Ask the readers: How can a student remember to turn in hir completed homework?

We’ve tried a bunch of things so far, even talking to one of the teachers, but DC1 cannot always remember to turn in hir homework.  Homework has different deadlines for different classes– math, for example, unlike previous math classes, only wants one big homework packet on the day of the exam.  English has daily bellwork that is only due on Fridays.  Biology is due randomly.  And so on.

DC1 is oblivious to the teacher reminding in class and to other kids putting homework in homework baskets. Things came to a head last week when we got an auto-notification that DC1 had gotten zeroes on three (completed) assignments (two major, one minor) on the same day.  Zie had just not turned them in.  Of course, one of these classes was English, and for the same not turning bellwork in on Friday as has happened before that we literally discussed with hir about this exact assignment this past week.  The other two classes are ones where zie does not have a whole lot of wiggle room, including a math packet on exam day.  This is the second time DC1 has failed to turn in a completed math packet on exam day.  None of these teachers accept late work.

Keeping an assignment notebook hasn’t worked.  Punching holes into papers and putting them in a 3 ring binder hasn’t worked.  Having a folder for random papers hasn’t worked.  For a while there I was going through papers with DC1 every night but got sick of it, and DH said he’d take over and he did for a few days but then he stopped.

The current thing we’re trying is to take a page from DC2’s elementary school.  I have repurposed one of DC2’s old homework folders.  DC1 is going to cross out hir younger sibling’s name and put HOMEWORK FOLDER on it in sharpie.  And it is only going to have homework that is due in it.  And then maybe if it still has stuff in it at the end of the day, zie can run and try to turn it in before getting on the bus?  Of course, this still requires going through those damn papers every night and making sure they get filed instead of just stuffing them in hir backpack in a crumpled mess.  I suspect any system would work if zie would just go through things without a parent assisting.

One of my friends complains that her kid doesn’t do the homework, or forgets about it and does it at the last minute.  But her kid turns things in!  And a 70 or 80% is better than a 0%!  Our kid remembers assignments, does the homework, and then just… never turns them in.  It has been happening all year, and we’re at a complete loss.

Any suggestions?

40 Responses to “Ask the readers: How can a student remember to turn in hir completed homework?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Are you sure you’re not talking about my kid?

    So although our kids are ~ same age, the lots of homework thing started a few years earlier for us. It is still an issue, but has gotten better. The school has given out planners since grammar school so that is what we use along with getting in the habit of checking what’s due/missing online. But just this weekend I suggested he tie a string around his finger so he doesn’t forget something….although he had no idea what I was talking about or that it was sort of a joke.

    Early on we resorted to punishment after all other coaching methods failed…we also tried it all. We had no electronics of any kind for months the first year. And it did help.. My kid isn’t really motivated by good grades and is fine with mailing it in if he can get away with it. In the end, the kid has to care enough to make a change in their routine and if getting leisure time back is the motivator, so be it. It doesn’t seem to have anything to due with class preference either. Favorite classes also have failing marks form time to time as well.

    I’ll also say that yelling and berating only has short term effects and it’s gone much better when the parent doesn’t blow a gasket over this stuff….which can be hard to do.

    Our current method is:
    Daily talks of what’s due over dinner.
    Having the kid pack their own bag
    Discussions not fights when things are forgotten
    Electronics bans when bad habits don’t get fixed.
    Last but not least…Talks about how it’s much better as a grown up to be able to plan your own way than to be micromanaged…and how not trusting that someone can handle basic tasks is how you end up leading a life of unfulfilling servitude vs a job you enjoy. My kid sees how much flexibility I have and I remind him that’s because my boss trusts me to get stuff done when needed.

    The one thing my kid is fairly certain of is what he wants to do in college…it’s probably engineering or medicine…so we also relate back how this kind of laziness and indifference can be catastrophic in real life. In the end, this is the exact right time the kids have to figure this kind of stuff out..as well as the relationship people skills. They need to know it’s not rocket science (heck the science is the easy part), and that they will figure it out once they make it a priority to incorporate it into their lives.

