What can we do to help the student understand the distinction? One of the most important keys is to remember that the active voice used to tell the student to do his or her homework is really a command. This is meant to be a directive rather than a suggestion. A much better idea is to express to the student clearly what it is that he or she is supposed to be doing when he or she does his or her homework.
When I used to teach students how to do their work, I would often use the active voice. I would say to them, “Do your homework on time.” For many students, this was sufficient because they understood that they were expected to do something, even if it is something that may seem very simple. However, it was the kind of instruction that left many young people slack, wondering why they were being given this task to begin with.
I also used the passive voice to do my homework. This is another form of instruction that may work in some situations, but not in others. If you want to help the student understand just what you are trying to say, you will have to switch from the active voice to the passive voice.
In order for this to be effective, the student must understand exactly what it is that you are asking him or her to do. You will need to give the student specific directions about what you want the student to do–in this case, do my homework. In order for this to be effective, you must also give the student a time limit.
When you use the active voice to do your homework, you are giving instructions to the student in the moment. This instruction is in the form of a request. In other words, “Do your homework on time.” However, when you use the passive voice to do your assignment, you are giving instructions and suggestions to the student at a later time. As you can see, the instructions you give the student while doing your assignment in the passive voice may be more effective than instructions the student receives in the active voice.
When you give the instructions “Do your homework on time,” you are encouraging the student to do exactly as you dictate. This may sound like a good idea, but often the instructions come to the student after they have already been doing the work. The student may not be fully prepared to do the work and as a result, you are wasting your time instructing the student incorrectly. In addition, when you give instructions in the active voice, you give the impression that you are in control of the situation. You are telling the student to do something because you say so rather than just assuming it is his or her responsibility to do it.
Of course, using the passive voice to do your assignments is not without its flaws. There are many times that students discover the flaw while trying to do the work, not before they attempt to complete their assignment. You will need to be aware of this and ensure that you rewrite your instructions so that they are clear and concise. Of course, you should always reward students for their efforts and if you feel that the solution to your problem is to change the instructor so that he or she can give clear instructions, then go ahead and do that. Just make sure that you do not make the same mistakes when instructing the passive voice that you did with the active voice!