What makes the best homework for language learners? #ELTchat Summary 17/09/2014

A PLN for ELT Professionals

What makes the best homework for language learners? #ELTchat Summary 17/09/2014

Image courtesy of #eltpics  by Vesna Djedovic

Image courtesy of #eltpics by Vesna Djedovic

Starting off


Marisa_C welcomed us all to this fourth birthday of the ELTChat. A momentous event! We determined the topic and fabenglishteach started off by saying: ‘Ah, to give or not to give HW?’


Marisa_C continued by more closely defining the topic by asking: ‘Homework or Busywork? That’s what some Ss call it. Opinions? What kind of HW do u think Ss call busywork?’


fabenglishteach answered this with: ‘I’d welcome confirmation but I believe it’s homework.’


MarjorieRosenbe had a few comments about the homework she assigns: ‘I think homework needs to be relevant. There needs to be a reason to do it.’ and added: ‘I also think personalised HW is ideal – write about something you know about or yourself.’ and then brought up the concept of defining what we mean by homework: ‘Just thinking we might need to define HW. Also includes internet searches, watching a video, etc.’ to which Marisa_C replied: ‘Good idea.’


fabenglishteach added: ‘I like to give research for HW, try to invoke some curiosity.’


What’s it for?


Philip_Saxon asked if Marisa could confirm the topic for today’s chat to which she answered: ‘Perhaps HW not so hard to define; the PURPOSES of HW might need some clarifying tho’ bringing in a new area of discussion.


fabenglishteach commented: ‘I teach in secondary school, it’s obligatory to set regular HW.’ and MarjorieRosenbe added: ‘My uni Ss have self-study grammar exercises to practice and writing so I can correct it for improvement.’


Marisa_C summed this up by saying: ‘So, some HW is for consolidation purposes – right?’ And MarjorieRosenbe added: ‘More purposes – reflection, solidification of material – doing it at your own pace.’


StudyBundles summed up an earlier point by saying: ‘So homework should be relevant, personalised and based on something that piques learners’ interest…’


Priscilamateini commented: ‘For some students, it called “boringwork” but I try to convince them that will help them.’


Marisa_C reminded us again of its purpose: ‘Consolidation – solidification??’ which StudyBundles agreed with by adding: ‘Yes definitely…and some can be instructional/presentational’ and provided the hashtag for #flippedlearning, a topic which was discussed more fully later in the chat.


Philip_Saxon also commented on this by saying: ‘Certainly the traditional view! Can also use it to apply knowledge, though, surely?’ Marisa_C brought up this point: ‘So some HW can be given to research and prepare for class – here is another purpose.’


Marisa_C went on to say: ‘So thinking of HW as evidence of learning? It’s not always though.’ to which MarjorieRosenbe replied: ‘I would say more evidence of progress.’ and added: ‘Helping Ss progress also means us spending time on corrections.The downside for the T but important.’


edchatirl entered the conversation with: ‘Reflection is a nice way to link into the next lesson too!’


When homework is a must

For those in state schools homework must be assigned. Priscilamateini said: ‘For my teens and juniors group if they don’t do it I have to call their parents and they are forced to do, I select with them.’


fabenglishteach brought up an interesting point: ‘Read some reports recently about how HW didn’t improve school results at all, anyone else seen it?’


BobK99 commented: ‘Do you have a link? Not I, but I remember it from the headlines maybe 2 wks back. Google?’


Types of homework



Shaunwilden brought up an interesting point: ‘Shouldn’t learners say what is the best kind of homework for them? :-)’ to which MarjorieRosenbe replied: ‘I suspect 20 Ss would elicit 20 different answers.’


Shuanwilden who had left for a short time answered this with ‘So does that mean 20 different homework(s) are a bad idea?’ #eltchat #ambackandbeingmischievous.


This was followed by fabenglishteach making two valid points: ‘Hard to let a class of young teens choose their own HW, but giving a choice is important.’ and continued by saying: ‘Depends on how you’ll evaluate them, or whether you want to see your own friends/life this week!’


Marisa_C brought up the point: ‘Looks like giving choice, self- access HW work for many – is this also true of YL’s? Are they able to make choices?’ to which Shuanwilden replied: ‘I agree choice is important and allowing people to do different things if it suits.’


And looking at the teachers’ point of view, MarjorieRosenbe said: ‘Depends on what we mean by ‘different’ and how I have to grade them.’


Echoing fabenglishteach’s earlier sentiment. Shaunwilden made a good point by asking: ‘Does this imply homework has to be graded?’ to which MarjorieRosenbe answered: ‘Could give option of means of delivery – written, recorded, videoed – that would work.’


Suggestions came for audio recordings of homework from fabenglishteach: ‘audioboo good for speaking HW.’ and Shaunwilden continued by suggesting: ‘sound cloud, vocaroo, fotobabble.’  fabenglishteach made another point by commenting: ‘Writing helps set your ideas, and we tend to remember better what we’ve written – by hand.’ and Shaunwilden answered with: ‘Just wondering if audio journals, etc might make it easier for those that don’t like writing.’


Philip_Saxon liked the idea of letting students decide:’ Great chance to offer students a choice! They can post whichever they prefer on class blog/Edmodo/whatever.’


Specific examples


The conversation began to move in the direction of specific examples. MarjorieRosenbe offered: ‘We do the game ‘When was the 1st time you …’ and then they write about an important 1st in their lives. Some bring me to tears.’ and fabenglishteach said: ‘For writing practice I often do 100 word challenge, then they blog it & get peer evaluation with @TheHeadsOffice.’


dimodeca commented: ‘@TheHeadsOffice great idea. I’d love to do sth like that this year.’

