The Culture of Homework in Schools
ESL teachers new to any language school or institution are often told to assign homework. In Taiwan, I am surrounded by a culture of homework as schools are required to give a lot of it. Elementary and junior high school students who attend my language school are often working on their Chinese homework before or after our English classes. It is not uncommon for the tired and burned out junior high school student to say how he/she has more work and tests the following day while finishing my school at 9:00pm. And yes, my language schools often give homework to young students to complete before their next class. I even have three methods for correcting and reviewing homework that I teach to the new teachers at my school as part of the training program. But, should ESL teachers assign homework?
Research and Data Show Homework Has Little Benefit
There are those who have questioned the idea of why schools give homework. Research and data show there is little to no connection between homework and academic performance. This is especially true for students who have already had a long school day and are coming to an after school program for extra work.(Taiwan, Korea, Japan, China) Yet, most teachers still give homework for the sake of giving homework.
Changing to a No Homework Model
While doing research about flipped classrooms for a Master’s course I found a story about an American principal Greg Green had had enough watching under performance at his school. (Video here) Green felt that so much time was wasted on reviewing homework, or reteaching lessons and then going over homework again for students who had missed classes or couldn’t do the homework. He abolished homework in the traditional sense and instead required students to use videos or other technology to get information and prepare for class.
This is often an issue in my language classes. Students miss a day or two. Students then fall behind on homework pages and they can’t do them. When they go home and can’t catch up, parents get concerned and call the school and worry. It just makes more work for everyone and the student has learned nothing. Professor Susan Goldman at the University of Illinois found that “if help is required at home, it isn’t practical for all students”. This is most definitely the case for our school since most of the parents of our students do not speak English and can’t help their children anyways.
What Have I Done?
As a school director, I have the power to make some changes. I have started to reconsider what the actual goal of giving homework is. I have made small changes. Instead of pages that are meant to “challenge” the student, I will either have no homework days, or keep it very simple by assigning spelling practice (5 minutes) or optional CD listening and self-reading of the text. By doing this, we can try some different instructional approaches. The admin/front desk staff at the school is certainly less inundated with student and parent questions about homework pages they don’t understand.
Should I Assign Homework To My ESL Students?
When teaching a class in ESL or any subject, consider the idea of giving homework and its usefulness. Is there a benefit to a tired student going home and having to grind away at more work for the next day?
Minimal and Meaningful Homework
Most schools are going to require you to assign homework. If so, I suggest keeping it minimal and meaningful. Everyone will be the happier for it.
Robert Minor is the founder and director of Robert’s American School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Robert’s teaches young learners through content-based instruction. He holds a B.A from Bowdoin College and a Master’s Degree in Education from Framingham State University. He is a fluent Mandarin speaker and avid hiker. Robert at LinkedIn