Homework

One thing we should not do is give homework. We should offer it only and if a child chooses to go online and or to an older fluent speaker in the family system, or find some reading comprehensible input somewhere in the form of a book or something interesting, spending time with it whether it be a song or whatever, as long as it is something that the child wants to do, then praise the child’s initiative and give all kinds of credit for doing that work toward a higher grade or whatever.

Homework is about teachers’ egos. American families are falling apart right now and homework is a factor. Let the teachers in the other subjects give homework. We don’t need to. In our classes, it should be purely voluntary and done from happiness and curiosity.

How dare our colleagues load kids up with tons of homework when all indicators are that it does not help them, but only really helps the teacher, who can then crow to colleagues and parents about how challenging their classes are. They are challenging all right, they are challenging the very fabric of American society, the family. Isn’t American society under enough pressure right now?

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28 thoughts on “Homework”

  1. Some of my colleagues’ response to lack of student gains (old school peeps) is to assign more worksheets and, much worse in my opinion, homework from a textbook publisher’s online student activities manual.

    I’m yearning for change in our profession on so many levels.

  2. And the fact that we get great fluency gains with no homework also means our method is that much more efficient – all that time spent on homework in traditional classes has to be counted as total time on FL.

  3. Plus, really the worst thing about this in my mind, is how those same teachers waste class time on stupid stuff when the kids could be doing their homework instead. Just let them do their homework in class. It’s like assembly line instruction. Poor bored kids. It is just about which kids are willing to be obedient soldiers, and that is tied into their grade. So you get a higher grade if you are obedient and pliable and do as your told. If you want your time after school for yourself, you lose. And if you choose that route, then the teacher doesn’t like you. Great.

    1. There’s actually a model like this gaining traction called the “flipped” classroom, in which students’ homework is to watch a video lecture & take notes, and they do the “homework” in class with a teacher to help them as they practice. I could see that being beneficial for math/science concepts, but not foreign language.

  4. I’m one who went back to homework this year. It’s not really the same as my old homework though. I’ve actually written an explanation about my philosophy on my page for parents, because some thought I was selling out, either by not offering homework to begin with, by offering it again, and then for not making it a huge part of the grade. It’s an hour outside school each week, and the kids use my extensive set of links or their own ideas to continue their study of Russian. It might drop them a grade if they don’t do it, but when I look at grades, I have a lot of kids who have been doing no homework and still have A’s. I’ve told them that by getting involved in their own education, they will benefit, and their Russian will probably improve. Their demonstrable abilities that I can observe and grade in class will change at least slightly if they are doing homework that they find compelling.

    Here’s my homework philosophy:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mQpFZOpONvpf6amvIhItSMpzFRcH6G2JDZVg4UugwdM/edit

    And here’s my homework list:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_-WVFfvsZwyzmPrVlUB92tutzVuEnvhZWIqn7csLtNM/edit

    1. I love your philosophy statement. I am trying something very similar this year with the homework options. I am required to give HW, so I made a menu of options that include reading a story we’ve told in class to a friend or family member, drawing an illustration or story board of a story we’ve read, listening to French music on youtube, completing a duolingo lesson, putting the text of a story into IMTranslator etc..on Fridays they log the HW they did that week in their portfolio (portfolios are also a requirement). At the end of the marking period they need 10 HWs for a 100 to be put in the grade book. It’s week three and some students already have completed 10 but tell me they are going to keep doing more because they are having fun.

  5. Michele
    I really like this idea and in fact I did this one year in all my classes, with some variation. Reading this makes me think that I might like to do this again. It allows students to use the language in an area of their interest.

  6. When I read Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth”, a lot of what he said resonated with me. Contrary to what many people who have only a cursory acquaintance with his work believe, Kohn does not claim there is no place for homework. He does say the following:
    1. Homework should not be the default school setting. Homework needs to be justified each time it is given.
    2. The nature of the homework is important. Homework should not be mindless repetition; homework should not be onerous; homework should be neither so easy it can be done mindlessly nor so difficult that it exasperates the student.
    3. Homework should not be a substitute for good teaching.
    4. Homework should bring families together rather than driving them apart.
    5. Homework should not interfere with family time.
    6. Homework should be input oriented (e.g. reading)
    7. Homework should be either preparation for an in-class activity or an extension of an activity that could not be completed during class time – and there should be a compelling reason either to prepare or to extend.

    I know there’s more, but just the items above represent a major shift in thinking about homework.

