As we are at the start of the academic year, and it is a time to think about establishing routines, I thought we could take a look at homework. To set or not to set homework, how much, what to do with it once it has been done, etc.
How the Context Impacts on Homework
Here in Portugal, where I work, homework seems to be a well-established tradition. Most schools set it and most parents expect it. However, I think we would all agree that kids have such busy lives that often homework is something that is viewed as an unnecessary and unwanted burden rather than something positive. All the parents and kids I speak to on a regular basis have been unanimous in saying that homework in its present state takes up too much time, is often boring and as a result counter-productive. Would the students and parents in your context say the same?
Although some teachers may not agree with the idea of homework, most of us work in organisations that expect us to set it regularly. So, before you read on, you might like to ask yourself the following:
- How much homework do you usually set?
- What type of homework do you set? Exercises, etc?
- Does this differ according to the age and level you are teaching?
- What is the aim of doing homework, in your opinion?
- What do you do with it once it is done? Do you check it? How?
Here are principles I follow when selecting and setting homework.
- Homework should be an extension of the young learner classroom and should be fun.
- Homework should take no longer than 10/15 minutes to do.
- Homework shouldn’t require any help.
- Homework should be a way of consolidating what was done in class.
- Homework can be a good way of preparing learners for what is coming up in class.
- Homework doesn’t always need to be marked.
Making Homework More Creative and Interesting
Having set out some principles for homework, let’s now look at some ideas to help make it more enjoyable. How many have you tried?
- Make a mini-book in class – the learners then take it home to ‘read’ to their family. This is a good way of extending what has happened in class and encouraging the children to share what they learnt in class at home.
- Do a survey in class, e.g. Can you…?. Include a column for members of their family. The children then take it home and ask the questions. Once again, the children use the language they have learnt in class but in a real context at home.
- Ask them to watch a film/ video clip or the news at home and then in the next class tell each other about it, discuss or report back on the news. This works particularly well with teens, but I have also had some success with younger children if you get them to watch a film or TV programme that they would be watching anyway. This can even be in their own language but then the work and discussion are done in English in the lesson.
- Listen to a song (selected by the teacher or by the learners). The listening is done at home and then they come to class and share, discuss or even do some language work.
- Take a photo of their favourite place/their bedroom, etc – bring it to class to describe their room, find similarities/differences with partner, etc. Younger children can label parts of the room on their photo, do a ‘describe and draw’ activity and/or ‘spot the difference’ between their room and their partner’s.
- Write a diary, this could be a class diary, each student takes it in turn to take it home to write a page. This could also be done as an ongoing story which each one has a turn at adding to. The inspiration for this is the ‘class pet’ idea – where children take it in turns to take the class pet/plant home at the weekend.
- For very young learners, you could get them to teach someone at home a song or three words they learnt in class.
- For 8 year olds, you could get them to find a new game, play it at home and them bring it in to class to share with the others.
- For 12 year olds, you could get them to set you some homework which they then ‘mark’ or ‘check’ in class.
- For teenagers, you could get them to make a video clip and then bring it to class.
And so on…
The main idea behind all of these is ‘fun at home’ and ‘work in class’, but this ‘work’ can still be collaborative and enjoyable. Classroom time is time where the teacher can give help and guide, and this means that in class there is more time to share results, interact, etc. Homework is an extension of the classroom where learners can do work that reminds them of what they have done, consolidates and prepares them for what is to come, but which should take minimal time and not be a chore.
But…I hear you protest, it won’t work because…
As you read the above, you might have been saying to yourself “That’s fine for you but it would never work in my class!”. Yes, you may well be right but if you found at least one activity that sounded fun and interesting, why not try it? You never know, you may be surprised by the answers.
Some Other Factors that Lead to Success
If you are concerned that things might not work, bear the following in mind as you think about homework tasks:
- Tell your Director of Studies and other senior members of staff what you have in mind. Make sure that they are on board.
- Involve other teachers in the school – they may have already experimented with similar ideas and will be able to guide you/suggest concrete solutions to anticipated problems.
- Get input from learners: have a speaking activity where they can talk about and make suggestions on the kind of homework they like to do.
- Display homework in your school where parents can see it.
- Share the results on the IH google group: let’s make this year, the year that the IH network revolutionises homework.