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Why “Your homework is due tonight” is working

HW Teaching 101 says to check students’ homework during the first five minutes of class.

I think this is wrong for a few reasons:

  • It’s too late. Students who haven’t done their homework are behind. They might be frustrated, lost, confused, or disengaged. They’re in my class, but they’re not really in my class.
  • It takes too long. Instead of helping students with a warm-up, I’m checking whether they’ve done their homework.

  • It often leads to conflict and negativity. If I’m checking homework first, and the student hasn’t done it, class gets started on a bad foot.

That’s why I’m excited about something new I’m doing this year. It’s called “Your homework is due tonight.”

Instead of turning in their homework the next day in class, students turn in their homework online at 11 p.m. the night it’s assigned. Then, at 11:01 p.m., I send texts to the students who haven’t turned in their homework.

It’s working. On Tuesday night, five students didn’t do their homework. First thing Wednesday morning, when class began, everyone had completed it. Via text, one student apologized; another thanked me for the reminder; still another kept me posted about her progress.

Most important, class went really well. Students were ready for our discussion because all students had completed the homework. Then, when they peer edited each other’s essays, there was 100 percent engagement because there was 100 percent preparedness.

There’s no time to waste. Especially with what my students and I are trying to do this year, we can’t wait around. The results have to happen now.

That’s why I’m happy with “Your homework is due tonight.” Sure, I’d like the deadline to be 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m., but for right now, I love going to sleep knowing that we’ll be forging ahead the next day instead of meandering. 

4 comments

  1. John at TestSoup

    I’m so glad to hear that this experiment is working. I think it sounds flat-out brilliant. It usually is not the case that students actually cannot complete the homework, just that it gets lost in the shuffle due to poor time-management. You are helping them with that, and those lessons/habits will stay with them long after they have left your class.

  2. Mark Isero

    Thank you, John. The whole point of this idea is to change up the deeply entrenched script of schooling. Students who don’t do homework haven’t done it for years, and they’ve struggled for years, and it’s up to teachers to start changing up that script.

  3. Alexis

    Thanks for this post. I don’t even mess with “collecting” homework–students put it the designated basket when they come in every morning. That said, while I don’t have to waste class time checking homework, I also fail to actually get a reasonable amount homework turned in. Part of this has to do with the reality of working at an urban school and teaching 9th graders, but part of it is a time-management issue. I’m tempted to try your method, though the idea of committing to being awake every night at 11:01pm to send out the texts makes me wince…perhaps I will change the deadline to 10pm…

    • Mark Isero

      Thanks, Alexis. I agree with you about changing the time to 10 p.m. — 11 p.m. is too late. I think the hardest part is teaching habits of work, especially to ninth graders. By that time, as you know, work habits are sometimes hard to change. Even though I hope that all my students will turn in their homework, I know that it’s up to me to shift patterns of achievement.

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