• Researchers of the University study the influence of homework on students' performance

    October 02, 2015

    The work carried out by group from the Department of Psychology advices to implement specific programs to provide parents with support to get involved in their children´s homework

    A student doing homework at home

    Is homework beneficial for children? Does it improve student´s performance? How long should homework be? Should parents help their children with their homework? A research work developed by the Department of Psychology of the University of Oviedo provides answers to some of these questions. The study draws a first conclusion: parents lack the necessary knowledge on how to get involved in their children´s homework, thus specific support programs shall be implemented.

    The research group, consisting of professors Natalia Suárez Fernández, José Carlos Núñez and Guillermo Vallejo, has also obtained other results which may be summarized as follows:

    • Longer is not always better. This study seems to suggest that the age of children should be taken into account when giving them homework. This is a golden rule that states that the exact time devoted to homework should be the result of multiplying the year the child is in by 10 minutes. However, these empirical data reveal that the amount of homework must be scarce when children are little and that homework assignments result in a positive influence on learning and performance only when children are autonomous to some extent. The study states that giving homework to little children shall have prior approval of parents and teachers.
    • Doing homework is better than not doing it. Results show that children who do homework on a daily basis do better than those who do not have any homework or do not do it properly.
    • One of the keys is making the most of the time devoted to homework. Research highlights that there is an urge to design actions to encourage students to acquire working skills and time management strategies, not only for the younger ones, but also the older students. In fact, older students, who are supposed to have more skills, waste more time than the younger ones.
    • Parents´ support is fundamental, although it depends on the age of children and the type of involvement. Collected data show that the involvement of parents whose children are in primary education does not provide the expected positive results, as opposed to children in secondary education. The results are also positive when the participation of parents lays on a motivational and emotional basis rather than on control.

    All these conclusions are collected in a thesis elaborated by associate professor of the Department of Psychology Natalia Suárez Fernández. The study was based on five scientific publications included in the Journal Citation Index. In addition, Natalia Suárez Fernández developed three-month stays at the Center on School, Family and Community Partnership and the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) of the Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore (EEUU), which is considered the most prestigious institution in this field. In fact, she suggests taking this institution as an example when implementing actions concerning school homework.

    The University of Oviedo is following this research line, with two groups of the Universities of A Coruña and Minho, in Portugal, directed by professors Antonio Valle Arias and Pedro Rosário, respectively. A new study recently published by this group in Contemporary Educational Psychology, one of the most prestigious American journals, points out that the most effective homework that contribute to the right mathematics achievement of children is the one that requires the student to " apply" knowledge to contexts and situations different from those of the books. That is, non-repetitive exercises aimed at testing if the student has understood the knowledge acquired and is able to use it in class. In conclusion, it is better to do little but effective work, that much but unnecessary.

    Brief background

    Natalia Suárez Fernández points out that homework, which is an essential part of our children´s school lives, is one of the most controversial school issues, not only for the students but also for the parents. This researcher also adds that even though school assignments have always existed and still do, experts find reasonable doubts to prove that giving children a lot of homework is essential for the students' learning process.

    The study reveals that doing homework at home is more effective when the kids have a certain degree of autonomy and points out that older school children waste more time than the younger ones

    Controversy about homework came to public attention in 2006 after an American mother published a book titled The case against homework, a fight against homework assignments in Primary Education. The book includes statements as striking as blaming homework for obesity in children, as doing homework prevents kids from playing and practicing sports.

    This controversial debate arrived to Europe on March 26, 2012, thanks to a Parents Association Board in France that called a strike consisting of two weeks without homework to protest against the "forced labor" of their children during their out-of-school hours. Those parents argue that homework is useless and generate stress within the family because assignments make parents act as teachers and prevent kids from devoting their time to reading or other leisure activities. Parents felt supported by the existing prohibition in France, and also in Spain, since 1956, which bans homework assignments for students between 6 and 11 years old.

    Spanish parents, according to the researcher, have not remained indifferent. The Spanish Confederation of Parents' Associations in Spain (CEAPA) and the National Catholic Confederation of Parents (CONCAPA) have different arguments. The first one believes homework assignments are not necessary and the second one thinks they are essential. Those who state homework is useful–says Natalia Suárez Fernández—look out to Finland, European leader in education, where attending classes with undone homework is inconceivable. It is worth mentioning that working schedules in that country are quite flexible and allow parents to help their children do their homework assignments.

    Bibliographic references:

    Deberes escolares y rendimiento académico en estudiantes de Educación Obligatoria

    Autores: Natalia Suárez Fernández. José Carlos Núñez y Guillermo Vallejo (directores de la tesis doctoral)

    Does homework design matter? The role of homework's purpose in student mathematics achievement

    Autores: Pedro Rosário, José Carlos Núñez, Guillermo Vallejo, Jennifer Cunha, Tânia Nunes, Rosa Mourão y Ricardo Pinto