I hear many instructors lamenting that their students are not doing their homework to the instructor’s satisfaction. If we agree that homework is an important part of the learning process, then it is important to tackle this problem.
Do your students know why they are doing homework? Don’t be so sure that they do. Many students do it because it’s part of the game, because they are told to do it, because they get points for doing it. They should be doing homework because homework can increase their understanding. You cannot assume that they know this.
On the first day of class I often ask my algebra or pre-algebra students “What do good students do?” They can develop quite a list of good student behaviors – coming to class every day, taking notes, doing homework, studying, etc. But when I ask why they take notes I hear crickets- everybody seems to do it, I’ve always done it, … We have a quick discussion about what notes are for, how to use them after class, and what belongs in them.
In my class homework does not directly impact a student’s grade unless they are passing exams. I make sure that students understand that the goal of the homework is to increase their understanding, and that will be measured on the exams. Equally as important: the goal of doing homework is not to simply accumulate points.
Because my students know why I assign homework they understand its importance. They do not view it as some sort of busywork. And they do it. And they do it well. Of course we have discussions about how to approach doing homework in such a way that students will maximize their learning, just not before they understand why they are doing it.