Why Is Your Homework Not Done? How Theories of Development Affect Your Approach in the Classroom

By Killoran, Isabel | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Why Is Your Homework Not Done? How Theories of Development Affect Your Approach in the Classroom


Killoran, Isabel, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Trying to get students to complete their homework is one of the most frequent and frustrating behavior problems for educators. There are many approaches to this problem. The purpose of this article is to examine how four theories of development applied to this behavior can change the explanation and intervention used. The four theories discussed in this article are behaviorism, constructivism, maturational and ecological systems.

These theories of development are created with basic underlying assumptions about the nature of humans and their development. This article will also discuss metatheories and how they influence an educator's choice of developmental theory.

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How many times have you straggled with a child who will not complete his or her homework? I will use this situation to apply four different theories of development while explaining how each theory influences the interpretation of the behavior and the intervention that would be applied. The four theories I will use are behaviorism, constructivism, maturational theory and ecological systems theory (See Table 1). This article will demonstrate how your approach to this behavior will differ depending on your belief system and choice of theory. Most of us do not spend any time trying to understand the paradigm under which we operate and how it affects the interventions we choose to use in our classrooms. To clarify this, the article will also describe the main metatheories or paradigms and the corresponding developmental theories.

Application of Behaviorism

A behaviorist would identify the homework problem as being an issue of reinforcement. Terminology can be difficult to grasp under this theory. Reinforcement is defined as anything that results in a behavior increasing or staying the same. This does not mean the behavior has to be a desired one. Positive reinforcement refers to the presentation of something that results in an increase in behavior while negative reinforcement is the removal of something to increase the behavior. Positive and negative do not refer to the type of behavior exhibited by the child, but rather the presentation or removal of a stimulus after a behavior (Alberto & Troutman, 1995).

Since the child, let's call her Susan, is repeatedly refusing to do her homework it would appear that she is being reinforced for this behavior. Teachers are often unaware that they encourage inappropriate behavior through reinforcement. If a child is bothering you for something while you are trying to work with another child you may give in to him or her with the hope that s/he will stop disturbing you. This would be an example of you negatively reinforcing yourself. You are removing the bothersome child so that you can have quiet. The child will learn to keep bothering you, because s/he has received positive reinforcement through your attention and knows you will eventually give in. As a result the likelihood of this behavior continuing is high. Teachers often give positive reinforcement of inappropriate behavior through attention. In this example, let's assume that every time Susan comes to school without her homework done she has to stay in for recess with you. She may enjoy being with you, which would make this positive reinforcement. On the other hand, she may also be trying to avoid something outside, such as bullies. In this situation, keeping her in would be negative reinforcement because you would be removing a situation she wants gone. There are endless possibilities as to why Susan may want to be in for recess. If this is what she wants she will continue not doing her homework.

When using behaviorism the educator must find a way to reinforce the desired behavior. The first step is to establish what would reinforce Susan. The simplest way to do this is by asking. If Susan wants to stay in at recess then her teacher could work with her to make this the reinforcer for completing her homework. …

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