What are your best homework assignments?
April 29, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Teachers: what are (or have been) your most effective homework assignments?

At a recent (high school) departmental meeting, it became clear to me that as a department we could give this more thought and consideration.

We ended our meeting with an agreement to come back in a month with ideas and suggestions to improve our horizontal articulation across languages. Our goal is to make the homework expectations and assignments similar or comparable in rigor in Spanish, French, German, and Latin, while maintaining some of the unique requirements of some (heavier vocab. in Spanish and Latin).

My district only values homework at 10% of the overall grade, but we as language teachers see it as a way to track vocabulary acquisition.

I’d like to hear how others in my profession and teaching grade levels 7-12 have tackled the “homework” issue. So, what’s your best, most effective homework assignment? Do you assign it more than once a week? If so, why?

*I am aware that in some districts, homework has been abolished. That is not the case in my district.
posted by vkxmai to Education (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Giving homework just for the sake of giving it or needing a grade is the kind of homework that students HATE and will most likely not do. Students today (more than any other generation, I've noticed) don't like busywork; they need to see value in what they are spending their time on in order for them to decide to use their time to do it.

Homework (IMHO) is best used as a way for a student to practice (on their own) whatever concept or skill the student learned that day in school. Homework should provide practice and reinforcement. (And ideally, if a student doesn't need practice and reinforcement, they shouldn't have to do it, but that's a whole other thread.) A good homework assignment would be one that asks the student to apply that concept/skill to their own life and how it affects them or how they could use it in the future. I would try to couch homework around "real life" examples of the concepts/skills.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:00 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would you accept my humble answer as someone who has never been a teacher? (I have, of course, been a student!) I suppose I was at one point your target audience.

My favorite assignments were always creative assignments that made me think. My very favorite was to do something that introduced something in drama class. We could do a paper, poem, drawing, etc. on any topic, as long as it had citations and we introduced it whatever the paper's topic was.

I wrote a paper introducing Japanese plays and I'm so proud of it I re-read it every now and then. It allowed for creativity, ideas, and of course research.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:40 AM on April 29, 2012

Is there a way to combine the previous two answers--useful in real life, but creative? Some random ideas: you could have students imagine themselves ten years older, writing an email soliciting a job from the most awesome company they can think of (this can be their real dream job, or something crazy that would make the assignment fun to write, like professional dolphin trainer)--except the company speaks x language. Anything matching up potential usefulness in the students' future use of the language (sure you're having fun writing this crazy letter asking for a dolphin trainer job, but you also had to work in two chapters of vocab words and research the appropriate German salutation for a professional letter) with some leeway for imagination and fun or a challenge. E.g. pen pal letters, or short blog posts, or transcripts for a radio commercial selling some fake/silly product. Or a contest to see which student can make the shortest but most sensical paragraph incorporating all of the chapter's vocab words. Or let the students explore different genres of writing (in addition to job letters and radio commercials, e.g. teen vampire fiction, the principal making an announcement over the P.A., letter to the editor of the school newspaper).
posted by pavane at 10:10 AM on April 29, 2012

Agreed with all of the above -- needs to allow a student's personal touch, needs to not appear as busywork, needs to still be relevant to your class.

I'm not a teacher, still a student (junior in college studying Illustration, more specifically), but I remember my favorite high school assignments being those where I got to show what I knew AND research something that was of interest to me or apply some other skill that I already have to a seemingly-unrelated subject. I love pavane's idea of a letter -- this is a good example.

Another interesting angle might be etymology -- I always thought it was interesting to know where words came from, and it expanded both my foreign language and English vocabulary, making it easier to remember what each of them meant. Have students look at the connections between things they know (English words) and where they came from (...pretty much everywhere else). English borrows so many words and word particles... this is probably already part of the Latin class, but introducing it into French, Spanish, and German could be interesting.
posted by jorlyfish at 5:12 PM on April 29, 2012

Please look into Flipped Classrooms.

It makes homework part of the direct instruction, rather than practice on their own (without you around to help).

I'm an English teacher, but you're welcome to check out my website to see how it looks in my classroom.

I'd also encourage you to get onto Edmodo (it's kinda like Facebook for teachers) and get into the learning communities #FlipShare, #FlippedClass, and the Foreign Language Forum. They'll have better subject-specific ideas.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:03 AM on May 1, 2012

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