Global Issues in Education Thought-provoking What Works for English Language Learners

Homework and Charlie Brown

While browsing online for the Charlie Brown teacher voice as a joke to a friend, I came across this fantastic video about the different ways children approach a book report. I remember book reports being one of the most popular assessments when I was in school. Now, I see my niece struggling with them. She hates them and my sister and her often fight about her finishing them correctly.

Let’s look at the learners…

I really like this video because I think we are familiar with these different types of learners in our classes. Most students aren’t wild about homework. In the video, even the ones who get the homework all respond, “Homework, yuck!!” The video shows four different approaches to the homework:

Lucy

This is how my niece used to approach book reports by filling in as many words as possible. She would often count the words over and over again and try to find ways to sneakily add more. Like Lucy, I think book reports made her hate reading the book and I fear sometimes that some assignments we give and the way we give them make our learners hate learning. My niece loves to read and you’ll find her reading a graphic novel daily. She has also consistently been one of the top scorers in all her standardized tests, especially in reading. I’d attribute this more to her daily reading habits, since we have always received calls about her failure to turn in homework. We are fortunate she goes to a charter school that has allowed us to let her turn it in by the end of the six week period. However, I wonder if she does well in assignments and shows achievement in other ways if she should really have to do all the homework she is assigned?

Schroeder

Does his homework on a computer instead of writing it out like Lucy. He struggles with the report because he either did not read the book or doesn’t remember reading it. He decides to equate it to a book he does remember, Robin Hood. This brings up another point about giving students a choice. Do we give our students enough choices how they will approach a subject and what ways they will explore the subject outside of class?

Charlie Brown

He’s the perfect student that represents Alfie Kohn’s anti-homework arguments. Charlie Brown argues he “should be outside playing, getting sunshine and fresh air.” He also decides to leave it to the last minute.

Linus

Many educators would like their students to approach all assignments like Linus who has the curiosity to go beyond the book and link to his previous learning. He thinks about the book report and does research before even typing a word. However, most students aren’t Linus and even if they do approach assignments like this does this make the assignment valuable for most of the students?

Why do teachers give homework?

Like me, I know many teachers hate the word homework. I use the word “Challenges,” sound familiar from my posts? ;-) All the challenges I give are listed in my various class wikis and are optional. I list several types of homework such as an online quiz, video, writing assignment, field trip, podcast, and so forth. My students can choose which they want to do and if they want to do them. They don’t get graded on the assignments but it helps them improve their English skills so the majority will choose to do the challenges. For my young learners, I have the parents do the challenges with them. I give these “challenges” because I believe my students need opportunities outside the classroom to practice and apply the English they learn, especially since they live in Germany.  I don’t have to do this because my language institute has no grading or homework policy but I have seen my students achieve a lot in a year and I believe the weekly wiki tasks help them.

Shaun Wilden (@shaunwilden), a teacher trainer, recently asked various educators, Why do you set homework? These were their responses in a Wallwisher.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out Alfie Kohn’s thoughts about why teachers shouldn’t give homework.

Challenge:

Add to Shaun’s Wallwisher and reflect on the homework you give this year.

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What are your thoughts about giving homework?

4 Comments

  • September 30, 2010 - 11:50 | Permalink

    Hi Shelly,

    What a great, fun post! My daughter actually heard the song while I was watching the video and asked what it was and watched it with me. She’s decided she’s like Lucy ;-) (I think so too). I couldn’t make up my mind to who I resembled more as a student dealing with homework.

    Your post (as well as the discussion started in last week’s #ELTChat) has made me reflect a lot about why I assign homework, how I do it – so consider your challenge taken! I do try to assign my students creative, motivating, non-traditional homework – but I also fall into the old habitual assignments as well. But I had never stopped to think about it. I make an effort of not turning homework into a burden, but rather something that will bring English into their lives some moment in their days other than the 2 and a half hours they’re with me each week.

    Will pay attention and reflect when planning and thinking of homework assignments. Thanks for sharing ;-)

    • October 2, 2010 - 08:58 | Permalink

      Cecila,

      Thanks for your comment! I think it is incredible you did this with your daughter and that she enjoyed it as well! Tell me how your challenge went and if you blog about it I would love for you to crosspost here! :-)

  • mark webber
    October 8, 2010 - 14:00 | Permalink

    I was looking at the link that you have above and I think one of the most important reasons to give homework has been missed. I use homework for students to do the things that they do not need my help for but we do not have time to do in class. If it was not for homework, the breadth and depth of my class would be significantly less. The other reason is it provides students with independent practice that requires them to formulate independent work habits.
    I think those are good reasons.
    mark webber
    mexico city

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