Type of maternal homework assistance affects child’s persistence

Different types of maternal homework assistance have a different impact on the child’s way of completing school assignments in grades 2 to 4 of elementary school, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä. Although all homework assistance presumably aims at helping the child, not all types of homework assistance lead to equally positive outcomes.

Researchers in the longitudinal First Steps Study found that the more opportunities for autonomous work the mother offered the child, the more task-persistent the child’s behaviour. In other words, the child later worked persistently on his or her school assignments, which encouraged mothers to offer more and more opportunities for autonomous working.

However, when the mother provided assistance by concretely helping the child, the less task-persistent the child’s later behaviour. This, in turn, made mothers offer more and more help.
These associations between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s task-persistent behaviour remained even after the child’s skill level was controlled for.

“One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child's skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities,” Associate Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland explains.

Similarly, concrete homework assistance – especially if not requested by the child – may send out a message that the mother doesn’t believe in the child’s ability to do his or her homework. 
 

Homework assistance should consider the child’s needs 

The findings also indicate that task-persistence is a mediating factor between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s academic performance. This helps to understand some earlier findings on how some types of maternal homework assistance predict better academic performance than others. When the mother offers the child an opportunity for autonomous working, the child will work persistently, which leads to better development of skills. If, however, the mother’s homework assistance involves plenty of concrete help, the child will work less persistently, leading to poorer development of skills.

“It is important for parents to take the child’s needs into consideration when offering homework assistance. Of course, parents should offer concrete help when their child clearly needs it. However, concrete help is not something that should be made automatically available in every situation – only when needed,” Viljaranta says.  

The First Steps Study is an extensive longitudinal study carried out by the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Turku. The study examines student learning and motivation among approximately 2,000 children from kindergarten onwards. Children currently participating in the study are in secondary education.
 
 

For further information, please contact:
Jaana Viljaranta, Associate Professor, University of Eastern Finland, School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, tel. +358 50 325 6093, jaana.viljaranta(at)uef.fi

Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen, Professor, Director of the First Steps Study, University of Jyväskylä, Department of Teacher Education, tel. +358 40 805 3347, marja-kristiina.lerkkanen(at)jyu.fi
 
 

Research article:  Viljaranta, J., Silinskas, G., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Hirvonen, R., Pakarinen, E., Poikkeus, A.-M., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2018). Maternal homework assistance and children's task-persistent behavior in elementary school. Learning and Instruction. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2018.04.005 

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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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