It’s that stressful time of the year—or to keep this positive, exhilarating time—when winter break is almost here. But it’s also a time when your students are more focused on the sugarplums dancing in their heads than on finishing and turning in all of their late homework assignments.
“I wish there was this magic dust to make it happen,” says WGU Masters in Education graduate Arby Dickert, who teaches science, chemistry, and physical world concepts at Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee. “I tell my students that they are making choices and some bad choices you can recover from and some you can’t. So turn your work in and I can give you a grade and we can go on.”
I recently reminisced with Arby about what teachers can do when pleading with your students just isn’t enough to get them to catch up. Here are a few of our most treasured traditions to help students capture the spirit of homework and turn in their late work before the semester ends:
More than reindeer games
“Some teachers I know use the mobile app Kahoot! to assign homework that’s fun,” says Arby. The mobile app lets you create games for homework instead of pen and paper assignments. “I don’t use it, though, because it’s not so easy with ELL learners. Instead, I use POGIL -- we do this group activity when students turn things in on time and the game helps them learn.”
POGIL is an acronym for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. Students work in small, self-managed teams on materials that supply data or information, followed by guiding questions designed to lead students towards formulating their own conclusions. The teacher works as a facilitator with the activities, rather than the instructor.
Arby says POGIL doesn’t replace homework but it can minimize the impact on students’ grades for late assignments that aren’t turned in.
“There’s even a POGIL group that you can join online that will give you access to it,” he adds.
Also, to make finishing school work more appealing, try starting a “No Late Work Club” like Diane Roethler, a 5th grade teacher in the Iowa City area. Students who don’t have more than one missing assignment per quarter are invited to quarterly parties where they watch movies and eat snacks, play board games, or attend an outdoor tailgate party. Each student is allowed one "oops" pass for each of the four core classes — if they do have a late assignment, they can staple the pass to it to avoid penalty. But a second late assignment in that class will eliminate them from the party for that quarter.
“When my entire grade level was using it at my last school, it was very effective,” says Diane. "Over 95 percent of our students were able to attend one or more of our quarterly parties for having no more than one late assignment."
If excessive missing assignments is a pervasive problem for a large number of your students (therefore making incentives like Diane’s parties less effective), you can try creating a low-key make-up party for students who have two or less missing assignments each month. You can block out an hour or two for students to enjoy pizza or treats while they finish off that last paper in class. Then students can celebrate by quietly visiting with friends before going home for the day.
Dine in or linger late
At City Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, I motivated kids to turn in their work or choose to exclusively dine in with me during lunch while we finished the work together. I would require however many consecutive lunch periods were necessary until the work was done.
For most of these high school students, this was an effective deterrent to late work since the lunch hour was a critical hour on their social agendas – which tended not to include spending extra time with their teacher.
Arby has accomplished the same results by keeping kids after school, reasoning that students either don’t want to stay at the school late or just really need help finishing their work.
You can also use a catchy tune during your homework catchup parties, or play one before your students head home for the day.
Arby plays the 1970s song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band when his students walk into class in the morning.
“They hear ‘time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future,’ which is just a little subliminal reminder that time is running out to turn in their work,” he says.
If rap is more your style, play “I Did My Homework,” which can be found on musicnotesonline.com. This video puts a silly spin on homework themes with students running a handvac or iron over their papers to turn in “neat” and “clean” work.
Finally, if at the 11th hour you still don’t have all of the homework you wanted from your students, consider an in-class activity that demonstrates their understanding of what you were trying to teach them with the homework.
“Some students think that ‘D’ means `diploma’ and they and their parents just don’t care enough to help them,” says Arby. “But if students will at least show me they understand something about the concepts they were supposed to learn from the homework, then I’ll usually waive some penalties.”
This strategy is working for Arby: One of his “F” students just raised his grade to a “B,” which he shared in his weekly email to parents.
“Parents showed this comment to students and the flood gate opened,” says Arby. “This week, I had three students stay after school working on late assignments. Remember that the most important thing is for students to show you that they are learning.”