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Middle school homework management and attitudes.

Abstract

The present study linked family help and time spent on homework to homework attitudes and homework management strategies reported by 238 students in grades 7-8. Students who received family help reported more positive attitudes toward homework and a more frequent use of homework management strategies. In addition, compared with students who spent less than three hours a week on homework, students who spent three hours or more reported more positive attitudes toward homework and a more frequent use of homework management strategies.

Introduction

Homework takes place in one important setting beyond the classroom in which selfregulation capability can be learned (Boekaerts & Corno, 2005). Students are expected to independently manage homework--including, for example, planning their time, organizing the workspace, staying focused, maintaining the strength of homework intention, persisting at difficult assignments, inhibiting homework distractions, and debilitating unwanted emotions surrounding homework tasks. However, the issue of how students manage homework has received little attention in homework research literature, especially at the middle school level (Bali, Demo, & Wedman, 1998; Xu, 2004). This is of particular concern as children, across a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, continue to experience various distractions while doing homework well into the middle school years (Xu & Corno, 2003).

Xu (2005) recently linked family help and time spent on homework to students' attitudes toward homework and their use of homework management strategies. The results suggested that family help and time spent on homework were related to homework attitudes and management strategies. However, that study was limited to a group of high school students.

The present study used the same methodology to relate family help and time spent on homework to homework attitudes and management strategies studied previously. The present sample focused on middle school students. This line of homework research is important, as several studies examined the role of family help on middle school homework management (Xu & Corno, 2003, 2006). Yet, no data were available from these studies about whether students' attitudes toward homework and their use of homework management strategies were associated with the amount of time spent doing homework at the middle school level.

Related Literature

Two lines of related research informed the present investigation. One line of research examines the role of family involvement in homework management at the middle school level. The second line of research alludes to a possible linkage between time spent on homework and students' attitudes toward homework. The first line of research provides evidence that families, across a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, can assist middle school students to manage their homework. Xu and Corno (2003) linked family help to homework management strategies reported by 121 students in grades 6-8 in New York City. This study revealed that family homework help was related to certain homework management strategies (e.g., arranging the environment and controlling negative emotions). On the other hand, helper's educational level appeared unrelated to homework management strategies.

Another recent study (Xu & Corno, 2006) linked family help to homework management strategies reported by 238 rural middle school students. Likewise, the results showed a significant main effect for family homework help, whereas parental education level appeared unrelated to the use of homework management strategies. The finding that helper's education level appeared unrelated to homework management seems consistent with McCaslin and Murdock's study (1991) of how one child learned useful coping strategies from his father who did not go to college and spoke little English. This also seems consistent with a study by Brody, Flor, and Gibson (1999), who found that family socioeconomic level was not associated with children's ability to regulate their behavior (e.g., planning homework and persisting in the face of difficulty).

The second line of research alludes to the possible linkage between time spent on homework and students' attitudes toward homework. Cooper, Lindsay, Nye, and Greathouse (1998) examined relationships between the time spent on homework, the portion of homework completed, and students' attitudes toward homework. The researchers posed five questions to 424 middle and high school students in Tennessee, related to affective reactions toward homework (e.g., whether they liked it or not) and perceived purposes for homework (e.g., whether it helped them develop study skills). The results revealed that these students' attitudes toward homework positively correlated with their reports of the portion of homework they completed and the time spent on homework. Recently, Xu (2005) explicitly linked family help and time spent on homework to homework attitudes and homework management strategies reported by 221 students in grades 1112. Compared with those students who received no family help, students who did receive family help reported more frequently working to manage their homework. Furthermore, compared with students who spent less than three hours a week on homework, students who spent three hours or more reported having more positive attitudes toward homework and a more frequent use of homework management strategies.

Whereas the first line of research suggests that family help may influence students' use of homework management strategies at the middle school level, no data were available from this line of research on the possible influence of family help on middle school students' homework attitudes. Meanwhile, the second line of study implies that time spent on homework may influence students' attitudes toward homework at the secondary school level. However, no data were available on whether time spent on homework was related to homework management strategies specifically at the middle school level. Accordingly, there is a need to link family help and time spent on homework to homework attitudes and management strategies at the middle school level, as one study based on middle and high school students (Cooper et al., 1998) revealed that students' attitudes toward homework were positively associated with their reports of the portion of homework they completed, implying that those students who spend more time on homework may more frequently use homework management strategies.

