In Other Words No Homework Slip
by Harry and Rosemary Wong
A 92 Percent Homework Turn-in Rate
Ready before it happens---that’s the hallmark of an effective teacher. Barbara De Santis is one such teacher who is ready before her students walk in the door each morning. For those students who do not do their homework, Barbara De Santis has pink slips ready for pick up and completion.
Chelonnda Seroyer uses pink slips, too, and she has a high percent homework turn in rate.
Both of these effective teachers and their procedures have been featured in past teachers.net columns. Barbara De Santis shared her first day of school script in “Effective Teachers Are Proactive.” Chelonnda Seroyer validates “The Power of Procedures” in the February 2005 column.
Barbara and Chelonnda use the pink slip technique to give students an opportunity to explain why they chose not to do their homework.
In their classrooms, students are not allowed to sit passively and not turn in their homework. They are required to take responsibility for their actions by completing a pink slip when homework is not turned in. The students are warned of this procedure on the first day of school.
Click here to see the pink slip.
The students are told that there is no penalty for filling one out other than the loss of credit for their homework assignment. However, they always ask, "What happens after we get so many?" or "What are you going to DO to us if we get one?"
Chelonnda tells her students that she will not be DOING anything to them. It is simply a procedure that allows them to offer an explanation and allows her to document why they do not have their homework.
She does tell them that she will show the pink slip to their parents and the administration, if necessary, during conferences about their performance in her class. She gets affirmation that they understand the procedure and moves on.
Origin of the Pink Slip
Barbara De Santis learned of the pink slip technique when she heard Chelonnda Seroyer speak at a meeting. Chelonnda, in turn, said she “stole” the technique from a fellow teacher, Karla Hensen, at Liberty Middle School in Madison, Alabama.
The original form was called the "Personal Responsibility Card." It was a 3½ x 5 inch card and it had the same information that the pink slip has.
However, Chelonnda found that the card was difficult to file and it did not stack neatly with the other homework papers. So, with a good friend, Grindl Weldon at Locust Fork High School in Blount County, Alabama, they resolved to revise it.
Someone had given Chelonnda a pack of pink paper (“Teachers will accept anything!” she says.) and she didn't know what to do with it. So, instead of wasting it, they opted to reprint the information from the "Personal Responsibility Card" and put it on the "Pink Slip."
It worked wonderfully because it was an 8½ by 11 inch piece of paper that was easily distinguished from the rest of the stack. This made it easier to sort and file immediately.
Chelonnda’s Pink Slip Experience
Although the students are fully aware that she will use the pink slip during conferences, Chelonnda says that she is often amazed by what they will write down.
One student said that he did not do his homework because his grandmother
died and he had to go to her funeral.
Shortly after that, the administration orchestrated a conference concerning this student's poor academic progress. Guess who showed up at the conference . . . the grandmother!
Another student wrote,
"I was at home and I sat down to do my work and then I realized that I didn't have a pen or a pencil. So, after looking for a total of 15 seconds, I chose not to do my work then, but I would get to it later. I lied. I didn't do it at all because I forgot. THE END."
Shortly thereafter, his father called to inquire about the zero that his son received on this assignment. Chelonnda read his son’s statement to him and there was absolute silence on the other end of the phone! He quickly thanked her for her time and said that he would have a talk with his son!
Chelonnda and Harry regularly present their classroom management techniques to the teachers of the Miami/Dade County Schools.
At one of these sessions, a teacher shared that he had been using the pink slip. He had a HORRIBLE time with students not turning in their work. He used the pink slip. He said that the first week he used an entire ream of paper. The next ream lasted him the rest of the school year! His homework turn in rate improved drastically!
At a similar type of session in New Jersey, a principal said that he asked his teachers to use the pink slip. He said that their homework turn in rate increased from 45 percent to 85 percent!!
Chelonnda says that she currently has a 92 percent homework turn in rate.
And, it gets better each year!
Barbara’s Pink Slip Experience
Barbara De Santis shares how she has used the pink slip:
- It provides excellent documentation at parent teacher conferences. When the parent swears the child has completed the assignment, the pink slip is produced in the child’s handwriting. End of discussion.
