A Comparative Analysis of Two Homework Study Methods on Elementary and Secondary School Students' Acquisition and Maintenance of Social Studies Content

Article excerpt

Two experiments were conducted to evaluate the comparative effects of two homework study methods on the acquisition and maintenance of social studies content. Experiment I used an A-B-A-B-A-B reversal design with 12 ninth graders, and Experiment II used an alternating treatments design with 20 fifth graders. in both experiments students used one of two methods to complete social studies homework assignments: (a) a standard review questions (SRQ) study method that required students to write answers to four to six short answer questions that followed each reading selection, and (b) a structured reading worksheet (SRWS) study method that required students to find and write 12 to 24 fill-in-the-blank items paraphrased from the assigned reading. In both experiments, students scored higher on next-day quizzes when using the SRWS method. Students also maintained more social studies content using the SRWS method as measured by an end-of-the-unit test (Experiment I), and four chapter tests (Experiment II).

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Public education has expenenced a long history of criticism and reform focused on virtually every aspect of its service to students. However, perhaps at no time has the American education system come under closer scrutiny than during the last two decades. Professionals, business leaders, and politicians, as well as parents and other laypersons, have called increasingly for improving the quality of education on all levels. A number of national commissions and reports have been particularly strident in their support for major changes in the system (e.g., America, 2000; Educate America Act, 1992; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). A central focus of many of these initiatives, increasing educational rigor, has paved the way for several changes, in our schools. These changes include high academic standards in classrooms and heightened expectations of student performance. One vehicle for accomplishing such changes that has received increasing interest is homework.

Current guidelines published by the U. S. Department of Education suggests the following amounts of homework for students in elementary and middle schools: twenty minutes a day for grades one through three, twenty to forty minutes a day for grades four through six, and up to two hours a day for grades seven through nine (Slatalla, 1998). Available evidence indicates that schools currently assign substantial amounts of homework, and those amounts have increased over time. For example, by 1988, students of all ages were being assigned more homework than they had been at the time of the previous study four years earlier (U. S. Department of Education, 1990). A more recent study conducted by the University of Michigan also reports dramatic increases (Ratnesar, 1999). Homework assigned to six-to-nine-year-olds increased from forty-four minutes of homework per week to over two hours, while homework for nine-to-eleven-year-olds increased from two hours forty nine minutes to more than three-and-a-half hours per week (Ratnesar, 1999).

The reality of increasing amounts of homework is understandable, homework is important for success because it leads to increased school achievement (Cooper, 1989; Walberg; 1991). However, the reality of increased homework is not without critics in the popular and professional media. The potential negative effects of homework were summed up by the title of cover story in a widely read news magazine: "The Homework Ate My Family: Kids are Dazed, Parents are Stressed: Why Piling it on is Hurting Students" (Ratnesar, 1999). A recent review of 100 homework studies evidenced less than expected improvement on standardized test scores, especially at the lower grades (Black, 1997; Ratnesar, 1999). These findings add credence to earlier reports that students believe that homework is not important and that they sometimes forget what homework is assigned (Gajria & Salend, 1995). …