Homework Excuse Notes

homework excuse note

With no #blogsync over the summer, I’ve not written anything ‘classroom-y’ for a while. So I thought I’d share this tip while awaiting the September blogync topic.

One of the problems of my first year in teaching was getting students to do homework. More specifically, I struggled keeping tabs on students who didn’t do the homework, which meant I didn’t give consequences for failing to turn it in, which then meant I got even fewer pieces next time around.

In my second year I therefore devised a plan. First, I gave out all homeworks on brightly coloured pieces of paper that students wrote on and turned back in. All my classes started off with a silent individual task. I therefore instilled in students that at the beginning of homework hand-in day they put their brightly coloured paper on their desk before beginning their individua lstarter  task. That way I could quickly glance around the room and quickly see who did and did not have their homework out. Anyone without their brightly colourer paper had a ‘homework excuse note’ dropped on their desk. This was to be completed immediately.

At an appropriate time during the lesson, I would then go around and collect a piece of paper from everyone. You either handed in your homework, or your homework excuse note. That was your choice. No “But miss I just need to get my usb…”, no “i’ll bring it at break”. If you had something to say, you said it on paper, or otherwise you gave me the homework. Even if students didn’t have a reason, I would ask them to write “There is no reason” and then take that from them.

If a child managed to get their homework to me before the end of the day (most usually after lunch) I would let them fish their excuse note out of my file [I had a box file for each class where I kept the homeworks] and then replace it with their work. Otherwise, the excuse note stood.

Before going home, I checked through the homeworks and marked in my gradebook who had not done it and then sorted out consequences accordingly (as you’ll see on the slips, I used ‘credits’ and detentions). As with my detention system, the main benefit of the homework excuse note is that the students must write down their excuse. Doing so means (a) they are less likely to lie, and (b) you have a permanent record that you can show to parents/department heads if necessary.  Having everyone hand in something on the day also meant I could keep an easier record of who was absent. If I didn’t have anything then I knew a student hadn’t been there and this made managing my records much easier.

In general, it worked like a dream. But a word of warning: With my two KS3 classes (I mostly taught GCSE) I didn’t give homework regularly and hence I was less consistent with its enforcement and the whole thing was less effective.  The system is reliant on you making the whole thing as routine as possible. For the first few weeks you need to reinforce all its parts (the coloured paper, the notes, the handing in). Also, you always-but-always must implement the consequences. Do it relentlessly for a few weeks though and the benefits will pay off. After a while it became automatic with my Key Stage 4s (so automatic that the kids would try and circumvent it “why do i have to fill this in, why not just give me a detention slip now?”) and gradually the homework rate went up and up and up. By the end of the year there were students religiously handing in homeworks who I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get any from.

9 thoughts on “Homework Excuse Notes

  1. I like this so much I almost want to go back to mainstream teaching so I can try it out 🙂

  2. Hi, I never knew until now who I got that idea from though I knew it was somebody in Teach First. I was a 2008 Citizenship Teach Firster – you might remember my WA4 was quite citizenship focused and I was a bit down at the summer institute as I was having to move schools. I can still remember what you said to me when I claimed it didn’t really matter any more, it was one of the best things anybody said to me on the subject. Anyway, I passed the idea on to my brother who passed his NQT year as a maths teacher last year. I’m afraid he credits it as being my idea – I never claimed it was! However, I thought you might be pleased with how your idea spread: http://mrpigottmaths.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/homework-excuse-cards/

    1. Louise! Cor, I do remember that institute (and the 2008 one too), it was entirely impressive that you were still going after the year you had, and am glad that any words I could offer were helpful. What are you up to now?

      Love what your brother has done with the homework notes 🙂 Just retweeted his blog. No worries about credit – all the best teachers are magpies, you steal what you need and then pass it on.

      1. I’m still teaching, though after another year in a school going through a big transition (joining with another school and becoming an academy) and having to teach both RE and Health and Social care neither of which were really my cup of tea, I ran off to the independent sector so I could teach history and get some experience of teaching sixth form. I’m now returning to the state sector as head of history at a comprehensive near where my parents live in January generally more confident and settled. I did graduate teach first and get the MA as well despite the trials!

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