Antecedents and consequences of maternal involvement in children's homework: A longitudinal analysis

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<ul><li><p>JOURNAL OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 18,207-227 (1997) ISSN 0193-3973 All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 0 1997 Ablex Publishing Corporation </p><p>Antecedents and Consequences of </p><p>Maternal Involvement in Childrens </p><p>Homework: A Longitudinal Analysis </p><p>IRIS LEVlN Tel-Aviv University Israel </p><p>RACHEL LEVY-SHIFF Bar Ilan University </p><p>TALYA APPELBAUM-PELED, IDIT KATZ, MAYA KOMAR Tel-Aviv University Israel </p><p>NACHSHON MEIRAN Ben Gurion University </p><p>Many parents are concerned with the desirability of helping their children with home- work. Mothers and their childrens teachers filled out questionnaires twice, when </p><p>children were in 1 stand 3rd grade. The children did so in 3rd grade. Correlation matrices were analyzed by a Linear-Structural Relations model (LISREL). The predictions of 3rd grade by 1 st grade variables were tested by hierarchical regressions. Maternal help with homework had no effect on the childs academic achievement. Mothers of weaker students helped more with homework, particularly in the 1st grade. In both grades, </p><p>maternal help was related to her pedagogical belief in the value of helping and to her personal gratification from helping. Helping increased maternal emotional costs and caused tensions between her and the child, particularly when the latter was a poor student. Helping decreased with grade, as did maternal gratification and pedagogical belief. </p><p>Many parents view the fostering of their childrens cognitive ability and academic success as a parental goal of primary importance (Chen &amp; Stevenson, 1989; Chen &amp; Uttal, 1988; Elkind, 198 1, 1987; Smilansky &amp; Fisher, 1982; Smilansky &amp; Shefatya, 1982; Stevenson, Chen &amp; Uttal, 1990; Teichmann, Gollnitz &amp; Gohler, 1975). Many parents also share the </p><p>Direct all correspondence to: Iris Levin, School of Education, Department of Developmental Aspects in Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel, 69978 . </p></li><li><p>208 LEVIN ET AL </p><p>belief, abundantly supported by research, that time spent on homework preparation and the degree of homework completion and accuracy, have positive effects on academic achieve- ment (Anderson, 1986; Cooper, 1989a; Frederick &amp; Walberg, 1980; Keith, 1986; Paschal, Weinstein &amp; Walberg, 1984; Rutter, Maughn, Mortimore, Ouston &amp; Smith, 1979; Walberg, Paschal &amp; Weinstein, 1985). Nevertheless, this belief is either contradicted or put in doubt by a number of studies that have found no clear effect of homework on achievement (Check &amp; Ziebel, 1980; Cooper, 1989a, 1989b; Heller, Spooner, Anderson &amp; Mimms, 1988). This is most notably the case in elementary school, although homework may be beneficial for other reasons, such as enhancing good study habits (Heller et al., 1988). </p><p>Despite inconsistent results concerning the gains of homework, the current trend is to give more homework than in previous decades, to recommend its systematic evaluation by teachers, and to consider it a factor in students grading (Epstein, Polloway, Foley &amp; Patton, 1992). Parents who believe in the positive academic effects of homework or who are aware of this trend in schools, become increasingly concerned with childrens homework prepara- tion (Liberman, 1983; Maertens &amp; Johnson, 1972; Smilansky &amp; Fisher, 1982; Stevenson et al., 1990; Teichmann, Gollnitz &amp; Gohler, 1975). </p><p>It is unclear, however, whether it is desirable that parents take an active role in helping their children with homework. Whether such help improves the childs academic achieve- ment, and what its effects are on the parent-child relationship and the well-being of each </p><p>party remain obscure. Our study examines these issues. There are some studies suggesting that parental help with homework boosts the childs </p><p>achievement. For instance, an intervention study increasing parental feedback on homework enhanced homework completion and improved test scores (Maertens &amp; Johnson, 1972). Results of intervention studies, though, should be cautiously interpreted when generalized, because the extent and nature of help are determined experimentally rather than initiated and conducted by the parent. A conclusion supportive of homework was also reached by some cross-cultural studies, whereby the higher academic achievements of various cultural groups (e.g., Chinese or Japanese versus North Americans) has been partly attributed to greater parental involvement in homework (Chen &amp; Stevenson, 1989; Chen &amp; Uttal, 1988). However, these findings are inconclusive since cultural variations in parental involvement are confounded with a host ofcultural and familial factors relevant to scholastic performance. </p><p>Other studies have suggested that helping with homework has no positive effect on achievement. Correlations between the extent of parental help and childrens grades were found to be either negligible or negative (Chen &amp; Stevenson, 1989; Epstein, 