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Teaching Strategies to Help Students Complete Homework

Jordan Catapano

As we use teaching strategies to assign students to complete work outside of class, we want to make sure that they have what they need to do the job. When students are not properly equipped to complete their work, there are a few unintended consequences that arise, such as they may:

  • Grow frustrated (and not know why)
  • Give up
  • Fall behind
  • Come back with excuses
  • Think negatively about themselves, the teacher, or the class

The homework that we use teaching strategies to assign should be given for the purpose of reinforcing students’ skills. Which of the above consequences does that? The truth is that, without realizing it, teachers may see their students struggle rather than thrive if students don’t have what they need.

Equipping Students with What They Need

By definition, students complete homework outside of class and away from the instructor. However, they don’t have to be helpless. Traditionally, teachers will assign a specific task and leave students to complete that task independently. But there are a few things teachers can provide to help increase the likelihood and quality of student homework completion.

Consider how you might supply some of the following alongside your homework assignments:

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Students Should Understand Before They Leave the Classroom

Once students are on their own, their ability to contact the instructor or trusted peer greatly diminishes. This means that if students have questions to clarify the assignment, the likelihood of getting those questions answered once they leave the room goes down. So before they leave your classroom, make sure that students have a chance to completely comprehend their task.

When you explain the assignment in class, do not rush the explanation. Assignments should not be given moments before the students are about to leave. Teachers should not tell students, “Just look at the description.” Careful explanations take time, so if you value your students’ homework, then you should also value the time it takes to give them a chance to understand it.

Give students time to review the assignment details carefully before they leave. Also give them a chance to ask you questions.

Let Them Start in Class

In addition to explaining the assignment in class, give students time to actually begin working on the assignment as well. When students hear an explanation, it might make sense to them in that moment; however, once they actually begin doing the work, it might make less sense then. Letting them start in class involves them in “Doing” the work and forces them to turn understanding into action.

Also, starting homework in class is like giving students a running start. They have momentum as they leave. Then when they sit down to complete it later, they should have a stronger feeling of familiarity with the task.

Make Sure They Have the Resources They Need to Complete It on Their Own

Students might be outside of the classroom, but they don’t have to be separated from helpful resources. Try including several of these for each assignment.

  • Assignment Sheet. A detailed description of the expected task so that students have a comprehensive overview of what’s expected.
  • Supplemental Notes. Any notes or materials that gives information vital to the work’s successful completion.
  • Examples. Models that help students see what they are trying to accomplish.
  • Video Explanations. Perhaps you can make your own video with important information, or share links to videos that supplement or summarize what you’ve covered in class.
  • Way to Contact Teacher. Are you available for your students? At least give them your professional email address to reach out to you through – and then respond to them with the help they need!

Accountability

We’re all more likely to complete something when we know someone we care about is going to hold us accountable. If students frequently complete work on their own, but no one seems to care and the work has no relevance for class, then what’s stopping students from ignoring the work completely?

Build an accountability system that holds students responsible for completing the necessary work. This system does not have to be grade-based, but should involve a method of your checking their work for completion and quality.

Clear Interest and Relevance

In the end, it’s not the love of a good grade or an “I’ve-got-to-please-the-teacher” attitude that helps students go that extra mile to complete their work. It’s an intrinsic desire to learn. We can’t control each student’s internal motivation, but we can increase their feelings of connection to the work when we intentionally show students the relevance of the task.

Draw a clear connection between the skills and knowledge students will develop and the actual task at hand. Tell students, “It’s not about what you’re working on; it’s about what you’re working toward.” This helps students see that the specifics of one assignment aren’t as important as how this work helps them get closer to their goals.

Keep the Parents in the Loop

Finally, remember you’re part of a larger team in your students’ lives. Reach out to students’ parents, and get them informed as to what you’re working on in class, what students will work on at home, and how parents can play a helpful role in their own child’s education.

Make It the Students’ Responsibility, Too

This might sound so far like it’s entirely up to the teacher as to whether or not they’ve done enough to help students with their homework. The implication might sound like if students don’t do their homework, it’s the teacher’s fault for not equipping them properly.

This view is not correct.

The teacher is responsible for doing what they can to help students succeed with their work outside of the classroom … but the student is equally responsible.

Train your students to think through their own needs and then advocate for themselves. You cannot possibly anticipate what is going to help students succeed or not. As your year goes on, encourage students to do the following:

  • Carefully examine assignment details on their own.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Have a small network of classmates to interact with outside of class.
  • Respectfully reach out to the teacher for help.
  • Visit a tutor when they need further assistance.
  • Gather materials and resources prior to working.
  • Complete work early and request feedback.

Most students won’t just automatically do these things. But if teachers help students to ask, “What will help ensure I can complete this work on my own to the best of my ability?” then students will gradually learn how to equip themselves for completing any task.

So help your students complete their homework by equipping them with the tools they might need to use while on their own. But perhaps the best tool of all is simply to teach students to become self-advocating and reflective for any task they may encounter.

How do you help to ensure that students complete their work and have what they need to do it? Share your tips with our TeachHUB.com community in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.