George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

How to Work With the No-Homework Kid

Educator and humorist Holden Clemens notes that asking the right questions can make all the difference.

April 25, 2011

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!

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  • Classroom Management
  • K-2 Primary
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