Effective programmes in primary maths

Marta Pellegrini from the University of Florence and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns and Robert E Slavin from Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have released a new report on effective programmes in primary maths. The report reviews research on the mathematics achievement outcomes of all programmes with at least one study meeting the inclusion criteria of the review. A total of 78 studies were identified that evaluated 61 programmes in grades K–5 (Years 1–6).

The studies were very high in quality, with 65 (83%) randomised and 13 (17%) quasi-experimental evaluations. Key findings were as follows:

  • Particularly positive outcomes were found for tutoring programmes.
  • One-to-one and one-to-small group models had equal impacts, as did teachers and paraprofessionals as tutors.
  • Technology programmes showed modest positive impacts.
  • Professional development approaches focused on helping teachers gain in understanding of maths content and pedagogy had no impact on pupil achievement, but more promising outcomes were seen in studies focused on instructional processes, such as cooperative learning.
  • Whole-school reform, social-emotional approaches, maths curricula and benchmark assessment programmes found few positive effects, although there were one or more effective individual approaches in most categories.

The findings suggest that programmes emphasising personalisation, engagement and motivation have most impact in primary maths teaching, while strategies focused on textbooks, professional development for maths knowledge or pedagogy, and other strategies that do not substantially impact pupils’ daily experiences have little impact.

Source: Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis (October 2018), Johns Hopkins University

Supporting pupils in primary school may help keep them in education

Elementary (primary) pupils who participated in a comprehensive support intervention in the Boston public school district are less likely to drop out of high school (secondary school) than pupils not in the intervention, according to a new study published in AERA Open.

Terrence K Lee-St. John and colleagues examined the impact of City Connects – a schoolwide systemic pupil support programme which provides extra academic and social support for pupils in poverty – on high school drop-out rates. Their study tracked pupils from six elementary (primary) schools who participated in the intervention from kindergarten until fifth grade (Years 1 to 6). These pupils were compared to pupils who were enrolled in the school district at the same time but didn’t use the intervention programme.

In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree-level licensed school counsellor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every pupil, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs for academic, social/emotional/behavioural development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence later drop-out presents itself as a “red flag”, this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

The study found that pupils who participated in the intervention had a 9.2% drop-out rate in high school, compared to 16.6% for the non-intervention pupils.

Source: The long-term impact of systemic student support in elementary school: Reducing high school dropout (October 2018), AERA Open, Volume: 4 issue: 4

The advantages of print vs. digital reading: A meta-analysis

A recent meta-analysis showed that paper-based reading yields better outcomes in reading comprehension than digital reading. In an article appearing in Educational Research Review, Pablo Delgato and colleagues from Spain and Israel analysed 54 studies from 2000–2017 comparing the reading comprehension outcomes of comparable paper and digital texts. They examined if one medium has an advantage over the other for reading outcomes, and what factors contribute to any differences found.

Results showed that paper text has an advantage over digital text (effect size=+0.21). Influencing factors favouring paper text include reading under time limitations, text type (informational or informational plus narrative), and publication year—later publications showed increased advantages for paper reading than earlier publications.

While the authors do not advocate getting rid of digital texts given their convenience, cost advantages and pervasiveness, they reflect that these study findings should be considered when pupils are required to perform digitally-related tasks under time constraints.

Source: Don’t throw away your printed books: A meta-analysis on the effects of reading media on reading comprehension (November 29018), Educational Research Review, Volume 25

One-to-one technology and pupil outcomes

An evaluation published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis evaluates the impact of the Digital Conversion Initiative on pupil outcomes for one US school district in North Carolina.

The initiative provided laptop computers to every pupil from the fourth grade (Year 5) upwards, while also providing teachers with training on how to best use the technology in their lesson plans.

Marie Hull and Katherine Duch used administrative school data from 2005 to 2013 to determine the programme’s impact on maths and reading achievement for pupils in grades 4 to 8 (Years 5 to 9), as well as the impact of the programme on pupil behaviour. They compared the district’s data from before and after implementation, as well as data from neighbouring school districts without one-to-one programmes to determine the short- and medium-term effects.

Their results suggest there is potential for one-to-one laptop programmes to help improve pupil outcomes. They found that:

  • Maths scores for pupils improved by 0.11 standard deviations in the short term and 0.13 standard deviations in the medium term.
  • No significant change in reading scores in the short term, and mixed evidence of improvement in the medium term.
  • Time spent on homework stayed constant.
  • Pupils spent more of their homework time using a computer.

Source: One-to-one technology and student outcomes: Evidence from Mooresville’s Digital Conversion Initiative (September 2018), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Can AI better predict why children struggle at school?

Researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge have used machine learning – a type of computer algorithm – to identify clusters of learning difficulties which did not match the previous diagnosis children had been given.

The study, published in Developmental Science, used a sample of 530 children (ages 5­–18) who were referred to the Centre for Attention Learning and Memory (CALM) by health and education professionals because they were struggling in school. All the children in the sample completed a number of cognitive and learning assessments, they underwent a structural MRI scan, and their parents completed behaviour questionnaires.

Based on the data collected from these tests, the computer algorithm identified four groups that the children could be matched to: (1) broad cognitive difficulties and severe reading, spelling and maths problems; (2) age-typical cognitive abilities and learning profiles; (3) difficulties with working memory skills; and (4) difficulties with processing sounds in words.

While these groups aligned closely with other data on the children, such as the parents’ reports of their communication difficulties and educational data on reading and maths, there was no correspondence with their previous diagnoses. To check if these groupings corresponded to biological differences, the groups were checked against MRI brain scans from 184 of the children. The groupings mirrored patterns in connectivity within parts of the children’s brains, suggesting that the machine learning was identifying differences that partly reflect underlying biology.

The researchers conclude that these findings reinforce the need for children to receive detailed assessments of their cognitive skills to identify the best type of support.

Source: Remapping the cognitive and neural profiles of children who struggle at school (September 2018), Developmental Science

Effects of shared book reading for young EAL children

A meta-analysis, published in Review of Educational Research, examines how shared book reading affects the English language and literacy skills of young children learning English as an additional language (EAL)

Shared book reading involves an adult reading with one or more children, and is considered to be an effective practice for language and literacy development. It may also involve interactive practices such as dialogic reading techniques to engage children or reinforce specific ideas or words from the text.

For this meta-analysis, Lisa Fitton and colleagues identified 54 studies of shared reading interventions conducted in the US that met their inclusion criteria. The total number of participants across the studies was 3,989, with an average age of six.

Results revealed an overall positive effect of shared reading on EAL outcomes (effect size = +0.28). Children’s developmental status moderated this effect, with larger effect sizes found in studies including only typically developing children (+0.48) than in studies including only participants with developmental disorders (+0.17).

Source:  Shared book reading interventions with English learners: a meta-analysis (October 2018), Review of Educational Research, volume: 88 issue: 5