Homework for Adult Literacy Learners


What place does homework have in adult literacy classes?

In the institution I work for, getting learners to complete classwork is sometimes a challenge in itself, so what do we do when it comes to homework?

Things I would like for my learners:
* I want learners to be able to increase their self-study, in turn to increase their opportunity for practice. The reality is that we can get through a lot more per term with homework. I remind my learners that they have 10 years of school. We have 2 hours per week.
* Since it’s in their lives that their literacy will directly effect, I want learners to work more autonomously. Even if they look 1 word up in a dictionary, which they would never do before, or ask me/someone else about it, it’s an achievement in my eyes.

The things I’m worried about when giving/asking for homework are:

* Learners to feel like they can’t come to class if they haven’t done their homework. This can lead to guilt, and guilt isn’t good. In my experience it often leads to aviodance of coming ever again.
* Learners that do do homework and feel disheartened when others in the class don’t. I am sometimes disapproving of the ones who don’t do it, but then I’m worried they’ll definately not come back. Sometimes I reassure the ones that have ‘put the effort’ (if we are to view it that way) rather than disapprove of the ones that haven’t.

A Point Burton (2007, p. 2) is that ‘homework, like classroom work, should be discussed and negotiated with your learners. And remember that not all learners may have a quiet place at home suitable for study; other venues, such as the local college library, can suggested’. Sometimes, that is not the only issue. For a lot of the people I work with, they struggle to work on their own, need a lot of guidance and reminding. There is a view that as an adult that you have to take responsibility for your own learning. Sometimes people aren’t sure about what this actually means.

What does it mean?
From a teacher’s point of view, taking responsibility is:
* being open to new things
* not being disruptive
* getting on with other people
* remembering, then actually doing your homework
* making notes, self-directing study
* making good progress
* being punctual

Sometimes, there are stereotypes we work towards, giving little thought to why or how learners are supposed to conform to these standards. Sure it would make my life easier, but life isn’t like that. Sometimes there is not enough time to fully address these issues. Sometimes, when you try to negotiate, people lie and ‘go along with it’. Sometimes you need to see somene for 2 hours per week for 9 months before you actually feel like you’re getting somewhere. Sometimes they tell you they don’t have time to do homework. Sometimes there are higher priority issues in their lives. But rarely do the targets, or expectations on the teacher (really) change to reflect these complexities.

In my ESOL sessions I tend to give more homework than in my literacy sessions. I started wondering why. One reason is that I am more comfortable in setting homework as I have a good understanding of what methodology I’m using, why I’m asking for homework etc. For example, if one day we’ve been doing adverbs of frequency and their daily routine, maybe I’ll give them a task to write sentences about someone else, or a controlled grammar activity. ESOL learners generally accept that they need to work on their English, and many from ‘good’ educational backgrounds understand study skills. Sure, it might remind them of school, and maybe their school experiences are lined with troubles, but from my experience they are generally more grateful. Also, the level of detail you can go inot with an ESOL learner is often limited due to the language barrier. Maybe the is a faux opinion. Maybe if I spoke their language I would see fewer differences.

English learners on the other hand, and I’m not sure if this is due to my own preconceptions, dismiss homework a bit more easily. I feel more embarrassed giving homework to an English learner and until now, I have not questionned why. Maybe it’s because I seem to get more resistance. Maybe it’s because I have assumptions of their resistance to school and I’m too petrified to replicate school. Maybe, however painful memories of school were, they need to follow some of the same structures of school. They know what to expect then.

So, what now?
I have negotiated homework with learners before, but probably not as much as I now think I should have. Thinking about it, to make sure I build it into my practice better, I should make a course structure sheet with a list of things I need to remember to ask learners about, or even add it to their ILP and discuss it as part of the start of their journey. For next term, I think I’ll start it with the whole group at the beginning. I’ll post my results up soon!


Burton, M (2007) Reading. NIACE; Leicester

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