Attitude, not Quantity, determines Homework’s Effectiveness

Source: Nautilus, Jan 2017

When researchers finally turned to the parent-child relationship in an attempt to understand why homework was less effective in Western countries, they found something odd: Homework help from Western parents seemed to negatively impactstudent academic performance and behavior. For instance, a meta-analysis of middle school students demonstrated that homework help is the only type of parental involvement that does not improve students’ GPA and standardized test scores.

non-Western cultures have a different approach, rooted in a collectivist social philosophy, that may make parental involvement in homework more effective overall. Perhaps this is why the most disadvantaged students who took PISA in Macao, China, and Vietnam outperformed the most advantaged students from 20 other countries.

The collectivist social philosophy prioritizes the interconnected group over the individual. Because honor is obtained through serving collective needs, interdependence is expected and encouraged. Western countries tend to value family, community, and country insofar as they serve the needs of the individual. Parents and children view homework assistance in China as a sacred duty, while in the West help is viewed as a failure.

Researchers find that in individualistic cultures, like in the United States, parents who help with homework are often thought of as intrusive by their children, especially mothers by their daughters. But students in China report welcoming homework help when they feel it is necessary.

Regardless of how the behavior is understood, research demonstrates that children suffer when parents control homework time in negative ways, like expressing overly ambitious aspirations, giving answers, completing assignments, rushing children, or assisting before help is requested. A meta-analysis in the Review of Educational Research suggests that, instead, parents should focus on modeling a positive attitude about homework, being clear about when and where homework should be completed, setting explicit rules, and following through on enforcement. Kids do best academically when parents refrain from micromanagement and provide supportive supervision.

Non-Western students reported dramatically higher levels of homework motivation than their peers in America. So, why are Western students less motivated? It may be because Western students, as opposed to non-Western ones, see homework more as a chore than an opportunity—or an obligation—to cement learning. Deci says, “Parents need to help children understand why homework is meaningful for their future by providing precise reasons for completing it.” This tactic can reduce the total time that homework takes each night, while increasing kid’s academic success.


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