Learner Homework Practices
David B Hayes
Introduction to the Learner Homework Practices Inquiry
In July of 1997, I began teaching in a 20 hour per week pre GED class whose primary population consisted of dislocated workers . Most of the learners were receiving benefits provided by the Training and Readjustment Act (TRA) and hoped to complete GED studies in such an amount of time as would allow them to transfer the balance of their benefits to a career - specific training program.
All of the learners in the class were immigrants with widely varied degrees of formal education in their native countries. Initial levels of English reading and writing ability generally were far lower than necessary for GED testing. One of our initial efforts as a class, therefore, was to reflect upon reading habits and create opportunities in our daily schedules for regular, supplementary reading homework. A classroom lending library was created to provide materials for supplementary reading. As part of an agreed upon effort to monitor progress in both assigned and unassigned homework, we engaged in regular discussions on their homework practice. I often shared my observations with the class - that, for example, certain learners seemed to be spending more time on homework assignments than others, that some learners appeared to be receiving editing and revising assistance on writing assignments, and that learners who appeared to grasp concepts in class often had difficulty doing homework on the same concepts. In our discussion of these issues, learners spoke of widely different homework practices - homework was being done in different settings, at different times of the day, in different family or work environments. Learners also reporting very different feelings about homework - all agreed that homework had value, but they did not always agree on how they approached it and how it affected them personally.
I realized that I had an inadequate feel for learner homework practices and decided it would be worthwhile to investigate homework practices more carefully. If a practitioner could be better informed on how, when and why (or why not) their learners were doing homework, I thought, they might be able design homework that was more effective. I decided to focus my practitioner inquiry project on the question: How can a practitioner leaner more about the homework practices of his or her learners?
As I couldn't, of course, observe the process of doing homework without affecting the observed, I developed tools which I hoped would offer me a sufficient degree of insight into homework practice. The tools which accompany this report are designed for practitioner researchers to use with their own learners or with other classes. The survey aims to establish homework patterns for each individual learner. The interviews focus more closely on details and allow learners to elaborate on thoughts and feelings which the survey is not able to record. In field testing the tools, I conducted as many interviews as possible in the homes of the learners. This allowed me a look at the sights where homework was being done and a chance to meet some of the people who influence learners' homework practice.
I field tested the tools with the help of learners from the classroom of my ILSR colleague, Moin Ajmiri. While field testing helped me to clarify questions, refine the tools, and create a fresh perspective on my own students and work, it also drew my attention to shortcomings with the tools which I feel I haven't satisfactorily resolved. The results of the field test and some of my feelings concerning those results are outlined in the final section of this report. It is my hope that practitioners who are drawn to the kind of insight these tools have given me in my own practice will further field test them or, upon reading them, have insights to offer. I am interested in corresponding with any practitioners who might be willing to work together with on improving the process.
The questions I developed as the basis for my research (Appendix 1) come from a desire to better understand several components of homework study - how learners approach their homework in a physical sense (the time and space of doing homework), in a critical sense (their attitudes and values about homework), and in a social sense (who helped them with homework, how other people in the homework environment affect homework practice).
Initially, I posed three questions: Are practitioners familiar with learners' homework practices? Do practitioners and learners share the same set of values about homework? Do learners need homework skills development? Deciding that practitioners might begin to address the third question in practical ways through finding answers to the first two, I brainstormed the sub-questions that complete Appendix 1. I took time at this stage to explore the world wide web, hoping to find similar research that would aid in the development of survey and interview questions and perhaps give me a better sense of what I might focus on in my own project. Nearly four hours of searching adult education related sites turned up nothing. It was disappointing and a bit bewildering to learn how little research on homework practices of adult learners had been conducted.
There were two major challenges in the development of the survey (Appendix 2). The first was in developing questions that would be understood by most learners at (minimally) a low intermediate ESL level. The second was in formatting questions in a way that allowed for as thorough and specific a response as possible from learners.
