Play-based curriculum benefits young children and teachers

Findings from a randomised controlled trial of Tools of the Mind (Tools) suggest that the programme improves kindergarten (Year 1) pupils’ academic outcomes in reading and writing, enhances children’s joy in learning and teachers’ enjoyment of teaching, and reduces teacher burnout.

The Tools programme is a play-based preschool and kindergarten curriculum that emphasises self-control, language and literacy skills. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, analysed the effectiveness of Tools on kindergarten teachers and 351 children (mean age 5.2 years at entry) with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in 18 public schools in Canada. Schools were paired with closely matched schools and then randomised to either the intervention group or control group. Teachers in the intervention group received a three-day workshop on Tools before the school year began, along with funds for resources. Control group teachers were offered the same amount of training hours and funds for whatever training and resource materials they wanted.

The results showed that pupils in the Tools group made greater improvements than pupils in the control group on standardised tests for reading and writing. By May, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were reading at Grade 1 (Year 2) level or better. Similarly, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were able to write a full sentence that they composed themselves. Tools teachers also reported that their pupils could continue to work unsupervised for two and a half times longer than control teachers estimated for their pupils, and that 100% could get back to work right away after breaks, compared to 50% of control children.

The Tools programme also had a positive impact on how teachers felt about teaching. More than three-quarters of Tools teachers, but none of the control teachers, reported in May that they were still enthusiastic about teaching.

Source: Randomized control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers (September 2019), PLoS One

The effect of linguistic comprehension training on language and reading comprehension

Kristin Rogde and colleagues from the Campbell Collaboration have completed a systematic review that examines the effects of linguistic comprehension teaching on generalised measures of language and reading comprehension skills. Examples of linguistic comprehension skills include vocabulary, grammar and narrative skills.

The authors searched literature dating back to 1986, and identified 43 studies to include in the review, including samples of both pre-school and school-aged participants. Randomised controlled trials and quasi-experiments with a control group and a pre-post design were included.

Key findings of the review were as follows:

  • The linguistic comprehension programmes included in the review display a small positive immediate effect on generalised outcomes of linguistic comprehension.
  • The effect of the programmes on generalised measures of reading comprehension is negligible.
  • Few studies report follow-up assessment of their participants.

According to the authors, linguistic comprehension teaching has the potential to increase children’s general linguistic comprehension skills. However, there is variability in effects related to the type of outcome measure that is used to examine the effect of such instruction on linguistic comprehension skills.

Source: The effect of linguistic comprehension instruction on generalized language and reading comprehension skills: A systematic review (November 2019), Campbell Systematic Reviews

Do private schools give students an educational advantage?

Researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London have conducted a study that looks at whether there are any educational advantages to attending private schools in the upper secondary years (Years 12 and 13).

Published in the Oxford Review of Education, the study used data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps cohort study and linked this to national pupil achievement information between 2005 and 2009. The researchers followed a sample of 5,852 pupils who attended a private or state school while doing their A-levels.

The profiles of the two groups of pupils were very different – pupils arrived in private school sixth forms with significantly higher prior attainment in GCSEs, and from households that had twice the income of families whose children attended state school sixth form. However, the researchers used the data available from Next Steps to allow for socio-demographic characteristics and prior achievement. Allowing for these characteristics, pupils at private schools outperformed those at state schools in their total A-level score by eight percentile points. Private school pupils also performed better on those subjects deemed to be more important to elite universities.

The researchers suggest that the reason for the difference may lie in the vastly superior resources per pupil in private schools (three times the state school average), including smaller pupil-teacher ratios (roughly half the state school average). However, they caution that their results are not truly causal.

Source: Private schooling, subject choice, upper secondary attainment and progression to university (November 2019), Oxford Review of Education

No evidence of impact for a modularisation and self-paced computer-assisted approach to college maths

One of the greatest challenges facing community colleges in the US is that most students’ maths skills are below college level. These students are often referred to developmental maths courses, however, most students never complete the course and fail to earn a college degree.

A study published in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness looks at whether a modularised, computer-assisted approach that allows students to move at their own pace through the developmental maths course has any impact on students’ likelihood of completing the developmental maths course, compared with more traditional teaching.

The findings of the randomised trial of 1,400 students found that although the programme was well-implemented, there was no evidence that it was any more or less effective than traditional courses at helping students complete the developmental maths course. The researchers comment that although the results are disappointing, they are important because modularisation and self-paced computer-assisted approaches are popular teaching methods.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of a modularized, computer-assisted, self-paced approach to developmental math (September 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness

What role do principals play in improving teaching and student achievement?

A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences in the US has found that an intensive approach to helping principals (headteachers) improve their leadership practices did not improve pupil achievement or change principal practices as intended.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a professional development (PD) programme for elementary (primary) school principals that focused on helping them to conduct structured observations of teachers’ classroom teaching and provide targeted feedback. It provided nearly 200 hours of PD over two years, half of it through individualised coaching. One hundred schools from eight districts in five US states took part in the study. Within each district, schools with similar characteristics were paired together, and within each pair, one school was randomly assigned to participate in the programme for two years while the other did not.

To measure the effects on pupil achievement, the researchers compared pupil test scores in grades 3 to 5 (Years 4 to 6) for both years of programme implementation plus one additional school year. They found that, on average, pupils had similar achievement in English or maths whether they were in schools that received the principal PD programme or not.

The results of the study also found that although the programme was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers. In fact, teachers whose principals received the PD reported receiving less frequent teaching support and feedback than teachers whose principals did not receive the PD.

Source: The effects of a principal professional development program focused on instructional leadership (October 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education

Long-term impacts of KIPP middle schools

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is the largest network of public charter schools in the US, serving more than 100,000 pupils across a network of more than 240 schools. KIPP schools predominantly educate low-income pupils from underserved communities, with the goal of closing achievement gaps and preparing pupils to succeed in college.

In this Mathematica report, Thomas Coen and colleagues present the results of a long-term tracking study that follows 1,177 pupils who applied to enter 1 of 13 oversubscribed KIPP middle schools through a 5th or 6th grade (Year 6 or 7) admissions lottery ten years ago.

The study found that pupils who won a place at a KIPP middle school through the admission lottery were six percentage points more likely to enrol in a four-year college programme within two years of finishing high school than pupils who lost the lottery. After adjusting for those pupils who actually attended a KIPP school after receiving an offer (only 68% of the lottery recipients actually attended a KIPP school), the impact estimate increased to 12.9 percentage points.

The study also tracked the pupils who enrolled in college immediately after high school, and examined whether they remained in college programmes over the next two years. Pupils who attended KIPP middle schools were more likely to still be enrolled in college after two years (33%) than similar pupils who did not attend KIPP middle schools (24%). However, although rates of entering college immediately and then continuing for two years were higher for KIPP pupils, this difference was not large enough to be statistically significant.

Source:  Long-term impacts of KIPP middle schools on college enrollment and early college persistence (September 2019), Mathematica