Does playing chess improve maths ability?

An article published in Learning & Behavior examines whether learning to play chess can help improve children’s mathematical ability. To test this hypothesis, Giovanni Sala and Fernand Gobet, from the University of Liverpool, conducted two studies with primary school children in schools in Italy.

The first experiment involved 233 children from eight schools (mean age = 8.5 years). The experimental group (N=53) attended 25 hours of chess lessons during school hours (although not necessarily during maths lessons), along with regular school activities, and were then given a test to assess their mathematical ability and a questionnaire to assess their metacognitive ability. The results were compared to both an active control group (who were similarly taught to play draughts) and a passive control group (who continued with regular school activities). The results showed no significant difference between the three groups in mathematical or metacognitive ability.

For the second experiment, 52 children (mean age = 9.32 years) in three classes of a primary school in Italy participated. Classes were randomly assigned to the three experimental conditions, but this time the active control group learned the game of Go instead of draughts, and both the chess and Go instruction replaced some of the time originally dedicated to learning maths (approximately 15 hours). The results showed no significant effects of learning chess on mathematical ability. Children in the passive control group seemed to benefit slightly more than those learning chess or Go. There was no difference between the three experimental groups on metacognitive ability.

The study concludes that the results of the two experiments do not support the hypothesis that learning chess benefits children’s mathematical ability. The effects of chess, if any, appear to be minimal and too limited to provide any educational advantage over traditional teaching methods.

Source: Does chess instruction improve mathematical problem-solving ability? Two experimental studies with an active control group (June 2017), Learning & Behavior doi:10.3758/s13420-017-0280-3

The effects of head teacher training on pupil achievement

An NBER Working Paper examines the impact of implementing management training for head teachers on pupil achievement. The management training focused on lesson planning, data-driven teaching and teacher observation and coaching (approximately 300 hours over two years). Using a school-level randomised experiment, 58 schools in Houston, Texas, were randomised to receive either the training intervention or to serve as a business-as-usual control group.

The study found that offering management training to head teachers led to increased test scores across low-stakes tests in a range of subjects in year one (effect size = +0.19). For high-stakes test scores in maths and reading, the effect size was lower (+0.10). However, the training intervention had no impact on high-stakes tests in year two.

The training was most beneficial for head teachers who were less experienced, had better maths skills, had more internal locus of control, had higher levels of “grit” and remained in the school for both years of the study.

The intervention showed most impact on teachers in the schools who were more experienced and more educated. The intervention showed most impact for pupils who were new to the school, white or Hispanic and economically well-off.

Source: Management and student achievement: Evidence from a randomized field experiment (May 2017), NBER Working Paper No. 23437, National Bureau of Economic Research


Automaticity and motivation’s effects on reading comprehension

As struggling readers get older and the words they read get longer, the effort it takes them to decode longer words interferes with their reading comprehension. Jessica Toste and colleagues conducted a study examining the effects of an intervention designed to develop multisyllabic word reading (MWR) automaticity via repeated exposure to multisyllabic words in isolation and in context.

Fifty-nine struggling third and fourth grade pupils (Years 4 and 5) in two charter schools located in a large city in the southwestern US were randomly assigned to one of three groups: MWR only (n=18), MWR with motivational beliefs (MB) training (n=19), or business as usual (22). No significant differences in reading comprehension or motivational beliefs were found at pretest.

In groups of two to three pupils, the MWR and MWR + MB groups received tutoring sessions in reading for forty minutes a week, three times a week for eight weeks in addition to their regular reading lessons. The MWR + MB group also received five minutes of motivational learning each session, while the MWR-only group practised maths facts for their final five minutes. The MWR lessons consisted of seven components, starting with repeated reading of vowel patterns and progressing to target words in paragraphs. The MB component added self-reflection, positive self-talk and eliminating negative thoughts throughout the lesson.

