We continue Adam Simpson’s series of posts on areas for professional development for after you’ve completed your CELTA. This time he takes a look at the tricky topic of getting students to get on with their homework

Homework… now there’s a tricky subject to deal with.

Just like you, no doubt, I assign homework to my students with clear goals in mind: to increase their knowledge and to improve their abilities and skills. Just like you, too, hopefully, I never assign homework for its own sake. The theory goes that learning improves when homework has a clear purpose and is associated with the skills and current topics being dealt with in class. This is all well and good… from the teacher’s perspective.

Adam Simpson looks annoyed at his copy of Headway

As we all know, though, assigning the work is only the beginning of the process. Getting students to process the fact that they have homework to do is a big battle that we need to win if we’re to get the work done. Many students seem to take forever and a day to note down their homework assignments, if they even write them down at all. This obviously leads to students failing to grasp the relevance of the assigned work, or not understanding what their homework is.

As I mentioned, I never give homework just for the sake of it, so it can be frustrating when they don’t acknowledge what has been set. With this in mind, I started to think about the importance of homework from a teacher development perspective, as well as the strategies that I’ve used over the years that have enabled students to write down their homework. Here are six great techniques which can help you make homework a more successful part of your teaching.

1. Dish it out first thing

For years I used to make the homework the last business of the day, thinking that if it was the last thing I wrote on the board, the better the chances it would stick in the minds of the learners. This was – and is – a very, very bad idea. At the end of classes they are already thinking about what they are doing next and this is one of the worst times to try and get them to pay attention. Instead, get students to write down their assignments early in the morning, or at the start of your evening class if that’s your teaching situation, when they are more alert and paying attention. Assigning homework early in the class session will give learners a better opportunity to fully note what they need to do.

2. Tech it up

Your learners are used to accessing information on Facebook and the like, so why not utilize what they do every day and put homework assignments online? An easily accessible online record enables both teachers and learners to check what needs to be done and, importantly, can prevent misunderstandings. Something as simple as Google docs can facilitate this.

3. Plan on a weekly basis

If you get to spend a substantial amount of time with a class during the week, why not start the week off with a list of everything students need to accomplish between Monday and Friday. If you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have a curriculum document for the learners, utilize this to focus on everything that you’re aiming to do with the learners during the week. Writing everything down – or just focusing on a weekly aims and objectives document – at the start of the week will help learners conceptualize what they should be doing and when they should be doing it.

4. Hand over some of the responsibility for sharing the message

This is really easy to do: make a member of the class responsible for dispersing the information. They could read the assigned work to the class or alternatively could be put in charge of writing instructions on the board. A good technique I’ve found is to set this role on a rotational basis so that each learner does it in turn.

5. Standardize the format for assigning work

A great way of focusing a class on the fact that they are being assigned homework is to develop a homework assignment template that you will use in every class. Get learners to use the template to make note of assignments. You can be somewhat flexible, of course: some students find it easier to fill in blanks or write in boxes rather than being required to write down whole sentences. Work on a format that everyone is comfortable with and familiarity will then lead to understanding of what’s necessary.

6. Get the student’s input on what should be done

If you’re committed to making homework a worthwhile activity, why not ask learners how they feel about homework assignments? An essential part of having learners write down and complete such work is getting them to understand what is expected of them. Involving them in the process of choosing what should constitute homework is a great way of making learners responsible for it. It will also increase their understanding of why it has value.

Something worth remembering

Sometimes the failure to engage in homework is a sign of a deeper underlying issue. It can be an avoidance strategy for learners who feel out of their depth, and even an indicator of deeper psychological distress. Bear this in mind if you spot particular learners who don’t respond to any efforts to get them involved in their homework responsibilities.

OK, I’m not guaranteeing you that 100% of your assignments will get done, but these simple techniques will at least have your learners understanding that they have homework and will also help them conceptualize why they have it.

If you have any further suggestions, we’d love to hear them. Please feel free to share your techniques in the comments section below.