“I did my homework, but when the martians came, they sucked all the ink off my paper.” (Paula Scott)
“I came down with a terrible case of ‘having trouble holding onto a pencil’.” (Barbara Bittner Brint Gottlieb)
“A tornado sucked my homework right out of my mom’s car.” (Alyce Grover)
“My teeth itch.” (Jeannie Griffith Wallace)
“My mom did it wrong, so I threw it out the bus window.” (Tabytha Sidders)
“My dad forgot to do it for me.” (Ally Echols)
“My gator peed on it.” (Karen Smith Brangers)
Read more entertaining homework excuses from Edutopia here.
Have you just about heard everything when it comes to excuses about why your students’ homework is incomplete? While I’ve never (well, maybe not NEVER) heard anything quite this silly, my students are quite talented at devising creative reasons for their late work. Just to set the stage, I assign homework frequently in my classroom (or at least what I consider regularly). Students usually have work to complete outside of class about three times a week. Because late work seemed to be an infectious apathetic disease that was spreading like wildfire (we’re talking an average of 30-40% completion rates), I decided to do some action research in my classroom. I wanted answers to two pressing questions:
- Why were so many assignments late and missing?
- What could I do differently to change the problem?
In this post, I’m sharing my findings. If homework completion is an issue in your middle or secondary classroom, you might just be interested in the solution that worked for me.
I wanted to get to the bottom…the root cause…of this anti-homework plague. In regard to the action research project, the process of compiling information was relatively simple. I interviewed students, they completed surveys, and we held brief class discussions and brainstorming sessions about the issue. At first, my kids honestly couldn’t tell me why they didn’t complete their homework, but after some prompting on my part and reflection on their part, I began to hear a common murmur: I forgot. Does that excuse sound familiar to you?
But part of me wanted to know…is that really the case? So I started trying different tactics to see which ones were the most effective interventions. I would use each strategy for two weeks before moving onto a different intervention. In order to compare results of each tactic post-study, I averaged the homework completion rates for each strategy. So let’s start with the things I tried that didn’t work:
- Providing choice in homework assignments
- Giving students more than one day to complete the homework
- Telling students ahead of time that there would be a quick entrance quiz based upon the homework concept
What kind of worked? (More students completed homework with these interventions in place.)
- Avoiding assigning homework to be due on a Monday
- Rewarding students who completed their homework with group work and socialization time
- Asking students to participate in an online discussion thread after completing the assignment
- Assigning homework more frequently to make it a routine
- Assigning teacher-made videos that were entertaining, humorous, and engaging
Still, there was something more effective than any of those mentioned above. So what was the most effective technique to increase students’ homework completion? REMIND 101. It’s a free communication tool that teachers, administrators, and coaches can use to send messages and documents straight to students and parents at the convenience of everyone’s touch screen.
Let me just tell you, people, almost 90% of my students started turning in homework on time after I began using this tool (and no, I’m not being paid to advertise for them!). It really was that effective. In answer to my previous question about whether or not students really were “forgetting” to do their homework, they were being honest. After I began sending reminders about assignments, homework completion increased, and the “I forgots” decreased drastically. So let’s talk about what made it work for me, and how it can be effective in your classroom.
I truly think one of the reasons this communication was effective in my situation was because not everyone was using it. We’re all familiar with the top-down mandates. They usually begin in one classroom, and after an observation, an administrator decides to require everyone in the building to begin doing the same thing. Few issues are less frustrating in our profession. Think about how many people are using this app before you dive in head first. Also, ask them how effective it is for their situation.
One of the struggles I had with Remind 101 was that I would, ironically, forget to send the reminders about homework. Oops. The next dilemma was that I wanted to send the reminder right after school. I mean, when I get home, I’m busy! Cooking dinner, taking care of my kids, talking to my husband, the list goes on (can I get an Amen?). That was just the problem. If I was too busy to remember to send the reminder, how could I expect my students to remember to do their homework? Sending a homework message at 3:15 wasn’t an effective time seeing as many students weren’t even home yet. So I began setting reminders for myself (in my phone, on my planner, on the back of my hand) to send reminders for them. It sounds crazy, but it worked. Conveniently, Remind now has a feature which allows users to schedule messages in advance. I found the most successful technique was to send students two reminder texts…one around 4:30 (seeing as some kids do their homework before supper) and one around 7:00 (most would be finished eating but wouldn’t be in bed yet).
Keep the content short, specific, positive, and (obviously) professional. My messages generally sound something like this: Don’t forget to read Chapter 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird for tomorrow. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts during our class discussion!
Create separate class groups rather than having students sign up for one large group text. This option allows you to send messages to individual classes (because sometimes we cover information differently based on pacing, needs, and readiness levels; therefore, homework is not always the same).
You should know that students can choose to have these messages sent to their e-mail if they don’t have phones. Their parents can also sign up to receive the texts. This information is perfect to share at Meet the Teacher events, Back-to-School Night, or Parent-Teacher conferences. Expect a few issues with technology even though Remind 101 makes it very simple for all participants (it generates a short code and brief instructions with a visual). One of the mistakes I made was assuming that most of my students would be eager to sign up for the reminders. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I was persistent in offering that option as well as communicating with parents when I contacted them regarding students’ grades.
Some people might wonder about the safety of using a tool like Remind 101, especially when it’s concerning communication between teenage students and adult teachers. Remind 101 has several precautions set in place to reduce the likelihood of inappropriate conversations. For one, if students are under 13, their parents must approve students’ participation in receiving texts. Messages can be flagged for review, and message history can be printed at any time. Also, teachers and students never see one another’s phone numbers. Still, if you’re considering using this tool in your classroom, you can check out the policies, features, and details for yourself here and here.
The Other 10%
Some people ask me about the other 10%. Why wasn’t Remind 101 effective for them? If you think about it, there are three main groups of students:
- Those that always complete their homework.
- Those that intend to complete their homework, but aren’t always successful.
- Those who will probably never complete their homework.
We can only work with groups 1 and 2. Ultimately, if a student flat-out refuses to complete homework even after relationships have been built, parents have been contacted, and interventions have been tried, then we really are doing the best we can to make sure all students succeed. We’ll always have that 10% (or whatever it is in your circumstance.)
Homework completion is a major issue. Failing grades can lead to other negative impacts on students’ futures. It would be amazing if I could wave my magic wand and Poof! — students wanted to complete their homework and always remembered to do it. That’s just not the world I live in, so I was relieved to find a solution that worked for my classroom. If you’re in a similar boat, Remind 101 might just be the answer for you, too.
Have you used Remind 101 or similar communication tools in your classroom? Please share your success stories and/or questions in the comments. Let’s work together to increase homework completion rates for the greater good.