Thursday, January 28, 2010

Helpful Homework

One of the most common questions tutors bring is, "Can I assign homework to my learner?" The answer is, as you may have guessed, yes. The next question, of course, is "What kind of homework should I assign?" Here is the best answer I can give: whatever your learner can do. Give homework that fits in with their means-their free time, their resources, the kinds of things they like to do. Homework is anything that lets the learner practice and get more exposure to reading, writing, speaking and hearing English.

For more ideas on homework The Minnesota Literacy Council has a site called Story By Story.
It has some wonderfully organized phonetic stories to help a learner by focusing on specific sound concepts. Better yet, it has a basic lesson plan that tutors can use. At the end of the lesson plan they advise tutors,

  • Assign homework (10-15 minutes per day after instruction). Encourage spending time at home to study or read; however, it should not be required. Progress will occur more quickly if practice is frequent or on a daily basis.
  • Read aloud and/or spell word lists to someone at home
  • Read aloud phonics stories to someone at home
  • Write and read sentences using decodable and survival/sight word lists

For ESL tutors you can assign listening homework for your learner that follows the above guidelines, namely: short, ungraded, fun tasks. Those tasks can include watching 15 minutes of a sanely-paced, clear-speaking news program* like PBS' "The News Hour" when they get home from work. For the more beginner-level learner, Wisconsin Public Television has programming before 8:00 in the morning that I regularly view over the rim of a coffee mug. What do I watch? I must confess to being a sucker for "Dinosaur Train," but the Wisconsin Channel also has programs on outdoor sports and gardening plus documentaries on a broad range of highly grown-up topics. Assign listening homework that follows a plan something like the following:

  • Watch such-and-such program for 15 - 30 minutes on ___ before/after work
  • Use a notebook to write down three interesting phrases you hear, whether you understand them or not.
  • Bring those phrases, exactly as you heard them, to our next lesson.
  • Don't worry about mistakes. We will talk about what you saw and the phrases you wrote down and try to figure out they meant at our next lesson.

Remember: the chances of homework getting done decrease with the amount of time they consume but increase proportionate to the fun factor.
Thanks, as always, for teaching someone.

*Shout-fests like Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly's shows are out of the question. Excessive bluster and cross-talk make them very hard to understand.

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