Homework motivation and preference: a learner-centered homework approach

Homework motivation and preference: a learner-centered homework approach

Eunsook Hong

Students, teachers, counselors, and parents are all important in determining the degree to which homework is effective in meeting its goals. Teachers assign homework, parents provide the environment in which it is done, and students–each with a unique profile of motivation and preference for learning–do the homework. It is a challenge for everyone involved to cooperate, share information about children’s homework motivation and preferences, and develop strategies to be used at school and at home to attain a better match between what the child likes to do and has to do when learning. This article–prepared to assist teachers, parents, and counselors to meet this challenge–describes a conceptual homework model and a technique of assessing homework motivation and preferences based on the model. Intervention strategies for how to use this knowledge to make students’ homework performance more effective and enjoyable are suggested.

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AS WE WALK DOWN THE HALLWAY of a university building, we may notice interesting differences in the work environments that faculty members have created for themselves. Blinds will be drawn in one room while bright sunlight fills another. One faculty member is known to keep the door closed because the noise in the hallway is bothersome, while another works with soft background music flowing constantly. Some faculty have brought in small space heaters, others think their room is too warm. One faculty member might find it difficult to understand the work environment preferences of another.

Similar thoughts cross through parents’ minds as they observe their children doing homework. They are often amazed by the way children study at home. Gregory solves math problems on the floor with his head almost on the book. He refuses to use a desk, claiming that he is doing fine. Knowing that his math performance has been superior, his parents do not insist on a change but still think that Gregory would learn better if he used a desk. When parents were interviewed on the homework styles of their children (Hong, Tomoff, Wozniak, Carter, & Topham, 2000), some parents were well aware of their past efforts to change their child’s way of doing homework. A mother confessed that she often commented to her high-achieving children that they should not listen to the radio while doing homework. Yet she realized that they were extremely effective with their style. Another parent acknowledged that her twin daughters have different home learning styles, declaring that she will stop turning on lights for the daughter who prefers dim light when studying. Many parents assume certain conditions provide the best environment for doing homework. They are surprised to learn that there are a wide variety of individual differences in the environment in which children prefer to do homework.

Similarly, many teachers have little knowledge about individual differences in learning preferences. Moreover, they lack the diagnostic skills to identify individual preferences among students, and have usually not acquired the knowledge to match their teaching strategies and/or homework assignments to these preferences (Campbell, 1990; Mills & Stevens, 1998; Pettigrew & Buell, 1989). Accordingly, students are rarely given the choice of when, where, or with whom they will study (Pape, Zimmerman, & Pajares, 2002). They generally have little or no choice about the type of projects they are asked to do–either in school or at home–or the methods to be used in doing the projects. Teachers, counselors, students, and parents must all assume a role in developing their own understanding of individual differences in learning preferences. Moreover, they should strive to accommodate learning conditions and help students be aware of and accommodate their own learning environment.

Using homework in a positive manner to improve educational achievement presents a challenge to teachers. This article presents a learner-centered homework approach designed to help meet this challenge. We first present a theoretical model of Homework Motivation and Preference (Hong & Milgram, 2000). We next present research findings on the relationship of the learner-centered approach to achievement and attitude toward homework. Finally, we suggest activities that apply the leaner-centered homework approach in school settings and illustrate how it could be applied to improve homework performance by involving parents, teachers, and school counselors.

The Homework Motivation and Preference Model

Background

Homework performance is defined as the process that occurs when a learner begins, continues to work on, and completes school assignments at home or in another out-of-school setting. Each learner has a distinct, personal homework performance pattern consisting of a unique profile of motivation and preferences that influence compliance with and completion of homework tasks. This definition reflects our emphasis on the characteristics of the student doing the homework (i.e., learner-centered). Homework, by definition, takes place without concomitant teacher direction. The learner is part of a class in school and learns in a certain way usually determined by the teacher, but when it comes to homework, learners have some choices. They can decide whether to do the homework at all and how much time and effort to invest in doing the assigned tasks. Once they have made these decisions, they can choose to do it in a variety of ways and presumably do it the way they like.

There is a wide array of individual differences in homework performance among learners–both in the source and strength of motivation to do homework and in preferences about what, when, where, how, and with whom they like to do it. We developed a conceptual model designed to explain and provide the basis for the improvement of the homework process for the benefit of learners, parents, and educators. The Homework Motivation and Preference model was developed based on findings of numerous research studies. We compared in-school learning style to out-of-school homework style and found that they are related but empirically distinguishable (Hong, Milgram, & Perkins, 1995; Perkins & Milgram, 1996). We studied whether children’s preferred and actual ways of studying at home are similar or different (Hong & Milgram, 1999), as well as the relationship of homework motivation and preferences to achievement and attitude toward homework (Hong, 2001). We examined the homework preferences of children who were intellectually gifted or highly creative in their thinking (Ohayon, 1999) and compared the preferences in children of several age groups and cultures (Hong & Lee, 1999, 2000; Hong, Tomoff, et al., 2000; Hong, Topham et al., 2000).

