Homework: The Final EFL Frontier
March 10, 2011 9 Comments
They say to practice what you preach, and as I’ve been banging on for a couple years now about introducing web 2.0 approaches and social networking into the language learning process, I’ve decided to try partially crowd-sourcing my upcoming talk at the IATEFL conference in Brighton in April. Having started that process with a few ESL and EFL groups on LinkedIn, I’m now widening out my scope by inviting my Twitter PLN to weigh in (via comments to this blog post) on the subject of homework with their thoughts, experiences and ideas. All contributions welcome!
The last few years have witnessed an explosion of interest in how “edtech” technology – from interactive whiteboards to video to games to e-learning platforms like Moodle — can be used to enhance the classroom experience for learners of English. The ensuing debate has seen some teachers embrace the technology; others take up a refusenik stance; and yet others tempted by the new tools but unable to fully adopt them for budgetary or practical reasons.
Much less attention, however, has been paid to how technology can be used outside the classroom — where learners spend 99% of their time — to accelerate, enhance or otherwise improve the learning of English. As learners – particularly teen and young adult “digital natives” who have grown up with digital devices and the internet – increasingly use these tools and resources for home assignments in their other school subjects, the teaching of English risks being left behind in the shift towards greater learner autonomy, self-motivation, and self-learning unless the new opportunities on the “home front” are addressed just as seriously as those in the classroom.
We need first to think hard about the appropriate role for homework in EFL teaching. Is it just there to consolidate what has been taught in class, or should it be used to help develop a pattern of self-learning? Can the homework experience be enriching, can it add another dimension to what is learned in class? Can it be used to increase and enhance input and intake of English, so that class time can be better dedicated to interactive discussion and constructive error correction? And how can homework spill over into classroom work, creating new opportunities for dialogue, rather than just the other way around?
Next, what are the available platforms and tools for out-of-classroom English language learning? Is a shift of format something to be seeking, e.g. if they use workbooks in class, will they want to do more of the same outside of it? Should teachers track homework compliance, or not? And if they do, should they correct it all, and is there time to do that? Can e-Learning platforms be a solution, or are they too cumbersome to be used in this regard?
Finally, how do we solve what Paula Swenson, in her excellent guest post on Alex Case’s blog, calls the Homework Conundrum? How can we get learners to see homework as a genuine learning opportunity rather than simply a chore? And why do some forms of homework assignment seem to fall flat with learners, while others actually manage to motivate them? (Alex Case himself provides some excellent answers to those questions here).
I call homework the “Final Frontier” of EFL because it is perhaps the area of EFL which has been least studied, and where pedagogical practices have been the least revisited, at least officially (there is clearly lots of clever experimentation and personalized approaches being applied by EFL teachers on their own initiative). So don’t be shy: share what works for you and we can perhaps start to codify our assembled insights into a useful Guide to Homework for EFL teachers everywhere.