Rethinking homework

I’m opposed to homework for many reasons (see Alfie Kohn). I gave Nathan’s list of homework options to my advanced classes and told they had to spend 1/2 hour a week doing something that they enjoyed to further their Russian. (The AP kids have more specific homework.)

I recently read something Susie wrote about how TPRS kids and their parents often don’t realize that kids are really learning, unless the kids regularly go home and tell their parents the stories they learn in class in the target language. It doesn’t teach them anything, but it will give them the confidence and the pride in what they can do, because the stories will extend and grow more detailed.

Today I told my level 1 kids that in this new quarter, they are going to have five or ten minutes a week of homework. For now, I’ll have them take drawings home of the current story to tell to their parents in Russian for a signature.

This still fits my concept of homework that doesn’t allow copying and that doesn’t cut into family and recreation time.  (A story can take at most two minutes right now.)  I’ll let you know how it goes.


8 responses to “Rethinking homework

  1. I disagree. Assigning HW allows me to use more of my repertoire of materials. I don’t have time in class to do all that I want to do. So by Sunday, I post 3 HW assigments on my blog ( per level. Some is review (translate the written class story), call up my googlevoice # and leave me a message about XYZ, reread the chapter in Pauvre Anne and write XYZ.
    I believe it helps. It’s not cumbersome for them because they have 5 days to do them (all due by Friday) and it’s not tied specifically to what I get done or don’t get done.
    It’s either neutral for them (at worst) or satisfying for those who really like to play around with the language.


  2. You are doing the right thing. I just don’t have the things in my repertoire (or the organization!) to assign it officially. The kids bring me songs, or share videos, or do grammar exercises or create movies. They bring in brochures and articles and tutor kids who need it; they attend lectures and poetry readings and volunteer at the immersion program. They cook Russian food and watch movies. Sometimes they create power points, and one kid a week gets to take the class mascot home so as to report on it. I can keep track of whether they say they did something. And mostly, I am pretty sure they’re telling the truth. It’s easier for me to assign free-form to classes in which I have three to five levels at once, and for a language for which there is only one easy novel (Poor Anna).

    But I hadn’t assigned any homework yet to the level one kids, and now I’m going to work into it slowly, given this new idea. And . . . maybe I’ll steal some ideas from you!

    I do admit that I really don’t like homework in the usual sense. My kids had too much of it, and it turned me into a mom who was spending more time and energy on figuring out how to help the kids get it done efficiently than on just enjoying time with them. I’m a bit resentful of much of what I saw them do, because I didn’t see the benefit. I knew that it was keeping them from being outside, sleeping, exercising, being relaxed with friends, and reading for fun. There’s a happy medium somewhere. When each of six teachers thinks that half an hour a night of homework is reasonable, kids are pushed too hard.

    Whoops! Sorry. That’s a soapbox for another time. Can you tell my kids are now both in college and I wish I’d had more time with them?


  3. My upper level classes are rolling quite well on homework; I get some great ideas from them and people are enjoying it overall. Keep us informed on how that works with the Level 1 language learners. Last year I didn’t require homework from my level 1s until around the fourth quarter when they were working fairly independently and had a better than not chance at understanding whatever they came across. I also see, however, Susie’s point about helping the students realize they know something, as high schoolers are not the most self-reflective of souls.

    One of the coolest homework records of the year so far was from a German 2 student who is working with her brother, who is in my German 1 class. She has been teaching him for the past 3 weeks or so, and reported that she was very surprised at how much he actually knew. It’s cool to see stuff like that going on.


  4. Hah! I have a similar situation, but with a twist. A kid who’d been in my MS classes for two years and went into the HS level 3 class is in the same group with his sister, who is listed at level 2, but her first “year” was four days of Katya last spring. So he sits with her and whispers helpful translations or explanations–he’s a freshman and she’s a junior who needs this for IB–and she just did a 49-word fast write. The first time, she could only eke out about 7 words in Russian, and it’s been going up steadily. What I love is that the little brother is getting the big sister through Russian. You’d better believe he has his chops together.