The model

The conceptual components of the Homework Motivation and Preference model are divided into two categories. The first category, motivation, offers possible answers to the most basic questions: Why do learners comply at all with the teacher’s request to do homework and with the instructions about how to do it? What influences whether a learner will start and willingly perform homework? The second category, preference, influences the degree to which the learner will continue homework efforts until finished. What are the learner’s intrapersonal and interpersonal preferences about how, where, when, and with whom to do homework?

Motivation in the model is further divided into two subcategories, source and strength. Three sources of motivation to perform homework are formulated: A learner may be self-motivated, parent-motivated, and/or teacher-motivated. Strength has two components, promptness and persistence. These relatively stable personality characteristics reflect the strength of the learner’s motivation to perform homework. They influence when the effort is initiated and to what degree it is maintained.

The preference category is divided into four subcategories: organizational, surroundings, perceptual-physical, and interpersonal. The organizational category consists of structure, order, place, and time. These components represent individual preferences about what homework is to be done, in what order, where, and when. The surroundings influence the degree to which the learner sustains the effort to successfully complete the homework tasks. The learner can often adjust sound, light, temperature, and/or furniture design to his/her liking. There are six components under the perceptual-physical category: auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, intake, and mobility. It is a difficult but worthwhile challenge for creative teachers to offer alternative homework assignments in terms of the perceptual preferences of the learners. The child’s physical as well as perceptual preferences can be accommodated by parents who allow or provide environments to their child’s liking. In the interpersonal category, there are two subcategories: doing homework alone or with peers, and doing it with or without the presence of an adult authority figure.

Assessing homework performance

Based on the model just described, the Homework Motivation and Preference Questionnaire (Hong & Milgram, 1998, 2001), was developed to assess the postulated components of homework performance in individual students. The instrument yields an individual homework motivation and preference profile. The component scores and the interpretation of low versus high scores are listed in Table 1. Middle-level scores indicate no strong preference in either direction.

Relationship of the Learner-Centered Homework Approach to Achievement and Attitude Toward Homework

The educational benefits of understanding the wide range of individual differences among learners in how they prefer to do homework and encouraging them to match their preferences at home have been reported in the research literature. Some students actually do their homework in their preferred ways, but for many others there is a gap between what they prefer to do and what they actually do (Hong & Milgram, 1999). The greater the gap between preferred and actual conditions, the lower the achievement was. Narrower gaps between preferred and actual homework conditions are related to higher homework achievement, perceived or teacher-scored, and to higher achievement in subject matter such as mathematics (Hong, 2001; Hong & Milgram, 1999; Ohayon, 1999). It is also plausible in these studies that high achievement causes more consistency in actual and preferred homework conditions. That is, children doing well in school may be given more freedom by their parents to decide when, where, and how to do their homework. In addition, the level of parental knowledge about their children’s homework preferences was positively related to children having both high achievement and positive attitude toward homework (Hong & Lee, 1999). These findings should provide motivation for parents to increase their understanding of their child’s homework performance preferences and to create those conditions at home.

A few homework studies have found increased student achievement or attitude toward homework as a consequence of permitting the match of student home learning preferences with environmental cues and supports (Clark-Thayer, 1987; Hong, Tomoff et al., 2000; Marino, 1993). In Hong, Tomoff et al.’s (2000) homework intervention study, questionnaires were administered to assess students’ preferred and actual ways of studying at home. Student responses were analyzed to determine each student’s strong learning preferences and the discrepancy between preferred and actual ways of studying at home. Participating teachers contacted parents and students of the treatment group by letters and interviews. Parents were encouraged to assist their child by accommodating those preferences; students were also encouraged to use their strong preferences when doing homework. The discrepancy between the actual and preferred scores was highlighted in these efforts. These interventions were applied only to the treatment group. Assignment of students to the treatment or control group was conducted using the randomized block design by matching students on a score calculated from a pre-intervention homework questionnaire and then randomly assigning them to each condition.

Post-intervention interviews and questionnaires were administered 2 months after the intervention program effort ended. Students’ perceived homework achievement and attitude were compared between treatment and control groups in two grade levels. Students exposed to the intervention saw themselves as doing their homework better than those who did not take part in the intervention. Students who actually applied their strong preferences in doing homework had more positive attitudes toward homework than those who did not. Some students said that the homework motivation and preference information helped them look further into how they do homework, indicating that the intervention helped them acquire self-awareness of themselves as learners and some of the complexities of the learning process (Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993).