    Interested in seeing what people suggest as this is our #1 issue as well.

    • MF Says:

      Has your child been assessed for dyspraxia (also known as DCD – developmental coordination disorder)? It’s a developmental condition that can affect both motor skills and organisational skills.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I wish there had been more random homework like this before the grades actually mattered, you know? Zie might have been able to figure out what worked for hir by now.

  2. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I don’t have any helpful suggestions but my younger sister totally did this exact thing until she basically got tired of getting bad grades and grew out of it. She turned out okay but I’m sure it was super frustrating for my parents.

  3. bogart Says:

    I have no clever suggestions; my own kid also struggles with this, though is marginally responsive to awareness of punishments (which may be as simple as a despairing sigh from me, he’s pretty sensitive), and our school uses Google classroom a lot, which I’m not necessarily pleased about but which does allow me to check whether work shows as submitted. Interested to see if others have useful advice!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We get automated emails for any assignment grade lower than 70, so we find out as soon as the teacher inputs grades, but that doesn’t help when the assignment can’t be turned in late!

      • bogart Says:

        No, it doesn’t! We can access grade info. online too and learning how to see stuff BEFORE there’s a problem has been a real learning curve for me…but it sounds like you don’t have the same systems as us (Google classroom etc.), so, no help there…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        DC1 does know when homework is due and completes it on time or in advance. And for some classes that info is available online (the rest give a paper calendar every 6 weeks). It really is just remembering to turn it in that’s the problem.

      • bogart Says:

        Ah, right — good point. For us, some of the other steps have also proved problematic at times, though (like you) the turning-it-in step seems to be among the most challenging…

  4. xykademiqz Says:

    Middle Boy is kind of like that. He occasionally forgets to turn in work but mostly the issue is that he deems certain assignments stupid or boring [which occasionally means he doesn’t know what he should be doing (e.g., writing a short stoy without being really told how they can distill their thoughts into a workable idea), but often does mean that he finds it stupid or boring]. Yelling doesn’t work, it just makes him withdraw. His school uses Google Classroom so I get daily alerts when something is due and text him a screenshot (kids are not big on email). Usually he’s already done it but sometimes doesn’t upload. But not all teachers use the Google Classroom and I don’t actually log in for him because I feel he needs to have as much ownership of his work as he can. There is an online system for grades and through that one I see if he failed to turn something in, at which point I can pressure him or intervene. I also make a point of going to conferences with teachers when offered (I never had to do it with Eldest, never had any idea who his teachers were, he just did his work) and then relay to Middle Boy what the teachers said he needed to do.

    I don’t want to yell as he just withdraws and feels miserable about himself, and when he does so, he does even worse. So it’s more of telling what was missed and following up and making sure he understands what needs to be done. While he isn’t motivated by grades, he is proud when he does really well and responds really well to praise. Overall, the problem is complex: it’s a combo of sometimes missing instructions (chatting with friends), sometimes the instructions being unclear on missing, sometimes the work being boring or (from his standpoint) pointless, as well as the negative perception of “try-hards” (yep, it’s an insult among kids — you’re not supposed to look like you’re trying, even among his friends who are all generally good kids who pretend that they don’t care about school but they and their families do). For instance, he gets all 4s on his math tests, but the math teacher pulls his hair out b/c Middle Boy doesn’t show work in his notebook so there’s nothing to grade.

    It is freakin’ exhausting always having to be checking up on Middle Boy’s work (husband conveniently just ignores it and leaves it to me) but I feel it’s also a way for Middle Boy to low-key vie for our attention. He’s a middle child and from what I hear a pretty typical one.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there are set-it-and-forget-it solutions. From what I see, constant parental vigilance is key and then, slowly, kids mature and start being able to take care of their stuff better, but not for a long while and not without setbacks.

