A meta-analysis of writing in social studies, science and maths

Is writing about classroom content an effective way to learn? Arizona State University’s Steven Graham and colleagues at the University of Utah recently performed a meta-analysis on the effects of writing about classroom content in social studies, science and maths. Specifically, they examined if writing increased pupil achievement, if the results differed among subjects, and if any relationships existed by year level, activity type, or any other factors.

To be included, studies had to meet quality criteria including true or quasi-experimental research design, reliability of measures, controlling for teacher effects, multiple classes in the experimental and control conditions, experimental and control group pre-test equivalence, and both groups experiencing equal amounts of time learning the same topics.

This search yielded 56 studies in 53 documents meeting criteria for inclusion, involving 6,235 pupils in grades 1-11 (Years 2-12). Pupils in experimental groups wrote about classroom content, while most controls did not write at all. Forty-six percent of the studies assessed the impact of writing on science, 38% on maths and 14% on social studies. Thirty-four percent examined elementary (primary) pupils, and 32% each examined middle and high school (secondary) pupils. The types of writing activities for the experimental groups included writing informational text, such as summarising information or writing a report (34%); journal writing (32%); argumentative writing (13%); and narrative writing, such as creating a word problem in maths lessons (5%). These were coded to determine which, if any, were more effective than others.

Results showed that writing about content increased pupil achievement when compared to equivalent peers in non-writing control groups. Average weighted effect sizes were statistically significant in science (+0.31), social studies (+0.31) and maths (+0.32), as they were when broken down by elementary (+0.29), middle (+0.30) and high school (+0.30) levels. No correlation was found with number of treatment days, type of writing task, or type of assessment.

Source: The effects of writing on learning in science, social studies, and mathematics: A meta-analysis (March 2020), Review of Educational Research

Do teacher pay incentives improve pupil test scores?

A meta-analysis published in the American Educational Research Journal looks at the association between teacher pay incentives and pupils’ test scores, and suggests that teacher pay incentives have the potential to improve pupil test scores in some contexts.

Lam D Pham and colleagues analysed effect sizes across 37 studies, 26 of which were conducted in the US. To be included in the meta-analysis, studies had to include a sample comprising teachers and pupils in K-12 education (Year 1 to Year 13) located in a school district or area that had a teacher pay incentive programme. Studies also had to use a randomised controlled trial with a business-as-usual comparison group, and report on pupil outcomes on standardised tests.

Overall, among the US-based studies, the effect of teacher pay incentives on pupil test scores was positive (effect size +0.04), however, this varied across subjects and settings. The average effect size of pay incentives on pupils’ maths test scores (+0.05) was larger than the effect on English test scores (+0.03). Pay incentives for elementary (primary) school teachers were associated with larger effects (+0.10) than middle school teachers (+0.01). In addition, larger pay incentives, and pay incentives that are based on multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, were associated with larger effect sizes.

Source: Teacher merit pay: A meta-analysis (February 2020), American Educational Research Journal

Parents as Teachers in Switzerland

A randomised controlled trial published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly examines the effectiveness of the Parents as Teachers (PAT) programme in Zurich, Switzerland.

PAT is a parent teaching programme that begins during pregnancy, or shortly after birth, and continues until the child’s third birthday. Among its goals, PAT aims to increase parental knowledge of early childhood development and improve parental practice and, in the long term, increase the child’s school readiness and success.

A total of 261 children from 248 families took part in the trial. Families in the intervention group (n=132) were supported with regular home visits from qualified parent educators with a degree in early education, and attended group meetings. The 116 families in the control group had access to the normal community services but were not supported by PAT.

After three years of the PAT programme, children showed more age-appropriate adaptive behaviour, with small effect sizes in both self-help skills (ES = +0.26) and developmental milestones (ES = +0.26). There were also positive effects on children’s language skills – particularly expressive language skills (ES = +0.39). PAT was also found to positively affect children’s problem behaviour (ES = +0.30).

By contrast, however, no meaningful increases were observed in children’s health, cognitive development, or motor development.

Source: Effects of home-based early intervention on child outcomes: A randomized controlled trial of Parents as Teachers in Switzerland (May 2019), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 48

Maths homework effort: Increasing autonomous motivation through support from family and school

An article published in Frontiers in Psychology examines how maths homework effort among middle school pupils is influenced by adult support from family and school. The authors hypothesised that support from parents and teachers could promote the autonomous motivation of pupils by providing a sense of having free choice, and by generating interest.  

A questionnaire was distributed to 666 grade 7 and 8 (Year 8 and 9) pupils from three schools in the Hubei Province of China. The questionnaire sought information about pupils’ maths homework effort, autonomous motivation, maths teacher support and parental autonomy support. The results were as follows:

  • Pupils perceived that parental autonomy support and maths teachers’ support facilitated pupils’ autonomous motivation, which in turn enhanced their effort in homework.
  • Furthermore, pupils perceived that parental autonomy support directly promoted their maths homework effort.

The authors concluded that parents and teachers should provide more support for middle school pupils’ maths learning. Specifically, they provided three practical strategies to parents, namely: “Try to understand children’s perspective when communicating homework and school life, offer meaningful reasons why homework is important, and allow children to arrange their homework time”.

Source: Effects of parental autonomy support and teacher support on middle school students’ homework effort: Homework autonomous motivation as mediator (March 2019), Frontiers in Psychology

The effects of high-quality CPD on teachers and pupils

A report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) reviews the evidence on the impact of continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers, and finds that high-quality CPD can play a role in improving teaching quality.

Commissioned by Wellcome, the rapid review and meta-analysis examined 52 randomised controlled trials evaluating CPD programmes for teachers in order to establish their impact on pupil and teacher outcomes. These were trials of interventions that went beyond current practice in school, and might include training courses, mentoring, seminars and peer review.

The findings of the report suggest that high-quality CPD has a positive effect on pupils’ learning outcomes with an effect size of +0.09. The review also suggests that the availability of high-quality CPD may have a positive impact on teacher retention, particularly for early-career teachers.

Source: the effects of high-quality professional development on teachers and students: A rapid review and meta-analysis (February 2020), The Education Policy Institute

The impact of testing on teacher retention

Reducing the number of high-stakes tests may contribute to the retention of new teachers, but not necessarily those who have been teaching longer, according to a working paper from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

Dillon Fuchsman and colleagues used changes in testing practices in the US state of Georgia to consider what effect removing high-stakes testing for certain grades (year groups) had on teacher retention. Over the last four decades, Georgia has employed four different testing models which have included dropping all statewide achievement tests in some grades, excluding some subject areas from testing, and reducing the number of grades in which some subjects were tested. They looked specifically at teachers in grades 1 to 8 (Years 2 to 9).

Results showed that, overall, removing testing did not have an impact on how likely teachers were to leave the profession or change schools.

Source: Testing teacher turnover and the distribution of teachers across grades and schools (February 2020), National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, CALDER Working Paper No. 229-0220