Nudges for getting students to do their homework

This is always a big problem for most teachers. We need our students to think through extra problems so that they better understand the content, but it is incredibly difficult to get students to do even a few problems. Here are a few tips I’ve found that work.

  1. Make the problem font size small enough to make all of the problems fit on one sheet of paper. As ridiculous as this sounds, I’ve found that the number of homework pages is the biggest variable affecting whether students complete their work. Actual difficulty, number of problems, and required time matter less. I tested this by taking a 4 problem homework and giving a one-page version to two classes and a two-page version to my other two classes. It isn’t a perfect experiment, but in this instance double the students completed the one-page homework.
  2. Use the first problem of the homework as an exit ticket or have students complete the first problem during class. This makes students feel already invested in the work and it has increased my homework completion by around 10% since I started doing it.
  3. Place homework reminders on each available board. Don’t let students look around the room without being reminded at least once that they have homework.
  4. Return homework with feedback and provide homework answers whenever possible. This helps students show that they can actually benefit from the work and it also helps students see that the teacher is invested in the usefulness of the work.

It may sound silly now, but all three of these can be effective nudges that can influence students to do the work. Even the smallest increase in participation can have large effects down the road on overall proficiency.

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