- They are great resources when writing progress reports. Information from the pink slips can be sent home every week for parental review and signature, if needed.
- In her class, she uses them to withhold reward activities. Excessive pink slips means the student cannot go to a special program or cannot participate in a class activity.
Barbara started to use the pink slips last school year and has shared that she plans to spend time this year analyzing its efficacy during the school year. She says that she wants to see if she can identify any recurring problems. She plans on involving the students in the analysis of the problems and have them make recommendations for improvement and success.
Before you use the pink slip as a threatening devise, do as Barbara De Santis plans to do this year. Analyze the problem. It may well be how the homework assignments are being assigned.
How to Improve the Homework Turn-in Rate
- Wait until the second or third week of school to assign homework that is to be done at home. During the first week or two of school, assign homework, but do it in class. Teach the students the procedure of how to do the homework. When you have assessed the student’s ability to do the homework correctly, then assign homework to go home.
- Start the homework in class and then send the students home to finish the homework is a variation to use when you sense students may have a difficult time with the assignment.
- Tell the students what the homework is and what the purpose is of the homework. The homework must be correlated to the objectives of the lesson. If not, the students will ask why they have to do the homework. The students will suspect (as well as the parents) that the assignment is just busy work masquerading as “homework.”
- Make the homework consistent in style and clear in purpose. A consistent style also helps to reinforce the routine of completing the assignment. This is the same as routines that must be done in life such as washing the dishes, calling an elderly parent, or picking up the kids, but if there is a routine, it makes the task that much easier to complete.
- Give homework that is a positive, enriching experience. It should be an opportunity to reinforce the day’s learning.
- Indicate the probable length of time for completion somewhere on the homework assignment. Just as you like to know the length of a song on a CD or the length of a movie on a DVD or at a theater, you can improve homework completion rate if the students know the time it will take to do an assignment.
Bear in mind that some students are shuttled between parents or caregivers. Others have parents or siblings to take care of or have a part-time job, so you can help them to schedule their time by indicating the length of the assignment.
Do the first few homework assignments yourself. Ask yourself the important question: If I were the student, could I complete the assignment in a reasonable amount of time, with success, and what will I have learned or have reinforced from having competed the homework assignment?
Procedures for Orchestrating Homework
Dedicate a place in the classroom to post assignments. This can probably be the same place where the daily schedule is posted.
As soon as the students come into the classroom, have them place their homework in a designated spot on their desk (a procedure) and begin their bellwork assignment.
While they are working, work the class—visiting with each student, asking about their homework, maybe even their life. Daily contact right at the beginning is an easy, but meaningful way to build a relationship.
Homework must be corrected. If they see that homework is assigned, but not looked at, they will logically stop doing the homework, even with the best of students.
The purpose of homework is to reinforce or provide more practice for the class objective and lesson. You don’t grade practice, so don’t let homework become too much a part of the student’s grade, if at all.
Check the homework for completion or correctness, initial or stamp it, and note the completion in your grade-record book. The students want and appreciate the immediate feedback.
Bear in mind that certain students have parents who help their children with their homework, provide a designated study place, and even have procedures at home for where and when homework should be done. These students obviously have an advantage over the students who do not have these, which is not their fault.
Help the students to organize their homework. This also helps the parents to organize helping their child. To do this, perhaps you can have a permanent HOMEWORK FOLDER provided for each student. The homework goes home nightly in the folder and is returned the next day in the folder. The homework or the folder is placed in the designated place on the desk.
For those students who may be homeless, have parents who are barely making ends meet, or have no place to study, place a sheet or two of binder paper in the folder. It would even be nice if an occasional phrase were written, heart were drawn in the corner, or a “thank you” written in the bottom corner.
Make use of a school or district homework hotline, if one is available. If students are absent a procedure is for them to check the hotline for the current homework assignment.
For younger children, have a place for the parents to initial that they have seen the homework folder. This way the student cannot claim that there is “no homework.”
Before you assign homework, check your school’s policy about homework. It may be highly prescribed as to what you are to do and not to do.
Some students may need weekly, rather than nightly homework. This may be better for gifted and more mature students. Some students may be very active in school or have outside of school activities and will appreciate this flexibility.
