No Excuses for No Homework
I’d wager that most middle grades teachers spend incredible amounts of time dealing with students and their homework issues. I’m also willing to bet that homework plays a major role in student failure at middle schools and high schools across our nation.
What does a middle grades staff do to combat this relatively common problem?
At Jane Addams Junior High in Schaumburg, Illinois, “Missing homework is not an option” is a popular phrase around school. The staff developed a system that makes it impossible for our 730 students to not do their homework. The best part of this system is that it has helped improve overall student achievement, which is the primary goal of every school.
It all started with a philosophical change. The staff at Jane Addams embraced a major tenet of the Professional Learning Community at Work model by “doing whatever it takes” to help students. Per Rick DuFour’s recommendations in the book Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap, we decided to combat low homework performance by providing more time and support for the students.
At Jane Addams, we believe:
- The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn.
- It is our responsibility to create the conditions that promote high levels of learning for all.
- Completing homework is essential to students being successful in their learning.
- Therefore, we will insist students complete their homework, and we will create systems to ensure they do so.
While this philosophy seems simplistic at first glance, it is significant because it acknowledges that we as educators must ensure the academic success of our students down to the detail of making sure they complete their homework. No longer do we give zeroes for missing work or half credit for homework a day late. Instead, we require the students to do the work. This lets the students know that we value this homework so much that we will not let them out of it.
Our first step was setting up a Guided Study Hall (GSH) program. By 2:15 p.m. every Thursday, all teachers are required to enter into a database the names of students who are missing assignments. Our loose criteria is the “2 and 2” system. Students who are missing 2 or more assignments from 2 or more classes are put on the GSH list for the following week. Students who don’t meet the criteria can qualify for GSH if there are openings.
Students are informed on Friday that they qualified for the GSH program for the following week. This means they are required to spend their lunch and study hall time (40 minutes total) completing their homework in a classroom supervised by a certified staff member. When they find out they’ve qualified for GSH, many students complete their homework over the weekend and are excused from the program. Those who do not are in GSH until their homework is complete. This cycle continues every week.
If GSH does not solve the homework completion issue for a student, we move on to Step 2.
Step 2 involves an after-school program called Crusader Club (CC). Students who are still missing work after two weeks in GSH are assigned to the Crusader Club, where they work from 2:15 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Mondays to complete their work under the supervision of a teacher. All staff members are aware of who has qualified for the program via an electronic school share folder. Many of them stop by CC and check in with the students who were missing homework from their class, providing a few minutes of direction and guidance.
Students who are still having homework issues can be kept after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays also. (At the beginning of the school year, we secure parental permission for students to participate in our after-school programs.)
Students may not opt out of these programs. If they are missing work and need the support of Crusader Club, they must stay after school.
Believe it or not, GSH and CC do not ensure 100% of our students complete their homework. So we added a third step.
The final step in our homework completion program is General Support Intervention (GSI). If, after four weeks of GSH and two weeks of CC students still are not succeeding because of missing work or low test scores, they qualify for this program.
These students are withdrawn from one of their two electives and given a full 40-minute period during the school day with a certified teacher. Typically 4–8 students are in each GSI period. We currently have five GSI periods supporting 25 students.
We understand the concern of those who balk at the idea of pulling students from electives to help them complete homework. However, we do this because these students are unable to do the required work and need to have more time and support during the school day.
The carrot for students entering GSI is that as soon as they show that they can complete their homework on a regular basis, they can return to their elective class.
The homework intervention plan sounds good on paper, and in practice it is working and showing positive results. We are pleased with not only the reduced number of failures, but also with the higher level of student achievement since the introduction of this system at the beginning of the 2008–2009 school year.
The number of failure grades given per trimester declined from 78 at the end of the 2007–2008 school year to 0 at the end of last year. On state testing, the percentage of our students who scored “meets” or “exceeds” rose from 87.8% and 89.6% in reading and math (respectively) in 2007–2008 to 91.4% and 95.2% in 2008–2009.
In his book The Learning Leader, Douglas Reeves says, “The appropriate consequence for failing to complete an assignment is completing the assignment. That is, students lose privileges, free time, and unstructured class or study hall time, and they are required to complete the assignment.”
The staff members at Jane Addams have embraced this belief and developed a system that makes it a reality.
This article, originally published in the August 2010 issue of Middle Ground, is posted here with permission from NMSA.