When it comes to ESL homework…is it really necessary?
Do students really need to answer an additional set of questions or complete another worksheet at home? It makes sense for students to work with their materials after school, but what kinds of homework should we give them and how much? How can we achieve this delicate balance of homework that is just right for our students’ needs? Let’s dig deeper into the issue of homework in the ESL classroom.
Those that are against homework in the ESL classroom say:
- Students are already overburdened with other school tasks in the case of children, or the demands of work and home in the case of adults. Students claim they don’t have the time (or the interest) to complete piles of worksheets at home.
- The types of tasks that are typically assigned for homework may not help students achieve their learning goals. How many students do all of their homework but can’t speak in the classroom?
Those that are for homework in the ESL classroom say:
- Most ESL teachers will vouch that students who do more homework, do better in tests.
- The time students spend after class doing homework is a quiet time to reflect on what they learned during the day and allows concepts to sink in.
- A lot of things are learned by repetition and homework gives students the practice they need.
But this is what I say:
- The important thing is not the amount of homework you give your students, but rather the quality of the homework you give them (and isn’t this true for most things in life?) It is also essential that the homework you give be targeted to your students’ needs. Like everything you do in class, it must serve a higher purpose, and this purpose is the achievement of a learning goal.
Let me break it down for you like this. For homework to really work in the ESL classroom it has to meet the following criteria:
Criteria for Homework that Really Works
The Purpose Must Be Absolutely Clear
Do you ever assign homework just because? Because students or their parents expect it? That’s not a good reason to assign homework. When you assign homework, it must be perfectly clear to you and your students that it will help them work towards achieving a learning goal. If the learning goal is for them to compare and contrast with the use of comparatives, and they have not yet mastered the use of comparatives, then a great homework assignment would be to have them compare two of their favorite fictional characters for homework. Or the city they’re from and the city they are living in now. But no matter what the assignment is, students must understand that this is a skill they have not yet mastered, and they need to work on.
It Must Be Tailored to Their Needs
Multiple choice exercises are very easy to assign and complete, but unless your class is training to take a standardized test, this is not going to be very useful. ESL students need opportunities to expand on what they’ve learned and to put their skills to the test. Business English students who need to write emails in English should write emails for homework. Students who need to give presentations should prepare and practice them for homework. Young learners who want to make new friends in a foreign country should practice talking about themselves and their interests. So before assigning homework, not only ask yourself if it works, ask yourself it if works for this particular group of students.
It Must Be Appropriate to Their Needs
Say you ask your young learners to draw a picture of their favorite toy for homework. This may be an age-appropriate task, but is it really appropriate for their learning needs? How will it help them communicate better in English? Now, if you were to ask them to draw a picture and write a short paragraph about it...or perhaps be prepared to give a show and tell in front of the class...
It Must Be Something They Can Do On Their Own
What’s the point of giving them something to research and write about if they can’t write a complete sentence in English? Why give them a “presentation” to prepare with no guidelines to follow? We can’t give them homework tasks they could possibly fail at; we must give them tasks we are confident they will succeed in – which does not mean they won’t make mistakes or need improvement. Try to use your students’ core competencies and skills to work with them, not against them.
It Must Be Engaging
Some students may love doing pages and pages of multiple choice questions, but let’s face it, this is not always the case. If you strive to provide engaging tasks in the classroom, you must strive to do the same outside the classroom. Naturally, you’ll need to gauge your students’ needs and interests and work with them to design homework tasks they will enjoy doing.
You don't have to be either for or against homework.
You’ll need to analyze your ESL classes and students on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, you might not want to assign as much homework – it may not be necessary. In other cases, engaging homework tasks may provide the extra practice your ESL students need to overcome their ESL obstacles. This is particularly the case with listening practice. Practice makes perfect, right?
What’s your take on homework in the ESL classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts!