May. 15, 2011


Parents who want to help their children with their homework to encourage learning or because they enjoy doing so, parents who hold positive attitudes towards homework and parents who feel competent are more apt to behave in a way that supports their offspring’s psychological needs and reinforce positive motivation for doing homework, a new study by BGU researchers has found.

In an article accepted for publication in Learning and Individual Differences, Drs. Idit Katz and Avi Kaplan and doctoral student Tamara Buzukashvily of the Department of Education describe a study conducted with 135 fourth graders and one of each child's parents in two southern Israel elementary schools. The students and parents were asked to fill out questionnaires regarding their motivation for doing homework or helping with homework, respectively.

While homework has been an integral part of education since the mid-19th century, and is an often used and yet controversial educational practice, little formal research about the home environment in which it takes place has been conducted, according to the researchers. The home environment is just as important for instilling positive motivation as the school is, the researchers contend.

The three found that if parents felt they were capable of helping their children with their homework, they had more positive attitudes towards homework and believed that there was an intrinsic value that went beyond getting a higher grade, they behaved towards their child in a more psychologically supportive way and  provided a supportive framework for the child which prompted the students to do their homework out of intrinsic/autonomous motivation rather than out of extrinsic/controlled reasons: (e.g. for the learning value or because they enjoyed it rather than just because it was assigned).

“Previous studies have shown that learning for intrinsic reasons have positive emotional and cognitive benefits than learning out of motivations such as a sense of duty, desire to please, and avoidance of punishment… which can increase fear of failure, test anxiety and at worst even cause them to drop out of school,” according to Dr. Katz.

The researchers hypothesized that a model based on self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) would best describe the relationship between parents and children regarding homework. Self-determination theory “is a macro theory of human motivation concerned with the development and functioning of personality within social contexts. The theory specifies a continuum of motivational orientations for activities, ranging from extrinsic/controlled regulation (engagement out of coercion or for achieving a reward), to intrinsic/autonomous motivation (engagement out of pleasure, interest, and enjoyment). Research results are quite consistent regarding the strong influence of the environment on motivation and in suggesting that the more autonomous the motivation – or the locus of regulation of action – the higher the quality of engagement and the well-being of the student.” 

Accordingly, if parents felt competent to help and were motivated to do so by a desire to encourage their child to learn or to spend time with their child, then they were more apt to provide support for their child's' psychological needs e.g., create an environment wherein the child could express criticism of the homework, come up with interesting but not necessarily correct answers, and where the parents’ criticism was done privately and not in front of others. Parents acting out of autonomous motivations were also more willing to tell their children they could come back to them at any time for more help. This parental behavior was in turn found to be related to the child's intrinsic type of motivation.

By having the students and parents fill out questionnaires, perceptions of the home environment could be examined from both perspectives. Among the sample, over 60% of parents reported being involved with their child’s homework at least once a week and 35% indicated being involved more than once a week or every day. Only 4% said they weren’t involved in their children’s homework at all.

See full article here

Photographed above: Dr. Idit Katz of the Department of Education
Photo Credit: Dani Machlis