    If you think about it, Michele can advertise her class as a “blended classroom”. That’s a middle ground between traditional classroom and flipped classroom. Students “study” outside of class and reserve the class time for interpersonal interaction. I am thinking of re-instituting reading and cultural projects as “homework” – I just won’t count them for much (if anything). One teacher I know keeps a homework category in his grade book. Since he uses weighted grading, this category has a weight of zero, and he uses the “grade” to help him determine the work habits grade that he must give and to counter parental queries about grades. He can point to numerous zeros in a student’s record and have parents say things to their children like: “Your teacher sets a C at 40% [Standards-Based Assessment]; he gives you multiple opportunities to make up tests; you don’t do any homework. How can you possibly be getting a D in this class!?”

    I have one homework assignment in particular that is preparation for a class activity. When we are talking about “favorite things”, I hand out a sheet with a list of favorites: car, music, actor, color, book, film, school subject, sport, etc. Students fill in the blanks and give me the papers at the start of class the next day. Then I read them to the class, and students try to guess who it is. If the student stumps the class or someone who isn’t a close friend guesses the identity within a couple of clues, I give them a prize. This particular homework assignment consistently has a 100% completion rate.

    At the start of school each year I remind students (and parents at Back To School Night) that the standing German homework assignment is to spend 15 minutes a day doing something comprehensible in the language. Listen to German songs (I have Rammstein fans), watch a film in German with English subtitles, switch all video games as well as electronic gadgets to German, find someone (pen pal, relative, friend, etc.) who is a native German speaker to communicate with (the student in English and the German speaker in German), read anything you want in German – these are all possible ways to fulfill the “homework” assignment. And then I check up only by asking from time to time if someone wants to share something. One year I had a student who was a big gamer, and he switched all of his games to German. His gains in language were phenomenal.

    I also have students take stories home to share with parents. They get a signature and bring it back to me. Then we talk about what parents are saying about students’ abilities in German. This is especially good for the first class story. Parents are amazed that their students are speaking German after only a week or two of school.

    The main problem with homework is that most of the time the assignments meet none of Alfie Kohn’s strictures.

  7. This year my school has decided to limit the amount of homework that teachers can give. We are limited to 10 minutes per night. I’m happy that we’re moving in this direction! I used to feel like an outcast that I didn’t give homework. I’m happy to hear that the administration is happy with us teachers who give little to no homework!

    1. Yeah, that’s pretty darn cool that your school has this policy of 10 min per night with homework. Children need time to explore threads of interest that may take them into unknown topics and they need time to play with the restrictions school and homework often places on them. I’m trying to put my homework piece together for my classes and the ideas on this thread are very helpful. I’d like to try what Jen says below about making a space online for students to share what they are learning on their own outside of school, like forum for students to share links to songs as an example.

  8. Ray, this is great! Is this Ray from Chicagoland? Public school?

    I personally do not give homework. Besides the many good reasons Michele gives in her philosophy statement, I use it as somewhat of a charge to my students to “show up” to class and give me their full attention. (“You give me your time here, I’ll respect your time outside of class” kind of message). But, I DO want my kids to keep learning the language outside of class, so I have to be careful that I’m not sending the message that language learning only happens IN class.

    Robert, I really like the idea of issuing “homework”, input activities, and (maybe) putting them in the gradebook, but with no weight attached. Nice.

    1. Hey Jim,

      Yes, it is me from Chicagoland. I hope things are going well up in MN! I agree. When I give homework I try to make input activities. I’ll almost never give more than 10-15 minutes and I do it more for academic behaviors than anything else. Personally, I love how homework is on the hot seat! What will the traditional teachers do when they can’t use the last ten minutes of classtime to let the kids start the homework and the first ten minutes of the next class to go over it? (I try not to but I have to admit that I also do that from time to time when I’m extremely busy)

      Great thread!

  9. Love this thread! My first year CI I did the “choice of input” activities, “assigning” the kids 30 mins per week. I am pretty sure I stole this whole thing from Nathan Black. Anyway, I set it up so that even if they didn’t do it, it didn’t really affect their grade.

    What I liked about it was that kids got into checking stuff out, and many wanted to share songs and other links to stuff they found. Also lots of kids switching their tech stuff, etc. It got them invested and curious. It also made them aware of whether what they did / found actually helped. We had periodic reflections and many said “it was too fast so I didn’t really get much” so that in itself was good learning.

    What I did not like about it was wasting time tracking it. I would always forget and then after awhile I let it go. What I found was that the kids who wanted more music found more music (art, games, videos, etc) without it having to be assigned. IF I were in a classroom now, I think I would have it be completely optional. NO credit, but certainly if kids found things that helped them and they wanted to share, bring it!

