Is Homework a Waste of Time?

 Is Homework a Waste of Time?

As 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 time when:

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 it.

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.

BUT 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

·         Brainstormed vocabulary

·         Been introduced to new useful vocabulary

·         Reviewed what grammar they need to use

·         Discussed ideas

·         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 had.

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.

Some 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 silent practice

Homework should

Maximise class time

Be meaningful

Provide pre- or post-lesson support

Encourage independence

Allow for personalisation


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