Homework and other hard choices

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How do you feel when you see learners frantically scribbling in their workbooks five minutes before the lesson starts? Before the New Year, we reached that lowpoint with my lower secondary group. The workbook homework had become too quick and easy, and too automatic for them to even attempt doing at home. ‘What kind of homework would you prefer to do then?’ I asked, being the nice democratic teacher I am. ‘Something creative’, they said. ‘We don’t have enough to do at home’. (They are too young to be sarcastic.)

Well, a few days ago I took the great choice board created by Miguel at onthesamepageELT and had a pyramid discussion of which types of tasks they would like to do. We had criteria like ‘fun’, of course, but also ‘helps to learn English’. They quickly dispensed with all tech-related tasks like making a recording and sending it to the teacher, and selected crosswords, stories, synonyms and acrostic poems – go figure. So, each week I will bring the modified choice board up on the IWB, and we’ll choose several options for them to go through by next Monday. Exciting! I’ll let you know how things go.

What do I get from this? Differentiation of course, and a little more engagement because of student agency.  And, frankly, I just love watching them make their own decisions 🙂

P.S. By the way,  here’s an inspiring article about differentiated learning: it’s one of those texts that give you the creeps first (no way am I ever going to find the time for this!), and by the end of the article you’re choosing the date to start.

P.P.S. Homework to fire up minds is an old post of mine about an excellent article describing homework alternatives – you might want to check it too!

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English for five minutes a day

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What a nice article for learners by Sandy Millin! Simple no-nonsense advice for learners who have other things on their minds than English, but would still like to improve in an efficient and fun way. I like how Sandy emphasises the idea of habit formation: if you make English part of your daily routine, you don’t need to spend so much willpower on learning and will keep it up in the long run. She has quick study tips for developing all the skills, as well as for building up vocabulary and grammar: for example, how to review coursebook pages, or how to practise speaking without a speaking partner. I think it’s a good idea to share it with all students!

Sandy, how about Part Two? 🙂

Prime your classes with Flipgrid

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Here is a wonderful article by Michael J Shehane about using Flipgrid in the language classroom. The advice he gives is invaluable: for example, what pitfalls of making Flipgrid videos are the most likely and whether it makes sense to discuss them with students; how you encourage students to do their Flipgrid homework without any conflict or contention; how exactly Flipgrid videos can help you achieve the learning objectives. The best I’ve read about Flipgrid so far!

Could be worth exploring this kind of ‘priming’ for teacher training – what do you think?

 

Just a gentle nudge

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Another great post from Mark Makino: an unusual type of homework he calls ‘nudgework’ which involves learners in communicative activities outside the classroom. Mark describes tasks typical of an ESL environment: take a tutor’s signature on the campus, spend 30 minutes at a local cafe without your phone (you’ll just have to talk to the barista or the other customers!). Low-prep and no marking involved – what’s not to like?

But now I’m thinking: is it even possible to emulate this in an EFL situation, where English speaking stops as soon as you leave the cosy environment of the language school?

The summer of self-studying

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Here is a post by Gosia Kwiatkowska which maps out several self-study plans for English learners over the summer. What I particularly like about it is that she recommends focusing just on learning objective (e.g. systems, skills, exam prep) and has a checklist of questions to take you through the whole process. One of the most important questions: how do you want to check in on their work? Gosia even adds an example of a Google hyperdoc she prepared for one of her students: good stuff!

Homework to fire up minds

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Here’s another installment in the series about homework and alternatives to it. This article from Global Digital Citizen recaps a chapter from a book by an educator (Kathleen Cushman’s Fires in the Mind) where students give advice to teachers about homework. The best source is the original chapter, but the article can save you some time. Speaking about time:

  • Students want to save time. Memory tricks, clever acronyms, and mnemonic devices to help remember something are always helpful. Even better if they can come up with them on their own!

This is just of the 16 tips. I also find ‘carving their own path’ and ‘knowing why they are learning something’ very useful – and you?

No-pressure homework

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Is traditional homework the best use of students’ time, or just another drain on their resources, willpower and motivation? Gary Armida argues that there are better alternatives: inspire students, encourage their interests, or give them smart homework that will also develop useful life skills. You can read more about this in his article: On Homework…And Responsibility.

For my own part, I only split homework into regular tasks for ‘tonight’ and extra tasks for ‘the weekend’, to make it feel less threatening. Perhaps it’s time to try a new tack?