Homework: Friend or foe? Thoughts and Tips on how teachers and students could benefit from setting and correcting homework

        For the last few weeks I have observed a certain number of teachers and I noticed some of them have had difficulties setting and correcting homework for several reasons from time management to lack of interest on the part of the SS. I have then started to think about the theme "homework" and made myself the following questions:  
  •  What is the quality of the homework that is being assigned?
  •  Is the homework valuable and meaningful to student
  • Does the homework serve to engage students more deeply with the material?
Much of the current rhetoric surrounding homework focuses on the time students spend on it, since our SS are always too busy or too tired to set some time for doing their homework.   Children mostly depend on their parents who are always busy or do not know how to help. Teenagers, this peculiar audience, either are a lot busy with their school work, or are putting all their energy on their own world finding “something more pleasurable to do”.  On the other hand, teachers are also overloaded with work and might not be able to handle correcting workbooks, compositions and projects apart from the lessons they have to prepare.   
Having said that, should homework be neglected? I’d say no! Not at all! 

Why homework?
               Homework in a foreign language class is essential, as it provides opportunities to the students to further practice the language. This allows the language to really set in and take hold.  In addition, homework is a vital part of learning. It is the time students spend
outside the classroom in assigned activities to practice, reinforce or apply newly-acquired skills and knowledge and to learn necessary skills of independent study.

             Experiencing and reflecting about the theme made me ask some questions to myself which led me to some interesting arguments and conclusions in favour of homework. Some of the benefits are: 
·         Students retain class-taught language;
·          They reinforce what they have learnt;
·         They develop study habits;
·         Their cognitive understanding of language increases.
·         For one thing, particularly in EFL situations (especially in monolingual countries), the students don't get enough interaction with English during class time. Many times, students only get three or four hours a week of lessons. Or to put it another way, it takes 6-8 weeks to be in an English environment 24-hour day.
·         If it's important enough to teach, it's important enough to practice and elaborate on.
·         Students can do things away from class that they can't do in class- like write and read longer passages, design projects, etc.
·         Surprisingly, most students want to do something away from the classroom. In adult classes where I've been reluctant to give homework in the past, students have come up to me and asked for it. As long as it is real practice, and not just busy work, you don't have to feel bad about assigning homework.

Engaging students with homework:

Students should feel that homework tasks are useful. Homework tasks should be interesting and varied. It should include not only written tasks, but tasks focusing on all skills. Furthermore, we teachers have to make sure homework is developmentally appropriate, differentiated, and able to be done independently. It is a challenge to design homework assignments that meet individual SS’s academic and developmental needs, but, when homework is too hard or too easy, it may have a detrimental effect. Teachers should strive for the “just-right” challenge for each student, and should ensure that homework is “do-able” without the need for outside help from a parent, peer or tutor.
As teachers we should reflect on the purpose of homework before assigning it to our SS. I have noticed that it is worth helping students understand the purpose and value of the homework and give it the value it deserves. If students perceive homework as busy work, meaningless, and of little value to the teacher, they may tend to be less interested in learning.  Some ways to increase the engagement factor is to allow students choice and voice in their homework assignments. 
Students’ attitude to homework should be improved, for example, they would be allowed to contribute with ideas to design their own tasks. Let them choose which problems to do, or which topics to write on, or allow them to stop when they believe they understand the concept. For me this leaner centred approach and negotiation will indeed divide the responsibility of the learning process between students and teachers, not to mention the fact that their sense of achievement will be increased.
In the 21st century, when technology is available, user-friendly and hands-on, homework might become a very interesting activity to be done extra- class.  I believe that online homework is one way to achieve SS engagement with  it as well as it might stimulate them to produce language with tools they are familiar and feel comfortable with.  Examples of this could be collaborative edublogs, platforms like Edmodo  and apps such as slideshare, voicethread, poplets, padlete, glogster and lots of them.  

 Setting homework:

1. Assign homework in the first class. There are several reasons for this. 
A. It sets a good precedent.
B. Students expect it.
C. Students usually remember their first day of class very well. It's difficult to get an "always" if they remember you didn't assign any on the first day of class. 

2. Take the time to explain the homework carefully, and your students will react to the importance you give it by doing more of it.

3. Never allow yourself to just give homework orally. Always write it up on the white/ e- board, no matter how simple it is. If you don't, you will always lose some students. An alternative is to have a student come to the board and write it up as you give it to the class.

4. After assigning homework, get students to report back the assignment. Once you've given out the homework, always ask a student or two what the homework is. This can sometimes be a real eye opener as to what they have understood.