The most effective time to assign homework is during the lesson; otherwise it has no relevance to the student. The other effective time is at the end of the lesson when the homework can bring summary to what has been learned and provide transition to the next lesson.
Effective Teachers Share Their Success
Effective teachers never cease to learn – especially from each other.
You’ve just read how a simple technique observed by one teacher got enhanced and then “stolen” by another. What it really is is collaboration. Effective teachers sharing what works with others.
In high performing schools, teachers who take a collegial approach to decision making and are willing to share with one another produce students who reach high academic standards.
It’s quite obvious that classrooms where homework turn in increases from 45 to 85 percent are producing students that are achieving more. And this is with one simple technique – a pink slip.
Imagine the achievement levels of students if we opened our classroom doors, our file cabinets, our boxes of techniques and shared with each others. We thank those who have done just that with us, shared with us what has worked for them, so we can share it with others. You are truly helping to elevate the profession and increase student achievement.
Call it sharing; call it stealing; call it research; call it collaboration, call it collegial learning. It’s an endeavor we all must practice. No one school or individual has all the answers. And no one answer fits every question. It’s a process one goes through to find what works best. Our ears, eyes, and mind must always be alert for what others are doing and how it is working for them.
Make a commitment this school year to share with a colleague, the staff, in a professional journal, at a workshop, with us what is working for you and how your students benefit from it. You will become a member of a much larger profession and grow greatly in the process. And the real winners will be the kids for you’ll bring to the classroom new insights, greater depth of understanding, and an endowment for their success.
We depend on each other for the creative solutions to our problems and the inspiration to find solutions for those we serve—our students.
The effective teacher never ceases to learn.
Make September a month for Sharing.
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How do your teachers handle homework? Do you have a school-wide policy? Do students earn a homework grade? What about late homework? Or the effects of homework zeros on student grades? Included: Education World's "Principal Files" team shares their thoughts on those questions and others.
Does your school have a homework policy?
How much homework is the right amount for each grade level?
Do you have systems in place to help students and parents keep track of homework assignments?
Is homework graded?
What about homework that is submitted late?
And how about zeroes? Zeroes on homework can quickly affect a students' grade.
Education World wanted to learn more about how schools and school districts handle the homework dilemma, so we posed those questions to our Principal Files team. Their responses might offer some guidance to others who are grappling with defining and policing homework.
For many schools and school districts, defining homework and its purpose is a first step in creating a homework policy.
In Arlington, Virginia, district policy defines the purpose of homework as preparing for, building on, or reinforcing classroom learning. "The policy goes on to add that homework encourages responsibility and accountability and strengthens home-school communication about student learning," said Lolli Haws, principal at Arlington's Oakridge Elementary School.
"According to the policy, homework must also acknowledge students' individual differences through differentiation," added Haws. "It must be designed to be achievable by all students independent of school staff, access to technology, or materials only available at school; in other words, a child must be able to complete homework using resources available in the home."
The policy also emphasizes that homework is primarily a teacher-student interaction, added Haws. That means that
- parents shouldn't have to spend a lot of their time on homework with their child, and
- teachers should provide timely, consistent, and understandable feedback to students about their homework.
Just like it is in Arlington, homework is student -- not parent -- responsibility at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Atlanta. "Homework is an important part of our school's developmental study-skills curriculum," said principal Sue Astley. "Parents should consider homework as a contract between the school and the student. It is the student's responsibility to complete homework. Parents can best assist the process of learning by providing a consistent time and a quiet place for students to complete their homework and by showing a positive interest in it."
At the Edenrose Public School in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada), representatives of each grade, and the school's ESL and special education staffs, drafted a school-wide policy that was shared with all staff and the school council.
"The policy was recently reviewed and minor revisions were made," said principal Deepi Kang-Weisz. "Each year, the policy is sent home to all families in our back-to-school information package. In addition, each teacher reviews the policy with students."
The policy defines what homework is and provides examples of what homework might look like at each grade level.
At Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, homework is defined as "assignments that support specific concepts taught during the school day," said principal Larry Davis. "Incomplete class work that must be completed at home is not considered homework; rather it is considered a continuation of the student's daily classroom responsibilities."
