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by Erica Fischer on Jan 27, 2012

Use Homework to Increase Your Students’ Language Acquisition

Hello everyone, and welcome back to #langchat! We had a fast-paced, fantastic discussion Thursday night on somewhat of a repeat topic: homework that helps students’ language acquisition.

Back in June we shared many motivating homework ideas, and participants voted to explore this topic further through our topic debate poll — and for good reason! It was difficult to keep up on Thursday as your colleagues shared many fantastic resources and ideas, and we’ve included the summary here below.

But first, we’d like to thank everyone for continuing to show up and so freely share your professional expertise each and every week. We’d also like to especially thank Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) for moderating Thursday’s chat. We’d also like to thank several current and past students who stopped in to share the homework assignments that were the most useful for them in learning a language.

The Homework Challenge

@mcastroholland mentioned early that she dislikes “busy work” and always struggles to assign meaningful assignments to students. This was a common theme throughout the night, with many participants weighing in on how they provide meaningful assignments that genuinely help students acquire the language.

Another hurdle that teachers must leap with each assignment is the prejudice many students have about homework. In many cases, students have dealt with irrelevant and “busy work” homework for years, so finding assignments that both engage and aid acquisition is a constant challenge.

As with any assignment we give, we always face the challenge of motivating students. This is essential when creating assignments that aid in students’ language acquisition — if students aren’t motivated to learn, they simply won’t. In many of the ideas and tips below, participants endeavor to engage students through several different strategies.

Homework that Aids Acquisition

We started off the night’s chat with a discussion on what homework your colleagues usually give and what they generally think about homework assignments. Opinions were varied, but there were several key elements in common.

@cadamsf1 believes that we give too much homework in general. It should be limited more to assignments that provide real value to the students. Other participants questioned whether homework is necessary when students can adequately demonstrate learning inside class.

  • @CalicoTeach believes that homework in world language classes is more than just demonstrating learning; it should teach students how to be lifelong learners and continue their education outside of class.
  • @dlfulton says that we can always use homework as a way to go deeper and broader, to add to what students have already mastered.

Last June, we discussed the “flipped classroom” model, where students practice the language inside class and get language input outside of class as homework. @tmsaue1 mentioned that the one thing students can’t get outside of class is feedback, so we should focus on giving more of this.

  • @cadamsf1 likes homework with instant feedback. A good way to give instant feedback is to assign homework using technology or Web-based tools, then provide feedback in the form of text messages, voice recordings or even a quick email or social-media message.

For relevancy in homework tasks, @SECottrell tries to keep in mind a lesson from “The Homework Myth” author Alfie Kohn: If the answer is “Who cares?,” then the question was worthless.

@tmsaue1 mentioned that many teachers in his district are struggling with how to allow for more choice in students’ homework. Choice is important as it allows students to do assignments that are meaningful and helpful to them in their unique stage of learning, as not all students are at the same point. Choice also engages students, as they really respond to being empowered and can choose topics that appeal directly to them.

  • @Sra_Hildinger gives students the power of choice in homework assignments by providing a chart with nine different potential assignments, and students must do three that connect. Through this way, students perform reading, writing and speaking assignments.
  • LinguaFolio is great for helping students to make choices in learning for class or homework.

Homework Ideas

Participants shared a veritable wealth of tips and tricks to try in the classroom. Below you’ll find many different ideas, ranging from specific activities to general strategies.

Vocabulary ideas to try:

  • @dmerante shared that as a student, reading elementary-level novels always helped her to learn new words and phrases, and it was easy to accept because it never felt like a large vocabulary assignment.
  • @mcastroholland stresses vocabulary through creation, by requiring students to make sentences or summaries using the key unit vocab.
  • @spanishplans asks students to practice on WordChamp for homework assignments.
  • Several participants mentioned using the websites Wordle and Tagxedo for interesting vocabulary tools. To brainstorm vocabulary, ask students to list things that they like to do, to eat or to play with.

Listening ideas to try:

  • @maestraVB often records unique listening comprehension homework and then uploads them onto a Quia assignment.
  • @colleenchilders shared that listening to music always helped her to get used to listening to the language as a student, and aided with listening and vocab both.
  • @CalicoTeach has had a lot of success engaging students with the BBC interactive videos in Spanish. They worked great as a review for 2nd-year students.
  • @maestraVB recommends assigning listening tasks on Yabla for giving students exposure to native speakers and music.

Reading ideas to try:

  • Many participants shared that they often assign reading homework as an extension and application of learning. Assignments can vary, but authentic media is a strong choice. Try to incorporate some choice by giving students some parameters to find their own topic and article.
  • For a traditional unit, @tmsaue1 recommends having students find a print or paper advertisement in the target language for a food or restaurant and bring it in to class. For many areas, this may work best with Spanish.

Writing ideas to try:

  • @NinaTanti1 suggests a fun homework idea: students read her target-language blog and write an ungraded response. She then responds to students’ responses in class.
    • Her topics include: cultural events, weekends, holidays, favorite movies and anything she thinks students might be interested in reading about.
  • @aelethco shared that using Twitter and email to communicate with Spanish speakers in other countries was always a big help for her as a student, and fun at the same time.
    • This is a popular topic in past #langchat discussions — and rightfully so, being a Twitter-focused group! @msfrenchteach currently asks her high-level students to tweet with Parisian students each week, and many other teachers require similar homework. @klafrench is considering using TweetChat as a homework and class discussion activity.
  • Using Google Voice or another messaging platform, @tmsaue1 might ask students to text in the target language about a family member and why they don’t get along.
  • For students who prefer Facebook to more educational tools such as Edmodo, @profeguerita gives the option to chat in Spanish on Facebook chat — students only need to print the conversation as proof.
  • Many participants like assigning blogs or blog commenting as homework. Check out this blog post on the subject of free-topic blogging.
  • To combine writing with visual prompts, @klafrench likes to assign students pictures and ask them to write about the actions and conditions. This is great for tenses.

Speaking ideas to try:

  • @msfrenchteach uses Google Voice with her classes by asking students to record short samples.
    • Several other teachers have expressed success with Google Voice. @NinaTanti1 sends students texts with immediate feedback, but she never listens to student recordings in class — too intimidating. @mweelin says Google Voice helps you to hear the quiet kids, which is often difficult in large classes.
    • Similarly, @profesorM suggests having students make Vocaroos for homework, such as of items that they like or don’t like to eat for breakfast. Some other recording websites include VoiceThread and Fotobabble.
  • An example of a homework assignment for a traditional unit, @tmsaue1 recommends having students order in the target language at a local restaurant. They can have the waiter sign the receipt as proof.

A concern that @msfrenchteach has with using recording software outside the classroom is the use of translators for a student’s script.

  • @SraSpanglish overcomes this by including spontaneity as part of the students’ grade.

Above are some great ideas to try, and we hope you find something that you can implement in your classroom. If you’re looking for some additional ideas that will motivate your students, try incorporating some choice by asking them what they’d like to see. Many of @SECottrell’s best ideas for current homework assignments come from suggestions of past students.

Homework Resources

There are many links shared above by your colleagues to different Web 2.0 tools and other Internet resources, but a few links slipped through the cracks. Check these out for even more terrific homework ideas:

Thank You!

Once more, it’s time to say goodbye for this week. Thanks again to all the participants who showed up and shared such wonderful ideas for use both in and out of the classroom!

It was a fast-paced chat and full of great ideas; if you missed it or an opportunity to share some of your experiences, please feel free to join us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to see the original chat archive, please go here.

See you next week on #langchat! In the meantime, don’t forget to let us know what topics to discuss next!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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