5. Try to make homework interactive. Have students prepare by calling one another on the telephone (or smartphones)  or via e-mail .For example, SS can exchange emails and each of them can choose a word which they would like their friends to find out the meaning.
·         It's memorable
·         It's practical and effective.
·         It's fun. Set this up with a dialogue on IWB / board that gets people to ask for a phone number and set a time.
·         If you set a precedent, students will often begin to do this on a regular basis without your prompting.

Correcting Homework:

Students quickly tune into the mood of their teacher. If the teacher presents homework correction as a valid and interesting part of the learning process it will be infectious and homework corrections will never be boring again!

Useful tips on correcting homework and have your SS engaged:

1.       Turn it into your warm-up
2.       Create speaking opportunities
3.       Peer-correction: Give students a chance to compare their answers in pairs.
4.       Vary the order in which exercises are corrected. This ensures that  students are alert and are following the correction process.

        5.       Change the time of the lesson in which homework is corrected. 
        6.       Break the correction into stages
        7.       Use the workbook wisely
        8.       Select the exercises
        9.      Giving individual feedback: Write out SS errors on slips of paper and place them in envelopes, one for each student.  They can
only open the envelope at home, then they will check if it   is theirs,      if yes they will correct in their books, if not in the following class they will explain the error contained in their envelope to the class. Variation: The teacher can send feedback of the homework via email or similar private message
10.   Add fun to the comments you write on the homework, and create a fun dialogue with your SS.
11.   Give students a chance to show off their homework. This can be as simple as positive feedback on a well done job.
12.   Broaden your view and have mercy!


Rose Bard said...

Really useful and inspiring Roseli. I'll refer back to it many times.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Ms.Roseli Serra. It reminds me how to be wiser when i give homework to my students. I wish your other tips concerning teaching and learning.

chieka wibowo said...

I love it,Roseli. It's inspiring. Being honest that most of students here think that homework is 'horrible'..haha.. So,it's very important for me.

Love n' hugs

Iwona Filip said...

Inspiring ideas. I've tried online projects with Glogster and Edmodo and most of my students really like them:-)

Unknown said...

Roseli - I loved this!! Homework is something I'm sure that every teacher struggles with (at least I hope I'm not the only one.... :) It's great to see from your perspective - like everything else, homework is what I make of it. If I present it to the students as just "busy work" or just because we didn't have time to do it in class....I understand why they aren't so inspired to complete it!!

I loved your practical ideas on how I can make the students realize how vital homework is, and maybe create some more interesting ways to complete the homework assignments!

Loved this post! Hopefully this will be one of those moments I can look back on & say "Remember when I started doing homework the right way!!!"

Thank you!!!

AlexCTJ said...

Hi, Roseli. Great post on the importance of homework and how to handle it in class. I was glad to find that many of your tips and ideas on the matter are like I handle HW as a teacher.

Renee Alfonsi said...

Great tips, Roseli! I have always given homework the first day of school and initially receive some negative reactions from the students. However, as the classes progress and the students graduate from high school (I usually have the same students for three to four years:), almost every graduate has thanked me for the homework and the detailed lessons and assignments. I've used most of your suggestions; they do work!

Renee Alfonsi said...

Great tips, Roseli! I have used many of your suggestions, especially giving homework the first day of school. Students may give negative feedback at first, but it does set the right precedent and students will appreciate what they have learned. I have students consistently come back to me after graduation and thank me for what they observed at the time to be "too much homework," but they later realize the lessons learned and the discipline gained to be useful in college.


Carissa Peck said...

I am reminded of a meme that mocks a teacher for assigning lots of homework the week of a test and excepting the students to study.

Of course most people that read the meme looked at it and said, "Doing your homework IS studying!" It was nice to know the internet supports teachers, but the fact a student felt that way in the first place is something we need to face.

I use twitter a lot to remind my class of homework http://eslcarissa.blogspot.com/2012/11/twitter-101.html it works pretty well since they are ALWAYS on twitter anyways.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post!
I recently wrote about homework myself since some of my adult students think they just don't have time to do homework. I guess I need to set up homework that suits them. :)

Unknown said...

I've really enjoyed the two posts I've read so far, very thought provoking and well thought out. I tend to fall on the anti side when it comes to homework, but I think you're spot on about the need for quality homework for ELLs.

Roseli Serra said...

Thank you all for the enriching comments! HW is indeed one of the most difficult areas to deal with. However, by experiencing and mainly by observing teachers , I've learned a lot how to turn it into good speaking opportunities and reflective self- correction.Feel free to make any suggestions1

Roseli Serra said...

Thank you retnosofyaniek! I'd love to read what you've written about HW! Abdul, Carissa, Renee, Alex, Lisa, Teacher, Chieka and Rose, I'd love to share with you some ideas about HW or any reflective practice in the classroom. Thank you for reading!

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Roseli Serra said...

Hi Hemangi,

Thank you for reading and for the links.

All the best!

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