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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Work With the No-Homework Kid

Editor's Note: Holden Clemens (a pseudonym) is an educator who has dedicated his life to providing hope to students in his classroom. He is also a humorist, and he hopes to bring smiles to the faces of hard working educators around the globe. This is the first in his series on how to teach to a variety of different student archetypes.

I wanted to talk briefly today about a series of posts I have entitled: The Other Student. The Other Student is about those kids in your class that seem to fall between the cracks of our great educational system. (It's hard to believe that a student can slip by in a class of 32 with varied special needs, but I heard a story once where a child was left behind, and it made me sad.) Today's post will be on the Missing Homework kid.

Back in the day, I taught at JFK Middle School in the great state of Ohio. I was a vibrant young history teacher ready to take on the world. The year started off smoothly as 36 of my students came to class and were ready to learn. However, student 37 did not come to class prepared to learn. We will call him Kevin McAllister. Kevin was a bright kid that knew the material and was always engaged in class. He would take notes and he would even help other students with their work. I even saw him help his older brother Buzz with his Math work once! Despite those good things, Kevin was failing my class. Kevin failed to turn in much of his homework and this was hurting his grade in my class.

These Ideas Didn't Work

My first instinct as a teacher was to worry about the other 36 students who were doing the homework. They wanted to learn, so I focused on them. Surprisingly, this approach did not help Kevin. Next, I started to punish Kevin for not turning in his homework. I figured the failing grades were not influencing him, so missed recess time and calling him out in class would do the trick. You would have to imagine my shock when these tactics actually made matters worse. Kevin stopped participating in class and started to show up late. I was vexed. I was forced to approach the manner in a very "outside the box" way.

But This One Did...

One day, I decided to talk to Kevin. I know many of you think that is crazy, but talking to a student turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done! I asked Kevin how he was doing and he looked up at me with surprise. It turns out nobody asks Kevin how he is doing. He wasn't sure what to say. He had that "deer in headlights" look that Sec. Duncan gets when someone asks him an education-related question. You know the one I'm talking about.

After striking up the conversation, I shifted to homework and found out the problem. Kevin was embarrassed of his handwriting. He didn't want other kids to see his handwriting when he passed in his work. I didn't think about it until he mentioned it, but the homework he failed to turn in was all hand-written material. Classwork was done in class and he would just keep it. All work done at home on a computer or in the computer lab at school was turned in without a problem. I told Kevin that he doesn't need to be embarrassed about his handwriting. He just needs more practice. Kevin and I set a time once a week to work on his handwriting as long as he promised to turn in his work after class when kids left the room. It was a great deal.

What Happened?

As time went on, Kevin's homework was always turned in after class. As he got better with his handwriting, he would start to pass work in with the rest of the class until it was decided that he didn't need to stop by and work on it with me.

There are "Kevins" in many classes around the country. The issue might not be handwriting. It could be the lack of paper at home or an ESL issue. Kids have many different ways to hide what is going on. Most of school for some kids is trying to get by and they will do whatever it takes to move on. That even means failing classes.

The Benefits of Asking

In our crazy days in the classroom, it is too easy to forget that these kids are people with real problems that might be to embarrassed to talk about to anyone. Also, it is sometimes hard to believe that your class is not the most important part of their day. Reaching out and talking to the student might be the start of a relationship that changes a student's life. Take a moment and connect with all of your students. You might be surprised to find the real reasons behind some of their actions in class.

Until next time, learn them kids gooder every day!

Feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @HoldenClemens!

Comments (21)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

wanyi wang's picture

I think homework is very important part of student's learning. We give students test, examination to evaluate our student's learning. That I found homework is very important is due to the two reasons: firstly homework prepare students well for the continuous learning activity, connect the current learning and upcoming teaching; secondly homework helps students review, re-clarify what is being taught and build more confidence in the future learning, moreover, when students do homework, they can discuss with classmates, ask teachers questions or even ask help from parents to make sure they do understand what they are doing. In the process of doing homework, students are learning, reviewing the subject topic with less anxiety therefore more intrinsic motivation is cultivated. And if teacher takes homework seriously, such as assigning homework regularly, grading student's homework at reasonable weight, then students will put effort in homework.