Survey questions were limited mainly to those which could be quantifiably answered. While one of my interests in designing the survey was to expose the learners to as wide a variety of survey question types as possible, I decided to exclude any questions which would require long written answers. I was concerned that the task of answering in this manner might be stressful and difficult, and that learners might limit their responses as a result. Here I felt a bit of a pull between my practitioner self and my researcher self; while the practice of answering surveys in this manner would undoubtedly aid the development of an important literacy skill, I decided that answers might be better developed in the oral interview format and relegated such questions to the interview.
I administered the survey as a whole - class activity. While I considered that responses to an anonymous survey on classroom practice might be more openly rendered in private, I decided that the class would be better served by using the survey as material for a lesson in survey reading and response. We began by discussing my project in general - what and who it was for, why I had chosen this particular class, how responses would be dealt with, and so on. A final consent to participate was obtained from all learners. We then discussed what a survey was, why surveys were administered, and what experiences in filling out surveys learners had. During and after the survey, learners commented on the questions, noting redundancies and places where questions were vague or difficult to answer. The survey in Appendix 2 has been revised with the aid of their input.
Learners initially decided it would be best to do the survey together, question by question, so that they could be sure to understand each question well before responding. After the first couple of questions were analyzed for format and direction, however, many learners began to jump ahead. The class then agreed to proceed at their own speeds, asking questions of me and of one another when necessary.
This system was, in the main, successful. While I was a bit tentative about having learners consult one another on questions (thinking that this may adversely affect their decisions on how to respond), I opted to agree with them. Again I felt the struggle between my practitioner self, who desired to allow the group work to flow, and my researcher self, who raised concerns over thorough understanding of the questions and purity of response. Observing that learners within the same groups appeared to be discussing the question but responding independently comforted me. I explained to the learners that they could proceed in this manner, and that if my analysis of their survey responses pointed to any glaring contradictions or misunderstandings, I would return to the participant at a future time and review their responses for understanding and accuracy.
Survey question number nine posed several problems for learners and pointed to a weakness in the survey which challenged my core thinking about homework. The question asks What kind of homework do you do? It is followed by a list of various types of homework and second language literacy activities in which learners may engage themselves. The problem for most learners was in the question, which caused learners to question the definition of homework - was homework something assigned by the practitioner, or did homework include study work that learners assigned to themselves? We agreed during our survey session that self- assigned study was also homework and that self - directed activities ought to be included. Initially, my intention was to focus on homework activities as assigned or encouraged by the practitioner, with the aim of giving the practitioner greater insight into what kinds of work, assigned or independent, were actually being done by learners. I came to wonder, however, whether or not this focus was too limited; one refinement I could have make to this survey would have been to expand upon the range of language use choices available to the learners in Question 9. The practitioner, in assigning homework, might be better served by an expanded understanding of what language - related activities may serve as opportunities for productive homework activity. On the other hand, I did not want to make this a research into real - life literacy practices. This question highlighted the intimate relationship between school - generated language work and language work generated from other sources. While I decided to let the question stand for the time being, I came to see the importance for myself as a practitioner of questioning my definition of homework and developing a greater insight into daily language use as a means of improving upon homework activity.
During our first discussion of the project, it was explained to the learners that part of my research would be in the form of an interview. I explained further that it would be my preference to conduct the interviews in the learners homes, where I would be able to observe their homework environment firsthand. Half of the class agreed to this request, while the other half said that they would be willing to be interviewed but preferred that the interview be conducted in school or, when space was not available, at the Pawtucket Public Library around the corner from the school. This was a disappointment, for several reasons. First, those learners who I interviewed at home seemed much more comfortable about the process. They were happy to give me a tour, offer me food, and so on. Second, and perhaps more important, it was much easier to get a picture of the homework environment through observation. The questions in the first part of the interview aim to develop a picture of the homework environment through a learner's description; this is no substitute for a first hand observation by a practitioner. Many of the questions in the first part of the interview were proven unnecessary during field testing when interviews were conducted in the learner's home.