  5. Would like to chime in on the “less homework is better” side of the issue. Would also love it if you share Nathan’s list of ideas for second year and beyond. I just have 1st and 2nd year so don’t get the chance to do a lot of really fun advanced stuff with them. Still I am proud of what they can do, and without much homework either.

    I wanted to add Michele that I went through the same thing with my son as you described with your girls. Sam was very independent and never let me help, even with his French! But he also did not get enough sleep and we both ended up sick and exhausted (I was at university while he was in high school!) I think they need down time, family time and relaxation! My colleagues will make sure to keep them busy with busy work. One other point on this topic is our health and sanity. I sure don’t need one more thing to organize, explain, grade and enter. I hope I don’t sound too jaded. I have been working all day to try to catch up with grades I am behind on (due to illness) before fall conferences with the parents!


  6. Hi Ruth,

    When Susie was here for our state conference, she said that homework and quizzes should never take a teacher more than 30 seconds each to grade.

    I’m going to paste in my adaptation of Nathan’s homework list that he organized for me. It has yielded all sorts of wonderful results, and I have only to enjoy the responses.

    Russian Homework options

    • Listen to Russian music
    • Find new songs for us; translate, share, or just listen
    • Watch a YouTube clip I showed in class/find new clips (be careful on the Internet)
    • Watch Russian movies or sitcoms

    Surfing the Web
    • Go to the links from my class website
    • Research a Russian city you’d like to visit
    • Set your Facebook language or phone to Russian for the week
    • Set your World of Warcraft/Runescape/Whatever-computer-game-you’re-sinking-your-life-into-at-the-moment settings to Russian
    • Find an online shop in Russia that sells whatever you like (T-shirts,, etc.) and see what you can understand (careful!)
    • Find a new site where you can learn Russian

    • Write a daily note to a friend in a Russian class. You can use our bulletin board as a mailbox.
    • Text or email a friend in Russian
    • Get on and read/write with Russian peers
    • Teach a sibling or friend Russian phrases / alphabet / numbers / etcetera
    • Attend or volunteer at a Russian community event
    • Volunteer in a Turnagain Immersion Program classroom or with an individual student
    • Hang out with a Russian-speaking exchange student
    • Hang out with local Russians

    • Cook a Russian recipe for your family (or class)
    • Draw pictures for me to illustrate a story we asked in class
    • Write a new story
    • Write poetry
    • Make a PowerPoint to go with a reading
    • Make a movie in Russian

    • Read Russian cartoons online
    • Check any book out of my reading library (including class-generated stories)
    • Find and read lyrics to your favorite Russian songs
    • Read Russian Poems
    • Read familiar books (Harry Potter, Twilight) in Russian…check our school library

    • Take Чебурашка home over the weekend, take pictures and tell what you did on Monday
    • Make a video (skit, mashup, whatever) or PowerPoint about something that you’re interested in (can extend over several weeks on this one)
    • Put on a concert with a Russian song

    Vocabulary / Grammar
    • Practice on
    • Do grammar exercises
    • Memorize numbers, days of the week, months, car parts (etc) and demo them
    • Practice vocabulary on Quizlet or the 2,000 most frequent Russian word list
    • Practice on

    • Find a way to cross disciplines and “double dip” by studying or reading the same information dealing with Russia or Russian to help you in another class. (This is a new IB requirement.) Examples follow.
    • Read a play by Chaikovsky
    • Share history of a certain time period in Russia
    • Experiment with a Russian art form
    • Memorize a piece of music on your instrument
    • Share the insights of a Russian scientist and apply them to your world
    • Show how math can be learned “Russian style”


  7. I love this! I don’t assign homework, but I keep hearing about my Spanish IIs and IIIs doing more outside of class– finding new songs, memorizing lyrics, telling stories to their (very bewildered) families in Spanish. They’ve been doing homework this whole time!


  8. Erin, that is when you know you’ve met one of those otherwise unmeasurable standards of language teaching: students will use the target language for pleasure and personal study outside the classroom! Great job!!


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