Towards homework sharing, not homework correction

Let’s start by imagining a hypothetical scenario: a class is about to start and the teacher glances at her lesson plan. The first procedure on the plan says “Homework correction: Workbook, page 10, activity 3.” The activity involves finding the words for some musical instruments in a word hunt and labelling some pictures illustrating the same musical instruments using the appropriate word.

The following interaction then follows:

Interaction 1

Teacher:
Students:
Teacher:
Ricardo:
Teacher:
Paula:
Teacher:
Daniela:
Teacher:
Pedro:
Teacher:
Please open your workbooks on page 10. Exercise 3. Okay?
Okay.
Letter a? Ricardo?
Saxophone.
Right, saxophone. Letter b? Paula?
[with inadequate pronunciation] Harp.
[correcting Paula’s pronunciation] Harp, harp. Letter c, Daniela?
Flute.
No. Anyone else?
Recorder.
That’s it. Recorder.

[The interaction goes on in a similar way]

So what can we say about this interaction? Was it successful? Has it achieved its objectives? Well, if we define success here as “going through the activities, and eliciting the correct answers for each activity”, then the interaction was surely successful. Homework correction on the lesson plan? Item checked, happy face – task accomplished successfully!

However, if we define success in homework checking around the following criteria, the follow-up might be a bit different.

Objective 1, not checked. There is no interaction among students and the pattern followed is Teacher-Student-Teacher-Student (T-S-T-S). There is no instance of Student-Student (S-S) talk, which makes it impossible to check objectives 2 and 3 as well. Likewise, the interaction leaves no scope for students to reflect on their difficulties. For example, Daniela, who has provided a wrong answer, is not given the opportunity to understand why she’s got it wrong. Therefore, chances are she won’t know how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. And because there is no time for participants to reflect on where the students’ difficulties may lie, the teacher is unlikely to be able to identify areas that need further practice. Objectives 4 and 5? Not checked.

Letting students share homework

For students to share homework the first step is to redefine some interactional roles in the classroom. Instead of having the teacher control the interaction, students should learn how to lead homework checking themselves. But how can that be done?

Students should learn how to orchestrate the turn taking system themselves, and not to wait for the teacher to say who speaks, when they speak, and what they say. They should learn to see their peers, that is, other students, as potential sources of information, and not rely on the teacher to be the sole provider of answers. It’s worth noting the recurrent “echoing” from the part of the teacher in Interaction 1: students may give the right answers, but the teacher consistently repeats these answers. These repetitions may signal to the rest of the class that they do not necessarily have to listen to a peer when she or he talks: after all the right answer will be repeated by the teacher at some point.

Below I share a transcription of an interaction I observed some time ago in an EFL class for children aged 10-11 in Brazil.

Interaction 2

Teacher:  

Student 1:  
Teacher:
Student 2:
Student 3:
Student 2:
Student 3:
Student 4:
Student 3:
Teacher:
Student 3:
Student 5:
Student 6:
Student 4:
Student 1:
Student 2:
Student 3:

Student 2:


So let’s correct homework now. Let’s do it the same way that
we did our talk just now about the weekend. As a group, okay?
It’s the workbook?
Workbook page 4. Can you start please?
Can I say all the letters?
No.
Okay. Letter a. Saxophone.
Letter b, [pronounces “arp”] harp.
[correcting Student 3’s pronunciation] Harp.
[repeating, this time with the correct pronunciation] Harp.
All right. You can use the board if you wish okay?
[goes to the board and writes: “B, HARP”]
What’s number, letter a?
Saxophone.
Letter c, I don’t know.
Letter c is flute.
Recorder. Because there isn’t flute here [points to the wordhunt].
Yes.

I put flute first, because I was, I wanted to find flute.
There wasn’t any flute and I put recorder. Because it’s the only

word that I saw and I… I saw in the dictionary.

[The interaction goes on in a similar way.]

The first thing to note in the interaction is the amount of time students participate in it. Students – and not the teacher – are the main participants in this interaction, in both quantitative (that is, considering the time spent) and qualitative terms (that is, considering the interactional achievements of their participation). The teacher clearly steps back and leaves space for students to share their homework. Objective 1, checked. Peer correction occurs regarding pronunciation problems and content itself (when Student 2 points out to Student 1 that the right answer is recorder, not flute). Objective 2, check. These two examples also show that objective 3 has been achieved. We don’t have clear evidence of achievement of objectives 4 and 5, but the interaction lays the ground to make them possible. The explanation given by Student 2 about his way of making his decision about the choice of “recorder” and not “flute” can be used by Student 1 to reflect on her own decision-making process. The problem that arose in relation to the pronunciation of “harp” might signal to the teacher that there is need to work on the pronunciation of words starting with “h”.

Final words

Homework sharing along the lines described above is possible but it requires time, dedication and focus. Students need to be acquainted with the interactional roles (and rules) that come together with homework sharing: who speaks, when, who is to provide the answers, who is to guide the turn taking system. Likewise, students need to know how to overcome the challenges these interactional patterns will create. They need to learn to acknowledge their peers are sources of knowlegde. They need to learn to listen to their peers, to involve them in the interaction. They also need to be aware of the gains (linguistic, interactional, educational) associated with being able to share homework with their peers.

I’d say it’s well worth a try.

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