Of course, the interview protocol as a whole is designed to guide the practitioner through the interview. It is not intended to be rigidly adhered to. Often, when field testing, I learned that answers to some questions eliminated the need for certain subsequent questions. For example, Why do you do your homework in this place? might eliminate the need for Do you like to do your homework in this place?. A response to the more general question, What is it like when they help you? might eliminate the need for the later question, Do they correct your mistakes? In addition, questions often needed to be rephrased in order to be understood. Again, the protocol is flexible. Practitioners should use it to guide their inquiry, but should feel free to eliminate questions or add new ones as the need dictates.
I recorded interviews on tape, with the permission of the learners, to lessen my note taking load and to allow for flexibility in questioning. The tapes were valuable in recording longer interview responses more accurately and in recalling redundancies and follow- up questions for the revision process.
Interview questions are divided into three sections: Where and When Homework is Done, Homework Assistance, and Opinions/Feelings about Homework. A fourth section, Final Thoughts, creates an opportunity for final reflection on the interview questions and process.
Again, much of Section One is designed to be asked in lieu of observation of homework site. In one case during my field test, a learner whom I interviewed at home explained that he also occasionally did homework during breaks at work. As a visit to his worksite could not be arranged in time to suit this report, the sub - questions beneath Questions One and Two were used to provide information about homework done at work.
Sub - questions D through K, Question 1, Section II were difficult for learners to answer. I suspect that they may be too pointed or specific to be useful. Since homework in the class I worked with was varied in design and created many types of problems for the learners, it was difficult for them to be specific or detailed about the manner in which assistance was rendered. Broadening and generalizing the questions, however, made it difficult to obtain any useful information at all on the subject. I am disappointed with this section of the interview and would welcome any input into how it may be changed.
Sub - questions M through P were generally redundant, but in one case proved very valuable. In discussing how difficult it was for one learner to do homework in a hostile environment, I gained tremendous insight into the individual's feelings about herself as a learner that impacted her approach to studying and to school in a much broader way. Her feelings are touched upon further in the next section of this report.
Some of the questions in section III proved difficult for learners to understand. Often, I attached the sub questions directly to the main question as illustrations. Questions concerning learners take on the practitioner's personal views about homework were especially difficult to understand and often required re - wording. One sub - question, 7a, originally was written as a main question. Question 7, originally question 8, proved more effective in opening the issue for discussion.
Field Test Results / Reflections
The results of the survey and interviews I conducted with eleven of Moin's learners pointed to some interesting patterns and offered information that certainly might be helpful in considering what kind of and how much homework would best serve the majority in the class. Following are a few facts yielded by the research, some ways in which the information might be interpreted, and comments on the utilities and shortcomings of the tools.
The results begin to shape a picture of how homework fits into the lives of the learners, what learners consider to be "studying," and what kinds of homework opportunities might be created. In this class, homework practice is inextricably linked to family roles and relationships. A majority of students receive homework assistance from their children, and two with small children said that they enjoyed helping the children with reading. Several received help from their husbands, and, in a striking contrast, another received a great deal of resentment from her husband, which had seemingly profound effects on her performance in school and her self image. Concessions for family members who want to watch television, for children who needed to sleep or wanted to play affected where homework was being done, and responsibilities for child care, housekeeping, cooking and work seriously limited the time available for homework. When homework is done, where it is done, and with what degree of success it is done is all largely dependent on the people in the learners' households.
There are a number of differnt ways in which practitioners may apply information like that yielded by the field test to their practice. For example, a practitioner who is intrigued by the connectedness of parents to children through homework might begin to explore possibilities of making homework more family literacy oriented, assigning work which would allow parents to use English to communicate with and teach their children and perhaps link their children's literacy activities to their own.
A practitioner who is struck by the idea that the majority of mothers and wives in the class are required to wait until all housework is complete before they can turn to schoolwork might seek to explore the theme of family roles and expectations. Students who lamented the idea of having to wait until eight o'clock or later, when they were admittedly tired and wishing to relax, to turn their brains to the difficult task of homework, might take great interest and benefit from the opportunity to discuss these roles and expectations, perhaps exploring their cultural significance and (at minimum) lending support to one another in their difficult task.
