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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How To Make Homework Relevant AND Why It Is Important To Do So!

With the start of the second semester coming in a few days, mainstream teachers may wish to reflect on ways to make homework assignments more accessible for those English language learners in their classes.  Though it may be easier to assign the same work for all, often times this is not the most effective approach to take with them.  It is true that they sound fluent, but typically their reading and writing skills are 1-3 years behind their English speaking peers so if teachers give out homework without any scaffolding or adjustments, ELLs will either do poorly or not do anything at all.

How can a teacher attach meaning to class homework assignments?  This site lays out some very thoughtful approaches to create academically meaningful work for students to do at home. 

KEY TO ADDING MEANING TO HOMEWORK
(recap of article below)

1.  Purpose--Why are students doing the work?  Whose work is it--the student's or the teacher's?  By involving students in creating the assignment, they experience a sense of ownership.  Further, they will accomplish the task based on their strengths since they designed it. 

For myself, after finishing a lesson, I offer options for students to demonstrate their grasp of the concepts.  They are also allowed to complete the tasks with partners.  I never take assignments from textbooks, but instead, tweak the assignments so that they are relevant and in a more student friendly layout.  I also have students start assignments in class to make sure that every students starts off on the right foot.  After all, many of the ELLs are not living in homes where parents speak English at the level of a native speaker of English.

2.  Efficiency--Creating dioramas may be fun, but where is language skill being developed?  How is mastery of lesson content being handled?  Teachers want to design activities that involve genuine interaction with the content.  If students are studying historical events, why not have them keep journals as one of the historical figures being studied?  If studying biology, why not have students label all the parts of a plant cell and note the function of each part in keeping the plant alive and healthy?  The list of meaningful activities is endless.

3.  Ownership--How about offering students options on what to read on a given topic?  This approach taps student interests since s/he has the opportunity to select reading material that s/he feels will help her/him relate to the material being studied. What reading options might the student have?  Graphic novels, blogs, websites, wiki posts, e-books,  skype, iPad apps, pod casts, illustrated books, free online courses, translated materials, email correspondence, etc. are all options.  If students have the power to navigate towards sources they feel comfortable with, they will be more likely to tap them in completing assignments.

4.  Competence--If students keep learning logs/journals, they are keeping records of everything they studied.  Such tools can be used in any subject.  They are instrumental in assisting the student in keeping track of his/her progress in following a teacher's lesson.  For example, if teaching a novel, have students keep a journal on key events and their reactions to them.  Students might also keep journals as a character in the book.  The list goes on.  The important thing is that when they have to write a composition, an essay, or take a test, they have pages of handwritten notes/reflections to refer to in accomplishing that task. 

5.  Aesthetic Appeal--Presentation of the assignment is everything.  As the article notes, word searches are not interesting and carry little academic value since all a student does is find a word in a puzzle.  Instead, bring in some original graphic organizers that will offer students different ways to organize key information to use in class (FREEOLOGY.COM--lots of free graphic organizers).  If studying a character in literature, why not have students design a WANTED POSTER with detailed information on the protagonist (here is where the detailed notes come in)?  If in a science class, why not have them write a news article on the ramifications of the great discovery they studied in class that day?  Why not ask students what they would like to do for homework? 

The article has much more in it than I have here.  The new year offers a new start for many students.  If some students had a poor academic performance last year, new approaches to homework might improve student grades next semester.

Denise

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