    My own homework philosophy is very similar to Michele’s and in line with Alfie Kohn. Bottom line is we have precious little CI time so it’s hard to justify giving that up.

  10. I love this thread too! I stopped giving homework last year and my students and parents were both thrilled. A number of my kids’ parents are hugely involved in all of the parent groups that support the school, and they are completely embraced my no-homework policy. My colleagues on the other hand…

    A traditional French teacher practically screamed at me, in the middle of a crowded grade office in our middle school, for not giving homework. That teacher then complained to my department head who then told me I had to give homework. He then blamed me for kids choosing to drop the Latin classes at the high school because they were ill-prepared by “non-rigorous” classes. Then I was publicly accused of bribing kids to take Latin during department meetings with ALL of my other traditional colleagues. Then when the enrollment numbers come out, and huge number of students had signed up for my CI Latin class, they all blamed their lack of students on my lack of homework. They then wrote letters to parents and told them that the their programs were in trouble because I wasn’t giving homework. The school committee held TWO special public meetings about the dwindling enrollment in some of our languages where my lack of homework was a major topic of discussion. fortunately, the school committee defended me. After all of that, my department head went into the classes of the 6th graders who had signed up for my Latin classes and accused them of signing up for Latin exclusively for the lack of homework. The 6th graders of course had no idea that I didn’t give homework. He then told them that I was forced to assign an hour and half of a homework a night! He then encouraged them all to switch to another language. All of this was done without my knowledge. In the end, I was given a “needs improvement” in the area of professionalism because all of fellow teachers had complained to my principal/evaluator about me bribing students with no-homework.

    We had a parents’ night last night in our middle school. I told every single parent that I didn’t give homework, and every time I was met with a round of applause. I heard the phrase, “Can you please talk to all of the other teachers!?”, from at least one parent in every group.

    These polar-opposite responses from parents and students vs. traditional teachers and administrators says it all. If we know that mandatory traditional homework does more harm to kids and their families than good, then we have no business assigning it.

    1. John, I was looking through this thread again and noted the following comment:
      He then blamed me for kids choosing to drop the Latin classes at the high school because they were ill-prepared by “non-rigorous” classes.

      I don’t recommend following up on this because of the situation in which you find yourself, but that statement makes me bristle.

      1. What do the high school teachers mean by “ill-prepared”? Are the students unable to participate in Interpersonal Communication at the proper ACTFL Proficiency level? Are they unable to demonstrate acquisition-level proficiency in Interpretive Communication? Are they unable to perform at acquisition level in the area of Presentational Communication? Are the students unable to read and comprehend Latin? Are they unable to understand spoken Latin? Are they unable to write in Latin at their ACTFL Proficiency level? Are they unable to speak Latin at their ACTFL Proficiency level?

      The first three Modes of Communication are emphasized by both ACTFL and College Board (AP) as indicative of ability in the language. The second four are the discrete skills that most teachers test. While I prefer to discuss the Modes of Communication because they are more holistic, the four skills will also do in this case. The issue is not the ability to conjugate a verb or parse a sentence. It matters not if I can identify an Ablative Absolute; if I cannot communicate in the language, it avails me nothing. If these high school teachers can demonstrate that your students as a group are less able to communicate in Latin than their students, then they might have a case for calling your students “ill-prepared”. My belief is that your students communicate far more effectively than theirs; they just can’t fill in the blanks on the worksheets because that is meaningless work, and you have taught them that language has meaning.

      2. What does the administrator mean by “non-rigorous”? How does he (and the high school teachers) define “rigorous” and “academic rigor”? Just today I discussed with my classes what rigor in a language class looks like. Borrowing from the Department of State, I explained that there are four components to Rigor:
      a. Sustained Focus: students need to be able to focus on the topic and participate in it for an extended period of time with the aid of brain breaks, varied pace and activities, and mediative questions at increasingly high levels to pique student interest.
      b. Depth and Integrity of Inquiry: the goal is not to “cover” a certain amount of material but to allow sufficient time with the topic for students to explore it in depth, develop questions, and begin to find answers.
      c. Suspension of Premature Conclusions: students learn to look for the “outliers” that cause them to question the “rule” rather than simply accepting the first hypothesis that comes to mind.
      d. Continuous Testing of Hypotheses: even after developing and confirming a hypothesis with evidence, students continue to test and re-test the hypothesis in a variety of situations and under different circumstances.

