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The aim of this study is to find out the students attitude towards homework, especially towards the English homework at a secondary school. The research was conducted in one of my classes. The participants are students are all in grade 7. In spite of learning in the same class, each member of this class has a different level of English proficiency and has different motivations in learning English.
I do this research with a hope that after the research, I can gain some certain knowledge and experiences in order to help myself and my as well as my colleagues in choosing the best mode of giving homework which will achieve maximum participation from students in fulfilling their homework.
I am a teacher of English at Long Thanh secondary school - a secondary school in a remote inland in Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. I have four classes with an average of 35 students per class. After years of teaching, I realized that there was a phenomenon occurring year after year: during the first weeks of the semester, my students' homework was fulfilled with high frequency than the later weeks.
After the first month of the school-year, I discovered the fact that a lot of students repeatedly neglected to do their homework and usually did poorly on most of the tests. Then I reminded them many times; I called to their house to talk to their parents about this problem and told their form- teacher. Occasionally, my students would appear with homework in hand, but most of the times they appear with just excuses. Why? It may be at the beginning of the school-year, my students might have less homework and homework maybe easy for them to do, or they just wanted to please their teacher. After some weeks, they had so much homework from other subjects to do as well, or they must attend extra-classes, or they felt bored with their English homework.
I was very puzzled. I wondered why my students did not do enough English homework. I wanted to know more about my students' attitudes towards the English homework. I wondered if my students did not understand something in the homework or the instructions of the homework were not clear enough or the homework was too difficult.
What can I do to help my students?
After years of teaching English in secondary school, I face the problem that teacher's role is to give homework, and a student's role is not to do it!" Due to this fact, I wonder if we should stop giving homework in teaching English to secondary students.
The answer is absolutely "no." No one can deny that homework is essential for learners in gaining better knowledge. It gives learners opportunities in getting exposed to the new language and helps them refresh their memory of the previous learnt language.
When conducting this research, I hope that this study will shed light on giving homework. It can help me find out techniques to assist students' awareness about the value of homework as well as encourage them to fulfill their daily homework with more interest.
Background of teaching English in Vietnam:
In Vietnam, English is taught as a foreign language and it is also one of the compulsory subjects at estate schools.
Mr. Canh (2001) remarked that although Vietnamese English teachers nowadays have a positive attitude to communicative methods, they feel limited in the implementation of communicative teaching in their English classrooms for several reasons. Communicative language teaching is too difficult in Vietnam, where the teacher's level of English is low, the classes are too large, buildings, furniture, and other means are basic, and only low support can be provided for materials, libraries, and other consulting services. The new teaching approach requires new knowledge and skills. Teachers are often required to spend more time on doing the additional preparation, but there are too many demands on teachers' time. Teachers rarely have access to the input and resources of the target language at secondary schools. Not a single secondary school in Vietnam has ELT resources and materials available to teachers. Usually, there are only some types of teaching materials which are available to Vietnamese teachers. They are textbooks, a few practical English grammar books, some teachers' manuals, some cassette - players and some dictionaries (usually, those dictionaries are too old and not up to date). Not only do students rarely have a chance to take part in meaningful getting in touch with native English speakers but also teachers face the same problem. With such a terrible English language input environment, how can Vietnamese teachers of English keep their English ability away from being fossilized? They themselves have problems in getting in touch with foreigners. As a result, most of Vietnamese teachers tend to use Grammar-Translation Method in teaching English in secondary.
Furthermore, Vietnamese teachers' habit is reading and of the students is writing. Teachers usually combine Grammar-translation Method with the Audio-Lingual Method in teaching. They always try all their best to cover everything from the textbook. Besides, they are worried about an "over- prepared lesson plan" or "under - prepared lesson plan". In this case, students only listen to their teachers' explanation and copy everything that is taught.
Motivation in learning languages:
Motivation is the key to success in doing anything, especially in learning languages. Secondary students, out of sight of their teachers, usually find it difficult to have self-awareness.
Language researchers divided motivation into two basic kinds: integrative motivation and instrumental motivation.
