Professional development for early childhood language and literacy

In the field of education, professional development (PD) is intended to improve both classroom teaching and children’s learning. A new study, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at what effect PD has when used at scale with large numbers of educators.

In this large-scale randomised controlled trial, Shayne B Piasta and colleagues examined the effectiveness of a language and literacy PD programme on both teacher and child outcomes in early childhood education. More than 500 teachers across one US state took part in the trial and were randomly assigned to one of three groups: professional development with coaching, professional development without coaching, or a comparison group. Teachers in the PD groups received 30 hours of state-sponsored language and literacy professional development, with those assigned to the coaching groups also receiving ongoing individualised coaching throughout the academic year. Teachers in the comparison group also received state-sponsored PD, but in other subjects.

The results of the trial suggest that PD affected only a few aspects of classroom language and literacy teaching practices relative to the comparison group, and did not affect children’s literacy learning. PD with coaching showed a small positive impact on the quantity of phonological awareness, while both PD with and without coaching had a small positive impact on the quality of teaching in phonological awareness and writing.

Source: At-scale, state-sponsored language and literacy professional development: Impacts on early childhood classroom practices and children’s outcomes (June 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

How do pupils in China and the US perceive school climate differently?

School climate includes factors that serve as conditions for learning, and support physical and emotional safety, connection, support and engagement, as the US Department of Education suggests. In this study published in School Psychology Quarterly, George Bear and colleagues examined how pupils in China and the US perceive school climate differently and how it relates to their engagement in schools.

A total of 3,716 Chinese pupils from 18 schools in Guangzhou and 4,085 American pupils from 15 schools in Delaware were compared in the study. All schools were suburban schools or urban schools. The sample of American pupils was randomly selected from a larger dataset consisting of 37,255 pupils prepared by the Delaware Department of Education to match the pupil numbers of the Chinese pupil sample. Pupils who participated in this study were from grades 3–5 (Years 4–6), 7–8 (Years 8–9), and 10–12 (Years 11–13). Grade 6 (Year 7) and grade 9 (Year 10) were excluded from this study since pupils in these two grades were placed in different levels in Chinese and American schools.

Pupils were compared in their perceptions of school climate, which included teacher-pupil relations, pupil-pupil relations, fairness of school rules, clarity of behavioural expectations, respect for diversity, school safety, engagement school-wide, and bullying school-wide. Pupils’ engagement was measured by the Delaware Student Engagement Scale. The findings showed:

  • Chinese pupils perceived all aspects of school climate significantly more positively than American pupils during middle school and high (secondary) school.
  • The difference was smaller in elementary (primary) schools, with no significant differences for fairness of rules, clarity of behavioural expectations and school safety.
  • US pupils’ engagement was greater in elementary schools, while Chinese pupils reported greater emotional engagement in middle and high schools.
  • A significant relation between school climate and engagement was found for American pupils but not Chinese pupils.

The authors suggest that the findings might encourage schools to develop and promote those social-emotional competencies, values and norms which have been shown to underlie the high academic achievement of Chinese pupils in addition to school climate.

Source: Differences in school climate and student engagement in China and the United States (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly, Vol 33(2)

Small class size vs. evidence-based interventions

The Ministry of Education in France introduced a policy in 2002 that reduced class size to no more than 12 pupils in areas determined to have social difficulties and high proportions of at-risk pupils, called Zones d’Education Prioritaire (ZEP). In order to evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of this policy, researcher Jean Ecalle and colleagues in France examined the results of the policy-mandated class size reduction on the reading achievement of first grade (Year 2) pupils (Study 1), and compared them to the effects of an evidence-based literacy intervention on the reading achievement of at-risk children in normal-sized classes (20 pupils) (Study 2).

Study 1, reducing class size, involved assigning classrooms to either small (12 pupils/class n=100 classes) or large (20–25 pupils/class, n=100 classes) class sizes (with the support of the Ministry). At the start of the 2002–03 school year, 1,095 children were pre-tested on pre-reading skills and matched at pre-test. At the end of the school year, children were post-tested, with results favouring the small-class-size group on word reading (effect size=+0.14) and word spelling (effect size=+0.22).