    For nicoleandmaggie, one thing you could try, if DC1 has a phone, is to set notifications for when things are due, one the morning of and one at the end of school (presumably they can’t use phone in school). I hate planners and generally keep everything in my head, but having notification/alerts really helps with time-sensitive things.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ll be talking about the phone situation in a week or so but it does seem to be working with hir not getting on the bus on robotics club days. Today we find out if it also works for not getting on the bus when there’s after school orchestra. That’s a really good idea for checking the phone (not just the folder) at the end of the day—some of the teachers accept late same day for only 10 percent off.

      • Becca Says:

        Does zie have the smartphone with hir during the day? Zie can, in theory, set any number of silent buzzy alarms set to go off *during* the relevant time (beginning or end) of different classes.

        There was a hilarious twitter thread a while back on all the silly named alarms people set for themselves.

  5. EB Says:

    My kids were in high school before there was a way to check assignments on line, and I’m so grateful. This level of micro-managing is not good for kids, even if they respond to it. They KNOW that someone will remind them (not that they’ll always do anything about it . . . ). We only found out how bad things were when the school sent home interim reports (maybe every 6 weeks or so).

    One kid didn’t need reminding; she turned stuff in, and worked hard on the classes she liked, not so hard on some of the others. Did fine in HS and college. One kid was clinically depressed and could not have tolerated constant badgering or even reminding. He didn’t get good grades, flunked out of college, and 15 years later graduated cum laude. Third kid was very ADD, couldn’t tolerate medication, and did very poorly in HS too. Didn’t do college. But she is a published writer.

    What I’m glad about is that we had the semblance of a family life that didn’t revolve around their homework! Hooray!!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m not even sure how to respond to this comment.

      • EB Says:

        I guess I wasn’t clear. The point being, if a kid can do most of it on their own and conscientiously (like my middle daughter), then it makes little sense to monitor them closely about the remaining 5 or 10%, because the knowledge that it’s all on them is such a valuable life lesson. And if the kid is not in a position to benefit from close monitoring (like my other 2 kids), then the monitoring is actually harmful. I wish I could have solved those 2 kids’ issues when they were teens, but I could not. And so it was better to just make sure they graduated, and not worry about their grades.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No, I think you were plenty clear.

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I still struggle with forgetfulness and the consequences annoy me enough to change the way I do things to make sure that I stop forgetting things, like building in a requisite 10 minutes before I have to leave to go look for all the things I need, or setting up a routine that I’m not allowed to deviate from.

    But I think there has to be intrinsic motivation to change the behavior PLUS a useful change that will stick. Perhaps ze can try both having the homework folder AND make a new habit to check that folder first thing upon entering EVERY class to check if there’s anything to hand in. So if it’s empty, fine, move on, but if ze always has to look in there as a requisite for walking into the class, then that habit should stick? That’s the sort of thing I do now: before I walk out the door, I have to check all my pockets and actively confirm I have my phone, keys, wallet, sunglasses, correct bag, etc.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think zie is motivated, but needs commitment devices. Zie does the work!

      What you’re suggesting is my hope for the homework folder. I think part of the problem is that homework isn’t due every day. And you remind me that a few days later DC1 suggested the problem was that it felt like a Thursday not a Friday…so maybe zie has that habit?

      An ex boyfriend of mine always chanted wallet watch glasses keys every time he walked out the door and I kind of mentally picked it up even though for me it’s just keys and bag.

      • monsterzero Says:

        My chant is “keys wallet watch phone glasses”. :D

        >part of the problem is that homework isn’t due every day

        Can zie just turn in the work early? TA’s in college just have (or had, I’m old) inboxes but I guess schoolteachers mostly don’t.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s a great question. The bell work can’t because the same sheet is added to every day (this one is done is class, so I cannot at all understand how it doesn’t get turned in). Some teachers have homework baskets so I assume those can be turned in early. The big question is whether or not the math teacher will allow it.

