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Some Thoughts on Homework

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Some Thoughts on Homework

Several teachers have approached me recently with concerns about giving out homework. Who cares? Well, judging by the amount of questions I get about it, you do. I just want to pass on what I've tried in my classes to try and fight this uphill battle. I sincerely hope these will help you and your students. Good luck!

1. Consider renaming it "Preparation." I have found that students respond to and have been much more likely to complete "class preparation" than "homework."

2. Assign homework (preparation) 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. Typically, I'll assign memorization of classroom phrases and also assign them the unit 1 preview (Spectrum) or unit 1 review (Side by Side). I also ask them to look over their new books, and get their nam es in them. If you have a set of the Unit 1 vocabulary, you can also assign this.

3. Outline what homework (preparation) you expect from students on the first day of class. I recommend doing this. What has worked for me is I tell the students that I will be assigning class preparation every class period, and I will try my best to make it possible for them to finish in 45 minutes or less. I also tell them that if they are not finished at the end of 45 minutes, I want them to stop studying. By stating a clear objective with limits, students are much more likely to do their homework. I even found with this method that students see the 45 minutes as a minimum, and that to get ahead they'll do much more. When I haven't said anything about time limits, students have been less likely to do their homework.

4. Allot the last five minutes of classtime to going over class preparation (homework). This may seem like a lot of time, but the chief reason students do not do their homework is because they either a. didn't understand the homework assignment, b. didn't have time to write it down before leaving, or c. didn't understand that you were giving homework. Know that students' minds are typically not at their sharpest in the last part of your class. Take the time to explain the homework carefully, and your stud ents will react to the importance you give it by doing more of it.

5. Never allow yourself to just give homework orally. Always write it up on the white 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 whiteboard and write it up as you gi ve it to the class.

6. 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.

7. Create a mini class preparation dialogue. Have students up and asking three partners in English what the class preparation (homework) is before they may leave for the day.

8. Try to make class preparation interactive. Have students prepare by calling one another on the telephone. A. It's memorable. B. It's practical and effective. C. It's fun. Set this up with a dialogue on the white board that gets people to ask for a phon e number and set a time. (Once you're students have done this and gotten 2 or 3 numbers and times, then assign
the preparation. It's sneaky, but it works.) I recommend doing this for the first time very early in the session. Again, if you set a precedent, students will often begin to do this on a regular basis without your prompting.

9. Have a place in your folder where you write down daily homework (preparation). It's very easy to forget about what homework you've assigned. If you do forget, it's very easy for students to begin to forget about it. This is also a great way to have a r unning record of your class for the next time you teach the same level.

10. Include homework review in the lesson plan of the following class. I try to take what has been assigned as homework and integrate it into my following lesson. I'll put up my "Tonight's lesson" outline up in the left-hand corner of my whiteboard and ne xt to one of the steps of the lesson will put "(homework review)" next to one of the steps. This helps make it clear to students that class preparation is used in the following class.

11. Give students a chance to show off their preparation. This can be as simple as positive feedback on a job well done. Try to avoid berating someone for not doing homework. Try instead to give those students who have tried to do the homework praise and other students will follow. Remember trying to do homework (and failing to finish it) is many times a mark of a better student than someone who always has it finished. The "finisher" may have had help completing their homework.

12. Verbally announce when you are reviewing/integrating homework into the lesson. It may be crystal clear to you that what you are having the students do is based on the homework, but don't assume your students realize this. State it out loud. This will help by a. showing students you are following up on homework, and b. encourage students who are "lazy" about their homework to be prepared by raising their awareness of how important good preparation is for having a productive class.

13. Use your class leader. If a student has missed class, follow up with the class leader. Give him/her the handouts from the class to give to the student in the next. Ask the class leader to call the student. Don't assume the class leader has the missing student's phone number. Check your list. Repeat it out loud. If it's not there, go with the class leader to the front desk to get the number from the secretaries. Follow-up in the next class with the class leader-Did you call? Did you give him/her the ha ndouts?

14. Have students correct workbook assignments in class. Putting students into pairs to go over homework in class is a simple way to have students do the corrections themselves. Monitor this activity and put up any recurring mistakes/questions on the
white board for you to go over with the whole class. Have any students who have not completed the assignment pair off together. ( A good non-threatening way to do this is by "changing your mind" about the pairing once the students have gotten in pairs and opened their books. The students who are moved know why you have done it, but nobody else does. It's a nice blend of reminding them + not embarrassing them in front of the class.) This is a much more valuable way for students to learn than by you correcting outside of class. A fun alternative to this is to have all the answers written on pieces of paper that are either taped up to the wall, or are mixed up on students' desks. Students must race to get all the correct answers in the order they appear in their homework. Students then check their answers against the correct ones. (I got this idea from Vivian Yang. Ask her for details.)

15. Have students give feedback on homework in the class warm-up. You probably don't want to do this for every class, but here is something you can do from time to time. Here are the steps. 1. Plan out your class. What are the functions/grammar of the class? 2. Write up some easy questions using the function/grammar about homework. For example: (past tense) Did you do your homework? Was it easy? What was hard? or (restaurant conversations/experiences) Have you ever done your homework in a restaurant? Do you like studying in teahouses? (feelings/emotions) How do you feel about the homework from last class? You can also ask a general question like " What does the homework have to do with tonight's topic X?" Be sure to integrate these types of questions wit h others that are focused on your lesson of the day.

Well, I've run out of ideas for now. Please share any ideas you have for making homework/preparation more effective in your classes with other teachers. I hope this has been helpful for you. For additional ideas and tips: Check out Dave's Teachers Discussion Page: Teaching Tips. There are lots of good ideas there too!

Name: Prentice H. Berge
Email: prentice@ms9.hinet.net
Location: Taipei, Taiwan

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