Exasperated parents often ask me, “Why does my son (or daughter) do his homework and then not turn it in?” These understandably frustrated and confused parents are looking to me for answers, but I must admit that for years, I could not help them.
I just didn’t get it! Homework takes up precious time; if you’re doing homework, you’re not doing something else. Why forgo playing or talking on the phone or watching TV- for nothing? Why do homework and then not get the credit? How could a student bear the thought of completed homework sitting at home or- even worse- in his backpack?
My students couldn’t explain their thinking to me, and parents kept asking, so I decided to do some research.
WHY STUDENTS COMPLETE HOMEWORK BUT DON’T TURN IT IN
- They want to look cool. Or, rather, they don’t want to look “uncool” by seeming to care about studying and doing homework. I suppose a report card full of ‘Fs’ looks much better? This kind of thinking often becomes more prevalent in middle and high school.
- They can’t find it. There are many students that would turn in their homework- if they knew where it was. I teach my own children that their homework is not finished until it is put away in their homework folder, AND the homework folder is put away in their backpack, AND the backpack is put by the back door.
- They are distracted. Things are going on in class that are much more interesting than what the teacher is saying. There is also an entire universe inside each student’s head: thinking about their latest crush, lunch, recess, the prom, beating the score on a video games, problems at home… how could homework compete with all of that?
- They are rebelling. What do you do when you feel that your every move is controlled by others? You find something that you can control- like turning in homework. This passive-aggressive behavior usually goes away when students are allowed to be responsible for their own homework (hint, hint).
- They don’t think it’s a big deal. Students know whether or not their teacher looks at their homework or just slaps a check on it and tosses it in a pile. If homework isn’t important enough to warrant more than a glance (if that), who can blame students for not worrying about turning it in?
- They figure you’ll take care of it. Why, oh why, does your child think this? Do you call the teacher, make excuses, find their homework and turn it in for them? Well, it’s no wonder, then, that they believe you will rescue them.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
There are a number of things parents can do to help students actually turn in homework:
- Show them how to organize their homework. One day, your child might graduate to color-coded folders, but in the beginning, simple is best. I recommend one folder for all completed homework. One place to put homework, one place to find it. What could be easier?
- Help them figure out a routine that they can use for each class. Each teacher has different class procedures; some want homework at the beginning of class, some at the end; some have a homework basket, others want homework passed to the front. While this might not seem like a big deal to you, it can be overwhelming for a 14 year-old. Find out if your child can turn in homework the same way for each class. For example, can he hand in homework at the beginning of the class- even if that isn’t the teacher’s regular procedure?
- Tell them to turn it in whenever they remember (or find it). Often, a student will realize that they forgot to turn in their homework a few minutes or hours after it was due, but they hold on to it. Explain that a little late is better than not at all.
- Find out from the teacher if homework is graded. Yes, we want our children to be responsible, but we also have to pick our battles. If the homework isn’t graded, doesn’t count, the teacher doesn’t look at it- why cause World War III if it’s not turned in?
- Let them suffer the consequences. This is the hardest one of all, isn’t it? We don’t want our babies to suffer- to miss recess! We don’t want to see an Incomplete or an D on a report card, do we? But, sometimes that’s what needs to happen for our children to realize that, “Oh, wow! Maybe I should turn in my homework!” If you keep saving them, they won’t ever do it for themselves.
Angela Norton Tyler is the author of the book Tutor Your Child to Reading Success. She is also an educator, business owner and speaker-trainer. This mother of two wears many hats, but the common thread running through them all: empowering parents.