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    This is tangential, but I didn’t have any HW after 3rd or 4th grade (this in Europe). Everything after that was done in class. Sure, you had to read a book at home, but there was discussion in class and writing in class, nothing that would have to be turned in. You also had to practice at home (e.g., math, physics, chemistry problems, which I did a lot, more than most, as I went to math and science competitions) but nothing to turn in. I would’ve surely missed stuff and there were kids who lived 45 min away by city bus and it wasn’t feasible to just pop back home if they forgot something.

    I find this insistence of teachers on turning in by some arbitrary deadline — OR ELSE! — baffling. As a uni prof, all my HW is turned in electronically by some deadline — the same every week, which is important — but I still leave a buffer after the dropbox closes for the inevitable stragglers and don’t penalize. It has made everyone’s life much easier and more pleasant. I want them to do the work; why should I penalize a kid who’s obviously done the work on time for whatever has made them be a little late? Students have a lot going on.

    I mean, strict deadlines make sense when it’s something that happens infrequently even for us grownups (grant deadline, project deadline), but for kids who have multiple things to turn in every week and are not generally the world’s most organized people, it’s really cruel to penalize so strictly for failing to turn in, especially if the teacher isn’t very effective about reminding or setting a clear schedule. They are there to learn, yes, how to get organized, as well. But there is teaching organization and there’s really stressing kids out and having their grades end up being in no way commensurate with their mastery of the material.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have weekly homework due at the same time every week (except exam weeks) and remind students (“Do I have everybody’s homework?”) at the end of class. My official policy is no late homework but they get to drop two homeworks (out of 13) no penalty, but in reality there’s a little (somewhat random) leeway between me leaving the homeworks for the TA and the TA picking them up. We really can’t have homeworks later than that barring emergencies because it’s an unnecessary imposition on the (IMO underpaid) TA’s time.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        This is why I switched to online turn-in of HW and I swear by it:
        1) Students scan their work with a phone into a PDF (as they all have phones now), which is doubly good because they also get to keep the original so them doing HW and comparing to solutions is decoupled from grading;
        2) I can give a buffer between due date and dropbox closing;
        3) I don’t ever have to see my grader and he/she can grade when he/she can, it’s quite convenient to leave comments online. It eliminated playing tag with grader and finding late HW in various places (my mailbox, under my door, in wall pockets outside my office).

        I really highly recommend electronic dropbox even for traditional HW (that the kids write out in their notebooks).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There’s various reasons I’ve chosen not to do this—part of it is technology difficulties with my first semester students but there’s other reasons as well.

  8. Leah Says:

    yeah, I teach high school and have no good solution. Since DC1 is so young, as a teacher, I would ask the kid for their homework (or give reminders). DC1 is much younger than the typical HS student. But I’m guessing the teachers in your school might be resistant to that given their punitive stance on late work. I always take late work until the test (and if I did a packet due at the test, I’d ask each kid to turn it in as they came in the door) for at least partial credit.

    My sophomore level class has a lot of non-content strategy built in around organizing their work, fixing errors in returned work, etc that has been really helpful. But I still have my grading sheet out regularly and will ask students with missing work to turn it in. I did the same when I taught public school, so this method does work with 30 students if the teacher is willing to do it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, I feel like I’m more hand holding with my college students than the freshman high school teachers are! But those are the conditions DC1 is working under, so zie is going to have to adapt.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    Sorry, no suggestions. I just can tell you another thing that doesn’t work: When the teacher punishes the entire class whenever one student doesn’t turn in homework, that may not motivate that student to start turning in homework. (My poor, stubborn sister!) At least you’re not dealing with that. Meanwhile, I wish you the best of luck.

  10. rs Says:

    OMG, I didn’t have daily homework growing up and I am doing just fine. Teachers need to take it easy and kids too. Too much homework kills any joy of learning.

