A learning moment recently presented itself.
English language learners (ELLs) take free (general) English courses at the university level in order to prepare themselves for an exit (high-stakes) exam. The courses are pass/no pass and the ELLs have the option to retake the same level course regardless if they pass or not. Finally, homework is not graded which includes work done in the course workbook.
Should the course workbook that accompanies the student course book contain the answers to the questions or not?
Argument for having the workbook with answers
- What incentive does the student have for simply copying the answers? Doing or not doing the workbook exercises has no direct effect on the students’ grades. Obviously there is an indirect effect in most cases since understanding the answers to the questions (not just knowing the answers) can help ELLs with the learning process.
- The “only” thing that ELLs lose if they fail to understand the answers (not simply by copying them from the answer key) is time. Granted, time is of the essence for many students who put off meeting their foreign language requirement, but there is no financial loss and students are free to choose to retake the same level at no cost if they feel they are not ready to proceed to the next level.
- Spending class time simply checking answers from the workbook is a waste of time – it does not provide the evidence needed in order for EFL/ESL educators to infer whether students understand why the answer is correct. Providing the answers to the questions alone should not be confused with providing sound feedback from activities completed in the workbook through formative or dynamic assessment. This is also referred to as “solving the problem backward” through “planning in reverse: means-ways-ends“.
- Having answers to the workbook can promote autonomous learning. I say can promote because many times autonomous learning requires teachers to facilitate the process, providing ELLs the strategies to become more autonomous.
The main argument (that I’ve heard from teachers) against having the workbook answer key
ELLs will simply copy the answers and will not learn anything.
Instead of asking whether the course workbook should include the answers or not, I propose a more essential question:
How do EFL/ESL educators use a workbook with an answer key in ways that are formative in nature and seek to provide the evidence needed in order for EFL/ESL educators to infer whether ELLs understand why their answer in correct or incorrect?
As I am sure there are EFL/ESL educators (and teachers in general) on both sides of the argument, I would enjoy hearing from others on the subject. Any references to support your claim are also appreciated (besides the fact that it strengthens your argument).