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4 Tips to Address Late, Missing Homework

Stephanie Wrobleski


4 Tips to Address Late, Missing HomeworkAs teachers, we’ve all had to deal with late work / homework from students. Whether it is a legitimate illness or a case of chronic truancy, dealing with late / missing work is annoying to say the least.

It is a battle that we deal with on a daily basis, putting both students and teachers at a disadvantage. Unprepared students have difficulty participating in class activities. Teachers may have to scramble to produce an extra copy of an assignment or use class time to get a student up to speed with what he missed. Lack of homework leads to poor test and quiz grades.

Students’ poor grades can also lead to pressure on teachers from administrators or put us at odds with parents.

Students come from such diverse backgrounds and home lives that it is difficult to impose one set of consequences for missing work. There is often no “one size fits all” solution for this problem. Sometimes there are exceptions and circumstances that require a special solution.  Other times, a teacher has to put her foot down and demand accountability. In either situation, dealing with the absence of student work can become especially difficult as the school year comes to an end.
While there is no magic answer or easy solution, consider the following ideas as you decide how to deal with students’ deficient work habits:

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Gather Reinforcements

Even when it may seem too late in the year, don’t be afraid to elicit help from guidance counselors, colleagues, coaches or activity advisors and especially parents.

Don’t assume that a student’s parents know their child is behind. Unfortunately, communication between parents and children is not always as effective as it should be.  Contact parents as soon as you see a problem and be sure to document such conversations.  Consider using email and “copy” a guidance counselor or administrator by on the message.

Don’t overlook other help outside the classroom, too. You may be surprised how much impact a coach or advisor may have.  

For example, a student of mine who had done little  work all year was very motivated when the coach and I would not back down to let him play baseball due to his failing grades. He sat on the bench until he had established a passing grade, despite the pleas of his mother. 
There may be another adult with which the student has a good relationship.  Positive reinforcement can come from anyone. Use this to your advantage by requesting assistance from other teachers, aides, librarians or even a secretary.  
Students need to know that he has a support group, but also that everyone is on the same page.  The more consistency in the student’s life, the better the results.

Investigate & Intervene

Begin to ask questions as soon as you realize there is a problem.  Ask the student if there is a quiet place for him to do homework, if there is an adult to help, if they have supplies available. Listen for clues that the student is distracted.  

Maybe there is a recent change in the family dynamic. Talk to the student, but also to other teachers who may have noticed the same issue. Often there are circumstances in a student’s life that we are unaware of.

Asking questions can uncover information that may help establish a plan to redirect the student.

Establish a Plan

Once you have support and information, help the student create a realistic plan for getting caught up.  For example, if you discover the student’s home life seems chaotic, perhaps they can stay after to complete owed work or new work in your classroom or in the library.  

Maybe there is an older student who can volunteer to help. Often successful high school students can be paired up with a struggling learner who needs help. Perhaps your school offers an after school homework club.  

Be sure to include the student by giving him as much responsibility as is age/ability appropriate. Get parents, guidance counselors and other adults involved in the student’s life to help reinforce the plan. 

Hold the student accountable for the work in order to teach responsibility. Ask parents to communicate via email, by signing a student's agenda/planner or with phone call. The plan should include specific tasks and due dates. However, depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate to alter a task or even exempt the student from some assignments.

You might even consider asking the student’s counselor to schedule a meeting when all of the teachers can meet with the parents and student to discuss the specifics of the the problem and the solution.

Be Realistic 

There is no easy fix for students with poor work habits, especially at the end of the school year. At times, students may not be successful.  

Though it may seem unkind, it is a real concept that failure is an option. We need to remember that the ultimate responsibility for work completion lies with the student and, dependent upon the student’s age, with the parents.

As a teacher, you cannot control or change all aspects of a student’s life. You can offer moral and academic support, but students, together with their parents, must be willing to put forth the effort it takes to make a change.

How do you address missing or late work from students? Share in the comments section!

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