Homework

Primary schools

Teachers and homework

Homework is an important part of helping learners develop their English language skills, as well as supporting the development of their first language(s). Developing multi- or bilingualism has many cognitive advantages, for example, it can help children learn as it gives them the opportunity to think about ideas in both or several languages. In order to help learners develop both their English language skills and first language skills, teachers might want to set homework where learners are asked to do tasks such as:

  • Talk to someone at home in their first language about the work they have done (e.g. on volcanoes) that day
  • Ask their parents to translate five words from class in their first/home language
  • Write three sentences from class in their first/home language

Parents and homework

It is important to keep parents informed about the school’s expectations regarding homework, particularly regarding the benefits of multilingualism (to find out more please read Strand and Hessel’s 2018 research). Parents and carers who are not literate in English may need reassuring that reading to their children in their first language is important and that it is very helpful to look at and talk about the pictures in school reading books with their children. It is important to liaise with the parents of EAL learners to explain:

  • The importance of getting into a routine of reading at home
  • The importance of talking about the pictures and the story
  • That talking can be done in their first language or in English - both will help their child

Olga Cara (University College London) suggests a number of ways that parents can use home language(s) to support learning at home. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Parents can tell their child/children stories in their home language as much as possible (these could be true stories from the parents’ lives, or made up stories)
  • Parents can read aloud to their child/children in their home language for 15 minutes every day
  • Parents can help their child/children with homework by using both English and their home language, e.g. by reading a homework text in English but talking about the text or giving instructions in their home language
  • Parents can talk about a subject with their child/children entirely in their home language and then write about it in English in their workbook

More information on how parents can use home languages to support learning at home is available in the Foundation’s webinar with Olga Cara.

Classroom Support Strategies: Working with Learners in Primary Settings signposts other homework tasks to help develop first language skills and aid English language acquisition They are suitable for all EAL learners from Bands A to E. In order to download the Strategies, please complete this registration form which will provide free access to all of the Foundation’s resources.

For those at the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the Guiding principles and strategies for practitioners working with learners who use English as an Additional Language (EAL) in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Settings may also be a useful resource for ideas of how to work closely with parents to support language development at home (In order to download the Guiding Principles, please complete this registration form which will provide free access to all of the Foundation’s resources).

Secondary schools

With learners who are New to English and at the Early Acquisition stage it is important to be flexible about homework and not penalise learners for not completing homework if they have not understood the task or have not been able to do it. If a teacher tells the class how important it is that a particular piece of homework is completed, then they will need to reassure a learner who is New to English and give them an appropriate alternative task. Some examples of this might be:

  • To look up a (short) list of key words or phrases and write them in their first language
  • To do a piece of writing in their first language (e.g. an account of a piece of practical science)
  • To research a topic online in their first language and make their own list of key words or phrases they will need to know in English
  • To take home some notes or a piece of writing done in class in their first language, and draft a translation into English, either with the help of a family member who is competent at reading and writing in English, or by using a bilingual dictionary or translation software

A learner who is New to English may also need to be allowed extra time to write the homework task in their diary. The learner could write it in English, or in (one of) their first language(s). Alternatively teachers may want to write it for them, or ask a supportive peer who is competent at reading and writing in English (and who has legible handwriting) to write it for them.

Classroom Support Strategies: Working with Learners in Secondary Settings signposts other homework tasks to help develop first language skills and aid English language acquisition. The Strategies are suitable for all EAL learners from Bands A to E. In order to download the Strategies, please complete this registration form which will provide free access to all of the Foundation’s resources.