1983, 1988; Miller &amp; Kelley, 199 1; Wolf, 1979). These results were interpreted as reflecting a tendency to help those children who are prone to fail. This interpretation is supported by evidence that poorer students and those with learning disabilities or behavior disorders have more problems with homework than other students (Anesco, Schiock, Ramirez &amp; Levine, 1987; Bryan &amp; Nelson, 1994; Epstein et al., 1992; Salend &amp; Schiff, 1989). </p><p>It should be noted that parental help may cultivate undesirable tendencies such as dependency or helplessness in the child. If, in addition, helping with homework raises tension between parents and children and causes frustration and disappointment, it may be counter- </p></li><li><p>MATERNAL INVOLVEMENT 209 </p><p>productive to the childs functioning in school, and moreover, to their general well-being (Epstein, 1988; Fleisher &amp; Ohel, 1977; Smilansky, Fisher &amp; Shefatya, 1986). </p><p>Our study analyzed the factors that contribute to maternal help with homework, the effects of such help on scholastic achievement and its emotional cost to the mother, and factors that contribute to tensions raised between mother and child in the context of joint homework preparation. These issues reflect our view that parental involvement in homework should be evaluated as affecting the childs learning, and family relations as well. </p><p>Parental concern over the childs achievement increases once the child enters formal schooling, when criteria for success and failure are comparative and formal. We studied mother and child dyads longitudinally, in the first and third grades. First graders and their mothers were studied because the issue of helping with homework is often initially faced at this stage. Assessments were repeated when the children reached third grade, since by then a particular routine may have been established. Mothers were studied, rather than both parents, since they are frequently the parent more involved in child-care (Bailey, 1994; Cowan &amp; Cowan, 1988; Fagan, 1994; McBride &amp; Mills, 1993; Neck &amp; Kingston, 1984; Radin &amp; Goldsmith, 198 l), including assistance with homework (Appelbaum-Peled, 1992; Smilansky et al., 1986). </p><p>We proposed a number of homework-related variables and a model of their interrelations. The variables examined were the mothers evaluation of her childs learning difficulties, the effects she attributed to helping with homework on her childs well-being, the gratification she experienced as a result of this help, the emotional cost she paid by helping, and her workload outside the home. We also included teachers evaluations of the childrens </p><p>scholastic achievement. We had three interrelated goals. GOAL 1 was to test individual stability over time in </p><p>homework-related variables. Our expectations were twofold: that homework-related vari- ables would show stability across time, while changing in a particular direction with increasing grade. The stability hypothesis was based on frequent findings that aspects of parenting, including parental evaluations of childs academic achievement, often show substantial stability over time (Hart &amp; Risely, 1992; Howes &amp; Hamilton, 1992; Sink, Bamett &amp; Pool, 1993; Tubman &amp; Lerner, 1994). Thus, mothers of first graders who help more, who evaluate their children as having greater learning difficulties, who attribute more positive effects to helping, who derive more gratification from helping, who pay a higher cost by helping, and who work longer hours outside the home, will continue to do so relative to other mothers, when the child is in third grade. </p><p>The predicted group change from first to third grade was based on the assumption that in first grade children undergo a transition to the competitive arena of school, facing the difficulty of yielding to demanding regulations, and the challenge of mastering complex cognitive skills (Entwisle, Alexander, Pallas &amp; Cadigan, 1988; Itskowitz, Strauss &amp; Fruchter, 1987). In such times of transition, children can be expected to need help, and </p><p>mothers to respond to this need. Hence, mothers were expected to help more with homework, to derive more gratification from helping, to attribute more positive effects to helping, to report a lesser cost of helping, and work fewer hours outside the home when their child is </p></li><li><p>210 LEVIN ET AL </p><p>in first grade. As to their evaluation of the childs learning difftculties, no hypothesis was presented, since learning problems can either decrease with adjustment to school, or increase as a result of growing cognitive demands. </p><p>Our second goal was to examine a model of the dynamics of helping. This model has three main foci: factors affecting the extent to which mothers help their children with homework, the effect of maternal help on the childs scholastic functioning, and the emotional effects of helping on the mother. </p><p>According to this model, the extent of maternal help with homework depends on three exogenous factors. First, it depends on the childs scholastic standing as evaluated by the teacher: the poorer the childs functioning, the more the mother would