PURPOSE:  I teach Fundamentals of Academic Reading, and I believe part of my job is to teach students to take full responsibility for their homework.  To foster that, I use Homework Folders and Homework Responsibility Forms. 

SUPPLIES and SET UP

  • Colored two-pocket folders, one for every five students in the class
  • Homework Responsibility Forms (appended below)
  • NQA (No Questions Asked) Coupons

At the beginning of the semester, the Reading Team issues four No Questions Asked (NQA) coupons to each student.  Students may use these coupons to turn in homework one class late without any explanation required.  Once the four coupons are used, no more are given.  However, to provide students with an incentive to complete all assignments on time, we provide 10 bonus points to a student who turns in all four unused NQA coupons at the end of the semester.

PROCEDURE:

I ask students to turn in and pick up their homework and quizzes from Homework Folders. The homework folders are colored two-pocket folders, and I make four different colored folders for each class.  Then in alphabetical order, I write the names of five students on the front of each folder.  Inside the folder, I write IN on one pocket and OUT on the other.  To keep the folders for each class together, I carry each set rubber banded together with a set of homework responsibility forms.  I place the folders on a table near the door of the classroom when I come to class, and they remain there until I leave the classroom.  The students rapidly learn on which color folder their name is written, so they can swiftly find their folder to turn in or pick up their homework or graded quizzes.

To preserve privacy for the students, I write the grades on the bottom of their assignments.  Thus the grade is not visible to other students when they are looking for their own papers.  During the time that I have used this system, no students have ever complained that others are able to see their grade.

The folders facilitate the flow of assignments from students to me and back to students, but it is the next step that teaches them responsibility. When present in class, students must place either their homework or a completed Homework Responsibility Form in the Homework Folder. On a Homework Responsibility Form, a student acknowledges the assignment s/he did not complete, chooses one of three options, signs the form and places it in the IN pocket.  If neither the completed homework nor the Homework Responsibility Form is in the student’s folder, s/he receives an automatic zero for that assignment.

If the student then fails to turn in the assignment according to the choice s/he made on the Homework Responsibility Form, I place the Form in the OUT pocket with a zero on it for the missed assignment. Consequently, the students learn that completing the form but failing to follow-up on their promise is unacceptable.

So that students realize I respect their need for quick feedback, I consistently grade assignments before the next class. This practice sets an example for students about completing work in a timely fashion. 

To further promote responsibility, I do not directly ask students in class to turn in their homework nor do I hand collect any quizzes.  Instead, at the beginning of each class period, I write on the board the topic we will be discussing and what is due that day. The students who are on top of their work have often placed their homework in their folder even before I’ve written what’s due.  Others remember when they see the board and then place homework in their folder or complete the Homework Responsibility Form.

One more effort I make to further support student responsibility is establishing regular email communication with the students beginning the first day of class.  I’ve been gratified to have students who were absent from class email me completed assignments on the due date.  Sometimes students email me if they want clarification about an assignment.  Also if someone realizes that he/she can’t find an assignment that was passed out in class, that person will email me requesting me to send a copy of the assignment to him/her.  This established communication further enables students to take responsibility and complete the assignment on time.

EXPERIENCES

Students readily accept this procedure.  Rarely do any of them choose a zero unless that becomes the only option open to them.  In this case, they typically complete the form and accept a zero without complaint.  For example, the very first semester I used this system, one student quickly used up all her NQA’s.  However, she completed the form accepting a zero without a word when she once again found herself not keeping up with her assignments.  After that she turned the next assignment in on time for the first time all semester.

Some students actually place completed assignments in the homework folder before the due date.  When this happens, I frequently leave the assignment there until it is due, so I can grade it with the rest of the class. One student who had turned in an assignment a week early was desperately searching for it before class one day because he had remembered completing the assignment, but had forgotten that he had already turned it in.  Happily, I could tell him where it was.

The homework folders are helpful to me in a number of ways.  It is an easy for me to make sure no one misses out on getting something I gave out in class.  If someone is absent when I give out a new assignment or a handout, I write the person’s name on the top of the paper and put it in the OUT pocket.  The students know to find anything given out in class in the homework folder.  Furthermore, grading seems less of a chore because I grade one folder at a time.  Then I enter those grades which are all grouped closely in the grade book due to the alphabetical nature of the homework folders.

Another advantage of the homework folders is that I no longer have to spend class time collecting homework or handing back graded assignments.  Graded work is placed in the OUT pocket, and students generally check the folder and pick up their work as they are filing into class.  Additionally, someone who is late for class can stop on his/her way in or out of the class to turn in and/or pick up work.