Method

The present study is based on a survey of 238 students in grades 7-8 in the Southeast. Of the students in this sample, 50.4% were female (120) and 49.6% were male (118). The sample included 131 seventh graders and 107 eighth graders (91.9% Caucasians, 4.7% Latinos, 1.7% multiracial students, .9% Asian Americans, .4% African Americans, and .4% Native American). In the survey, the students were asked to indicate whether or not they had received family homework help. They were also asked about how much time they spent on homework during a typical week, with possible responses ranging from .49 hr or less to 21.00 hr and up. They were further asked about their attitudes toward homework using a five-item scale (e.g., "doing homework helps you learn study skills" and "doing homework helps you develop good discipline"). These survey items derived from case studies of families doing homework together (Xu & Corno, 1998) and from open-ended interviews with students, parents, and teachers (Xu & Yuan, 2003). Possible responses for each item were strongly disagree (scored 1), disagree (scored 2), agree (scored 3), and strongly agree (scored 4). Alpha reliability coefficient for this scale for the present study was .86.

In addition, the students were asked about homework management strategies that they may use to aid homework completion (Xu & Corno, 2003). The homework management scale consisted of twenty-three items, informed by relevant literature (e.g., McCaslin & Murdock, 1991; Xu & Corno, 1998). This scale consisted of items relating to arranging the homework environment (e.g., "turning off the TV"), managing time (e.g., "setting priorities and planning ahead"), focusing attention (e.g., "starting conversations unrelated to what I'm doing"), monitoring motivation (e.g., "praising myself for good effort"), and controlling emotion (e.g., "cheering myself up and telling myself that I can do it"). Possible responses for each item were never (scored 1), rarely (scored 2), sometimes (scored 3), often (scored 4), and routinely (scored 5). The five items of this scale were reversely scored to minimize the response set. Alpha reliability coefficient for this scale for the present study was .88.

A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) estimated effects of family help and time spent on homework on homework attitudes and homework management strategies. Family help was coded at two levels: 1 (students who did not receive homework help) and 2 (students who received homework help). Time spent on homework was also recoded at two levels: 1 (students who spent less than three hours a week) and 2 (students who spent three hours or more a week). The decision to use three hours as the cut off point was in line with (a) the decision made in the previous study of high school students (Xu, 2005) and with (b) the distribution of time spent on homework reported by the students in the present sample. One dependent variable was mean scores on students' attitudes toward homework, ranging from strongly disagree (scored 1) to strongly agree (scored 4). Another dependent variable was mean scores on homework management, ranging from never (scored 1) to routinely (scored 5). These two variables were found to be correlated, r(216) = .52, p < .01.

Results

Of the students in this sample, 67.3% of them indicated that they had received family homework help. In addition, 46.2% of the students reported that they spent less than three hours a week on homework, whereas 53.8% of them reported that they spent three hours or more a week on homework. The mean score for one dependent variable--homework attitudes--was 2.86 (SD = .72), indicating that students tended to agree (scored 3) on the five items relating to doing homework for self-regulation (e.g., to learn to work independently and to learn study skills). The mean score for the other dependent variable--homework management strategies--was 3.12 (SD = .65), indicating that students made efforts to manage their homework sometimes (scored 3).

The MANOVA results--using homework attitudes and management strategies as the dependent variables and with family help and time spent on homework as the independent variables-showed that homework help and time spent on homework did not interact (Wilks's lambda = .987, F(2,209) = 1.392, p = .251, eta squared = .013). However, the main effects of family help (Wilks's lambda = .958, F(2,209) = 4.587, p = .011, eta squared = .042) and time spent on homework (Wilks's lambda = .952, F(2,209) = 5.291, p = .006, eta squared = .048) indicated significant effect on the combined dependent variables.

Separate univariate tests were performed to compare the effects of the two levels of family help (no vs. yes) on homework attitudes and homework management strategies. Univariate tests showed statistically significant effects on both dependent variables, namely, homework attitudes (F(1,210) = 4.347, p = .038, eta squared = .020), and homework management (F(1,210) = 8.690, p = .004, eta squared = .040). Comparison of means for homework attitudes indicated that students who received family help (M = 2.94, SD = .67) reported more positive attitudes toward homework than those who received no family help (M = 2.69, SD = .79). Likewise, comparison of means for managing homework indicated that students who received family help (M = 3.22, SD = .55) reported more frequently working to manage their homework than those who received no family help (M = 2.93, SD = .77).

Univariate tests were also performed to compare effects of time spent on homework (less than three hours a week vs. three or more hours a week) on homework attitudes and homework management strategies. The results showed statistically significant effects on both dependent variables, namely, homework attitudes (F(1,210) = 7.353, p = .007, eta squared = -.034), and homework management strategies (F(1,210) = 8.483, p = .004, eta squared = .039). Comparison of means for homework attitudes indicated that students who spent three hours or more a week on homework (M = 2.98, SD = .67) reported more positive attitudes toward homework than students who spent less than three hours a week on homework (M = 2.71, SD = .75). Similarly, students who spent three hours or more a week on homework (M = 3.24, SD = .58) reported more frequently working to manage their homework than students who spent less than three hours a week on homework (M = 2.99, SD = .71).