We were surprised to find quite a bit of consistency across schools and districts when it comes to answering the question "How much homework should students have?"
The norm seems to be 10 to 15 minutes of homework per night by grade level. In other words, grade one students might have 10 minutes of homework each night; grade two students would have 20 minutes of homework; grade three students would have 30 minutes of homework, and so on
Other schools might spell out specific amounts of homework. For example, at Transfiguration School in West Hazelton, Pennsylvania, principal Sherry Ambrose says the following homework guidelines are in effect:
- Pre-K, Kindergarten -- as assigned
- Grade 1 -- 20 minutes
- Grade 2 -- 30 minutes
- Grade 3 -- 30-45 minutes
- Grade 4 -- 45 minutes to 1 hour
- Grades 5 to 8 -- 1 to 1-1/2 hours
At Doctors Inlet Elementary, "homework should never exceed 60 minutes per night," said principal Larry Davis, adding, "If homework is given, it must be graded for completeness and accuracy."
Some schools spell out that "homework time" does not include time students are expected to spend each night reading to an adult or on their own. Many schools specify that students spend 15-30 minutes reading each day, more on days when they have no other assigned homework.
Among the often-stated purposes of homework is that it helps students develop study skills, time management skills, and responsibility. In an effort to help students develop those skills, many schools support student learning by using homework assignment books, sometimes called agendas, and by providing resources that help students when they slip up by not carefully recording their assignments.
"Our students must use the school-designed homework notebook in which teachers initial each assignment given (as a means of checking that students have properly recorded the assignment) and that parents initial to indicate that they have looked at the completed assignments," said principal Heather Hamtil of St. Vincent DePaul Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. "For each assignment, the date given and the date due are recorded. Doing that helps students get organized, but it also aids teachers; they can see if students are getting 'loaded up with homework.' If parents complain about that, a teacher can often explain that some assignments were given several days before and that part of the education of the student is learning to prioritize assignments based on his or her evening activities and availability. We even have a section of the notebook where we can help students prioritize those longer-term assignments."
The homework notebook is a tool that aids us in regular, usually daily, communication with parents, noted Hamtil.
"Students must write their assignments in ink," she added. "That prevents them from changing an assignment before going home."
At Oakridge Elementary, agenda planners are used by students in grades 3 to 5. Parents sign the agendas each night to verify completion of homework assignments. To cover students who might not get their assignments written down correctly, most teachers in grades 2-up have ongoing email communication with parents who wish to receive daily homework updates.
Homework is assigned in weekly chunks at Transfiguration School. "Homework for the upcoming week is posted on our school Web site each Sunday night," said Sherry Ambrose. "For those who do not have Internet access at home, hard copies of weekly homework assignments are available in classrooms, or students can print them out in the computer lab."
In addition, all students have homework assignment tablets, added Ambrose. "Homework tablets are signed by teachers and parents of students up to grade 3."
Should homework be graded? If so, how much should it count? Ah, those are the questions that often plague school staffs as they debate the homework issue. Most schools have determined the grading of homework to be a teacher-level decision while some districts or principals offer guidelines.
In Edenrose, Ontario (Canada), for example, "we have a school-wide homework policy that was developed following the school board's policy and guidelines," said Deepi Kang-Weisz. "Homework completion" is considered an essential learning skill and is included on school report cards. Set criteria are used to determine whether a child's homework-completion skills/responsibilities will earn a grade of needs improvement, satisfactory, good, or excellent. Among the criteria used to determine the grade are
- Does the student complete homework on time and with care?
- Does the student put forth consistent effort?
- Does the student follow directions and complete all homework tasks?
- Does the student show attention to detail?
- Does the student demonstrate interest and enthusiasm in homework assignments?
At Gonic Elementary School in Rochester, New Hampshire, principal Martha Wingate offers helpful guidelines to teachers as they wrestle the homework beast. Some of her guidelines are ones she used when she was in the classroom. Those guidelines include a check system and several other rubrics.
