Is Homework a Waste
the bell goes, signifying the end of the lesson, and students start leaving the
class room, the teacher casts a quick eye over the course book and shouts an
instruction out: ‘Do exercise 3 on page 7!’. Be honest, we’ve all done it. Homework is
usually one of the least planned aspects of our teaching.
Why do we set it anyway? Because we
think we should, students and parents expect it or because we see its benefits?
Homework is certainly a waste of
students haven’t been well-prepared for to do the task alone and end up making
lots of mistakes. Teachers then have to attack this work with the dreaded red
pen. The student gets a low mark and feels demotivated, doesn’t feel confident
and then does badly again. She goes into a failure cycle. It’s important to
motivate students by setting achievable tasks. Success breeds confidence and
confidence breeds success!
students are overwhelmed with other studies or work and too tired to do
well. Many of us teach teens,
who have many subjects with their attached homework at school. There is
terrible exam and school pressure on these poor teens. We should be
understanding and careful what and when we set for homework. Adults will also
have time pressure at work and at home.
students are asked to learn by heart. Have you ever set students 15 words to learn
for a test on Monday. On Monday they all do very well, but by Wednesday they
have all but forgotten the words. Rehearsed language like this goes into
short-term memory and is soon forgotten. Language is stored in our long-term
memory when it’s practised regularly, meaningfully and in a variety of ways.
students can copy or Mummy can do it. Too many workbook exercises can
simply be copied or done for the student. This really is a waste of time for
both teachers, who spend time marking it and students, who gain no benefit from
when the work would benefit from collaboration. Lev Vygotsky came up
with the term the Zone of Proximal
Development to describe the difference between what we can do alone and
what we can achieve with help, support and/or encouragement. This is where we
learn. Learning does not happen in a vacuum and learners really do benefit from
working together and from the teacher’s guidance and direction. Working alone
at home often suffers from lack of support and fails to add to value to the
overall learning process.
the good news is homework is not a waste of time when:
when students are well-prepared in class to do the task successfully. For example, before
going home to write a composition, in class they have
Been introduced to new useful vocabulary
Reviewed what grammar they need to use
Had input of new ideas e.g. through a video, web site or article
Planned the structure of the composition together
when students see the point of the homework. I hardly blame them for
not doing carelessly set exercises. But they can be asked to write directly to
you. I find a lot of writing tasks artificial, in that there is no ‘real’
reader. So, I ask my students to write to me and tell me anything they want. I
read and reply to this correspondence and it is far more motivating for the
students to do as it really is communicative. I don’t mark it as such, but pick
up on errors and try to include correct versions of the language in my
responses or do remedial work in class to help them later.
when students can choose what they do for homework. Quite often there are a
number of exercises, particularly in workbooks, which have not been covered.
So, I ask students to choose one or two of them to do. This will be based on
what they either enjoy doing or what skills they feel they need more practise
on. When we are allowed a choice, we do it with more thought and a more
positive mind set. Quite often students do all the tasks!! I don’t waste class
time by going over it all, but allow them to quickly check their answers with
an answer sheet or together and just discuss any serious problems they may have
when parents can really help. Often parents really do want to help but don’t know how. It is valuable
to discuss with parents what they can do to help at home, so it’s a positive
and helpful experience for all involved. For example, with young children they
could read stories together, play games on recommended websites etc.
examples of useful homework
Students read the discussion questions set in the course books and
prepare their answers before class. The discussion then is richer, longer and more
useful for all students involved.
Students rehearse dialogues, taping them and listening back in order to
work on phonology
Students write quiz questions, based on a topic they have done in class,
to ask each other in the next lesson
Students read extensively – any types of text they wish to read e.g.
stories, magazines, news articles, sports reports etc.
Students research the next unit’s topic before they start, in order to
have ideas and vocabulary to share
Exam preparation students do practise tests online as well as timed
pre- or post-lesson support