Philip Saxon said that he was: ‘Following Russell Stannard’s example and am now starting to set speaking homework assignments (using smartphones).’


MarjorieRosenbe offered another idea: ‘I put links to Vicki Hollett’s vidoes on moodle which they watch & we discuss.’ and added: ‘Also gave CAE Ss link to Sugata Mitra’s TED talk and we debated it in class. Great success.’


Philip_Saxon offered some other ideas: ‘Creative essay: balloon debate for history’s 4 most illustrious economists. Which would learners save, and why? Ss are told Keynes, Hayek, Friedman & Minsky are all in a hot air balloon together when disaster strikes…tbc’ and in answer to Marisa_C ’s question: ‘Sounds good but what format would the HW take? A recorded conversation or a report?’ said: ‘300 essay or short story. Best answer involved a deus ex machine and was uproariously funny.’


StudyBundles added some more ideas: ‘Superlative stories – best day of my life, biggest surprise I’ve ever had, funniest thing I’ve seen…’ to which Philip_Saxon replied: ‘Very nice. Opportunity for students to “own” the target language.’


Flipping the classroom


As mentioned earlier, the conversation came round to the flipped classroom. Philip_Saxon commented: ‘Many ways to flip classroom. I’d scaffold future discussion with questions as prompts.’ and suggested: ‘Research questions (WebQuests) can work very well! Especially if class divided into groups, each with own question.’


Some questions came up about this method when Studybundles asked: ‘Has anyone tried a flipped approach? How have you approached it? Have you had success?’ and Shaunwilden replied: I know of people who have but am not convinced myself.’


Studybundles then said: ‘I think it can be extremely effective in the right context, and done in the right way – doesn’t suit all t & l contexts.’ Shaunwilden said: ‘Well I think the idea of flipping = homework is not necessarily correct.’


Philip-Saxon said: ‘Key though is to ensure tight integration between online and classroom work.’

edchatirl added: ‘Flipping is great if all have internet access, not always the case with language learners.’


Making homework motivating


The question of motivation was also discussed. Philip_Saxon offered: ‘Maybe am thinking of young adults here, but asking students to reflect in writing on what they’ve been taught can work very well.’ and dimodeca replied ‘Indeed, more motivating.


When St do HW just because they’re supposed to, in a rush, it doesn’t serve the purpose.’ and several agreed that sometimes English homework takes a back seat to other subjects.


fabenglishteach said: ‘I also have to bear in mind HW set in other  subjects means English HW might be rushed/copied.’ and then went on to suggest: ‘A learning journal would be great!’


Studybundles added: ‘Agreed, it’s good practice to encourage them to reflect on their learning, helps foster effective learner autonomy.’


Marisa_C reminded us of the problem of setting certain tasks:   ‘I meant that Ss can complete sth mechanical but that is not proof of learning or ability to use the TL.’ to which Philip_Saxon replied ‘Agree – but putting what they learned into practice is totally different.’ and added: ‘Much prefer AUTHENTIC homework.’


Marisa_C commented: ‘Or inauthentic but motivating/ creative and FUN to do, that works for me too :-)’ to which Philip_Saxon agreed: ‘Fun also gets you there! Love to see examples another time.’


When homework is problematic for some

Some learners have particular problems learning. fabenglishteach commented on some of the students: ‘Think writing helps fix learning, but not too much, I have lots of dyslexic students so two lines /15 words max.’ and added: ‘I give SEN/ dyslexic learners topic of next lesson so they have time to collect thoughts & vocab.’


Adult learners



These learners may pose a special problem when it comes to assigning homework. As Marisa_C said: ‘In a BE context though may be hard to do this fun thing to a group of dour looking CEO’s :-D’ and Priscilamateini added: ‘Adult groups say they want to do their homework but they do not have time and patience for it. Most of them have excuses about it.’ and went on to say: ‘I try to explain for them the importance of doing it and if they don’t, they can’t see their sense of achievement, and my feedback.’


Marisa_C agreed: ‘True – we have a hard time getting our adult groups to do HW – what do you do when they don’t do it?’ a question which was not specifically answered.


MarjorieRosenber said: ‘My adult group does HW – certain tasks set on writing emails which are relevant to work.’ and added: ‘I also reward my adults with reward stickers. Works well. And the HW doesn’t take long.’


danapokle went on to say: ‘Started giving oral HW to corporate learners with smartphones and they like it.’ Marisa_C said: ‘That sounds like a great idea – put smartphones to good use for HW.’ and added: ‘Also nice to use http://t.co/yShS3wPRjB for ss w/o smartphones – no installation needed just email recording:’


StudyBundles said: ‘In the past I’ve put vids on s/d cards for ss who could watch on smartphones.’ and ‘edchatirl said: ‘Oh that’s very creative, did it work well?’ StudyBundles replied: ‘Yes it did, but it was quite a bit of effort/planning/work to set it up :)’ to which edchatirl replied: I can imagine!! Sounds like they’re lucky to have a dedicated teacher!’


Shuanwilden suggested: ‘I guess another option is to put stuff on USBs’. And with a plethora of ideas the chat came to a close.



Homework or Busywork? Slides shared by Marisa Constantinides @Marisa_C





About The Author

Marjorie Rosenberg teaches general and business English as well as a CAE preparation course at the Language Institute of the University of Graz and ESP at the University of Teacher Education. She has been teaching at the adult level for over 30 years and at the tertiary level for the past 20. She is an active teacher trainer and her interests include NLP for the classroom, learning styles, cooperative learning, and multiple intelligences.