The Role of Homework in Mathematics Education

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Among researchers in the field of education, it is not uncommon to investigate the assumed truth that more homework makes for better student performance. This idea is particularly touted when the topic of mathematics arises, for the general thought pattern taken by many teachers seems to be that math is something that must be practiced to learn. By the time students reach the crucial middle-school levels, rarely for any other subject except music is the iterative approach to assignments taken. For other classes, students generally prove their mastery by accomplishing a task once or twice, rather than as many as dozens of times over as might be required for a single mathematics homework assignment. Yet there are still questions as to whether this methodology is truly the best for the seventh-grade math class.

Homework interacts with many other factors both in and out of the classroom, which amplifies the need for in-depth study in this area. For example, as some have found, “The frequency of homework assignments had a positive effect on math achievement gains, whereas lengthy homework assignments had a negative, albeit nonsignificant, effect on achievement gains. However, the effect of homework length interacted significantly with individual achievement level . . .” (Trautwein, Köller, Schmitz, & Baumert, 2002, p. 26). This information weighs in on the side of assigning homework being a strategy that enhances student performance while at the same time acknowledging some of the complexities of the issue. In addition, as Ablard and Lipschultz (1998) pointed out, the effect that homework has on seventh-grade mathematics students also interacts with self-perception and gender in ways that are sometimes unpredictable, and this view has been supported by other work such as that of Beaton (1996). Because the effects of these different variables can be hard to tease out, it may be that a multivariate approach is warranted here. Furthermore, Wang, Wildman, and Calhoun (1996) add even greater complexity to the issue by adding in the role of parental communication and involvement in both overall student achievement and in terms of homework completion rates more specifically. Indeed, the degree of parental interest in and support for a student’s mathematics studies affects the outcome of assigning homework. However, ultimately, it is best for the purposes of this study to focus on those factors over which the teacher has more direct interaction than parents’ attitudes.

References

Ablard, K. E., & Lipschultz, R. E. (1998). Self-regulated learning in high-achieving students: Relations to advanced reasoning, achievement goals, and gender. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(1), 94.

Beaton, A. E. (1996). Mathematics achievement in the middle school years. IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College, Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy.

Trautwein, U., Köller, O., Schmitz, B., & Baumert, J. (2002). Do homework assignments enhance achievement? A multilevel analysis in 7th-grade mathematics. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27(1), 26-50.

Wang, J., Wildman, L., & Calhoun, G. (1996). The relationships between parental influence and student achievement in seventh grade mathematics. School Science and Mathematics, 96(8), 395-399.