Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The "Missing Homework" Conundrum!

I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. As a former educator and administrator, I spent quite a bit of time talking with parents whose children either didn't do or didn't turn in their homework.

Believe it or not, there are a TON of students who go home, spend hours doing their homework and then fail to turn it in. They receive missing assignment reports, detentions are given, parents are notified and the hunt for the missing assignment begins.

With most of these students, the work is somewhere in the backback. It's almost ALWAYS in there. It just never made it out. I worked on this great mystery for 15 years and never was able to make sense of it. There was no discernible pattern. There were no commonalities between the students. There was simply no rhyme or reason that I could find for this.

With the first type of student, parents ranted and raved, we had locker and backpack checks, we had students check in with the Guidance Counselors daily. We had teachers specifically asking for work daily. We pulled out all the tricks and used them as best we could. Yet, in some cases, they continued to not turn in their homework. I'm almost convinced that there is a neurological disconnect for these students. Maybe it's a fear of turning over something they've worked so hard on. I have no idea!

The second type of student in this situation simply did not do the assignment. Either they "didn't hear the teacher" or they "forgot" or they simply didn't understand the assignment so they didn't do it.

Schools have different responses to these situations. Some simply issue a zero and move on. Some allow the student an extra day but offer a reduced grade for the assignment. Others have a system in place that forces the student to stay after school and complete the assignment. I'm sure there are other options but these are the most familiar to me.

The second type of student with missing assignments was the one who simply failed to do them. That, my friends, would be the case with my 12 year old Boy Child.

I'm at a loss. I am a former teacher and principal. This should NOT be happening to me! It's like the curse of the preacher's kid!

We have done everything we can think of to change this child's behavior. Every day I ask him, "Do you have homework?" and he answers, "Yes." Every day, he sits down and does his homework and announces when he's done. Every day I ask, "Are you sure you did it all?" And every day, he answers, "Yes."

Yet, every other day (or so it seems), I get a call telling me he's got "an academic referral" for not turning in something. It's maddening! Maddening, I tell you! You see, every time he gets one of these academic referrals, he has to stay after school that day or the next for an hour and a half to work on the missing assignment and his current homework.

The Spouse and I are very supportive of this action. HOWEVER, the frequency with which this is occurring is now interfering with my and The Spouse's ability to actually come home for the evening. This is NOT a good thing!

The Spouse feeds me. She keeps me nourished. She enjoys cooking. She does not, however, enjoy being delayed because The Boy Child forgot to do a simple Social Studies assignment. That works out to be a really, really bad thing for everyone.

The question, then, is this: How do we lessen and eventually eliminate the "I forgot" conundrum?

The solution, I believe, begins with a series of rewards and punishments. For instance, if he goes an entire week without an academic referral, we can stop at a favorite fast food restaurant for his favorite food on the Friday of that week. If, however, he receives an Academic Referral during a week then he will lose an entire day of technology. (In our home "technology" is defined as anything that draws power, uses power, or connects one electronically with the outside world.)

So, effective this week, we are going to begin this process. I'm sure, much like the chore chart episode, there will be much to post about in the coming weeks. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

If you have any solutions or thoughts, please share them! I'm willing to try just about anything!


  1. That was a phenomenon I dealt with while raising both of my sons. I tried everything - rewards didn't work, punishment didn't work (I went so far as to remove the door from my son's room), a system of organization didn't work, and talking, yelling, crying, etc. didn't work. I finally left them to suffer the consequnces of their actions. One son graduated high school a year after his peers and the other got it together more quickly, but realized when he was trying to get scholarships for college that he had shot himself in the foot.

    The one who graduated a year late started failing to do homework in the 5th grade. He would stay up until 10:30 p.m. every night working on homework, but when he got a project to do on top of it all, he just decided not to do it. I asked him what he thought would happen if he didn't do it and his response was, "I thought I'd get a zero." Yup...he was right!

  2. If you want to grade responsibility make it a course. Does the kid get the school subject material or not? The rest is life lessons that life will repeat until you get it.

  3. Anonymous, how can the instructor determine if the subject material is mastered or not if the work demonstrating mastery isn't submitted?

    As for advice, tell the child what will happen if this continues. Set a standard and a consequence for not meeting the standard, and then don't back down. For example, a standard could be no more than 1 missing assignment in a month. If he/she doesn't meet the standard, the consequence should quietly but consistently occur.

    Don't reward him/her for doing what is basic accepted behavior. Especially not a fast food reward. You'll end up with a hefty kid who thinks he should get paid for meeting basic expectations. Is that what you really want?

  4. Enjoyed reading the "Missing Homework" Conundrum. Perhaps these genius, supposedly obstinate children have the incredible insight to know that work should be at work and family/home time should be just that...focused on family and home. Adults who bring their work home are considered "workaholics". Maybe these wonderful children are a great source of resistance to a society that would seek to produce an entire citizenry who live to work. At PLA, because our students are in school from 8 to 4 on Mon-Thurs, we almost never send work home with them. Interestingly, I think that many of them choose to spend their time in positive ways - reading, spending time with family members, enjoying "downtime". This also gives the parents more freedom to choose what they want their child to spend time doing (consider parent as key educator). The more they have this downtime, the more they seem to be able to focus on learning when it is time for that. It is the same with recess...the idea is that if recess is reduced, students will have more "time on task" with learning. Not so. The truth is that recess and play are a very healthy and natural outlets for students that help them to be more focused and on-task during learning time.

  5. Rustybol, I agree with you. In his acclaimed book, "Brain Rules" Dr. John Medina clearly show the correlation between a lack of activity and "brain drain". The research is overwhelming and quite clear. We should ALL take short breaks during the work day to krefuel our brains with oxygen and blood. The only way is to engage in some physical activity. You do not have to work up a sweat but you need to engage in activity that infuses your blood with oxygen and gets the blood flowing to the brain.

    I love your 4 day school week. Our students do need some time to revitalize and rejuvenate.


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