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.