In Study 2, researchers separated 2,803 first grade (Year 2) pupils in ZEP areas into an experimental group who received an evidence-based reading intervention, and a control group who did not. The intervention was a protocol developed by the Association Agir pour l’Ecole (Act for School), who developed a hierarchy of teaching reading based on evidence-based methods of learning to read, progressing from training phonological skills, to learning letter sounds, decoding, and fluency. Act for School monitored compliance with the protocol weekly. Class size for both groups was 20 pupils. Experimental teachers received one day of training, and provided 30 minutes of teaching a day to average or high readers in groups of 10 to 12, and one hour a day for lower readers in groups of four to six. Again, children were pre-tested on reading skills and matched between groups. All areas post-tested favoured the experimental group, with significant effects in word reading (effect size=+0.13) and word spelling (effect size=+0.12).

Researchers stated that based on the results of both studies, the optimal recommendation to improve literacy skills for at-risk pupils would be a double intervention, combining evidence-based practices within small classes.

Source: Effects of policy and educational interventions intended to reduce difficulties in literacy skills in grade 1 (June 2019), Studies in Educational Evaluation, Volume 61

An evaluation of QuickSmart Numeracy

QuickSmart Numeracy is a 30-week maths tutoring programme from Australia that uses teaching assistants as tutors. Its goal is to increase basic maths fact automaticity/fluency in pupils in Year 4 and Year 8 who perform in the bottom third of their national cohort as measured on standardised testing, the premise being that increased maths fluency allows pupils to devote their concentration to maths concepts instead of fact recall. Researchers from the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle, Australia, recently examined the effects of the programme on pupil achievement in a randomised controlled trial.

Subjects were 288 Year 4 and Year 8 pupils from 70 classrooms in 23 Sydney Catholic Schools in New South Wales who scored below the 30th percentile on national standardised testing. Baseline testing was done in March 2017 using the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Progressive Achievement Test – Mathematics (PAT-M), with post-testing in May 2018, six months after the intervention ended in December 2017. There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups at pre-test. Randomisation among pupils who qualified for tutoring was done in each class, with all pupils attending regular maths classes and pairs of experimental pupils being pulled from other classes to also receive half-an-hour of QuickSmart tutoring three times a week for 30 weeks.

Results showed a non-significant difference (+0.08) favouring the experimental group in Year 4, and an effect size of +0.01 (n.s.) for Year 8. Authors noted that not all of the pupils received the targeted hours of tutoring due to recruitment and testing processes.

Source: QuickSmart Numeracy. Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (April 2019) Evidence for Learning

Is there a gender gap in IT?

Previous studies have revealed gender differences in attitudes towards information technology (IT) literacy, with boys generally considering their IT literacy to be higher than that of girls. A new meta-analysis, published in Educational Research Review, tests whether the same gender differences can be seen in pupils’ actual performance on IT literacy tasks as measured by performance-based assessments.

In total, 46 effect sizes were extracted from 23 studies using a random-effects model. The main findings suggest that:

  • Girls perform better than boys on performance-based IT literacy assessments (ES= +0.13).
  • Gender differences in favour of girls are larger in primary schools (ES= +0.20) than in secondary schools (ES= +0.11).
  • The overall effect size is robust across several analysis conditions.
  • Overall, the gender differences in IT literacy are significant but small.

As these findings seem to contrast those obtained from previous meta-analyses that were based on self-reported IT literacy, researchers Fazilat Siddiq and Ronny Scherer conclude that the IT gender gap may not be as severe as it had been claimed to be.

Source: Is there a gender gap? A meta-analysis of the gender differences in students’ ICT literacy (June 2019), Educational Research Review, Volume 27

Career education in secondary schools

Attending career talks with people in employment may change the attitudes of Key Stage 4 pupils regarding their education, according to new research published by the UK charity, Education and Employers.  

Year 11 pupils in five schools took part in the trial and were randomly assigned at class level into an intervention group (n=307) and a control group (n=347). Pupils in the intervention group received three extra career talks by employee volunteers on top of usual career activities organised by their schools. These talks took place either during tutor group time or private study time rather than during class.

The results of the study indicated that pupils who attended the career talks reported feeling more confident in their own abilities, feeling more positive about school, and having greater faith in their ability to fulfill their career aspirations. It also seemed to provide the incentive for increased study time. Pupils in the intervention group reported, on average, a 9% higher increase in the amount of time spent each week on individual study for GCSE exams than those in the control group.

The intervention programme also had a small positive effect on achievement, with pupils slightly more likely to exceed predicted GCSE grades relative to the control group. Lower achievers and less-engaged learners responded best to the career talks, with 74% reporting that they felt more motivated as a result of the talks. These pupils also exceeded their predicted GCSE grades compared with the control group (+0.14 of a grade effect size for English, +0.05 for maths, and +0.05 for science).

Source: Motivated to achieve: How encounters with the world of work can change attitudes and improve academic attainment (June 2019), Education and Employers Research