Another study was reported by Dunn, Deckinger, Withers, and Katzenstein (1990). Learning styles of college students were assessed after the learning style concept was explained to them. Three weeks after the assessment, the individual profiles were distributed and interpreted to them. Then students were advised to do their homework through their perceptual strengths, at their best time of day, and to work in an environment responsive to their needs for sound, light, design, intake, and mobility. Students were also encouraged to apply their own learning style profiles when they studied for the next three examinations. This procedure was applied to one of the two classes for the same course taught by the same instructor; the other class served as a control group. Scores from three examinations indicated that the group of students who applied their strong preferences while doing homework and studying outperformed those who did not.

These studies suggest that accommodating students’ home learning preferences by manipulating environmental conditions will make homework completion more meaningful and productive. This endeavor requires a commitment by classroom teachers and the continuing support from parents. If these are provided, students may acquire a more positive attitude toward homework and learn from doing it. These findings are based on students with and without homework difficulties. Students with chronic homework difficulties have strong incentives for applying the learner-centered homework approach, and if they are given the opportunities, they would improve their homework performance.

Suggested Activities for Teachers, Parents, and School Counselors

Homework intervention programs that apply the learner-centered approach can be designed for school personnel and parents. These programs are best conducted by well-trained individuals who have basic knowledge and skills in conducting the learner-centered approach utilizing the concept of learning style or homework motivation and preference. The intervention activity can involve all school personnel or different subgroups such as counselors, administrators, teachers of a target grade level or levels, parents, and students. The planning stage of the program is very important. It includes setting up a timeline, recruiting project personnel to supervise and coordinate scheduling of meetings, and contacting parents.

Homework intervention programs for teachers

Teacher training is a critical aspect of homework intervention programs. It focuses on the role of the teacher as he/she assigns and receives homework from students. Teacher training may include lessons about adaptive instructions; how to provide adaptive homework assignments; advantages and disadvantages; when to change instructional strategies for students with homework difficulties; and understanding, assessing, and interpreting students’ as well as their own learning preference profiles. Student-teacher conferences, teacher-parent cooperation, and continued observation, monitoring, and record-keeping of student’s study habits, attitudes, and behavior changes are also topics to be included in the intervention program.

Post-intervention assessments are recommended for ascertaining program effectiveness. The measures of students’ post-intervention homework motivation and learning preferences, interviews to gather students’ views on the intervention process, their attitudes toward homework, and the most current homework completion and quality scores are assessment examples.

Homework intervention programs for parents

An intervention program may be designed for parents who want to take an active role in contributing to a homework program for their children. Adaptive instruction at school is often problematic due to the large number of students, all with individual learning preferences. By contrast, at home individual needs can be more easily accommodated. While home learning should not be guided solely by the child’s preferences, parents who have acquired the necessary knowledge can make informed decisions about how far they can and should go to accommodate the child’s preferences.

A parent-led homework intervention might begin with parent training. The participating parents would be asked to describe particular homework difficulties their children manifest. To motivate parents, research findings that provide foundations for the current intervention are presented (e.g., homework effects on achievement, effects of accommodating learning preferences on achievement and attitudes, and effects of parental awareness of their child’s homework motivation and preferences on achievement). Then the inventories to assess student homework difficulties and homework motivation and preferences are discussed (e.g., Anesko, Schoiock, Ramirez, & Levine, 1987). Parents are asked to bring the completed parent and child questionnaires to the next session.

At the next meeting, a child’s motivation source and homework preferences are discussed, and the discrepancies between the child’s and parent’s responses are highlighted. This exercise helps parents understand and respect the differences in the ways their child studies. The parent’s roles and strategies for establishing a favorable homework environment are discussed based on the child’s homework motivation and preference profile. In addition to helping with homework when needed, parents are encouraged to supplement the child’s preferences when matching the environment to the child’s preferences has not led to desired outcomes. Parents are encouraged to meet with the teacher to discuss their child’s preferences and to point out specific areas of homework difficulties, especially those that teachers can make an effort to accommodate (e.g., structure of homework instructions and assignments, modality preference).

As parents establish a homework environment for their child, the child’s preferred surroundings (e.g., seating design) and interpersonal preference (e.g., studying with peers) could be accommodated. If the child has difficulties in persisting or has a tendency to procrastinate, the parent may set up a system to monitor and enhance homework performance. After these intervention activities, the parent-training group meets to share their experiences and to learn from other parents’ experiences. Parents should maintain the contact with classroom teachers to inform them of the new steps they are trying and to get continued cooperation from the teacher.

Homework intervention programs for school counselors

School counselors may play a leading role in increasing homework completion and quality, utilizing preventive or remedial approaches. A proactive and preventive approach to homework intervention might include school counselors providing classroom guidance. The lessons might consist of introducing the relationship of homework to success in school; explaining homework motivation and preferences; completing and interpreting students’ individual profiles; encouraging students to be aware of and to utilize their strong preferences; and encouraging students to diversify their preferences. Counselors also could arrange staff development and parent workshops for preventive purposes.

