Adam Simpson is back with the next post in our series that focuses on how to maintain your professional development after you’ve qualified to teach EFL. Here he shares his reasons for a drastic change to the accepted norm of teaching: not giving your learners any homework.

Yes, I know that our last blog post was titled ‘6 great techniques for getting students to embrace their homework.’ While I stand by our advice, I do nonetheless feel that it’s important I followed that up with an article which, from a teacher development perspective, will help guide you to think carefully about how – and when and why – not to give homework!

Here’s how we introduced the post:

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.’

I stand by this statement and everything else we suggested. Nevertheless, I’d like to redress the balance somewhat with this spiritual follow-up which argues beyond not giving homework just for the sake of it, suggesting that we might not want to give homework in any situation. Here are four good reasons for keeping learning in the classroom.

1. People need a life

If you teach adults, it’s almost entirely likely that they will have a work life and a social life outside of your classroom. Are you really doing them a favour by eating into this time with your demands that they do extra study? If you teach young learners, these children need unstructured play time to become social creatures more than they need homework from you. Homework can have a negative influence on learning experiences. Adults will feel guilt at not doing the work you’ve assigned or resentment about having to do it when they should be getting on with something else. This will affect how they feel about your class and not in a good way. Children will also be negatively affected by the addition of homework.

If you really must…

Find out how much time your learners have to do it and assign work accordingly.

2. Let’s face it: you don’t know what you’re doing

As qualified as you might be and with as much knowledge of teaching pedagogy as you might have, do you honestly believe you know exactly what you’re doing when you assign homework? What objectives are you aiming to cover? How will this further your learners’ ability to do whatever it is you’ve done in class? Granted, a lot of coursebooks have workbooks which are largely intended for self-study, but you nevertheless have to be careful that there is a definite purpose behind what you’re assigning.

If you really must…

Consult with your learners and ask them what they see as an appropriate follow-up task for them to do at home to supplement what you have done in class.

3. They don’t really need it

People are constantly learning in the 21st Century and traditional homework should become obsolete within the next decade. Thanks to technology, learning is now a constant in our lives. With access to applications, software programs, as well as educational websites such as the Khan Academy, learning is an ongoing process. So much of what learners can access is through the medium of English that it is unlikely that they can spend many days of their lives without acquiring some knowledge of the language from their everyday environment.

If you really must…

Instead of assigning homework, utilize the technological tools that your learners use in their everyday lives. Get them doing something in English with their phones or on Facebook.

4. Homework doesn’t lead to better performance

Too much homework can be a bad thing. Research indicates there is a weak link between achievement and homework, particularly in young learners. Furthermore, countries that assign more homework don’t outperform those with less homework. Countries such as America and the UK have relatively high levels of homework in schools and yet don’t show a correlation with high performance. Japan is one country that has taken the opposite route, having instituted no homework policies at younger levels to allow family time and personal interests. Finland, one of the most successful nations in terms of international tests, limits high school homework to half hour per night. While a small amount of well thought out homework can be beneficial, assigning excessive amounts of homework is at best counterproductive.

If you really must…

One good tactic, particularly for teachers of young learners, is to assign homework for improving study skills, rather than learning. Assign homework that is uncomplicated and short, which involves families or friends, and which above all engages learner interests.

So over to you – what other reasons can you think of not to give your language learners any homework? Try it out for a few weeks if you can, and let us know how it goes!


Image credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Text added by TDSIG