The check-system rubric is pretty straight forward, said Wingate. Students earn a
"It is important that the check-system rubric is carefully explained to students and that what qualifies as extra-credit work is explained in advance," Wingate explained. "I include an extra-credit assignment almost every night. For example, in math, extra credit might require doing four more problems than assigned, or, in spelling, it might require sentences that are 10 words or longer."
In addition, all homework is checked first thing in the morning as students work on independent or bell-ringer activities. "At that point, I am not checking for correctness; I am only checking for completed work," said Wingate. "Another grade might be given later for accuracy of the work.
"When I used this system I included a reward component too. Students who averaged a grade of or higher for the week earned a 'No Homework Pass' that they could use on the last day of each month. Students might earn up to three passes in any month and 'cash them in' working backward from the last day of the month. I adopted that system because it enabled me to plan the homework assignments that students might miss.
"I should add that I am pretty generous with the s. I want as many students as possible to feel success. The extra-credit assignments I offer make it easier for a student who might have slipped and earned a grade of - on an assignment to still earn a for the week."
Wingate's check system is an easy one for teachers to adapt. "The system can work to improve students' homework skills and attention because
- the teacher gives each student daily attention about their homework;
- students see how important homework is to the teacher;
- students can see the opportunities to make up for work they didn't complete; and
- the teacher has the data required to give a "pure" homework grade for homework completion.
Wingate also offers her staff other rubrics for homework grading. (See the sidebar for sample homework rubrics.)
Most teachers accept late homework, though many deduct a grade for it. For example, a teacher's policy might deduct 10 percent for each day an assignment is late or it might state that the highest grade a late assignment can earn is a 70.
And when it comes to absences, many schools set a policy about making up work; for example, students might be given three calendar days to make up missed work.
But what about zeros? That question comes up often in teachers' rooms and staff meetings. If a student doesn't do the assignment, he earns a zero. He gets what he deserves, right? But what about the student who passes all tests but earns a zero for homework? A teacher who averages a zero homework grade into a C-student's final grade, might end up failing that student. But does that grade really reflect what the students knows? (Shouldn't a grade reflect what a student knows?) More and more schools are revisiting those questions. Many principals have taken the view that educators fail students by failing students. A few homework zeros are bound to frustrate a student, even to the point of forcing him to give up. To prevent that from happening, some schools have set a grading scale of 50 to 100 percent. Missing assignments are given a grade of 50. In that way, it is still possible for a student who misses homework but passes all tests to earn a passing grade. In the case of quizzes and tests, many schools' policies require re-teaching and re-testing until a student earns a passing grade. In that way, teachers are certain that students have "learned" the important concepts that are documented in their state's standards and that students have the building blocks necessary, especially in the maths, to move on to the next skill.
Alas, the grading debate is a sticky and complex one -- especially when it comes to the effects of zeros on students' grades.
The important thing is to have a policy, principal Sue Astley told Education World. "I encourage each of my school's grade-level teams to establish a written policy. That policy might include a statement of whose responsibility it is to handle missed homework; for young students, parents might request missed assignments, but older students might handle that responsibility on their own. Also, the policy might include a statement of how much advance notice is required for teachers to gather homework for a student who will be out of school for a period of time. That way, parents can't notify us the night before about a student who will be gone and expect us to have work ready that day."
Does your school have a homework policy? Is that policy in writing? If not, it might be time to make the commitment to review the homework issue, to come to a consensus about it and then commit your staff's agreement or consensus to writing.
Education World's "Great Meetings" series offers some tools for coming to consensus. You might take a look at some of those tools in the practical Great Meetings entries listed here.
Three Ways to Work With Ideas
Making Decisions: Voting and Super-Majority Voting
Making Decisions: Levels of Consensus
Making Decisions: Stoplight Cards and Thumbs Up
Making Decisions: Sharing Your "Sense of the Group"
"Having a homework policy in writing can help teachers avoid having to deal with complaints from parents," added Astley.
Principal Deepi Kang-Weisz agreed. "Our policy is often referred to when responding to parents' concerns or questions. Having a written policy can be a big help throughout the school year."
Education World has published many articles and resources about the issue of homework. Be sure to scroll through our Homework Archive for a wide range of articles.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © Education World
Last updated 06/11/2012