      The Department of State quotes Alfie Kohn in stating: “People talk about ‘rigorous’ but what they often mean is ‘onerous,’ with schools turned into fact factories. This doesn’t help kids become critical, creative thinkers or lifelong learners.” (in O’Neill and Tell, 1999, p. 20)

      In the TCI classroom, this definition of rigor looks like the following:
      1. Students sit up with squared shoulders and focused eyes, listening with the intent to understand, participating in a single conversation in the target language by hearing what the speaker says, responding appropriately to questions and statements, and offering appropriate suggestions to sustain the conversation.
      2. Students explore the topic (story, PQA, etc.) until both they and the teacher are satisfied that sufficient inquiry has been made. There is no push to “cover” a grammar point and move on.
      3. Students do not have the conclusions (i.e. rules of grammar) presented to them at the beginning of the lesson. Instead, they suspend premature conclusions and allow their subconscious mind to draw conclusions about the language based on evidence (i.e. how the language is used in real-world communication).
      4. Students test their hypotheses about the language by testing them in actual speech and writing as well as looking for exceptions to the hypothesis through listening and reading. That this is happening is often revealed by the questions students ask (e.g. “I thought it was ‘die Toilette’. Why did you write ‘zu der Toilette’? Why did you say ‘Ich habe‘ rather than ‘Ich hat‘?”)

      Doing work sheets, conjugating verbs, declining nouns, adjectives, and pronouns – these are all onerous but not rigorous. Assigning them as homework merely increases the onus, not the rigor.

      My guess is that your instruction is, under this definition of rigor, far more rigorous than the high school teachers’ instruction but also far less onerous. No wonder students bail when they get there: they have to work harder but are challenged less.

      1. I love it, Robert!

        I wanted to add, that I anticipate being told in an upcoming meeting that “without grammar, they won’t be prepared for college.” Your response here also applies. Not prepared? Can they communicate as well or better in the 3 modes/4 skills? Then, I’ve prepared them. If your argument is “They have good communicative ability, but . . .” then you don’t have an argument. No “but” to it. That’s the whole deal. Grammar is only taught if it contributes to communicative ability, but I don’t think it (linguistics) can be justified in its own right within a language class. Make the ELA teacher do that crap.

        Furthermore, I’ve seen discussed here and on moreTPRS that our students can rock it once in college. But I gotta say, this is a cop out, for a teacher to say they won’t be prepared. What college professor has ever told these teachers the TCI-taught students were under-prepared?

        A separate problem is that college-level teachers will probably be the last to fully embrace TCI. I recall having many FL teachers in college that were only teaching because they knew the language and were native speakers. Furthermore, at the college-level, grammar makes it feel more like an academic.

        1. Eric, when that comes up, I suggest you take everyone back to presuppositions and goals. Make them look at their presuppositions about language acquisition vs what SLA research tells and ask them what their goal is for their language class. I really like to ask people “Why [for what purpose] do you teach what you teach? What is the goal of your instruction?”

          1. The major presupposition is that knowing formal rules of grammar leads to fluency in the language. SLA research has blown that presupposition out of the water.

          2. Most will say that their goal for the class is to teach students the language. It what way? My goal is to help students acquire enough language that a) they can communicate in a basic way with native speakers and b) they have solid foundation on which to build further language acquisition. The third leg of this is that they know enough about how languages are acquired that they can continue the process even if they never step foot into a language classroom again. How many teachers have as their goal for students to know a lot about the language but not be able to use it in real communication? There are at least some.

          Number two, of course, ties in with your comments about being prepared for college. If students place into upper level courses, as many of mine do, they are not going to be learning grammar; they will be reading and discussing in the target language. Guess what, my students are better prepared to do that than legacy-taught students because that is one of the main things we do in the class. Some of my students choose to take a lower level course in college because they want to “learn the grammar”, but that’s their choice. One former student did that, realized he was bored to tears, skipped class except for test days, and aced the class. I guess he “wasn’t prepared” for college German.

        2. YES! The “preparing for college” argument, in my mind is bogus. My dept. head used / uses that one to cling to her Spanish 5 class being all about SAT2 prep. Blech! Whenever I pursued this question: “What do you mean by “preparing for college?” It was all about “They need to analyze literature, write papers, “know advanced grammar,” etc. so that they are prepared for college language classes. And so our program evolved to: “This TPRS stuff may work at the lower levels…but once the kids get to level 3 we need to speed up our speech to native level and dive into grammar and authentic literature analysis.” (paraphrasing, and definitely not my words :0 )

          I have always felt that “preparing” for some nebulous “future in a college language program” in the context of the majority of our high school students is sketchy at best. Here is why:

          1) The odds that our students will major in OUR language is extremely unlikely. I can count 3 students in 25 years. Why are we gearing our whole programs for that?

