School Association national convention. This was an awesome experience as it gave us a chance to meet with other middle school teachers from all over the country, attend workshops, and get some great ideas. The District is in the process of looking at, and reforming, middle schools, and those of us that went were part of The Principal's Breaking Ranks team.
One of the workshops that Mrs. Eagle and I attended was on increasing student motivation. As anyone who has ever taught middle school knows, these kids can be slugs. We had a lot of problems with kids turning in work, especially homework, and were looking at some innovative ways to motivate them. (I wish I could remember who the presenter was, but alas, I don't.) The presenter put forth a lot of good ideas, but the one that resonated with us was something we call the Homework Helper. He said that the number one reason kids don't do homework is because they don't understand it.
His solution is to give the kids the answers to the homework.
Okay, I know what you're thinking because you could have heard a pin drop in that room as we all looked at each other and went, "What????" Homework is, after all, practice. If a kid doesn't get it, and does the homework wrong (if he does it at all), then he's repeating the wrong thing. He's learning and remembering something that is wrong. However, if you give the kid a key to check the work, then they're doing it correctly, and learning it correctly.
So Mrs. Eagle and I kicked this idea around for a while. Many of our kids don't do homework for reasons that have a lot to do with the poverty they live in. Every year we do this neat parent letter about giving your child a place to study that's quiet, well lit, and all that, but in reality a lot of our students are sleeping on the sofa in Mom's Boyfriend of the Week's apartment, living in homes without electricity because it got cut off for non payment, or go home to households where the yelling and screaming is paramount. Some just wander the streets until it's dark because it beats being home. And some are responsible for baby sitting hordes of little siblings and cousins and whatnot when they get home so homework is the last thing on their minds.
So....what to do?
We did several things.
The first involves choice. Middle Schoolers often feel that they don't have many choices in their lives so we decided to give them some. On Monday, we assign four homework assignments. We mix them up a bit. We'll have a more math-oriented assignment that appeals to the kids that like math, an assignment that's more reading and answering for kids that do better there, and sometimes a drawing/labeling exercise for the more artistic. The kids get to choose which two they want to do and then have all week to do it. Homework is due on Friday.
The second thing we do is provide the Homework Helper. The Homework Helper is the answer key to that week's homework. We put it out on Tuesday, and only make ten copies which are numbered and put in sheet protectors. I have them in a rack on the supply and materials table. The students are welcome to use them during homeroom, or any time we have a few minutes in class, or they can check them out for one night, to be returned during homeroom.
As we explain to the students, there's three types of students. First you have the kids who are going to do their homework anyway and who won't even bother to look at a Homework Helper. Second, you have the kids who will do most of their homework but struggle with a few questions and will use the Homework Helper to check his or her work. And lastly, you have the kid who has never turned in any homework - ever - and who will simply copy it and turn it in. The way we look at it, at least they're copying the right information, they're writing it down, they're looking at it, they're being exposed to it. And they'll get the points for turning in their homework. (For the record, homework isn't a huge point-earner in our gradebooks...only about 10 points a week.) This is also a big help for my special education kids.
What we've seen is that kids who have never turned in homework are now turning in homework. And when they get their progress reports and see the lack of zeros and see the fact that they are actually, most likely, passing, they begin to realize that doing homework does pay off. We started this program last year, mid-year, and saw our homework turn in increase to about 95%. Previously we were at about 50%.
My favorite part, however, is how this plays in parent conferences. I always take a copy of a homework helper to a parent conference, especially if the kid is still one of the few who won't be bothered (and they are still out there). I will point out the lack of homework on the progress report, and explain as I hand the parent the Homework Helper that there's really no excuse for that as the Homework Helper is available in class, and can also be checked out overnight. It's pretty powerful when the parents realize that there really is no excuse for not having the work done and turned in.
So that's what we do. It seems weird, it's definitely not for everyone, but it's working for us. I can't tell you if it's improved comprehension or retention of the material as we've been doing this all year with this group of students. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that, at the least, it's helping some of them develop some work ethic. A lot of my students at the beginning of the year weren't turning in much work at all, but once they got the hang of the Homework Helper, they started to turn in work. Many of these same kids aren't relying on the Homework Helper any more, but are attempting to do the work on their own. I consider that somewhat of a victory.