Dipendra Kumar Khatri
Homework! Oh, homework!
I hate you! You stink!
I wish I could wash you away in the sink,
If only bomb would explode you to bits
–By Jack Prelutsky
In the above stanza, the poet Jack Prelutsky speaks of the feelings and attitudes of young learners towards homework. Many a time homework has become a cause of corporal punishment in many schools of Nepal. It has destroyed students’ fun, laughter, games, confidence, etc. It embittered parents- children relationship, teacher- student relationship, etc. It has appeared as a villain for young learners and does not seem to disappear until a foreseeable period of time. Teachers, on the other hand, like to assign homework with a hope that learners better learn the things they have taught. In this connection, I like to share how teachers perceive and practice homework.
I, as the training co-coordinator NELTA Surkhet, facilitated a session on ‘Dealing with Homework in Primary Level’. The main objectives of the presentation was to find out the participants’ perceptions and practices on homework and share how teachers deal with different issues on homework.
In the sharing session, most of the teachers reported that they would always give homework to their students with a view to engaging them in learning at home so that they could consolidate what they had studied at school. They also shared that most of the teachers assign writing or reading or project work as homework. The teachers from the private schools said that they would give a lot of homework, and spend some twenty to thirty minutes to correct it.
The teachers from public schools shared that they were assigning homework ‘sometimes’; not every day; whereas the teachers from private schools shared that they were assigning homework ‘everyday’ and they would give a lot of homework if there is long vacation.
All the teachers shared their bitter experiences of hearing that voice of students as the responses for not doing homework. Despite their expectations, often teachers have to listen to their students speak out the following utterances:
Sir, my brother tears my notebook.
Sir , yesterday I was absent’
Sir, I had gone to my mamaghar.
Sir, another teacher check it.
There was a lot of homework yesterday.
Sir, I asked father but father did not learn about it.
I only copy it, I do half only.
Sir, it was difficult.’ No idea.
I have lots of work in home. ‘I have no time to do.’
‘I did not copy the homework. You rubbed out the questions so fast.’
Sir, I forgot my copy.
‘Sir, I have new copy today.’
I forgot to keep in my bag.
I lost homework copy, sir
Sir, you no give me happy. So I have don’t write.’
Yesterday, I didn’t come to school.
Sir, my mother did not buy copy today.
‘I lost my English book.’
I have not a pen.
Sir, I am sick.
Sir, you check yesterday, I no do today.
‘Sir, you don’t find me very good.’
Some students just stand up still and remain silent; they do not speak but seem to have been terrified. Their face looks gloomy. They do not respond verbally. Those were the common verbal and non-verbal responses to the teachers who check homework. I believe that such responses certainly make both students and teachers feel bad and degrade their zeal for learning and teaching respectively.
Strategies to deal with homework
The teachers shared that they are using many types of strategies to deal with homework effectively. Some of them are: asking the students for not doing homework, asking parents to come to school, asking learners to do the tasks while the teacher is checking other students’ homework, etc. Some of the teachers even reported that they would get angry when they do not find suitable reasons for not doing homework.
Harmer (2008) advises teachers to ask the students’ interest and try to set homework which are relevant to them; not only in terms of their interests but also in terms of what they are studying. The teachers tend to assign homework related to what the students are studying. They never consider their interests. Similarly, they are willing to contact guardians to conform the reason for not doing homework by their children.
The teachers do not visit the guardians to encourage their children who keep doing homework regularly. They do not telephone the guardians whose children do not have the problem of homework, but they telephone those guardians whose children have the problem of doing homework. Most of such parents also cannot support their children in doing homework. Therefore, not only students but also parents feel embarrassed for being called in the school just to listen to the same thing: Your child does not do homework.
All the teachers shared that they were giving the exercise or lesson of the book as the homework. To write, read and memorize. They generally do not make it fun i.e. give varied types of work; not only the questions from the book but also some funny tasks. Students want to be involved not only in the routined tasks, but also some serious things or some slightly crazy tasks. The homework can be given in envelops or sent them in e-mails jut to make them feel like doing homework.
The private school teachers said that they would use homework diary to keep record of homework. But it was not used by public school teachers. The teachers in Surkhet valley did not give extra-activities as the homework. They gave homework from books only. They gave tasks orally or in written form face to face; not in envelops and e-mails. The teachers do not give the individual (solo) work, but only one type of task to the whole class.
The teachers form private schools shared that their first duty entering into the class is to check the homework. So they check the students’ homework very often. They do not use pair or student checking strategy. A teacher checked all the students’ homework. They spend as many as thirty minutes for correcting homework. How long do they actually teach! They did not have sufficient time to check properly with constructive feedbacks. As a result sometimes guardians complain their strategies, sometimes the students themselves question to their teachers. The teachers from the public schools often face the problem while checking the homework because of the large no of students in a class.
Teachers do not forget assigning homework, because they believe that if students do homework, they have learned well. They are overwhelmed by the right responses of their students and keep correcting assignments, no matter how long they are.
The teachers only respect the right answers in the students’ homework, which is also not so good practice, because from the students’ mistakes or errors they can notice how much they have learned and how much they need to help them learn. They can make their further plans in such a way that they can significantly decrease the number of errors to be committed by their students.
Generally, the teachers do not think how they can make post-homework productive. They rarely manage the class where the students correct their mistakes and learn from one another. The teachers have not been successful to provide their learners with opportunities to get students to correct each other’s homework in supportive and cooperative way.
It was also shared that the teachers form public as well as private schools took many trainings that helped them to create home wok friendly environment i. e. if the students are not doing homework, the teachers will help them do at school during the class time. They were not using the punishment as the strategy to deal with homework. They also mention that they were in favor of finding out reasons why their students do not do homework and act accordingly.
In conclusion, homework seems to be an integral part of teaching and learning activity from teachers’ perspective. The teachers who teach to young learners should particularly think of some ideas of making homework a fun activity and should not make learners feel any kind of burden, which can have a lot of repercussions on intellectual, emotional, social, etc. aspects of youngsters.
Mr. Khatri is a life member of NELTA and a Teaching Assistant at Surkhet Campus (Education) and he has been teaching English at the campus over the last four years.
Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. London: Pearson Longman.