Teachers, students, parents and homework 2
Homework must be part and parcel of any learning process. The classroom is just an artificial setting and classroom tasks are only starting points. They provide guidance, assistance and purpose. However, more tasks should be dealt with in the outside world. These tasks should meet some criteria in order to be effective. These criteria may be linked to the teacher and learners, to the tasks assigned, or to the parents roles.
Teachers and learners
- Students should see the usefulness of homework. Teachers should explain the purpose both of homework and of individual tasks.
- Learner involvement and motivation may be increased by encouraging students to contribute ideas for homework and possibly design their own tasks. The teacher also needs to know how much time the students have, what facilities they have at home and what their preferences are. A simple questionnaire will provide this data.
- If homework is set, it must be assessed in some way and feedback given. While marking by the teacher is sometimes necessary, peer and self assessment can encourage learners independence as well as reduce the teacher’s workload. Motivating students to do homework is an ongoing process, and encouragement may be given by commenting and asking questions either verbally or in written form in order to demonstrate interest on the teacher’s part, particularly in the case of self study and project work.
- Tasks should be relevant, interesting and varied.
- Good classroom practice also applies to homework. Tasks should be manageable but achievable.
- Homework should be manageable in terms of time as well as level of difficulty. Teachers should remember that students are given homework in other subjects and that there is a need for coordination to avoid overload. A homework diary that is kept but checked by teachers and parents is a useful tool in this respect.
- Homework is rarely coordinated within the curriculum, but should at least be incorporated into an overall scheme of work and be considered in lesson planning
- Different tasks may be assigned to different ability groups. Individual learning styles should be taken into account.
- Homework tends to focus on written product. There is no reason why this should be the case other than there is visible evidence that the work has been done.
- While homework should consolidate classwork, it shouldn’t replicate it. Home is the outside world and tasks which are nearer to real life use of language are appropriate.
- Parents should share any concerns they may have regarding the amount or type of homework assigned with their child’s teacher or principal.
- Parents should encourage their child to take notes concerning homework assignments in case questions arise later at home.
- Provide a suitable study area and the necessary tools (for example, paper and books) to complete the homework assignments.
- Parents should limit after-school activities to allow time for both homework and family activities.
- Monitor television viewing and establish a specific homework time.
- Plan a homework schedule with their child. Allow for free time when assignments are completed.
- Praise their child’s efforts.
- If questions arise about the assignments, and their child asks for help, parents should ask him or her questions or work through an example rather than simply provide the answer.
- Younger children need more parental assistance with homework than older children. Parents should go over homework assignments with their child. They should do several problems or questions together, then observe their child doing the next one or two.
- If the child is in elementary school, parents should check completed assignments. At all levels, they should ask to look at homework once it has been marked and returned.
- Parents should ask their child’s teachers about their homework policy and specific assignments.
Types of homework
There are three main types of homework: practice, preparation and extension homework.
These are workbook based tasks. Most published course books include a workbook or practice book, mainly including consolidation exercises, short reading texts and an answer key. Most workbook claim to be suitable for both class and self study use, but are better used as homework to achieve separation of what is done in class and at home. Mechanical practice is thus shifted out of class hours, while this kind of exercises is particularly suited to peer or self correction.
Rarely do teachers ask students to read through the next unit of a course book, though there are advantages in involving students in the lesson plan and having them know what is coming. More motivating, however, is asking students to find and bring materials such as pictures, magazine articles and realia which are relevant to the next topic.
Much can be gained from graded readers, which now often have accompanying audio material. Extensive reading and listening may be accompanied by dictionary work and thematic or personalized vocabulary notebook, whereby learners collect languages which they feel is useful.
It is also a good idea to to have class, groups or individual projects running over a period of time. Projects may be based on topics from a course book or selected individually. Project work need to be monitored in terms of goals, resources, time and the outcome being a substantial piece of work at the end of a course or a term of which the learner can claim ownership.
Finally, a word about the Internet. The web appears to offer a wealth of opportunity for self study. Certainly reference resources make project work easier and more enjoyable, but cutting and pasting can also be seen as an easy option, requiring little originality or understanding. There is also a concern about the quality of websites resources and exercises. Learners need guidance and a starting point to provide a list of reliable sites.