A practitioner who is intrigued by the fact that most of the learners in her class say they are doing homework for less than an hour per session or for only three days per week might begin an in - class exploration of ways in which small blocks of reading or writing time might be tucked into a daily schedule. Experienced readers, for example, know to carry books and newspapers with them and often take advantage of shorts breaks in a schedule to do additional reading. Inexperienced readers might need help in developing such habits. Perhaps, instead, a practitioner might further explore with learners the questions of what counts as study and what counts as homework. Learners may be surprised to find and encouraged by the amount of reading, translating and other work they do during the day that they don't consider to be homework because it was not assigned by the practitioner. Appreciating this work (and possibly developing it into writing, or conversation work) might help a learner to focus more clearly on everyday language use and learn to take advantage of communications opportunities whenever and wherever they occur.
Field testing the survey made its utilities and limitations clear. A great deal of information was gathered from the learners involved in the test, information which help me to see homework in a much broader way than I had been seeing. I discovered that in my own practice as an ESL/ Pre-GED teacher, I had grown rather stale in terms of how I viewed connections between practice and the day - to - day lives of my students. Though my Pre - GED learners necessarily approach their work with a need to develop a facility with academic materials, my reflections on the connectedness of study to other areas of living for the members of the ESL class I field tested can be easily applied to any group of learners.
Still, I feel as though, having been made to see thing in this way, my tools are limited in what they aim to find. I believe that the logical next step for the development of this project would be to expand upon both the survey and the interview to explore further this connection between classroom generated homework, daily literacy practice, and learner lifestyles. My hope is for other interested practitioners to join my effort by either field testing these tools in their own learning environments, or speculating on ways in which the tools may be expanded.
Written and submitted June 25, 1998 by David B. Hayes
Please send all comments and inquiries to:
David B. Hayes 264 Cypress St. Providence, RI. 02906 (401) 331 - 9261
date ______________________ place of interview____________
Learner Homework Practices Interview
Introduction / Directions
Thanks for agreeing to take the time to share your thoughts and opinions about homework. Before we begin, I want to tell you a little bit about myself and why I am doing this project. I also want to explain how the interview will be conducted, and talk about confidentiality.
The purpose of this interview is to help me gain insight into your thoughts and opinions about the homework you do, and to better understand how you and other learners do homework. I am interested in helping teachers to understand learners' homework related opinions and practices and in learning how teachers can be more effective in assigning homework to learners that helps learners to maximize their opportunity for learning.
Some of the questions are designed to help you to explain when, how, where and with whom you do homework - in other words, to help create a clear picture of your homework practice. Try to answer these questions with as much detail as you can. Other questions ask for your opinions about homework. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.
This interview should take no longer than an hour.
All of the information gathered in this interview will be confidential. Your name will never be used in any report or other product of this research. I would like, however, to be able to use quotations from these interviews in my reports. I have developed a release statement asking for your permission to quote excerpts from this interview. You are not obliged to sign this release. If you do not wish to sign, I will not use you quotes in the interview. I may, however, paraphrase your information or combine it with information from other interviews.
