Dear students, this is what your homework really means to you

I was so embarrassed… To have given a speech in front of my class. But it was a speech I had to give.

Last week, a student from my business English class complained about me giving too much homework. I have to say this is a typical issue in adult classes. I understand they have lots on their plates: work, family, spouse (husband/ wife), kids, other stuff in other places, etc. In the past, what I usually did was let them get away with it. I would usually just give in to the idea that they should not be given any homework. But not today. Not again. So, what was the homework actually about?

I asked them to do pair work to present a topic on English tenses. Each group was assigned to prepare and present one tense based on the number they got. I mentioned about this assignment on this blog a little bit here. The presentation did not have to be perfect (probably only according to my point of view). I let them find their own materials and make the presentation outside class, and they did not have to prepare any handout. The supervision was done at the presentation.

When you teach at school, it’s easier to give your students homework. However, when you teach a group of adults, they will have all the reasons not to do it. Usually the higher their position is in the company, the more reasons they have to avoid doing it. To some extent, some adult students also think (probably because they are used to other people do the work for them?), that the success of their learning relies solely on what their teacher can make of them.

For all we know, as an English teacher, this kind of mindset is a bit… misleading. I believe, just like the Chinese proverb, teachers open door but students must enter by themselves. They have to be actively involved in and responsible for their own learning. And so with a smile and a bit of wrinkles on my forehead, I replied:

“English is not a content subject where you can read a book one night and suddenly speak English the next day. One needs to constantly keep in contact with the language. We only have two times 90 minutes a week. Do you really think that your English will improve in just 3 hours a week? I personally think as an English teacher, no, it won’t. That’s why I’m giving you homework. The homework functions as a bridge. The bridge to connect the time you learn in class and outside class. So you will not forget that you are learning English when you’re not here.

This is not the first time I teach adult class, and I’ve seen many classes I taught did not give significant change in my students’ English. And I don’t want that to happen. Again. Especially to this class. I learned my lesson. Do you want this class to be effective? Do you want your learning to be successful? Well, I’m sorry that I have to break the truth: there’s no shortcut to success. You have to do the hard work. If you have a particular goal, I’m pretty certain you will somehow do anything possible to reach that goal. And I hope that’s what you do in this English class.

And so about the homework? That’s all for you, not for me.”

Do you think I am doing the right thing? Do you think that some tough love is necessary in teaching? Let me hear your thoughts. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Dear students, this is what your homework really means to you

  1. what about homework that are more related to their life? say the teacher wants them to master past tense, then, ask them to take photos on their weekend or on the day when they don’t come to class, the next time they come to class again ask them to show the photos and recount. Or, what about asking them to bring a thing from work, take this one thing and describe in class. Or ask them to bring their son’s/daughter’s favourite toys and ask them to tell the class and describe why they love it. Students get the basics (like tenses explanation) in class but get to apply their English to face the real world, like some basic principles from genre based and task based teaching. Ahh just an idea…

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    • Hi, mbak. Thank you for visiting my blog. And thank you for your input. That could be the follow-up activities that we can do later… When I asked them to do this initial presentation task, I didn’t give them any materials on tenses yet – only a brief explanation in general (the 12 tenses). We will go deeper as we go and we can totally use the examples you gave here. Thank you! 🙂

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