Investigating homework as a social practice : a qualitative approach

Clarke, Carolyn Deanne (2012) Investigating homework as a social practice : a qualitative approach. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines the social practice of homework. It explores how homework is shaped by the discourses, policies and guidelines in circulation in a society at any given time with particular reference to one school district in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. This study investigates how contemporary homework reconstitutes the home as a pedagogical site where the power of the institution of schooling circulates regularly from school to home. It examines how the educational system shapes the organization of family life and how family experiences with homework may be different in different sites depending on the accessibility of various forms of cultural capital.

This study employs a qualitative approach, incorporating multiple case studies, and is complemented by insights from institutional ethnography and critical discourse analysis. It draws on the theoretical concepts of Foucault including power and power relations, and governmentality and surveillance, as well as Bourdieu’s concepts of economic, social and cultural capital for analysis. It employs concepts from Bourdieu’s work as they have been expanded on by researchers including Reay (1998), Lareau (2000), and Griffith and Smith (2005). The studies of these researchers allowed for an examination of homework as it related to families and mothers’ work. Smith’s (1987; 1999) concepts of ruling relations, mothers’ unpaid labour, and the engine of inequality were also employed in the analysis.

Family interviews with ten volunteer families, teacher focus group sessions with 15 teachers from six schools, homework artefacts, school newsletters, homework brochures, and publicly available assessment and evaluation policy documents from one school district were analyzed. From this analysis key themes emerged and the findings are documented throughout five data analysis chapters. This study shows a change in education in response to a system shaped by standards, accountability and testing. It documents an increased transference of educational responsibility from one educational stakeholder to another. This transference of responsibility shifts downward until it eventually reaches the family in the form of homework and educational activities. Texts in the form of brochures and newsletters, sent home from school, make available to parents specific subject positions that act as instruments of normalization. These subject positions promote a particular ‘ideal’ family that has access to certain types of cultural capital needed to meet the school’s expectations. However, the study shows that these resources are not equally available to all and some families struggle to obtain what is necessary to complete educational activities in the home.

The increase in transference of educational work from the school to the home results in greater work for parents, particularly mothers. As well, consideration is given to mother’s role in homework and how, in turn, classroom instructional practices are sometimes dependent on the work completed at home with differential effects for children. This study confirms previous findings that it is mothers who assume the greatest role in the educational trajectory of their children. An important finding in this research is that it is not only middle-class mothers who dedicate extensive time working hard to ensure their children’s educational success; working-class mothers also make substantial contributions of time and resources to their children’s education.

The assignments and educational activities distributed as homework require parents’ knowledge of technical school pedagogy to help their children. Much of the homework being sent home from schools is in the area of literacy, particularly reading, but requires parents to do more than read with children. A key finding is that the practices of parents are changing and being reconfigured by the expectations of schools in regard to reading. Parents are now being required to monitor and supervise children’s reading, as well as help children complete reading logs, written reading responses, and follow up questions.

The reality of family life as discussed by the participants in this study does not match the ‘ideal’ as portrayed in the educational documents. Homework sessions often create frustrations and tensions between parents and children. Some of the greatest struggles for families were created by mathematical homework, homework for those enrolled in the French Immersion program, and the work required to complete Literature, Heritage and Science Fair projects. Even when institutionalized and objectified capital was readily available, many families still encountered struggles when trying to carry out the assigned educational tasks. This thesis argues that homework and education-related activities play out differently in different homes. Consideration of this significance may assist educators to better understand and appreciate the vast difference in families and the ways in which each family can contribute to their children’s educational trajectory.

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ID Code: 59963
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Comber, Barbara, Manning, Andy, & Nixon, Helen
Keywords: case study, critical discourse analysis, cultural capital, homework practices, homework struggles, ‘ideal’ parents, institutional ethnography, literacy practices, mother’s work, power and power relations, standardized tests
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 13 May 2013 03:22
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:47

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