I. Where / When Homework is Done
1. Can you describe the place(s) where you do your homework? (For each place where homework is done:)
A. What room do you work in?
B. Where do you sit?
C. What kind of light is there ? (A ceiling light? A lamp?)
D. How bright is the light?
E. What is the chair like?
F. Is there a lot of room to spread your books, notebooks, pencils, etc. across?
G. Is it a quiet place?
H. Is it noisy?
I. Is it comfortable?
J. Is it uncomfortable?
K. Are you alone, or are other people with you when you do your homework?
L. (If any) What do these other people do while you do your homework?
M. Why do you do your homework in this place?
N. Do you like to do homework in this place? Why or Why not?
2. When do you usually do your homework?
A. Do you do your homework at the same time everyday, or different times?
B. Why do you do your homework at the this (these) time(s)?
C. Do you feel this(these) is(are) a good time (the best times) for you to be doing homework? Why (not)?
D. (If not to C.) What would be the best time to do your homework?
II. Homework Assistance
1. Does anyone ever help you with your homework? Who?
A. (If yes) what it is like when this person helps you?
B. Are they happy to help you?
C. Are they patient? Do they ever get impatient? Why? Do you ever get impatient with them? Why?
D. Do they teach you how to do something?
E. Do they translate for you or help you to find the right words?
F. Do they give answers for you, or do they help you to find the answers yourself?
G. If they give answers for you, do they explain the answers?
H. Do they correct your mistakes?
I. If they correct your mistakes, do they explain the corrections to you?
J. Do they show you mistakes and ask you to correct them yourself?
K. If someone corrects mistakes on homework you give to your teacher, does your teacher know that your homework has been corrected? (If yes, how?)
L. In general, do the people who help you make you feel good? How?
M. Do they make you feel bad? How?
N. Do they make you feel nervous? How?
O. Does anyone in your house ever make jokes about your work?
III. Opinions / Feelings about Homework
1. In your opinion, what is the value of doing homework?
A. How does it relate to what you do in class?
B. How does it relate to your progress?
C. What kinds of things, if any, do you learn from doing homework?
2. Do you like doing homework?
A. What do you like about it ?
B. What do you not like about it?
3. If you could change something about the homework you usually do, what would you change?
A. Would you prefer homework of a different kind?
B. Would you prefer Shorter assignments?
C. Longer assignments?
D. More homework?
E. Less homework?
4. What kind of homework do you like best? Why?
A. Do you think you get enough of this kind of homework, or would you like to get more?
5. What kind of homework do you like the least? Why?
A. Do you think you get too much of this kind of homework?
6. Does your teacher talk much about homework in the class (other than to give assignments or correct them)?
A When he/ she talks about homework, what does he/ she say?
7. In your opinion, does your teacher think homework is very important?
A. Why do you think so?
B. Do you agree? Why or why not?
8. When it is time to show your homework to the teacher or to the class, how do you feel?
A. Why do you feel this way?
9. Do you always finish your homework on schedule?
A. Is it sometimes late?
B. Do you sometimes not do it?
C. If you don't finish it on time, what does your teacher say to you/ other learners?
D. Did you finish the homework eventually?
10. Do you ever help decide what kind of homework should be done?
A Do you think that learners should be able to help the teacher make decisions about homework?
IV. Final Thoughts
1. We've talked about your homework practices in pretty good detail. In general, what do you feel is the value of doing homework?
2. Can you think of anything else important to this project that you think I should know?
3. Do you have any questions for me?
Learner name ____________________ Program_________________________ Date_____________________________ Survey Site_______________________
Learner Homework Practices Survey
Thank you for your cooperation in completing this survey. This survey is part of a research project on Learner homework practices being done by ________________. This project is designed to help teachers learn how they can be more effective in designing and giving homework that will be most helpful to learners.
1. Please read each question carefully and listen to any instructions you may receive. If you have any questions, please ask.
2. Answer each question carefully, and write clearly.
3. For most questions, please circle the answer that is closest to your opinion or situation.
4. For questions that ask for written information, please answer as completely as possible. If you need more space for your answer, use the back of the page.