For students with persistent difficulties and negative attitudes toward homework, a remediation approach such as an individual and/or a group counseling intervention might be helpful. As students with homework difficulties are referred by classroom teachers or parents, or identified by other means such as lists of students performing poorly in specific academic courses, the counselor can utilize a group intervention focused on creative solutions to problems of academic performance. An instrument that measures students’ homework motivation and preferences can be administered at the first group meeting.

In subsequent sessions, the counselor and group members would discuss different ways individuals learn. Then discussion would continue on each member’s profile and possible creative solutions to the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental barriers that impeded successful homework experiences. The counselor would help the group members become aware of their own homework preferences and explore ways to accommodate them. Students would be encouraged to become more observant regarding whether their homework environment matches their own preferred way of learning and to implement their preferences at home. The counselor would seek to create a supportive climate in which group members felt free to openly explore their barriers to learning and their resistance and reluctance to complete homework. This approach could include the counselor assisting students in the homework content areas that they are having difficulty with by matching them with learning resources in the school and/or in the larger community.

Subsequent group sessions would include discussion of the progress each student is making and how this progress is impacting the student’s academic achievement. Communication with parents and classroom teachers is crucial to increase the intervention effectiveness. Utilizing counselor-student-parent-teacher conferences would be beneficial in communicating the student profile, homework progress, and in coordinating efforts of all parties.

Conclusion

Homework is a powerful tool that can contribute to the advancement of children’s education, or it can do more damage than good to their education and development. The difference between the two outcomes depends on the quality of decisions as to how homework is implemented. Homework, if properly used, may be the most effective and cost-efficient way to solve some of the most difficult educational problems. In this article, we have suggested a homework model to provide a rationale for the development of assessment techniques and a basis for designing intervention programs to improve homework as an educational tool. To succeed in improving homework, close cooperation among students, teachers, parents, and counselors is essential.

The homework intervention approaches presented are designed to help educators and parents meet the challenge of successfully assisting children in the development of attitudes and skills that contribute to effective learning and academic achievement. We hope that readers use the knowledge to make students’ homework performance more effective and enjoyable. Although the proposed approaches incorporate the Homework Motivation and Preference Model, the article is not based on the claim that learning preferences are more important than other learning needs. However, we maintain that accommodating students’ learning preferences increases the likelihood that their learning potential will be actualized.

Table 1

Homework Motivation and Preference Profile (HMPP): Interpretation

of 21 Low Versus High Scores

Components Low Scores High Scores

MOTIVATION

Motivation source

Self-motivated Motivation to do Motivation to do

homework is weak homework is strong

Parent-motivated Less likely motivated More likely motivated

by parent by parent

Teacher-motivated Less likely motivated More likely motivated

by teacher by teacher

Motivation strength

Promptness Procrastinates doing Engages in homework

homework promptly

Persistence Low persistence level High persistence level

in completing in completing

homework homework

PREFERENCE

Organizational

Structure Prefers unstructured Prefers structured

homework homework

instructions and instructions and

assignments assignments

Order Does not have a set Has a set order when

order when there are there are many

many assignments but assignments (e.g.,

selects randomly easy one first)

Place Has a tendency to use Has a tendency to use

various places when the same place when

doing homework doing homework

Time Has a tendency to do Has a tendency to do

homework at homework at a

different times of certain time

the day consistently

Surroundings

Sound Prefers to do homework Prefers background

in a quiet area sound (e.g., music)

Light Prefers dim light when Prefers bright light

doing homework when doing homework

Temperature Prefers cool Prefers warm

temperature when temperature when

doing homework doing homework

Furniture Design Prefers informal Prefers formal

furniture design for furniture design for

homework (e.g., bed, homework (e.g., desk

couch) and chair)

Perceptual-physical

Auditory No particular Prefers to learn by

preference to learn listening

by listening

Visual No particular Prefers to learn by

preference to learn seeing learning

by seeing learning material

material

Tactile No particular Prefers to learn by

preference to learn touching and

by touching and manipulating

manipulating learning material

learning material

Kinesthetic No particular Prefers to learn by

preference to learn whole-body

by whole-body experience

experience

Intake No particular Prefers to eat while

preference for doing homework

eating while doing

homework

Mobility No particular Prefers to move around

preference to move while doing homework

around while

doing homework

Interpersonal

Alone-With Peers Prefers to do homework Prefers to do homework

alone with peers

Authority figures Does not want Wants authority figure

authority figure (e.g., parent)

(e.g., parent) present while doing

present while doing homework

homework

Source: Hong & Milgram (1998, 2001)

References

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