tamas

How important is homework? – Tamas Lorincz

I believe that homework is the most important part of a language lesson.  Yet, it is one of the most poorly utilised elements of a language class. We should give it a lot more importance and make sure it is relevant. In fact, I the question should not be whether homework is important but what homework is. If we approach the question from the traditional input-led classroom perspective, that is we perceive homework as simply an assignment given by the teacher to the student to complete between one lesson and the next, I come down very hard on the “not at all important, abolish it as soon as radically possible” side. If, on the other hand, we look at homework as an opportunity for students to investigate ways in which the information, knowledge or content derived from the classroom can be internalised, expanded and personalised by the student, I am very much in favour of it. Homework of this kind provides opportunities for students in the form of tasks, ideas and challenges they can freely engage with in their own time, at the best of their abilities, and to the depth they deem necessary or relevant.

Giving an assignment like “Write 12 sentences on dinosaurs” (because contemporary coursebooks seem to have a love relationship with dinos, and that’s the unit we have just completed), is a complete waste of time. If some kids like the topic, they should be encouraged and supported in their research, but for those who are not in the least interested in animals long dead, I see no reason why they should be forced to Wikipedia 12 sentences and submit them just so that they can tick the box and move on to another subject. That’s meaningless.

Homework is not about kids going home and doing something on their own. It could also be about learning how to collaborate and share ideas. Therefore, homework does not always have to be in English, for English or about English, really. If an exercise is designed to have a meaningful learning outcome such has learning how to work better together or use a new tool collaboratively, the language can come later. Everything can feed into language practice, even if it is not done in English from the beginning.  For instance, if as part of their homework I have kids get together after school to take photographs of interesting places and people they pass by, I would not ask them to speak English during this stage. The value of the exercise lies elsewhere. They can turn the experience they had with the camera on the streets into a language-learning outcome by later using what they produced in a meaningful, relevant and interesting setting into descriptions or a presentation or something. That would be good and in fact it’s all good — not just the practicing language part.

Tamas

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Tamas

Tamas is an English teacher from Hungary who has just completed his MA in TESOL. Thus finishing his formal learning for the time being, he will be able to focus on what he is really interested in: informal learning, and gaining a better understanding of teaching by becoming a self-directed learner. Tamas at the moment works for a language testing agency in Hungary, and he concentrates on developing community platforms for language learning and practice. Tamas' blog: A journey into learning

6 thoughts on “How important is homework? – Tamas Lorincz”

  1. Dear Tamas,

    Great post and I find really interesting how you incorporate the use of L1 as part of the homework process. You are right there – it is not only and all about the language practice. It can turn into that even if it does not begin from there! Love it.

    Thanks so much for a great post!

    Best wishes,
    Vicky

  2. Thanks, Tamas, for a brilliant blog post. I love it when I can relate to the writer AND when I get an idea from something I’ve read. In your blog post both things happened.

    I agree about dinosaurs. If I never see a dinosaur story again, it’ll be fine with me. Course books have absolutely no chance of being interesting to the whole class, and too often aren’t interesting to more than about 20-25% of my students.

    The idea you sparked was about collaborative, non-English homework. I assign all my first year university students to download Skype and start talking in English. Now, thanks to you, I’m going to have them interview one another in Japanese about their language learning history. My real goal is to get everyone on Skype ASAP, asking them to do a Japanese interview (they’ll report on it in English in the next class) should make it more interesting and easier for them at the beginning of the school year.

    I’ll try to let you know how it goes!

  3. Tamas writes: “If we approach the question from the traditional input-led classroom perspective, that is we perceive homework as simply an assignment given by the teacher to the student to complete between one lesson and the next, I come down very hard on the “not at all important, abolish it as soon as radically possible” side”

    Coincidentally, there was a piece in yesterday’s (British) Guardian, on homework, in which a college principal was quoted as saying “If homework is set well then it can be useful – if it consolidates learning. But often it’s not. Often, it’s an extenison to finish off work and it doesn’t aid the child’.

    This is in the context of a new ruling from the Dept of Education which has “scrapped guidelines setting out how much homework children should be set. The article quotes a review of academic research which ‘has found the impact of homework on primary age children as “inconclusive”, while there is a “relatively modest” effect on older pupils’.

    It would be interesting to see this line of research extended to yet older learners, and second language learners specifically.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post, Tamas!

  4. Thank you, Tamas, for shifting my understanding of homework into a new mode.
    Homework as “an opportunity for students to investigate ways in which the information, knowledge or content derived from the classroom can be internalised, expanded and personalised by the student” – these are the key words for me. From this time on I’m going to reflect on this idea and try to make it an integral part of my view of homework.
    Thank you very much indeed!

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