1. Where do you do your homework?
always very often often sometimes never
In the house 1 2 3 4 5
At the library 1 2 3 4 5
At school 1 2 3 4 5
At someone else's house 1 2 3 4 5
Other_______________ 1 2 3 4 5
2. When do you do your homework?
Always Very often Often Sometimes Never
Between 6am and 9am 1 2 3 4 5
Between 9 am and 11am 1 2 3 4 5
Between 11 am and 2 pm 1 2 3 4 5
Between 2 pm and 5pm 1 2 3 4 5
Between 5 pm and 8 pm 1 2 3 4 5
Between 8 pm and 11 pm 1 2 3 4 5
After 11pm 1 2 3 4 5
3. When you do your homework in your house, what room do you do it in?
Always Very Often Often Sometimes Never
In the living room 1 2 3 4 5
In the bedroom 1 2 3 4 5
In the kitchen 1 2 3 4 5
Other_____________ 1 2 3 4 5
4. When you do your homework, what materials do you use?
Always Very Often Often Sometimes Never
A bilingual dictionary 1 2 3 4 5
An English only dictionary 1 2 3 4 5
My notes from school 1 2 3 4 5
A pen 1 2 3 4 5
A pencil 1 2 3 4 5
A calculator 1 2 3 4 5
A computer 1 2 3 4 5
A radio 1 2 3 4 5
A television 1 2 3 4 5
Other ________________ 1 2 3 4 5
5. When you do your homework, who do you get help from?
Always Very Often Often Sometimes Never
Nobody 1 2 3 4 5
My husband 1 2 3 4 5
My son 1 2 3 4 5
My daughter 1 2 3 4 5
My mother 1 2 3 4 5
My brother 1 2 3 4 5
My friend 1 2 3 4 5
My sister 1 2 3 4 5
Other________________ 1 2 3 4 5
6. On average, about how many days per week do you do homework? (Circle one) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
7. On days when you do homework, about how much time per day do you spend doing homework? (Circle one)
0 to 30 minutes 30 to 60 minutes 60 to 90 minutes 90 to 120 minutes More than 120 minutes
8. In your opinion, how much homework does your teacher give you each week? (Circle one)
Too much homework The right amount of homework Not enough homework
9. What kind of homework do you do (including homework that your teacher assigns and homework that you do on your own?)
always very often often sometimes never
Read stories 1 2 3 4 5
Read newspaper articles 1 2 3 4 5
Read poems 1 2 3 4 5
Read other __________ 1 2 3 4 5
Write sentences 1 2 3 4 5
Write paragraphs 1 2 3 4 5
Write stories or essays 1 2 3 4 5
Write letters 1 2 3 4 5
Write other____________ 1 2 3 4 5
Grammar book exercises 1 2 3 4 5
Math book exercises 1 2 3 4 5
Reading book exercises 1 2 3 4 5
Worksheet exercises 1 2 3 4 5
Other exercises 1 2 3 4 5
Listen to music 1 2 3 4 5
Watch television or movies 1 2 3 4 5
Interview people 1 2 3 4 5
Research/ material gathering 1 2 3 4 5
Other _________________ 1 2 3 4 5
10. On the average, how difficult is your homework? (circle one)
Too difficult Difficult, but I can do it Easy Too Easy
11. What I like most about doing homework is: (check up to three)
It helps me to understand what I am learning _____
It helps me to remember things and practice them _____
It helps me to find new ways to use what I learn _____
It makes me feel good when I do it successfully _____
The work is fun _____
The work is easy for me _____
It allows me to spend time alone _____
It allows me to spend time with people who help me _____
Other ____________________________________ _____
12. What I like least about doing homework is: (check up to three)
I often don't understand it _____
It doesn't help me to learn _____
I often don't have enough time _____
It gives me stress/ makes me nervous _____
I often don't enjoy doing it _____
It isn't related to the work we do in school _____
It is difficult to concentrate in my house _____
I am embarrassed/ nervous in front of my family _____
Other __________________________________ _____
Other __________________________________ _____
Other __________________________________ _____
13. How is homework evaluated in your class? always very often often sometimes never
We go over it together 1 2 3 4 5
the teacher collects it 1 2 3 4 5
the teacher corrects it 1 2 3 4 5
the teacher returns it 1 2 3 4 5
We correct each other's work 1 2 3 4 5
we talk about it but don't 1 2 3 4 5
correct mistakes we don't talk about it 1 2 3 4 5
we don't do anything 1 2 3 4 5
other_____________ 1 2 3 4 5
back to inquiry 98