Why parents who try to help with maths homework might not be doing any good

Parents often don't have a positive influence on adolescents' homework because they don't understand it, study shows

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Parents who try to help younger adolescents with maths homework may not be helping them – because they don't understand the subject properly themselves, research suggests.

Academics at American and Chinese universities who analysed three decades of research about the link between the homework carried out by pupils and their achievement in maths and science found that there was “an overall small and positive relationship”.

However, using American terminology, they found that the association was stronger for elementary and high-school students than for those in middle school.

The research paper says: “One likely explanation is related to parental involvement in homework at the elementary and middle-school levels.

"Parents have greater mastery of the subject matter covered in the elementary grades. Thus... elementary students may benefit from parental involvement with homework, whereas middle school students generally may not benefit from parent involvement in homework.”

'A difficult time for students'

Other possible explanations include the fact that maths homework for younger children tends to be shorter and more frequent, which research has found may be more effective for this age group than fewer but longer assignments.

They also note that the transition to middle school is “an especially difficult period for many students”, who tend to experience a decline in motivation, competence beliefs and academic performance, according to previous research.

The paper, "Homework and students' achievement in math and science: a 30-year meta-analysis, 1986-2015", was written by academics from Bohai University and the University of Macau in China, and Mississippi State University in the US, and published in the Educational Research Review.

It also finds that the effort pupils put into their homework is more influential in predicting their academic achievement than the time they spend on it.

The study cites research which shows that “weaker students tend to take longer to complete homework assignments, and spending a longer time on assignments may imply an inefficient or unmotivated working style”.

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