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Homework??? Yes, homework!

March 23, 2010 3 comments

Homework is probably frowned upon by students and teachers alike. Some teachers complain they spend too much time in class correcting homework, or sometimes they end up dictating the answers as students copy them down because of the same old excuses you can see on this guest post on 6 things. Lack of time, too many things to do, and, as usual, the “I forgot” excuse.

If we look at homework as yet another way to force down our students throat meaningless tasks which will do very little for their cognitive skills and, instead, will try to make them memorize a rule or two, then I agree it’s useless and a waste of time. If everything we do in class should be meaningful and have a clear aim, how come this isn’t true for homework? We shouldn’t assign homework because students have already bought the workbook. Much on the contrary, the workbook should be just as well written as the coursebook and allow for learners to have meaningful encounters with both grammar and vocabulary that had been previously practised in class.

In addition to all suggestions Vladimira (or maybe Vladka, as she calls herself on her blog) makes, I’d add a thing or two. First, I would tell students it’s better for them to study 15 minutes every day than to study for 2 hours straight on one day and believe their work is done. Another thing is stressing that revisiting what they’ve studied in class is important to their learning, something they, unfortunately, fail to see. This is particularly true to beginners, and I usually illustrate this by sharing a personal anecdote.

I decided to take up German lessons to see again what it meant to be a complete beginner in a language class. Needless to say, I also took the opportunity to carry out some experiments on my own, and this is what I found out: if we pay attention to classes and try to participate as much as possible, and if we do homework and study at least every other day, recycling vocabulary and grammar points at the same time that we try to remember the correct pronunciation of sentences, things are likely to work out just fine. And so, I set out to do these things until the third test, when I knew I would already have passed on account of my good marks. It was then that I did what some of our students usually do.

I decided that, as I was a very good student, and having scored above 90 on all tests so far, I might as well do without a week of classes, homework, and studying the language. I guess desperation is the right word to describe what I felt upon my return to classes. The teacher kept trying to talk to me and have me model activities, but I couldn’t understand a single word of what was being said. A week!! A single week of classes and I couldn’t understand what was going on.

This has only shown me that, yes, homework can be a very important tool if you use it properly. Meaningful tasks instead of mechanic drills of “change the sentences into the negative and into the interrogative forms” do have a positive effect on learning. Spaced intervals, repetition, but not rote learning and many other principles of vocabulary teaching which I find very useful and which I’ve read about Scott Thornbury‘s “How to teach vocabulary” may, and should, be taken into account when assigning homework.

Homework shouldn’t be banned, in my opinion. What should happen is that teachers should start looking at homework as an opportunity for students to check how much they’ve profited from the lesson and what they need further practice on. Teachers should plan homework just as they have to plan lessons.

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