According to Crookes and Schmidt (1991) "integrative motivation is the learner's orientation with regard to the goal of learning a second language. It is characterized by learner's positive attitudes towards the target language group and the desire to integrate into the target language community".
Hudson (2000 in Norris-Holt 2001) stated that "instrumental motivation was the desire to obtain something practical or concrete from the study of a second language". That is the desire to get a better job or a promotion; to pass an examination; and to read materialsâ€¦
According to Reilly (1994), motivation is enhanced when learning goals are made clear and when tasks are sequences and linked in ways that make sense to learners.
Nunan (1991) said that the good foreign language learner found ways of activating his or her language out of class.
Liu and Littlewood (1997 in Zhenhui 2001) pointed out that "traditionally the teaching of EFL in most East Asian countries is dominated by teacher-centered, book-centered, grammar-translation method with an emphasis on rote memory."
These traditional English language teaching methods have resulted in a number of typical styles. Most students receive knowledge through their teacher's transmitting rather than they themselves discover it. Students receive knowledge rather than interpret it. They usually wait for correction from the teacher throughout their learning process. What about the teachers? They tend to give everything to their students through what they pour on the blackboard.
The main reason for this language study is a necessity for my students to gain achievement in examinations. Due to the fact that the examinations are structured, almost all schools in Vietnam are forced to educate their students in such a manner that they can do the examination as well as possible. These exams are rigorous tests which required students to have knowledge of both extensive vocabulary and grammatical structures in order to do these tests successfully.
Why do we need to give students homework? The positive and the negative effects of homework:
Depending on what aspect of the homework argument we are on, homework can have both positive and negative effects on students.
The positive effects of homework:
Homework plays an important role in teaching language to our children. Goldstein and Zentall (1999) have stated as the following:
Homework is important because it is the intersection between home and school. It serves as a window through which we can observe our children's education and express positive attitudes towards our children and their education. For teachers and administrators, homework is a cost effective way to provide additional instruction in practice.
The most common purpose of giving homework is to help students practise what they have already learnt in class. Homework is also used to reinforce learning as well as to help students master specific skills. Preparation homework is also a step of introducing materials which will be presented in the next lessons.
There are 10 reasons for teachers to give homework to students. Teachers give homework in order to revise classwork, to consolidate and practice classwork, to extend language knowledge, to gain further skills practice, to prepare for the next class, to finish off work started in class or to save class time for more communicative activities, to allow students to work at their own pace, to allow us to check that students have understood what we have tried to teach, to diagnose gaps in students' knowledge, and to acquire further language, style, and so on, from extensive skills work.
There are 4 reasons for not finishing homework. Students often claim: "I had too much homework." ; "It was boring." ; " I forgot." ; or "I didn't understand how to do."
Cooper (2001) found one more positive academic effect of homework: improvement of attitudes towards school.
Giving homework benefits us, the teachers, as well. "Homework improves teachers' ability to cover the curriculum and acts as a kind of bridge between the last lesson and the next one"(Weisenthal et al., 1997).
The negative effects of homework:
The Official US - Department of Education Website also state that too much homework can make students feel bored. Setting too much homework can keep students away from taking part in free time and joining community activities. Other negative effect of homework is that it can lead to undesirable character traits if it promotes cheating, either through the copying of assignments or help with homework that goes beyond tutoring.
The amount and the nature of the homework tasks:
Cooper (2001 in Nelms 2008) recommends:
That all students should be given homework but that it should be limited by a neat formula: no more than ten minutes per night multiplied by the student s grade level. In other words, a second grader should have no more than 20 minutes of homework all together per night; a twelfth grader, no more than 120 minutes, or two hour.
Young children should have shorter and more frequent assignments because they have short spans of attention and need to feel they have successfully completed a task. To improve the problem of giving homework, there are some experiences from language researchers. On the Official US Department of Education Website, they found that to help students with time management, we should help them establish a set time each day for doing homework. Do not let them leave homework until just before bedtime, most of them wait until the last minute. We should have them do the hard work first. We must teach students the way they learn. (Dunn and Dunn, 1978).
In short, it is the job of educators to maximize the benefits of homework and minimize the "cost".