Morrissey-Pulvers's picture

Rural schoolmarm asked a question about punishment...but the question referred to consequences. There is a huge difference between logical consequences and punishment. A consequence has a lasting effect because it is logically related to the behavior while a punishment is temporary, arbitrary, and emotional. There is absolutely no place for punishment in an educational setting.
Consequences seek to teach while punishment seeks to control (power struggle between you and your student/child).
Consequences leave the student with a feeling of control while punishment leaves the student feeling helpless.
Consequences use thinking words while punishment uses fighting words.
Consequences provide choices within firm limits while punishment demands compliance with no choice.
Consequences are given with empathy while punishment is given with anger.
Consequences are tied to the time, place, and severity of the infraction while punishment is arbitrary.
Consequences are similar to what would happen to an adult in a comparable situation while punishment is arbitrary.
Consequences are never used to get revenge while punishment may be used to get revenge (e.g. he had it coming!).
Consequences teach students to take responsibility for their choices while punishment results in the student focusing on their emotions toward the adult delivering the punishment.

Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

Thanks for the explanation of differences between punishment and consequences. I would add one more:

Punishment destroys relationships while skillful use of consequences can strengthen relationships.

Thiago Fernandes's picture

[quote]So... should kids only do what they "want" to do? What a wonderful world that would be.[/quote]

They're kids. They mostly should be doing what they want. It's ridiculous to think we can make kids into leaders when we are telling them what to do all the time.

1Volunteer's picture
1Volunteer
5/6 Science Teacher

I once had a student tell me that his homework was being used as evidence in a criminal investigation.

retzerk's picture

I have learned that more times than not the reason why kids are not doing their homework is because of issues at home. I have had students tell me they can't do their homework at home because they are taking care of their sibblings while their parent is working, they are too tired because they don't have a bed to sleep on and the floor was cold, their parents were up all night arguing, just to list a few things students have told me. It is so imporant to take the time to get to know all of your students and build a trusting relationship with them. It might mean that we have to give up our lunch break, come earlier or stay later to help these students. In the long run difference though between the kids that just refuse to do their homework because they don't want to and those who want to but have personal issues going on at home that interfere with their school work.

Kyrie's picture

I can truly appreciate the humor of this main article. Too often I forget that the easiest solution is just to sit and talk to the student. I am a substitute teacher and have been for 3 years. I have also started working for an after school program at a middle school that strives to help students complete homework and missing assignments, which is what drew me to this topic today. Most days are a struggle, but some can be enlightening. The program is from 2:40-5:00 with most students catching a bus or walking home at around 4:30. It can be really tough keeping students on task and working hard, knowing that they have been in school all day beforehand. I usually try to bribe them with a fun game after they are done which seems to work well...and the great part is, most of the games are secretly educational so it's a win-win. :)
I would like to think that in my future classroom I could provide time for students to work on skills while having fun playing a game. But, then I have to stop and ask myself, "Is this even achieveable?"

Steven Korner, Ph.D.'s picture
Steven Korner, Ph.D.
Psychologist/Harrington Park School; Private Practice, Cresskill, NJ

This story highlights the importance of simply talking with students. I advocate a consultation approach with the teachers with whom I work. However, this simple idea is often overlooked because of the emotions induced in teachers by their students. For example, as the story notes, becoming punitive is a common response to non-performance because it frustrates teachers or makes them feel ineffective. Once teachers' emotional responsiveness can be self-regulated, the consultation can begin. Talking allows us to understand the student better and then craft a strategy tailored to each student's needs.

Jaime's picture

With all the demands placed upon teachers on both the district and national levels, it is easy to over looks these types of kids in class. Furthermore, this article proves that when teachers are student focused, it is amazing what they can learn by simply taking the time to ask a kid what is going on. Now of days I feel that we place so much emphasis upon homework completion that we have lost sight of the true purpose of homework, which mastery skill building. As a system we need to refocus on how homework is being utilized in our classrooms. If you use it for busy work or just because it is what has always been done, then why do you care if the students don't complete it. Grades should be based upon mastery and proficiency not whether or not you are turning in something that may or may not relate to what you are learning.

Ms. Arnold's picture

Oh wow... This definitely gave me a different outlook on why homework may not be turned in. For me, growing up, if my homework wasn't being done it was simply because I didn't feel like doing it. Therefore, I automatically assume the same of students. Sometimes, I have to remember what it was like being a kid (being picked on, body going through changes, etc). Kids are very cruel to one another. It's funny though because they will do and say anything to keep themselves from being talked about. This blog post really gave me something to think about. Instead of jumping to conclusions, find out the source to the problem and try to work out a legitimate solution.

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