Learning Opportunities Provided by Homework (HALO)

Given the practical significance of homework for students, teachers, and parents alike, the quality and quantity of empirical research on the subject is surprisingly uneven. Because of the wide variety of interacting factors that may influence the homework process, and because systematic research programs remain the exception to the rule, the available body of research findings on homework is complex, fragmented, and contradictory. In fact, the recommendations that scientists and practitioners make about homework assignment and completion are often based on their own experience or on speculation rather than on sound scientific evidence (Trautwein & Köller, 2003). The Homework as Academic Learning Opportunities (HALO) project draws on various data sources, including PISA 2000, PISA 2003, and a study conducted in collaboration with the University of Teacher Education in Freiburg (Switzerland), to investigate the learning opportunities provided by homework assignment and completion. How do homework assignment and completion relate to student achievement? What are the determinants of high homework morale?

The Homework-Achievement Relationship

Based on a review of prior research, Cooper and colleagues (2006) concluded that more time on homework is associated with higher achievement. Similarly, the OECD report on the PISA 2000 data suggests that the time spent on homework is positively associated with achievement in practically all participating countries. Our own research shows that definitive insights into the homework-achievement relationship are as yet precluded by a lack of suitable data sets and by methodological shortcomings in the analyses. There are at least three potential threats to the validity of typical correlational studies on the homework-achievement relationship (see Trautwein, 2007; Trautwein & Köller, 2003). First, homework can be related to achievement at two levels. One, a homework effect at the class level (or homework assignment effect) is found when students in classes with a higher quantity or quality of homework have more pronounced achievement gains than students in other classes. The other, a homework effect at the student level (or homework completion effect), is found when students in the same class who differ in their homework behavior (e.g., time spent on homework) show differential outcomes.

In this sense, homework is a classic example of the multilevel problem, and it is essential to differentiate between teacher- and student-level effects in all studies that relate homework to achievement. A second major issue in several homework studies is that they do not control for the role of confounding variables. For instance, more homework might be set in high-quality schools attended by students from privileged backgrounds. The finding of a positive relationship between homework and achievement might thus be attributable to a common cause, and not to time on homework per se. In a related vein, the majority of studies are single measurement studies. Questions pertaining to the directionality of homework effects cannot be readily answered on the basis of such designs. Third, research has concentrated almost exclusively on time spent on homework. Yet all sorts of distractions can have detrimental effects on students’ homework behavior. If a student reports spending a lot of time on his or her homework, this is not necessarily a sign of great conscientiousness, but may reflect problems of motivation or concentration.

Our studies (Trautwein, 2007; Trautwein, Köller, Schmitz, & Baumert, 2002) indicate that frequent homework assignments in mathematics are positively associated with achievement gains at the class level, but that time-consuming assignments do not show positive effects. Focusing on individual students, those who put a lot of effort into their homework (but do not necessarily report long study times) tend to fare better than those who invest less effort.

Determinants of Homework Effort

Trautwein and colleagues (Lüdtke, Trautwein, Schnyder, & Niggli, 2007; Trautwein & Köller, 2003; Trautwein, Lüdtke, Kastens, & Köller, 2006; Trautwein, Lüdtke, Schnyder, & Niggli, 2006) have proposed a multilevel homework model as a general framework for studying homework effort. This model predicts students’ homework effort to impact their achievement. Moreover, in line with the predictions of expectancy-value theory, as described in the work of Jacquelynne Eccles, it assumes motivational predictors (e.g., belief in being able to solve homework problems, perceived utility of homework tasks) to influence homework behavior. The effects of cognitive abilities and personality as well as the impact of the family context and parental behavior are seen as (partially) mediated by motivational predictors. Likewise, effects of the instructional environment (e.g., homework quality and control) are expected to be partially mediated by homework motivation. Several studies have provided support for the central assumptions of the model (e.g., Trautwein, Lüdtke, Kastens, & Köller, 2006; Trautwein, Lüdtke, Schnyder, & Niggli, 2006).

