Maths homework effort: Increasing autonomous motivation through support from family and school

An article published in Frontiers in Psychology examines how maths homework effort among middle school pupils is influenced by adult support from family and school. The authors hypothesised that support from parents and teachers could promote the autonomous motivation of pupils by providing a sense of having free choice, and by generating interest.  

A questionnaire was distributed to 666 grade 7 and 8 (Year 8 and 9) pupils from three schools in the Hubei Province of China. The questionnaire sought information about pupils’ maths homework effort, autonomous motivation, maths teacher support and parental autonomy support. The results were as follows:

  • Pupils perceived that parental autonomy support and maths teachers’ support facilitated pupils’ autonomous motivation, which in turn enhanced their effort in homework.
  • Furthermore, pupils perceived that parental autonomy support directly promoted their maths homework effort.

The authors concluded that parents and teachers should provide more support for middle school pupils’ maths learning. Specifically, they provided three practical strategies to parents, namely: “Try to understand children’s perspective when communicating homework and school life, offer meaningful reasons why homework is important, and allow children to arrange their homework time”.

Source: Effects of parental autonomy support and teacher support on middle school students’ homework effort: Homework autonomous motivation as mediator (March 2019), Frontiers in Psychology

The reciprocal effects of homework self-concept, interest and effort on maths achievement

Maths achievement has been thought to be interrelated with self-concept, interest, and effort. In a recent longitudinal study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology, researchers examined how these factors influence each other over time using a sample of Grade 8 (Year 9) pupils in China. 

A total of 702 pupils in Grade 8 from 14 classes in two public schools in East and South China completed an assessment of their maths achievement, homework self-concept, interest and effort at six weeks after the start of the school year and at the end of the school year. The analysis showed that: 

  • Reciprocal effects were found between maths self-concept and achievement, effort and achievement, as well as interest and effort.
  •  In particular, the authors found that higher homework interest led to higher subsequent effort, and higher prior effort could promote higher homework interest. 
  • Moreover, self-concept had no significant effect on subsequent interest, but prior interest led to higher self-concept, possibly reflecting the positive homework attitude among Chinese pupils. 

The authors suggest that the reciprocal effects indicated that simultaneously improving homework self-concept, interest, effort and maths achievement is a more effective approach. Specifically, attention should be paid to how homework interest and effort can be promoted more effectively.

Source: Reciprocal effects of homework self-concept, interest, effort, and math achievement (October 2018), Contemporary Educational Psychology

Online maths homework increases student achievement

A study published in the journal AERA Open has found that a web-based mathematics homework intervention called ASSISTments made a positive impact on students’ maths achievement at the end of the school year.

Jeremy Roschelle and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial with 2,850 Grade 7 (Year 8) maths students across 43 schools in the US state of Maine, which since 2002 has provided every student in Grade 7 with a laptop. Schools in the intervention and control groups were matched in terms of demographics and socioeconomic status.

The ASSISTments intervention provided students with immediate personalised feedback as they worked on their homework, and when students struggled they were given the opportunity to work on supplementary problems sets. The intervention also enabled formative assessment practices for teachers, such as adapting their discussions of homework to fit students’ needs.

In schools where students and their teachers used the intervention, students achieved higher standardised maths test scores (effect size = + 0.18) compared with students in the control schools. Students with low prior maths achievement, in particular, benefited the most.

Source: Online mathematics homework increases student achievement (2016) AERA Open

Screen addicts missing out on GCSE potential

A new article in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity investigated the association between GCSE results and three aspects of the way that teenagers had spent their time when they were 14.5 years old:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Screen time sedentary behaviour (TV/films, internet, computer games)
  3. Non-screen sedentary behaviour (reading, homework)

The study was based on 845 teenagers from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Data was taken from the ROOTS study, which aims to determine the relative contributions of genetic, physiological, psychological, and social variables to well-being and mental health during adolescence. Trained researchers administered questionnaires, conducted physical measurements, and gave instructions regarding physical activity measurements at participating schools.

The participants’ median daily screen time was approximately 1.9 hours. The authors found that teenagers reporting an extra hour of daily screen time at 14.5 years old achieved 9.3 fewer GCSE points (almost two grades lower) at 16. All three separate screen behaviours were independently negatively associated with academic performance.

However, participants doing an extra hour of daily homework and reading (up to four hours/day) achieved 23.1 more GCSE points (an increase of four grades). Physical activity did not appear to be either detrimental or beneficial to academic performance.

Other findings included that boys were more active and less sedentary than girls, and boys reported more screen time but less non-screen sedentary time than girls. Girls had higher academic performance than boys.

The authors noted some limitations in the study, including the possibility that less-academic pupils are likely to be doing the less-academic subjects and may be given less homework.

Source: Revising on the Run or Studying on the Sofa: Prospective Associations Between Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Exam Results in British Adolescents (2015), International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(106).

How much homework is too much?

A recent study of 7,451 teenagers in Spain examined the correlation between time spent on homework and academic achievement in maths and science. Results showed that homework done by the student independently for 60-70 minutes a day yielded the best results.

The students had a mean age of 13.78. They were given a questionnaire asking about frequency and duration of homework by subject, and whether they did homework independently or with parental help. Academic achievement was determined using maths and science standardised test scores adjusted for gender and socioeconomic status.

Results showed that students’ maths and science scores increased when:

  • Homework was assigned on a schedule.
  • Students did their homework independently.
  • Students were assigned 60-70 minutes of total homework. More than 90 minutes of homework a night had a detrimental effect on students’ test scores.

The authors noted that students who did 70 minutes of homework with parental help scored lower than students who did 70 minutes of homework independently. They concluded that how the homework was done was more important than amount of time spent doing it, citing the possible explanation that self-regulated learning is related to higher academic achievement.

Source: Adolescents’ homework performance in mathematics and science: personal factors and teaching practices (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology

PISA and homework

An OECD report on data from the PISA survey looked at homework among 15-year-olds and asked whether homework perpetuates inequalities in education.

According to the report, in 2012 students in the 38 countries covered by the survey spent an average of an hour less on their weekly homework than their predecessors did in 2002 (OECD average 5.9 hours). Socio-economically advantaged students and those who attended socio-economically advantaged schools tended to spend more time doing homework than other students. There was an association between the amount of mathematics homework supplied and the performance of both students and schools, but other factors had a greater effect on overall school performance.

The report concludes that homework provides an opportunity for learning but could reinforce socio-economic differences. Schools and teachers might be able to mitigate the problem by, for example, providing quiet places for study for students with no such facility at home.

Source: Does homework perpetuate inequities in education? (2014) PISA in Focus