The benefits of peer learning

Harriet R Tenenbaum and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to examine results from 71 studies about the effects of peer interaction on learning. To be included in the review, studies had to include a comparison group. Peer interaction was defined as small groups of pupils working together to achieve common goals of learning. Approaches using more formal training, such as cooperative learning or peer tutoring, were excluded. The majority of the studies were conducted in the US and UK and included more than 7,000 children between ages 4 and 18.

Published in Journal of Educational Psychology, their findings suggest that peer interaction was effective in promoting learning in comparison with other types of learning conditions (effect size = +0.40) across different gender and age groups. In contrast, children working in peer groups were not more effective than children working individually with adults. There was also no effect for group size, with findings suggesting that children learn the same amount in groups of two children and in larger groups. Moderator analyses also indicated that peer interaction is more effective when children are specifically instructed to reach consensus than when no instruction is given.

The researchers conclude that although peer interaction does facilitate learning, the conditions and means by which this happens varies and depends on a number of moderating factors. They say the findings indicate that the benefits of peer interaction can be realised by educators if they create opportunities not just for discussion, but also for the negotiation of a shared understanding.

Source: How effective is peer interaction in facilitating learning? A meta-analysis (December 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

Digital vs. paper reading

A study published in the American Educational Research Journal compares reading processes and outcomes for pupils when reading a text from paper with the same text delivered on a touchscreen laptop.

Amanda P Goodwin and colleagues conducted the study with 371 pupils in grades 5–8 (Years 6–9) from three schools in an urban district in the southeastern US. Pupils were randomly assigned to two conditions: Condition A read the first section of a text on paper, and the second half digitally, whereas pupils in Condition B read the first part digitally and the second part on paper. The content in both conditions was identical. When reading on paper, pupils had access to highlighters, pens and sticky notes; when reading digitally, they had access to digital highlighters, annotating and dictionaries.

Results suggest that pupils highlight and annotate more when reading on paper vs. digital text. Also, reading on paper vs. digitally was slightly supportive of reading comprehension for the longer sections of text, although effect sizes were very small (odds ratio of 1.077).

Source: Digital versus paper reading processes and links to comprehension for middle school students (December 209), American Educational Research Journal

Learning together to reduce bullying

A study published in Public Health Research reports on an evaluation of the Learning Together intervention, which aims to reduce bullying and aggression and to promote pupil health and well-being.

Forty secondary schools in southeast England participated in the trial, with 20 schools randomly assigned to deliver the intervention over three years, and 20 schools continuing with existing practices. In the intervention schools, staff and pupils collaborated in an “action group” to change school rules and policies, with the goal of making it a healthier environment. This included focusing on improving relationships rather than merely punishment-based approaches to discipline, and using a classroom curriculum aimed at encouraging social-emotional skills.

All pupils completed a questionnaire at the start of the trial, and this was repeated three years later. Results showed that self-reported experiences of bullying victimisation were lower in intervention schools than in control schools (adjusted effect size = –0.08). There was no evidence of a reduction in pupil reports of aggression. Pupils in intervention schools also had higher scores on quality of life and psychological well-being measures, and lower scores on a psychological difficulties measure. They also reported lower rates of having smoked, drunk alcohol, been offered or tried illicit drugs, or been in contact with the police in the previous 12 months.

Source:  Modifying the secondary school environment to reduce bullying and aggression: the INCLUSIVE cluster RCT. (November 2019). Public Health Research Volume: 7, Issue: 18

The reciprocal effects of homework self-concept, interest and effort on maths achievement

Maths achievement has been thought to be interrelated with self-concept, interest, and effort. In a recent longitudinal study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology, researchers examined how these factors influence each other over time using a sample of Grade 8 (Year 9) pupils in China. 

A total of 702 pupils in Grade 8 from 14 classes in two public schools in East and South China completed an assessment of their maths achievement, homework self-concept, interest and effort at six weeks after the start of the school year and at the end of the school year. The analysis showed that: 

  • Reciprocal effects were found between maths self-concept and achievement, effort and achievement, as well as interest and effort.
  •  In particular, the authors found that higher homework interest led to higher subsequent effort, and higher prior effort could promote higher homework interest. 
  • Moreover, self-concept had no significant effect on subsequent interest, but prior interest led to higher self-concept, possibly reflecting the positive homework attitude among Chinese pupils. 

The authors suggest that the reciprocal effects indicated that simultaneously improving homework self-concept, interest, effort and maths achievement is a more effective approach. Specifically, attention should be paid to how homework interest and effort can be promoted more effectively.

Source: Reciprocal effects of homework self-concept, interest, effort, and math achievement (October 2018), Contemporary Educational Psychology

Using pupil data to support teaching

A report from the Institute of Education Sciences has found that an intensive approach to providing support for using pupil data to inform teaching did not improve pupil achievement, perhaps because the approach did not change teachers’ use of data or their reported classroom practices.

For the study, researchers recruited 102 elementary (primary) schools from 12 US districts. Schools were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group. Treatment schools received funding for a half-time data coach of their choosing, as well as intensive professional development for coaches and school leaders on helping teachers use pupil data to inform their teaching. The control schools received no additional funding for a data coach or professional development. Impacts on teacher and pupil outcomes were measured after an  18-month implementation period.

The results suggest that despite the additional resources, teachers in the treatment schools did not increase how often they used data or change their teaching practices in response to that data. Similar percentages of teachers in treatment and control schools reported data-related activities, such as analysing data to understand pupil needs. The intervention also had no effect on pupil achievement. On average, pupils in treatment and control schools had similar achievement in maths and English.          

Source: Evaluation of support for using student data to inform teachers’ instruction (September 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education. NCEE 2019-4008 

The impact of peer assessment on academic achievement

Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Department of Education conducted a meta-analysis to examine what effect peer assessment interventions have on academic performance.

Published in Educational Psychology Review, the meta-analysis evaluated the effect of peer assessment on academic performance when compared to no assessment and teacher assessment. Fifty-four studies were included in the meta-analysis, of which 45% were with school-age pupils. Studies had to examine the effect of peer assessment on non-self-reported measures of academic achievement and have a control or comparison group, using no assessment, teacher assessment, or self-assessment.

The findings from the analysis indicated that overall there was a significant positive effect of peer assessment on academic performance compared with no assessment (effect size = +0.31) and teacher assessment (ES = +0.28). The effect size was similar when peer assessment was compared with self-assessment (ES = +0.23) though this result was not significant. The effect sizes were slightly larger for school-age children than undergraduates. The analysis concludes that peer assessment can be effective across a wide range of subject areas, education levels, and assessment types.

Source: The impact of peer assessment on academic performance: A meta-analysis of control group studies (December 2019), Educational Psychology Review, doi:10.1007/s10648-019-09510-3