For instance, expectancy and value beliefs have been shown to predict homework effort in different school subjects. In addition, students’ perceptions of homework quality are closely associated with perceived homework value and homework effort. Moreover, classmates show comparably high agreement in their perceptions of homework quality, indicating that these perceptions are not purely idiosyncratic. At the same time, we have found substantial associations between students’ homework behavior across domains, and a meaningful predictive effect of students’ conscientiousness. In other words, students’ homework behavior is dependent not only on the quality of homework assignments and domain-specific expectancy and value beliefs, but also on stable personality characteristics.

In a recent study (Trautwein & Lüdtke, in press-b), we used an intraindividual approach to test predictions derived from the homework model. Whereas the interindividual perspective helps to explain why some students put more effort into their homework than others, the intraindividual approach focuses on within-student variability in homework effort across subjects. We tested whether the homework model developed by Trautwein and colleagues can also account for intraindividual variation in homework effort. Our findings show that homework effort is primarily a function of between-student differences in conscientiousness, within-student differences in the perceived learning environment (subject-specific homework quality and control), and within-student differences in motivation (subject-specific expectancy and value beliefs). Furthermore, a significant cross-level interaction was found, with perceived homework control by teachers having a stronger effect on less conscientious students than on their more conscientious peers.

Moving beyond studies that rely on self-report from one source only (typically students), our homework research is currently focusing on what teachers do and think about homework, and the consequences for students’ homework motivation and behavior.

Key References

Trautwein, U. (in press). Hausaufgaben. In W. Schneider & M. Hasselhorn (Eds.), Handbuch
der Pädagogischen Psychologie. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Lüdtke, O., Trautwein, U., Schnyder, I., & Niggli, A. (2007). Simultane Analysen auf Schüler- und
Klassenebene. Eine Demonstration der konfirmatorischen Mehrebenen-Faktorenanalyse
zur Analyse der Schülerwahrnehmungen am Beispiel der Hausaufgabenvergabe. Zeitschrift für Entwicklungspsychologie und Pädagogische Psychologie, 39, 1-11.

Trautwein, U., & Lüdtke, O. (2007). Students' self-reported effort and time on homework
in six school subjects: Between-student differences and withinstudent variation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 432-444.

Trautwein, U. (2007). The homework-achievement relation reconsidered: Differentiating homework time, homework frequency, and homework effort. Learning and Instruction, 17, 372–388.

Trautwein, U., Lüdtke, O., Kastens, C., & Köller, O. (2006). Effort on homework in grades 5–9: Development, motivational antecedents, and the association with effort on classwork. Child Development, 77, 1094-1111.

Trautwein, U., Lüdtke, O., Schnyder, I., & Niggli, A. (2006). Predicting homework effort: Support
for a domain-specific, multilevel homework model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 438-456.

Trautwein, U., & Kropf, M. (2004). Das Hausaufgabenverhalten und die Hausaufgabenmotivation von Schülern - und was ihre Eltern darüber wissen. Psychologie in Erziehung und Unterricht, 51, 285-295.

Trautwein, U., & Köller, O. (2003). The relationship between homework and achievement - still much of a mystery. Educational Psychology Review, 15, 115-145.

Trautwein, U., & Köller, O. (2003). Was lange währt, wird nicht immer gut: Zur Rolle selbstregulativer Strategien bei der Hausaufgabenerledigung. Zeitschrift für Pädagogische Psychologie, 17, 199-209.

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

Trautwein, U., & Köller, O. (2002). Der Einfluss von Hausaufgaben im Englisch-Unterricht auf die Leistungsentwicklung und das Fachinteresse. Empirische Pädagogik, 16, 285-310.


Ulrich Trautwein
Oliver Lüdtke
Swantje Pieper

in cooperation with:
Alois Niggli and
Inge Schnyder (Pädagogische Hochschule Fribourg)