Independent study is an important part of the learning process and, ideally, homework should be set after every tutoring session. It’s also important to be aware of your tutees other commitments – particularly their schoolwork. Communicating well with your tutee, their parents and, ideally, their school, will help you to plan better. Equally, it’s important for your tutee to understand that, in order for learning to be effective, it’s essential that extra work is carried out beyond each one-to-one session.
Planning homeworks is as important as planning your one-to-one sessions. Just as you plan a series of tutoring sessions to aid progression and cover a full topic or range of skills, homeworks should do the same, while regularly asking tutees to finish-off work started in a tutoring session is often a sign of poor planning.
Consolidate, prepare or extend
Homeworks can serve several purposes, and a good series of homeworks may use a variety of approaches. A common aim is to consolidate learning, perhaps by applying the techniques learnt in a tutoring session to exam questions. This is also an excellent way to check understanding. Another option is to set work which prepares the student for the next lesson – this type of homework can be particularly good for motivating students who are slack at meeting deadlines, by adding a sense of urgency. Prior reading is one option but asking them to prepare a starter activity or learn key terms for an in-session quiz can give a homework more importance. A third option is to set work that will extend their understanding. Reading a chapter in a book, watching a documentary or taking notes on a selection of articles related to your topic can be good ways to deepen understanding and access additional material you don’t have time to cover in a tutoring session.
It can often be temping to set the same format of homework each week, such as an essay or series of exam questions, but planning for greater variety will not only develop a broader range of skills but it can also keep your tutee engaged and motivated. The type of homework you set could also be planned to coincide with their other commitments. For example, if their essay writing workload is heavy at school, why not set them the task of watching a TV or online documentary, give an oral presentation, or get them to do something more creative than usual, so they have a break from writing. You may also wish to vary the length of your homeworks slightly, so that a series of two shorter tasks can be followed by a more in-depth homework investigation.
If there’s one thing that can kill motivation in a tutee, it’s lack of purpose. The benefit and importance of homeworks needs to be communicated if your tutee is to fully engage. Make sure that all homeworks are marked promptly and that feedback is given – if you leave it more than a week or so, you may have already lost their interest. As you set a homework, tell them why it’s important or how it will help them achieve their goals. For students that are particularly poor at completing homeworks, you may wish to introduce an award system, such as giving then a week off homework if they hand in three top-quality pieces in in a row, or rewarding them with a bag of their favourite sweets when a target is met.