  11. m Says:

    Coming late to the conversation (wait; can I turn this answer in late?) . . . a suggestion that might help is to work really hard not on the action (turning the homework in), but on the cue and reward. That is, what is the thing in the classroom that triggers the action? Trying to be really specific about focusing on THAT might help, because it sounds like your kid is just not actively registering that cue. Also, building in an immediate reward for responding to that cue might help, even if it’s a goofy reward. For example, paper-clip a stick of chewing gum to the homework, or a coupon for a family dinner at a pizza place. ??? We know from research on habits that that’s the cycle to focus on: cue, response, reward.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s why we met with one of the teachers—what cues was DC1 missing.
      We’re hoping the red folder with papers in it will become a cue.
      We’ll have to think about rewards and how zie could set them hirself and if we want extrinsic rewards for this kind of thing or if an empty folder and not getting a zero is reward enough.

      I need to finish reading atomic habits myself because my work habits are completely out of whack.

  12. Alice Says:

    This may or may not work for your kid, but– I find it’s easy to forget something if my only cue is when I’m on the way out the door. I do much better if whatever it is is visible and already halfway to where it needs to be. In most high schools, there’s usually a minute or two at the start of class before the bell rings. Maybe if your kid develops a habit of checking the folder and pulling out any pages due that day before class begins? If they’re allowed to have the pages out on their desks during class, having it out and visible when packing up to leave may help. And if they aren’t allowed to have extra things on their desks during class, then maybe if they take it out of their backpack/bag and put it on top under their desk might be permissible. My thinking is just that if it’s out to be seen and in their hand at the end of class, they’re more likely to remember it.

  13. Cloud Says:

    I am late to this conversation, but I want to second the phone with reminders suggestion if you think DC1 can be trusted to follow whatever phone rules you put in place. This is something technology is good at! I am a person most people consider to be on top of things and I make my living making sure complex projects get done on time… and I rely heavily on automatic calendar reminders to make sure I don’t forget to send status reports and the like. At home, I set Google calendar reminders on my phone and I have designated places to keep my to do lists for various types of things and habits about checking them.

    If you’re willing to try the tech route, DC1 could experiment to find out what app works best. Some people like old school calendars, some people do better with board systems like Trello, and I’m sure there are other options out there, too.

    One problem I see with the tech route, though, is that since most schools don’t allow phones in class, perhaps the reminders wouldn’t be at the right time. My kid can check her phone at lunch, so maybe a mid-day reminder would be enough?

    In the dark ages when I was in school and we didn’t have computers let alone smart phones… I ALWAYS had a day planner type calendar and everything went into that. I am not sure how I settled on that solution and why it stuck when I was a kid. It helped that I really enjoyed picking out my day planner calendar every year. It usually had comics or something fun on one side of the page and spaces for the days of the week on the other side and I LOVED those things. Come to think of it, I still look forward to picking out my calendar for the year – I keep a monthly calendar book on my desk at work and at home and use them in conjunction with my electronic calendars.

    I actually worry a bit about my older daughter who doesn’t seem to have any system other than a freakishly good memory, because my experience any time I rely on my memory is that eventually the requirements of my life overwhelm my memory and that is when it is incredibly useful to have a system to fall back on. This was particularly helpful for getting through the sleep-deprived fog of early motherhood.

    Good luck finding something that works for DC1!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Thanks!

      The phone has been helping hir remember to stay at robotics and for orchestra practice instead of getting on a bus to go home. Zie has a very nice day planner and had been putting things in it, but I’m not sure why it doesn’t help to remind hir to turn things in.

      • Cloud Says:

        My guess is zie is mentally considering the task “done” once the work is done, and not when it is handed in. I have a tendency towards this and do not allow myself to cross something off my to do list until it is sent, uploaded, or whatever else needs to happen to it, not just completed. Sometimes “email X the abc report” gets a separate line on my to do list because of this!


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