The Big Questions: Homework

Homework is such a source of stress for me. I think it’s important for students to practice using the language on their own, but when they consistently make mistake after mistake, aren’t they just learning to do it wrong? On the other hand, it’s extremely useful for me as a teacher to see what they’re struggling with and what I need to review. Up to this point, every day, I have collected students’ homework, graded it, corrected it, and given it back to them. My hope was that they would learn from their mistakes. The reality is that only the very best students care why they got something wrong and try to learn from it. The rest are only interested in the grade at the top, if even that.

The other issue I have with homework is the cheating. They copy answers from each other, and I know it. However, just because I, the only Spanish teacher, can tell that this mistake that was repeated on four different worksheets is, in fact not a common error and these four girls are all best friends, so it must be cheating, does not mean that I have enough evidence to give zeroes or prove my suspicions to anyone else. And if they’re not cheating from each other, it’s an online translator, and for the love of God, I can tell, but who’s going to back me up? And so it’s rare that I can actually call a kid out for cheating.

But here’s what I’m thinking for next year:

Up to now, I’ve never really gone over homework with students before they turn it in. Initially it was because I didn’t think there would be time in class, and then because I was, as I’ve mentioned, stuck in a rut. Next year, I’m going to change that. One, because who cares if we don’t get to the new material that I had planned for today, if they don’t understand yesterday’s stuff they won’t understand today’s anyway. Two, if the kids aren’t going to look at the corrections I make for them, then I’m going to spoon feed them until they get it. It sort of fits better into my plans for next year anyway. The more I read, the less I want to do very much overt grammatical instruction, and helping them make sense of their writing is better anyway, right?

So I’ve done a little reading, and there are a few ideas out there that I like:

1. Randomly call on students to answer questions. Form their homework grade at least partially from this. Call on every student at least once a week, more if possible.

2. Have students grade and correct their own work in a different colored pen, and then pass it in. Then, I can see at a glance what they’re missing, and how much.

3. After we go over the homework, have students rate their understanding of the assignment in the top left corner out of 10, the higher the number, the better they (think they) understand it. That way, even if they made lots of mistakes last night when they were on their own, they can let me know that they think they get it now, or that I really need to spend more time on this item.

Finally, as a way to combat the translator issue, most or all of my writing assignments will be done in class. I’m hoping for a classroom set of iPads and keyboards for next year, so they can just send me a GoogleDoc and cut down on paperwork. Of course, I’ll have to monitor them while they’re writing to make sure they’re not translating, but at least if they’re doing it in class, I have the opportunity to do that.

I’ve also floated the idea of a class blog to a couple of the kids I’ll have in Spanish IV next year. It’ll be a small class, and I think they’d be a great group to try it out on. I know a lot of teachers do it, and I’m interested in the idea. The students I mentioned it to seemed to like the idea, so I’m getting topics ready for next year.

So that may not solve my homework frustrations, but I’m hoping it will help, and that it will improve my students’ learning as well. I’ll try it at least, and let you know how it goes when school starts back up in the fall.

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