Robert Harrell on Homework

The text below is being added to the Primers if you ever need to have the “homework discussion” with any of your students, colleagues, or parents:
There is a place for Homework, just not homework as it is traditionally conceived. Many people read Alfie Kohn (The Homework Myth), for example, and think he is saying “No Homework”. He is not. He is saying that homework must be justified on its own merit, not simply be given because that’s what you do. I have four “types” of homework that I give:
a. Something that will take just a few minutes to finish because we didn’t have quite enough class time. (Essentially I’m admitting that I didn’t plan that day’s lesson quite well enough.)
b. Something to get ready for a lesson, but I don’t want to spend class time doing it. For example, one assignment I give is for students to write a list of their favorite things. In class I read the list, and the class tries to guess who it is. Sometimes I don’t have students put their names on the paper so that I am guessing as well. When we have identified the person, then I write the name. My “completion rate” on this assignment hovers at about, oh, 100%.
c. Something that they simply cannot do in class. Many teachers have a “cultural project”. As long as it is a chance for students to explore the culture and not filled with extraneous requirements, why not?
d. Get more exposure to the language: read in TL (I have a student who read The Hobbit in German last year, just for fun, on her own), watch a movie in TL, change the language on your family’s electronic devices, play video games in German (or other target language), find someone to talk or write to (student can write/speak in English and interlocutor writes/speaks in German).
e. Show your parents what you are doing in language class and impress them with how much you know by reading (translating) a class story for them.
f. Assessment (i.e. take-home test) so you don’t spend class time doing this. There are various ways to do this. One is to find, copy, and illustrate the Essential Sentences in a story.

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9 thoughts on “Robert Harrell on Homework”

  1. For sake of completeness, there two more “types” (or uses) of homework:
    e. Show your parents what you are doing in language class and impress them with how much you know by reading (translating) a class story for them.
    f. Assessment (i.e. take-home test) so you don’t spend class time doing this. There are various ways to do this. One is to find, copy, and illustrate the Essential Sentences in a story.

  2. I learned about “E” from Susie years ago and it is a great thing. Some kids still forget to bring it, though, even with an extra day. That has been my biggest challenge with homework, many kids just won’t do it.

    1. Which is part of why homework carries zero weight in my gradebook. When I set it up, I weight my categories: Interpersonal receives the greatest weight, Interpretive is next, and Presentational the least. Homework has a category, but its weight is zero. Students who do homework receive recognition, and students who do not do it receive the natural consequence of not doing it – no recognition, slower acquisition, a red box in the online gradebook, and perhaps parental disapproval. In addition, if I need to talk to parents about grades, and there are lots of red boxes, parents can see that their student is not engaged.

      1. This is an important part of the discussion. How much (or little) does it count for? You have it set up like the rest of life: the practice/engagement time does not count for extra points in the game, but it has an impact on the number of regular points and the final outcome.

  3. I’ve absorbed homework (if I ever give it) into Bob’s DEA rules for classroom MGMT. I’ve added “Be Prepared” as a rule, so if students don’t have X, Y, Z for class, they’ve shown up unprepared. This also means I don’t have to create a new assignment in the gradebook since I update the one DEA assignment all quarter long.
    I also make it a point to do something with the homework so the non-doers are left out for a little bit. It’s not masochistic, I just believe in giving useful homework, if ever, and the students benefit from seeing what happens when they don’t do it.

  4. I agree with Robert. My homework is almost exclusively reading in TL. In beginner classes a parent or adult signs off on it and I am assured that parents are aware of what is happening in the classroom. It carries zero weight in their overall mark, but I do use it for the personal/social section on management skills. This is a Consistently, Usually, Sometimes or Rarely designation.

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