Talking in class boosts progress in maths, science and English

An intervention that trained teachers to improve and monitor the quality of classroom talk had a positive impact on primary pupils’ test scores in English, maths and science, a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reveals.

Seventy-six primary schools with higher-than-average proportions of disadvantaged pupils took part in a randomised control trial of the Dialogic Teaching intervention, which is designed to improve the quality of classroom talk as a means of increasing pupils’ engagement, learning and achievement. Year 5 teachers in 38 schools (2,493 pupils), and a teacher mentor from each school, received resources and training from the delivery team and then implemented the intervention over the course of the autumn and spring terms in the 2015/16 school year. A control group of 38 schools (2,466 pupils) continued with business as usual. Following the intervention, pupils were tested in English, maths and science.

The results showed that pupils in the intervention schools did better in the main outcome measures of English (effect size = +0.16), science (+0.12), and maths (+0.09) when compared with pupils in the control schools who didn’t receive the intervention. For pupils who received free school meals, the intervention had a higher impact on maths (+0.16), but around the same for English (+0.12) and science (+0.11). Teachers reported positive effects on pupil engagement and confidence, and on the whole the intervention was highly regarded by participating schools. However, some teachers felt that it would take longer than two terms to fully embed a Dialogic Teaching approach in their classrooms.

Source: Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Impact of teacher mentors

A study published by the Institute of Education Sciences in the US evaluates the impact of the Retired Mentors for New Teachers programme – a two-year programme in which recently retired teachers provide tailored mentoring to new teachers – on pupil achievement, teacher retention and teacher evaluation ratings. The new teachers meet with their mentors weekly on a one-to-one basis and monthly in school-level groups over the course of the two years.

Dale DeDesare and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial involving 77 teachers at 11 primary schools in Aurora, Colorado. Within each school, half of the new teachers were randomly assigned to a control group to receive the district’s business-as-usual mentoring support, while the other half received the intervention as well as business-as-usual mentoring support.

The study found that at the end of the first year, pupils who were taught by teachers in the programme group scored 1.4 points higher on the spring Measures of Academic Progress maths assessment than those taught by teachers in the control group, (effect size = +0.064), and this difference was statistically significant. Reading achievement was also higher among pupils taught by teachers in the programme group, however, the difference was not statistically significant (effect size = +0.014 at the end of the first year and +0.07 at the end of the second year). The effect of the programme on teacher evaluation ratings and teacher retention was not significant, although more teachers in the programme group left after two years than in the control group.

Source: Impacts of the retired mentors for new teachers program (REL 2017–225) (March 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central.

Insights on personalised learning

As part of a recent study for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, RAND Corporation researchers have tried to identify what personalised learning (PL) looks like in a small sample of schools that are using PL approaches schoolwide.

This report describes the concept and implementation of personalised learning, along with some of the challenges, and considers how PL affects achievement in these schools. To measure how PL affects achievement, To measure how PL affects achievement, John F Pane and colleagues analysed maths and reading scores for all pupils in the sample (approximately 5,500 pupils) who took the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress assessments. They found positive effect sizes of approximately +0.09 in maths and +0.07 in reading relative to a comparison group of similar pupils.

Based on the findings from the study, the researchers offer the following recommendations for implementing PL:

  • Provide teachers with resources and time to pilot new teaching approaches and gather evidence of how well they work.
  • Provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate on developing curriculum material and on reviewing and scoring pupil work.
  • Identify a school staff member who is comfortable with technology and has curriculum expertise to serve as a “just-in-time” resource for teachers.
  • Provide resources and support for school staff to help them choose the most appropriate digital or non-digital curriculum materials.
  • Provide resources and support for school staff to integrate multiple data systems.

Source: Informing progress: Insights on personalized learning implementation and iffects (July 2017), RAND Corporation

How promising are college promise programmes?

The Detroit Promise is a US school programme administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber  that provides the city’s high school graduates with scholarships for state-funded universities and community colleges. To encourage pupils to stay in school once enrolled and to improve their academic outcomes, the Chamber and MDRC created the Detroit Promise Path. This initiative adds four components to the existing scholarship programme: campus coaches who help pupils navigate academic and personal issues, monthly financial support contingent on meeting with coaches, enhanced summer engagement and monitoring and messages informed by behavioural science through a management information system created by MDRC.

MDRC is evaluating the Detroit Promise Path using a randomised control trial design. In a new report, Alyssa Ratledge presents early findings from a pilot cohort of pupils who enrolled in autumn 2016. According to the report:

  • The Detroit Promise Path was implemented with fidelity to the model and participation was high. More than 95 percent of pupils responded to coaches’ outreach and two-thirds of enrolled pupils met with coaches as directed.
  • Pupils appreciate the programme. Ninety-six percent of surveyed pupils who had been in contact with a coach said the programme was “valuable” or “very valuable” to them.
  • The programme had a sizeable impact on enrolment in the second semester and on full-time enrolment in the first and second semesters.

Source: Enhancing promise programs to improve college access and success (July 2017), MDRC

Does playing chess improve maths ability?

An article published in Learning & Behavior examines whether learning to play chess can help improve children’s mathematical ability. To test this hypothesis, Giovanni Sala and Fernand Gobet, from the University of Liverpool, conducted two studies with primary school children in schools in Italy.

The first experiment involved 233 children from eight schools (mean age = 8.5 years). The experimental group (N=53) attended 25 hours of chess lessons during school hours (although not necessarily during maths lessons), along with regular school activities, and were then given a test to assess their mathematical ability and a questionnaire to assess their metacognitive ability. The results were compared to both an active control group (who were similarly taught to play draughts) and a passive control group (who continued with regular school activities). The results showed no significant difference between the three groups in mathematical or metacognitive ability.

For the second experiment, 52 children (mean age = 9.32 years) in three classes of a primary school in Italy participated. Classes were randomly assigned to the three experimental conditions, but this time the active control group learned the game of Go instead of draughts, and both the chess and Go instruction replaced some of the time originally dedicated to learning maths (approximately 15 hours). The results showed no significant effects of learning chess on mathematical ability. Children in the passive control group seemed to benefit slightly more than those learning chess or Go. There was no difference between the three experimental groups on metacognitive ability.

The study concludes that the results of the two experiments do not support the hypothesis that learning chess benefits children’s mathematical ability. The effects of chess, if any, appear to be minimal and too limited to provide any educational advantage over traditional teaching methods.

Source: Does chess instruction improve mathematical problem-solving ability? Two experimental studies with an active control group (June 2017), Learning & Behavior doi:10.3758/s13420-017-0280-3

The effects of head teacher training on pupil achievement

An NBER Working Paper examines the impact of implementing management training for head teachers on pupil achievement. The management training focused on lesson planning, data-driven teaching and teacher observation and coaching (approximately 300 hours over two years). Using a school-level randomised experiment, 58 schools in Houston, Texas, were randomised to receive either the training intervention or to serve as a business-as-usual control group.

The study found that offering management training to head teachers led to increased test scores across low-stakes tests in a range of subjects in year one (effect size = +0.19). For high-stakes test scores in maths and reading, the effect size was lower (+0.10). However, the training intervention had no impact on high-stakes tests in year two.

The training was most beneficial for head teachers who were less experienced, had better maths skills, had more internal locus of control, had higher levels of “grit” and remained in the school for both years of the study.

The intervention showed most impact on teachers in the schools who were more experienced and more educated. The intervention showed most impact for pupils who were new to the school, white or Hispanic and economically well-off.

Source: Management and student achievement: Evidence from a randomized field experiment (May 2017), NBER Working Paper No. 23437, National Bureau of Economic Research