I came across this website today, (via The Oxford ELT Daily) in which Larry Ferlazzo shares some interesting posts on homework. They are mostly geared towards teaching children, but I think the topic might be of interest in EAP or general ELT classes with mature students.
Generally speaking, I think we would agree that asking students to do some work outside of class is a good thing. They can reinforce what they've learned, dig into things a bit deeper, get ready for the next lesson. However, I've run into quite a few practical problems with homework over the years, so I thought it might be of interest to share how I have dealt with them.
(Note: The word homework can come with a bit of baggage so feel free to refer to it in a way that sounds more appealing.)
1. Most of the students don't do the homework.
If I'm in a playful mood, I might ask the two sets of students to interview each other. The non-homework group might ask questions to find out what the homework was, how long it took, what they learned, whether it was interesting or boring. The homework group might ask questions to find out why they didn't do it, what they did instead, what their plans for future homework are.
2. Most of the students don't do the homework.
If I'm in a grumpy teacher mood, I might ask the students who didn't do homework to sit together and work on it while the rest of us correct/discuss. I used to not correct if the majority hadn't done it, but I think it is more important to establish, and stick to, the expectations you have for the class (you could do something at the start of the course to make those expectations clear - some sort of negotiation/contract that they can all contribute to and agree on). In some very awkward situations, I've corrected homework when only 1 student did it. But my experience has been that this number goes up if you are clear that you expect homework every day.
3. Most of the students don't do the homework.
If I'm in a reflective mood, I might take the blame and apologise for the quality of the homework. Again, speaking only from experience, I have seen a direct correlation between the amount of thought I put into setting the homework and the pick up from students. This point has been made in other places, like here, but it bears repeating. My rule of thumb is that I set homework that I would like to do myself. I like reading articles on topics that I find interesting. I like learning new vocabulary if I know someone is going to quiz me the next day. I like writing something that I have an opinion on, especially if I know someone will read it. I like watching or listening to stuff and talking about it. And I keep an eye out for the homework that really sparks. For instance, this video always goes over like gangbusters when I have asked students to watch it.
Click here for a PDF homework lesson for Benjamin Zander Ted Talk
4. Most of the students don't do the homework.
If this is a recurring problem, I will make time for the students and find out how I can help. My students tend to be between 18 and 25 and for a few of them, time management is the thing. Just chatting to them, showing an interest and concern, can help them find a way to meet the expectations of the class. For instance, they may be trying to do their homework at a time of the day when they're tired. Encouraging them to experiment with different times can be helpful (e.g. coming to class 30 minutes earlier when they're fresh might be more productive than trying to do their work at 10pm after a heavy dinner).
5. Most of the students don't do the homework.
If this has been going on for a while, and nothing is working, then I may be asking too much. I still want them to do something but if they are overloaded, we can renegotiate and find a better balance.
Would be curious to hear other teachers' thoughts on homework.
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