OUTCOMES

I have observed a number of positive outcomes from using this system. Some students have reported that they learned to take responsibility for their homework for the first time in their lives.  At the end-of-semester evaluation of what he had learned, one student wrote he had learned the importance of homework and stated that this was the first class for which he had actually completed all the assignments.  He was very proud of himself and amazed at how well he did in the course.   Others have informally reported that they have realized for the first time that completing homework assignments is very important.  Several students have told me they like the class and that they have completed more assignments for my class than they ever had in the past.

Last semester, one student, per past habit, was taking school work rather nonchalantly.  He would frequently forget to bring homework or complete it later on the day it was due.  Thus he was completing the homework responsibility form at nearly every class, and he quickly ran out of NQA’s.  After that, when his only other choice was failing assignments, he managed to get every assignment but one completed on time.  This was a big improvement for him.  He, in turn, was pleased with himself.

At the end of the Fall, 2005, semester, I asked my students to respond to the following question:  “As the semester draws to a close, I’d like you to email me with three things that you are taking with you at the end of this class.  It can be something you learned academically that you think will help you. AND/OR it can be something you learned about yourself.  AND/OR it can be a process.”  For the first time ever, I categorized the 32 responses from students of what they considered the most important learning of the semester for them.  As the question was open-ended, I had to create 18 categories that fitted the phrasing of the responses.  Among those response categories that were related to homework responsibility were:  improved self confidence (6); can finish something, responsibility and prioritizing (2 each); and to push myself more (1).  

I have observed the self esteem of some students improving because by completing and turning in assignments, they have improved their grades, which makes them feel good about their accomplishment.  As every point counts, completing assignments is very important to success in the course I teach.  Many of my students have been poor students most of their lives.  However, once they started to turn in all their assignments, and thus were able to practice their skills more, their grades improved.  For example, one very verbal girl was so pleased with her B average, that she frequently proudly announced it to the class.  She told me privately that she hadn’t been diligent about doing her homework in the past, but now she saw the benefit of it.  Another student told me he hadn’t felt the need to do homework before.  However, he was pretty shocked when he had to complete the homework responsibility form and was expected to follow up on his promise.  After failing to follow through a couple of times, he turned himself around and was pleased that he was able to push himself to follow through.   Also, his grade started to improve.

LESSONS LEARNED  

Several times last semester, a student told me that s/he did the assignment but forgot to bring it and asked if s/he could email the assignment to me when s/he got home rather than bringing it in later in the day or using an NQA.  Therefore, I added another choice to the Homework Responsibility Form for this semester to include emailing the assignment by a specified time as an option.

I am also considering adding two questions to the form asking:  What did you consider more important than completing your homework?  How will you alter your approach to your homework in the future?  Another option I’m considering is emailing these question to the student after the second failure to turn in a homework assignment.

Another thing I’ve learned is that you cannot implement the homework responsibility forms without putting in time and effort at the beginning of the semester to make sure the process is executed by all.  The second time I used the homework responsibility forms, I was more casual about prompting students in the first few weeks because it was now routine for me.  However, I realized not everyone was complying until I guided them more in the beginning.  Therefore, you must be diligent from the beginning for the students to take the process seriously.  Once all the steps become routine, the students need few to no reminders and ultimately comply without a problem.  Of course the success rate for completing all homework assignments still isn’t 100% for every student in every class.  However, for those students who complete the semester, 95%-100% of them are taking full responsibility for their homework and turning in every assignment.  So, I feel that I have reached a lot of students in a positive way. 

RESOURCES: 

HOMEWORK RESPONSIBILITY FORM

If you do not have your assignment with you, complete this form and place it in the folder in which you turn in your homework.  Failure to complete this form when you do not turn in an assignment indicates that you are not taking responsibility for your homework and constitutes an automatic zero for the assignment due today.

I,  (Name), know that (Title of the assignment) was due today.   I will do one of the following.

CHECK ONE:

_____1. Turn in the completed assignment to ILB 239 before 3:00 p.m. today and ask that it be placed in my instructor’s mail box.

_____2. Turn in the completed assignment next class with an NQA.

_____3. Email the completed assignment to my instructor before 5:00 p.m. today.

_____4. Accept a zero for this assignment.

Signature:

Date:

–Luanne Erickson, Adjunct Faculty, English, Howard Community College, MD

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