You’d think that adults would be more consistent about doing their homework because they can handle more responsibility than younger language learners, but in my experience, I got more homework from elementary school children than working professionals. Perhaps it was the struggle to find time. Attending classes already took up a large portion of the students’ day (or evening, as was the case for some). If the adult learners also had work and family commitments, it was understandable that homework was a low priority, relatively speaking. Regardless, independent study is a crucial component of success in language learning, so here are five ways to encourage students to do the take-home assignments:
- Make some assignments an integral part of the next lesson. For example, in my previous entry I wrote about an activity called “Partner Swap”. Students must prepare a short composition in advance for another student to edit. While it’s possible to make time for this preparation in class, you could also assign the writing as homework. Those who don’t complete this initial step can’t participate in the main activity; this communicates the need to be prepared for class. I’m not suggesting that an unprepared student sit out and be denied a learning opportunity. You can offer similar solo practice (such as editing an authentic text or a text you composed). This way the student still works on the targeted skill, but your main attention is directed toward the group activity.
- Hand back homework in a very public way. Peer pressure at any age is a powerful agent. Let the less diligent students see you pass back corrected assignments and hear an occasional compliment paid for a job well done. The idea isn’t to make anyone feel bad, but to teach through example. Without even uttering a word, you can let the studious efforts of some positively influence others.
- Assign homework at key times. Don’t fall into the habit of always assigning homework at the end of class. You can explain what needs to be done at home when it’s most relevant. For example, if you’ve just finished Exercise 1 and you’re skipping over Exercise 2, then before going on to Exercise 3 tell the students that Exercise 2 will be part of their homework. Briefly state what the task will reinforce: “Be sure to complete Exercise 2 at home. It will give you additional practice forming wh- questions. We’ll correct it tomorrow in class to make sure you’re comfortable doing this. Now let’s go on to Exercise 3…” You can remind students at the end of class of the task(s) assigned as homework, but having heard the information once before, the students should remember to follow through.
- Make homework count towards their grade. If you’re teaching in a school with a traditional grading system, be sure that homework is a percentage of a student’s final grade. Communicate this fact to the students at the start and end of the semester. Make them aware that the course requires practice in class and at home.
- Show them the value of doing homework. Language learners can be their own worst critics. It’s helpful to show them their progress rather than simply tell them about it. You can do this through a portfolio of assignments. Explain at the start of the course that corrected homework assignments are to be kept in a portfolio. (Specify the format, for instance, a three-ring binder.) You can take this a step further and require students to rewrite corrected assignments. (We had to do this in my first year as a grad student in Russian grammar class. Before we could begin that day’s assignment, we had to rewrite yesterday’s assignment incorporating the teacher’s corrections. It was time-consuming, but effective.) Assignments should be filed chronologically. Encourage them to look back periodically and review old mistakes. With each review, those old mistakes will seem more obvious and the volume of corrected assignments will be more convincing of their ability to produce in the target language.