Recently I was browsing a blog for new teachers, and someone asked, "What do you do when students don't do the homework?" She received several positive and creative answers and some ideas for negative punitive responses. My thoughts? Well, I've never had that problem. Why wouldn't they do the homework? So I sat down to think about, why do my students always (ok, almost always) do their homework... Here are my thoughts...
I don't believe in "busy work". Some teachers refer to it as the practice of concepts or skills taught during class time. Ok, maybe a little practice, but once the student mentally checks out, because the "practice" has become ridiculously repetitive, he is no longer learning. Isolated problems on a page, outside of the context of child's real life and whole learning, are not retained. I mean those worksheets of capitalizing the beginning of sentences and proper nouns that have no connection to the child's life or to any quality literature he is reading. I mean multiple pages of addition or multiplication problems with no application to the real world. Of course, if I assigned such nonsense, I would most likely have at least a few students brave and smart enough to refuse to do their homework.
Any homework I assign is an extension of the concepts or skills I have taught in person, either in class or one-on-one. It is an application of those concepts or skills to the child's real life and the real world, and the whole and connected learning of the child. If we are reading a book together, the homework may be a project about one aspect of the book that inspires the student. Draw a map of Middle Earth, make a replica necklace from Shakespeare's time period, try out some recipes that the character may have eaten. Need more paper and writing to feel "good" about homework? Ok, write a different ending to the story, write a diary from the point of view of one of the characters, tell a story from the point of view of one of the "villains", write a persuasive paper on behalf of one of the characters to request something they need or make their case. Need to practice grammar? Type up a passage from the book but leave out all the punctuation, or misspell several words and challenge your student to find all of them (prizes to follow).
Read a fun math book, such as Mathematicians Are People Too, and then try out some problems related to whichever mathematician you just read about. Go outside and find shapes (2D and 3D). Calculate gas mileage. Calculate the cost in gas to get to Disneyland (or other desired location). Bake something and double or reduce the recipe.
Another great motivator is group learning...positive peer pressure! Kids love to be heard! They love to share! IF they are in a safe environment. Providing an opportunity for children to share their learning and show off what they can accomplish is very inspiring to many kids. Keep feedback positive for all children under 12, and after that age only critique as much as they request. This is not an opportunity to shame a student into participation. When I occasionally have a student who declines such an opportunity, I don't make a big deal about it. Some students need a smaller audience - perhaps just me. Some students need to watch it done by peers a couple of times before they dive in. That's ok!
I will admit that occasionally I have students who don't do their homework. I don't punish, but with older students, their grades will reflect any holes in assignments. But even for older students, I talk to them and uncover why they were not inspired to do that assignment, and we work out a plan for an assignment that reinforces the same concepts but is inspiring for that individual student. Are their other factors happening in their life right now that take priority over my assignment (yes, they may have something more important to deal with than memorizing multiplication tables)? If so, what is a reasonable time-table for this student? Even better, how can the assignment help them with a personal problem? I have often renegotiated writing prompts, so that students could work through their own issues as they complete their writing assignment.
The bottom line ... if I have a student who is not "doing the work", then I need to do the work of figuring out how to inspire that student.
P.S. If your child is participating in a class or a school that assigns "busy work", I suggest a friendly chat with the teacher. Perhaps you can negotiate a compromise to cut down on the amount of this type of homework required. For this is exactly the type of "learning" that fosters a hate for learning in children and erodes their confidence in their ability to self-learn. Perhaps you can suggest an alternative assignment for your child that still reinforces the concept or skill but connects to the child's real life. It's worth a shot!