Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A preliminary psychology of homework

Older pupils, especially boys, prefer to do homework, at home, alone
The beneficial effect of homework, if they get round to it, on pupils' subsequent academic grades has been shown before. It's somewhat surprising, therefore, how little research has looked at how teenagers feel about homework, where they do it and who they do it with. Hayal Zackar and her team have made a start.

The researchers asked 331 high school and middle school pupils (aged 11 to 18) in the USA to wear for one week a special watch that beeped eight times a day at random intervals. When the watch went off, the teenagers had to fill out a brief form indicating what they were doing, who they were with and how they felt. This process, known as the experience sampling method, captured a total of 1315 homework episodes in various places.

The results suggested a developmental trend in the way teens view their homework. Middle school pupils (average age 13 years) reported similar levels of concentration regardless of where they did their homework, be that at home, in class, at school (not in class), whilst overall they enjoyed doing homework more away from home. By contrast, high school pupils (average age 16) showed a different pattern, experiencing more interest and enjoyment of homework when at home.

Another distinction arose for company. Middle schoolers preferred doing their homework with their peers whereas high schoolers experienced higher concentration and enjoyment when doing homework alone. One caveat to this finding related to parents - older pupils were happier with their parents being involved than were the younger pupils.

There were also some gender differences. Generally, girls found homework at home, alone, more stressful than boys, but found homework less stressful than boys when with their friends. There was also one specific 'age by gender' interaction, with high school girls not liking doing homework alone (whereas the general trend with age was for high-schoolers to prefer working alone).

The study has several limitations and should be seen as a preliminary effort. For example, the sample were mainly middle and upper-middle class and it's not clear that the findings will generalise to other groups. Also, although this is a newly published study, the data were actually collected ten years ago. The explosion in Internet tools and distractions could well have changed how teens do their homework, although the researchers say there's no evidence that pupils are doing less homework today than they were before.

'It is important for educators, parents, and others who work with adolescents to know about probable variations in adolescents' experience of homework so that they can better plan for and help adolescents to structure their homework,' the researchers concluded. 'Given the importance of fostering a homework habit for academic success in high school and beyond, it is necessary to understand adolescents' perspectives about this important activity.'
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ResearchBlogging.orgKackar, H., Shumow, L., Schmidt, J., and Grzetich, J. (2011). Age and gender differences in adolescents' homework experiences. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2010.12.005

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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