help. Second, helping depends on her pedagogical beliefs concerning its effects: the greater the mothers faith in the benefits of helping, the more help she would provide. Finally, maternal help depends on resources such as time and energy, limited by her workload: the more she worked outside the home, the less she would help. </p><p>According to the model, two endogenous factors mediate helping with homework: maternal perception of the childs academic difficulties, and maternal gratification derived from helping with homework. We expected that the poorer the childs scholastic functioning assessed by the teacher the more she or he would be perceived by the mother as having academic difficulties (Vitaro, Gagnon &amp; Tremblay, 199 1). This is due both to communica- tion between parents and teachers regarding the childs functioning in school, and to the independent but partly common information that parents and teachers have on the child. Because the mothers have independent information on the child, we expected maternal perception of the childs academic functioning to have a unique contribution on her helping with homework. </p><p>Finally, we assessed the emotional cost paid by mothers, via reports of the extent to which they felt nervous, disappointed or helpless, as a consequence of involvement in homework. According to our model, two endogenous variables were expected to affect emotional cost: extent of helping, and childs scholastic achievement. We expected mothers to pay a higher emotional cost the more they helped, and the lower their childs scholastic achievement. </p><p>Our third goal was related to mothers and childs tensions created by each others homework-related behaviors. We examined whether the extent of maternal involvement and the childs scholastic functioning, along with other variables, affected tensions of the mother and her third grade child. </p><p>In sum, our study focused on factors affecting maternal involvement in homework, consequences of that involvement in terms of achievement and of parent-child relations, and the stability and change of the target dynamics. </p><p>METHOD </p><p>Participants Mothers of 92 children studying in four classrooms took part in the study when the children were in first grade (Time 1) and again when they were in third grade (Time 2). Fourteen </p></li><li><p>MATERNAL INVOLVEMENT 211 </p><p>mothers participated in Time 1 only, and 12 mothers in Time 2 only, either because children </p><p>changed schools or because mothers refused to participate. The only information we have on the 11 refusing mothers was their childrens level of scholastic achievement as evaluated by teachers. In this respect, there was no difference between participating and refusing dyads. In the third grade the children were interviewed as well. </p><p>The schools were urban state schools in the greater area of Tel Aviv, Israel, selected for serving a heterogeneous population, mainly of middle- to upper-middle socio-economic </p><p>strata. In Time 1, the mean ages of mothers and fathers were 35 and 39, respectively. Most of the families were intact, with 85% and 82% of the parents married, in Time 1 and 2, respectively. </p><p>Mothers and fathers did not differ significantly in education, assessed in Time 1 (average </p><p>schooling years both of mothers and of fathers was 13, paired t (93) = .54, ns), with 46% partially or fully having completed high-school and 53% having completed higher education. </p><p>Occupational levels (Roe, 1956) of mothers and fathers were classified in Time 1 into six levels by two independent reliable judges, (Y = .95,p &lt; .OOl) and did not differ significantly (paired t (86) = 1.48, ns). Respectively, 28% and 37% ofmothers and fathers had professional or managerial occupations, 15% and 25% were semi-professionals, 22% and 21% were skilled workers, and 16% and 14% semi-skilled or unskilled workers. The rest were unemployed. Results were similar in Time 2. </p><p>The work load outside the home was substantial for many mothers. In Time 1 and 2 respectively, 84.5% and 94% worked outside the home, on the average 32 and 35 hours per week, with 64% and 69% working full time. Most fathers worked more days (paired t (93) = 2.2 1, p &lt; .OO 1) and more hours (paired t (93) = 4.05, p &lt; .OO 1) per week, than mothers in Time 1 and 2. </p><p>The sample was equally divided into boys and girls. The mean ages in first and third grade, respectively, were M= 6.3 and M= 9.3, and the respective ranges, 6-7 and 9-l 0. The mean number of children in a family in Time 1 was 2.22. Among the target children, 60% were first born and 25% second born. </p><p>Middle class in Israel is assumed to resemble similar strata in Western countries. Research carried out by the first author suggests that the population ofour sampled children is regularly involved in activities assumed to promote problem-solving and learning skills. The children are often read to, from a very young age, and play games that involve arithmetics (Rum- mikub, Monopoly) and reading (e.g., Magnetic letters, Scrabble, Trivia). A substantial proportion of the population owns personal computers with educational software. </p><p>Four female...</p></li></ul>