          2) We don’t know that kid x will even continue. Even though he may intend to, there are scheduling glitches, other languages to explore, and so many other variables once they get to college. The students will have so many more choices at the college level to study ANYTHING. Except for the 3 kids in 25 years, I really don’t see a ton of kids hell bent on continuing in their language. I don’t mean to indicate that they are not interested, but that they have other academic priorities.

          3)Even if they are fired up about continuing, why push them in a certain direction to study and cram for standardized tests so they can place into a more advanced class just for the sake of placing into an advanced class. In these cases it’s likely the student will suffer from being “ill-prepared” due to lack of literary analysis, etc. Why not place into the level at which you’re currently functioning?

          4)The point that Eric makes above and that Robert wrote about a few months ago, which is that university programs are narrowly focused on literary analysis, whereas most students are interested in language for communication and connection.

          5) I just don’t think or feel that language in and of itself is academic.

          None of what I say is research-based. It’s all anecdotal from my upbringing in a bilingual home and 25+ years of teaching. Just my take.

          1. Thanks, Robert and Jen. More ammo.

            The first thing I did when I heard about what was being attempted in my district (to prepare everyone for level 2) was send an email about goals of the entire program. Unfortunately, that was too big picture. No one responded to me. Typical. Goals, to everyone, meant how to get kids in level 2. If level 2 meant “level 2 fluency” then I’m all for it. It doesn’t. So I asked is our level 2 course and curriculum content a worthy goal?

            I’ve also said to everyone that I have 2 language-related goals.
            1) Produce life-long acquirers
            2) Communication – fluency – proficiency

            Problem is, I was told we are still going to write curriculum for the current level 2 course and after have the discussion of “goals of the FL program as a whole.” That’s backwards.

          2. It certainly is backwards. It is also typical.

            I see ever more clearly that most teachers are unprepared and unwilling to discuss the overarching ideas and principles. To them, strategic planning is how to present the next chapter / stage of the textbook or how to prepare students for level 2, not determining the end goal of the program and working backwards from there.

            There are currently two places where I see substantive issues being addressed: here and in COACH, the group of foreign language teachers with which I work. My district undermines and cuts short any attempts to do this at the inter-school level. My department members are more concerned with whether or not their favorite course is getting proper “support”. (In all fairness, a couple of them are looking at research in SLA, but this is a definite minority.)

            Of the two places where substantive issues are being addressed, this blog is the more active and rigorous (defined as sustaining focus and having depth and integrity of inquiry). I’m very glad that Ben took the blog private and then weeded out those who wanted to argue the basics. While we have developed tools to address those who are clueless or want to argue the points, we have also moved into other areas of research that refine and improve our instruction. I appreciate what everyone contributes but have been especially challenged by Eric, Chris, Grant, Judy, Jody, Laurie, Pat, Bob, James, Michele – and others whose names I’m not recalling at the moment.

            Thank you all.

  11. I have hated homework ever since my own kids entered school. I agree with Ben in that it interferes with family time and more often than not is pure busy work. In my opinion if you can’t teach something in the allotted time, then I guess it’s not worth doing. These kids are sitting in 7 different classes a day and expected to actually learn something…amazing. This is totally against how the brain works, so I am amazed they learn anything. Plus, I can’t keep up with all of the grading and make-up work etc., as we have enough non-teaching related things to deal with on a daily basis.

    1. Ditto, Polly.
      When our daughter no longer had time for the family because she had several hours of homework in the 5th grade we decided it was time to homeschool. The middle school wanted to get the youngsters prepared for high school where they would get prepared for college where they could get prepared to pay off the debt they are racking up. We just wanted her to be prepared for life. We never looked back and she was still prepared for college.

  12. Homework is bad for the teacher and bad for the kids. I saw five Columbine kids walking to school this morning with backpacks that looked specially made to carry what looked an Army bivouac pack. One little girl had the pack down to the backs of her knees. Kids don’t need that. They need kindness and a little time to be kids, to be with their families, and to learn about life from other sources than some teacher and some book. By standing up and refusing to play the homework game, because we don’t need to, we stand tall on the side of children who just want to grow up without thinking that life is all about work and being serious and nervous all the time. May God protect us all as we take the heat that’s going to come with this change, so that we may stand tall in our beliefs about what is best for children. Let’s give them, all of them, something to believe in, that in at least one of the their classes they don’t feel like a failure if they aren’t in the group of the select. We can do it.

    1. give them, all of them, something to believe in, if they aren’t in the group of the select

      This goes for students and teachers. My heart hurts when I read what John Bracey wrote. This is just one reason that this PLC is so powerful. When I feel alone and beat down, I come here.

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