Results showed that pupils in both MWR groups performed better than the control group at posttest on word fluency measures and performed moderately better than the controls on phonemic decoding, letter-word ID and word-attack subtests. The MWR + MB group had higher scores than the MWR group solely on sentence-level comprehension, but had higher scores than controls on the attributions for success subscale, meaning they were more likely to attribute success to internal causes like effort rather than external factors like luck. MWR + MB did not outperform MWR on motivational measures. The authors conclude that developing automaticity in multi-syllable word reading and motivation’s effect on reading comprehension are both promising interventions to develop MWR.

Source: Multisyllabic word-reading instruction with and without motivational beliefs training for struggling readers in the upper elementary grades: A pilot investigation (June 2017), The Elementary School Journal 117, no. 4

Are classroom management programmes effective?

Ada Chukwudozie and Howard White at The Campbell Collaboration have prepared a new summary of a previously published systematic review of teacher classroom management practices.

The review examined the effects of teacher classroom management programmes on disruptive or aggressive pupil behaviour and sought to identify which management components were most effective. Examples of the classroom management programmes included COMP (Classroom Organization and Management Program) and the Good Behaviour Game.

A total of 12 studies were included in the review. These studies reported on public school general education classes with pupils from Kindergarten to  12th grade (Years 1 to 13). Effectiveness studies had to use a valid experimental or quasi-experimental design with control groups to be included in the review.

According to the summary, multi-component classroom management programmes had a significant positive effect in decreasing aggressive or problematic behaviour in the classroom. Results showed that pupils in the treatment classrooms in all 12 studies reviewed showed less disruptive or problematic behaviors when compared to pupils in control classrooms without the intervention.

The summary notes that it was not possible to make any conclusions regarding which components of the management programmes were most effective due to small sample size and lack of information reported in the studies reviewed.

Source: Effective multi-component classroom management programmes seem to improve student behavior in the classroom but further research is needed (2017) The Campbell Collaboration.

Social media and children’s mental health

In a new report from the Education Policy Institute, Emily Firth has examined the evidence of the impact of using social media on young people’s mental health and emotional well-being.

One of the key findings from the report is evidence of a beneficial impact. This is because young people can connect with others to improve their social skills online, develop their character and resilience and collaborate on school projects. In the recent PISA well-being survey of 15-year-olds, 90.5% of boys and 92.3% of girls in the UK agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “It is very useful to have social networks on the internet”. Also, importantly, those with mental health problems are able to use the internet to seek support, either through social media networks or through the online provision of advice and counseling support. For example, 78% of young people contacting the organisation Childline now do so online.

However, the report also highlights several negative effects on the well-being of young people linked with social media, including cyber-bullying, concerns about excessive use and sharing of private information and harmful content. It also finds that attempts to restrict children’s internet access are likely to be counterproductive as they hinder the development of vital skills needed to counter such risks. Rather than seeking to protect young people from all online risks­, the report calls on policy makers to promote proactive measures that build resilience in children, in order to help them lead safe digital lives.

Source: Social media and children’s mental health: a review of the evidence (June 2017) Education Policy Institute

Pupils may do better on tests if they can go back and check their work

Joseph Hardcastle and colleagues conducted a study to compare pupil performance on computer-based tests (CBT) and traditional paper-and-pencil tests (PPT). More than 30,000 pupils in grades 4–12 (Years 5–13) were assessed on their understanding of energy using three testing systems: a paper and pencil test; a computer-based test that allowed pupils to skip items and move freely through the test; or a CBT that did not allow pupils to return to previous questions.

Overall, the results showed that being able to skip through questions, and review and change previous answers, could benefit younger pupils. Elementary (Years 5 and 6) and middle school (Years 7–9) pupils scored lower on a CBT that did not allow them to return to previous items than on a comparable computer-based test that allowed them to skip, review, and change previous responses. Elementary pupils also scored slightly higher on a CBT that allowed them to go back to previous answers than on the PPT, but there was no significant difference for middle school pupils on those two types of tests. High school pupils (Years 10–13) showed no difference in their performance on the three types of tests.

Gender was found to have little influence on a pupil’s performance on PPT or CBT; however, pupils whose primary language was not English had lower performance on both CBTs compared with the PPT.

Source: Comparing student performance on paper-and-pencil and computer-based-tests. Paper presented at the 2017 AERA Annual Meeting, 30 April 2017. American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.