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Citation:Shumow, L. (2001). The task matters: Parental assistance to children doing different homework assignments. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA.

The study investigates how parents assist their children on homework tasks. It found that parents were more directive and controlling and less elaborative when assisting their children with an arithmetic problem-solving task than they were when assisting with a spatial reasoning task. Interviews revealed that parents perceived that arithmetic involved a straightforward, standard solution path, whereas spatial reasoning was a creative enrichment activity, and drew on their own school experiences as a foundation of what and how to teach children. The research sample was twenty randomly-selected 2nd graders from two classrooms of two schools in the Midwestern USA. Researchers observed pairs of students and their parents, and the type of parent assistance was rated during two different homework tasks, one involving arithmetic and the other a spatial reasoning task. Parents were interviewed to collect their thoughts on assisting their children. Data were coded for parent level of control. Researchers then used a t-test to compare the proportion of time the parents showed controlling and elaborative assistance during the two types of tasks. The author strongly suggests more observational research be carried out on homework interactions and that parents would benefit from guidance on the purposes of homework assignments and what might be their best contribution.

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