Discussion

The present study linked family help and time spent on homework to middle school students' attitudes toward homework and their efforts to manage their homework. It revealed that family help and time spent on homework were related to both homework attitudes and management strategies. Specifically, students who received family help, compared to those who did not, reported having more positive attitudes toward homework and working more frequently to manage their homework. In addition, compared with those students spent less than three hours a week on homework, students who spent three hours or more hours a week reported more positive attitudes toward homework and a more frequent use of homework management strategies.

The results from the present study are in line with the findings from previous studies that families play an important role in promoting desirable homework management strategies at the secondary school level (McCaslin & Murdock, 1991; Xu, 2005; Xu & Corno, 2003). In addition, consistent with the findings from the previously studied high school sample that time spent on homework is positively related to students' attitudes toward homework and their homework management strategies (Xu, 2005), the results from the present study suggest that time spent on homework is positively related to homework attitudes and homework management at the middle school as well.

On the other hand, whereas in the previously studied high school sample (Xu, 2005), family help was unrelated to students' attitudes toward homework, the results from the present study further revealed that family help was positively associated with students' attitudes toward homework at the middle school level. This difference across these two samples suggests that the role of family help on children's attitudes toward homework may be moderated by their developmental stages, and that middle school students are more likely to be influenced by family homework help than high school students.

Conclusion

The present study suggests that families may play an important role in promoting both positive attitudes toward homework and the use of desirable homework management strategies at the middle school level. Thus, one important message is that middle schools can profitably encourage families from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds to help their children with homework, as (a) only about two thirds of the middle school students in this study reported receiving such help, and as (b) the previous studies suggest that the kind of direction parents give to children matters more than if the parents have higher education (Xu & Corno, 2003, 2006). In addition, as more middle school parents were concerned about helping children establish positive study habits than assisting them with the academic content of their homework (Reetz, 1991), middle schools need to provide families with guidance on how to promote homework management strategies.

The present study further suggests that time spent on homework may be positively related to homework attitudes and homework management at the middle school level. However, we need to be cautious about what can be drawn from the present study, as (a) the variable of time spent on homework was based on three hours as the cut off point, and as (b) related research on the positive effects of homework on other outcome measures (e.g., the relationship between homework time and academic achievement) (Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006) implies that the relationships among homework time, homework attitudes, and homework management may not be linear across all amounts. Consequently, there is a need to continue this line of research to investigate optimum amounts of homework for middle school students relating to homework attitudes and management strategies.

References

Balli, S. J., Demo, D. H., & Wedman, J. F. (1998). Family involvement with children's homework: An intervention in the middle grades. Family Relations, 47, 149-157.

Boekaerts, M., & Corno, L. (2005). Self-regulation in the classroom: A perspective on assessment and intervention. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54(2), 199-231.

Brody, G. H., Flor, D. L., & Gibson, N. M. (1999). Linking maternal efficacy beliefs, development goals, parenting practices, and child competence in rural single-parent African American families. Child Development, 70(5), 1197-1208.

Cooper, H., Lindsay, J. J., Nye, B., & Greathouse, S. (1998). Relationships among attitudes about homework assigned and completed, and student achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(1), 70-83.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1-62.

Leone, C. M., & Richards, M. H. (1989). Classwork and homework in early adolescence: The ecology of achievement. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 18(6), 531-548.

McCaslin, M., & Murdock, T. B. (1991). The emergent interaction of home and school in the development of students' adaptive learning. In M. Maehr & P. Pintrich (Eds.), Advances in Motivation and Achievement (Vol. 7, pp. 213-259). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Reetz, L. J. (1991). Parental perceptions of homework. Rural Educator, 12(2), 14-19.

Xu, J. (2004). Family help and homework management in urban and rural secondary schools. Teachers College Record, 106(9), 1786-1803.

Xu, J. (2005). Homework attitudes and management strategies. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 9(4), 239-243.

Xu, J., & Corno, L. (1998). Case studies of families doing third-grade homework. Teachers College Record, 100(2), 402-436.

Xu, J., & Corno, L. (2003). Family help and homework management reported by middle school students. Elementary School Journal, 103(5), 503-518.

Xu, J., & Corno, L. (2006). Gender, family help, and homework management reported by rural middle school students. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(2). Retrieved March 15, from http://www.umaine.edu/jrre/21-2.htm.

Xu, J., & Yuan, R. (2003). Doing homework: Listening to students', parents', and teachers' voices in one urban middle school community. School Community Journal, 13(2), 25-44

Jianzhong Xu is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Mississippi State University
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Author:Xu, Jianzhong
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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