School-based mental health services for primary children

School-based services delivered by teachers and other school-based professionals can help reduce mental health problems in primary-age children, reports a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The findings are based on a meta-analysis of 43 controlled trials involving almost 50,000 primary school children. The study examined the overall effectiveness of school-based mental health services, as well as the relative effectiveness of various school-based intervention models that differed according to treatment target, format and intensity.

Overall, school-based services had a small to medium effect (effect size = +0.39) in reducing mental health problems. Interventions that targeted child behaviour problems demonstrated the largest effect sizes (+0.76). Interventions that were implemented multiple times per week were found to be more than twice as effective as those that were only implemented on a weekly (or less) basis.

Source: The effectiveness of school-based mental health services for elementary-aged children: A meta-analysis (March 2018), Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 57, Issue 3

Better evidence needed on appropriate screen time for children

A briefing paper published by the British Psychological Society states that much of the evidence for the negative effects of screen use in children and teenagers is not based on robust enough science.

The report recognises that the issue of children’s digital media use is more complex than just screen time and calls for new guidelines to be built on robust evidence. To do this, it offers a number of recommendations for government officials, policy makers and practitioners interested in the impact of social media and digital technology on children and young people’s mental health.

Recommendations for research include:

  • Studies should be designed which can identify causality and increase our understanding of when screen use is harmful and when it is beneficial.
  • More qualitative methods, such as interviews, ethnography and participatory research should be employed with young people to understand their media practices and what they want from digital media.

It also offers guidance for families on how to reduce the negative impact that technology can have on some young people’s mental health, which include:

  • Discuss the different aspects of digital media with children and encourage positive media use.
  • Minimise screen use before bed time.
  • Encourage children to engage in a variety of activities away from screens.

Source: Changing behaviour:  Children, adolescents and screen use (January 2018), British Psychological Society

Getting a read on Ready to Learn media

Ready to Learn (RTL) is an initiative funded by the US Department of Education to promote school readiness among children aged two to eight, and most preschool children in the US are exposed to RTL media. Supporting early literacy has been one of RTL’s primary focus areas, and this meta-analysis published in Child Development examines the effect of RTL media exposure on young children’s literacy skills.

For this meta-analysis, Lisa B Hurwitz collected data from 45 evaluations involving more than 24,000 children. Overall, results indicate positive effects on children’s literacy (effect size = +0.21), equivalent to approximately 1.5 months of extra literacy learning. Effects were varied across literacy outcomes, with larger effect sizes for phonological concepts and vocabulary than for alphabet knowledge and narrative comprehension. Findings were fairly robust across a variety of research designs and across samples of children, although effects were consistently more pronounced in within-subjects designs and for preschool-age children.

Source: Getting a read on Ready to Learn media: a meta-analytic review of effects on literacy (February 2018), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.13043

Effective reading programmes for secondary pupils

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns and Robert Slavin from the Center for Research and Reform in Education have completed an update to their report on effective secondary reading programmes. The paper, A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students, focuses on 69 studies that used random assignment (n=62) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 51 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading.

The authors found that categories of programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring, cooperative learning, whole-school approaches including organisational reforms such as teacher teams, and writing-focused approaches showed positive outcomes. Individual approaches in a few other categories also showed positive impacts. These approaches included programmes emphasising humanities/science, structured strategies and personalised and group/personalisation rotation approaches for struggling readers. Programmes that provide a daily extra period of reading and those utilising technology were no more effective, on average, than programmes that did not provide these resources.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from socially and cognitively engaging instruction than from additional reading periods or technology.

Source: Research on reading programs for secondary students (January 2018), Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Conversation more important than word exposure for literacy and language development

While it is common knowledge that talking to children helps them develop language and pre-literacy skills, new research from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania shows that children gain greater language development and pre-literacy benefits the more that caregivers engage them in conversational turn-taking-like exchanges. In other words, talking with children is more beneficial than talking to children.

In the first study to link children’s language exposure to neural functioning, functional MRIs showed that children who experienced more frequent conversational turn-taking with caregivers while listening to stories demonstrated greater activity within the part of the brain in charge of language processing than children who didn’t interact in as many conversational exchanges. These same children also scored higher than their counterparts on standardised language assessments measuring vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. This was true regardless of children’s socioeconomic status or parental education.

Audio recordings of 36 four- to six-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds measured the number of words children said, the number of words they heard and the number of conversational exchanges in which they engaged for two days. All children were native English speakers who did not significantly differ by behaviour, language exposure, or neural measures on standardised tests. When these measures were compared to the brain scans, researchers found a positive correlation between conversational turns and brain physiology.

Source: Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function (February 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617742725

Social skills intervention programme shows small positive effects

Results from a study published in the Journal of Education Psychology suggest that a classroom social skills programme, The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP), generally has small positive effects on social skills and approaches to learning.

James Clyde DiPerna and colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University evaluated the effects of SSIS-CIP on the social, behavioural and academic outcomes of Year 2 pupils from six primary schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Classrooms were randomly assigned to either treatment or business-as-usual control groups. Teachers assigned to the treatment group implemented the SSIS-CIP over a 12-week period. Outcomes were assessed via teacher ratings and direct observations of classroom behaviour as well as computer-adaptive tests of reading and maths.

Results showed that SSIS-CIP has a small positive effect on social skills across all social skills subscales (effect sizes ranged from +0.13 to +0.31), with empathy and social engagement showing the largest positive effects (+0.31 and +0.21). The direct observation measure, however, yielded the smallest effect size (+0.05). Students in the treatment group also demonstrated positive effects on academic motivation and engagement (+0.17). However, SSIS-CIP did not demonstrate any substantial effects for problem behaviours, with effect sizes across subscales ranging from +0.01 to +0.07.

Source: A cluster randomized trial of the Social Skills Improvement System-Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP) in first grade (2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(1), 1-16.