There are a lot of things that I could do better in my teaching practice. And I’m naturally quite critical of myself. A question I’ve been asked a lot over this summer by university friends is, “Do you enjoy teaching?” And although I always answer yes, and I do enjoy it, the question always makes me think of the days that I travelled home from school frustrated with some part of how the day went. I tend to focus on the negative aspects of my practice, which makes sense, because they’re the things I want to improve. But it’s a little depressing!
So it was nice the other day when I was talking to my sister, who is also a teacher, and she asked about something I introduced to my classroom last year that I was quite proud of. It was, in fact, her idea. But she wanted to know exactly how I’d organised it and set it up, how I ensured it worked, and followed through on it. It was very invigorating to be quizzed on a positive aspect of my teaching!
Anyway, two paragraphs is enough to ramble without mentioning the topic of the post, which is Homework Excuse Cards. When I started teaching, I had big problems with ensuring homework was handed in. It probably happens with a lot of new teachers – the pupils want to see how they react, how far they can push them. The result was that the first few weeks of the year I spent a lot of class time writing down the names of pupils who hadn’t given homework in, asking people who hadn’t handed homework in yet if they had it, asking people why they hadn’t come to detentions set for not handing the homework in, and feeling very disorganised. I needed to give the pupils more responsibility for the process. After all, why should I be put out for something they haven’t done?
Enter the homework cards. I prepared cards with the name of each pupil in each of my classes in. This had the strange initial effect of pupils liking the cards, because they were personalised! I think it’s a good strategy though, because pupils knew I had them ready if they were needed. Each year group was printed on a different colour of paper (or card when I could lay my hands on it!) so that I could find them easily. The cards have three spaces for ‘incidents’ of forgetting homework on them, so when homework is due in pupils have to put it on their desk, and I will walk round the class quickly checking it’s done. If it isn’t, I give them their Homework Record Card (I thought using the word ‘excuse’ in large font as a heading made it sound too adversarial) and they have to write the date and the reason they haven’t got their homework in the next space. I can then go round and collect the completed cards in throughout the lesson.
This makes it easy to keep track of who hasn’t done their homework and the follow-up needed, since I keep the ‘active’ cards in a separate pile. It also allows me to have very transparent guidelines for forgetting homework – the first incident gets a twenty minute detention, the second a forty minute detention, and the third an hour after-school detention including a phone call home. When pupils have done these detentions I will sign their card so that I know the incident has been dealt with, and the card goes back in the ‘inactive’ pile.
Getting pupils to write down the reasons is useful because it makes them less likely (in my opinion – I’m not sure if there’s research on this) to lie, because it’s a permanent record and they know if they have three missed homeworks you will be reading what they have written out to their parents! It also allowed me to be more relaxed about when people did their detentions, because it was much easier to keep track of who I still needed to see.
This year I’ve included the school logo (replaced by a hexagon on the uploaded file) to make the cards look more official, and I’ve also created the cards using a mail merge, which I recommend as a time saving measure. You can do the cards on A4 size documents, and then print four to a page. That’s what I did anyway.
I want to finish with a few questions you’re likely to get if you choose to use these cards.
- How long do they last?
This is completely up to you. I left it open at first, saying, “We’ll see how it goes,” in the hope that it would keep the pupils on their toes, and because I wasn’t sure how well they would work. I’ve now settled on a card per term. It will be different depending on how often you set homework.
- Can I see my card?
The pupils who never forget homework will probably rue not being able to see their card. It’s nice for them to know it’s there and you won’t let them off if they forget just one time!
- What happens if I fill my card?
Somebody is bound to ask this. And I initially hadn’t thought about it. But to be honest the reply should be the same as it would be with any similar issue. So my response is that I’ll speak to the Head of Year, and they might go on a monitoring card with them. I’ve not had to use this option yet. Another angle to take might be that they will just keep doing one-hour after school detentions.
- Will you actually keep us for that long?
The answer is yes. Always yes. It’s important that the pupils know you will follow through on this – the way the cards work is a deterrent, and if the consequence is negotiable then this doesn’t work. My cards even have it as a minimum – the expectation is that they will do their homework in the detention. If they haven’t, I might ask them to stay for longer. J