Mindfulness and yoga for primary pupils

A randomised controlled trial published in Psychology Research and Behavior Management assesses the benefits of introducing yoga and mindfulness into elementary (primary) classrooms.

Alessandra N Bazzano and colleagues worked with a public school in New Orleans to add mindfulness and yoga to the school’s existing empathy-based programme for pupils needing extra support. Third grade (Year 4) pupils were screened for symptoms of anxiety (using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders scale), and were then randomly split into an intervention group (n=20) and a control group (n=32). Pupils in the intervention group participated in a yoga and mindfulness programme for eight weeks, while the control group received the standard care, which included counselling and activities from a school social worker. All pupils filled out questionnaires to measure quality of life and life satisfaction across a number of different variables before, during and after the treatment period.

Pupils in the intervention group showed a significantly greater improvement in psychosocial and emotional quality of life compared with pupils who received standard care.

The researchers acknowledge that while this study was small, and more research is needed, introducing pupils to yoga and mindfulness may help to alleviate anxious feelings experienced in third grade due to their work becoming more complex, and learning how to handle these pressures sooner, rather than later, may promote healthy skills throughout life.

Source: Effect of mindfulness and yoga on quality of life for elementary school students and teachers: results of a randomized controlled school-based study (April 2018), Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Volume 2018:11

Early struggling readers and summertime intervention

Kristen Beach and colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, examined the effects of receiving a reading programme during the summer on the reading achievement of struggling readers in comparison to similarly performing struggling readers who did not receive this summer intervention.

Thirty-two rising second and third graders (Years 3 and 4) in a large urban school in south-eastern US comprised the experimental group. To be eligible for the study, pupils had to score beneath a cutoff point for each grade level on reading fluency. The comparison group was composed of pupils at a nearby school who were matched by age, ethnicity and standardised test scores the prior spring. Both schools were Title I schools (Title 1 provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families) and both sets of pupils were African-American and Hispanic and from low-income backgrounds.

Pupils in the experimental group received 15 intensive hour-long one-to-one or one-to-two sessions from 10 teachers using the Sound Partners programme five times a week for three weeks. Post-test scores in the autumn showed that although pupils who received Sound Partners in the summer outscored the control group in overall reading measures by 0.25 SD, gains in fluency were minimal, and no gains in any area were statistically significant. The authors discuss these findings and conclude that for early readers who have not mastered basic decoding and fluency, an intervention that is longer than 15 hours over three weeks is necessary in order to produce significant improvement in reading. They recommend that planners of summer programmes aimed at increasing reading achievement carefully consider the variables that will lead to the greatest success.

Source: Effects of a summer reading intervention on reading skills for low-income Black and Hispanic students in elementary school (April 2018), Reading & Writing Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/10573569.2018.1446859

A wide range of approaches may help improve pupils’ ability to manage behaviours and emotions

Research published in JAMA Pediatrics has found there are a wide range of different approaches that can be effective in improving self-regulation skills (the ability to control emotions, avoid inappropriate or aggressive behaviour and engage in self-directed learning) in children and teenagers.

Anuja Pandey and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of evaluations of interventions designed to improve pupils’ self-regulation. Data from 49 studies with a total of more than 23,000 pupils ranging in age from 2 to 17 years was examined. The interventions were classified as curriculum-based programmes (n=21), mindfulness and yoga interventions (n=8), family-based programmes (n=9), exercise-based programmes (n=6) and interventions focused on social and personal skills (n= 6). The researchers found that most interventions (n=33) were successful in improving pupils’ ability to manage behaviour and emotion. A meta-analysis showed there was a positive effect of the interventions, with a pooled effect size of +0.42.

There was no age group in which interventions were more effective. While a curriculum-based approach was most commonly used to deliver interventions, the study found that self-regulation interventions can be effective in family settings targeting parenting practices and sibling relationships.

Source: Effectiveness of universal self-regulation–based interventions in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis (April 2018), JAMA Pediatrics Doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0232

Strategies to promote teacher effectiveness

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new evaluation brief that synthesises findings from two impact studies conducted by the National Center for Education Evaluation (NCEE). One study focused on a strategy of providing teachers  with feedback on their performance for two years (performance feedback), and the other study focused on a strategy of providing teachers with bonuses for four years based on their performance (pay-for-performance). Both strategies were supported by the Teacher Incentive Fund, which provided competitive grants to help US states and districts implement a multi-strategy approach to enhancing teacher effectiveness.

In each study, elementary and middle schools (primary schools) were randomly assigned to implement the strategy (the treatment group) or not (the control group). The performance feedback study included approximately 29,000 pupils and 1,000 teachers in grades 4–8, while the pay-for-performance study included approximately 38,000 pupils and 3,500 teachers in grades 3–8. Pupil outcomes were measured using end-of-year reading and maths scores.

Key findings were as follows:

  • Providing teachers with feedback on their performance for two years improved pupils’ maths achievement after the first year with a difference in scores that corresponds to an effect size of +0.05. The cumulative effect after two years of implementation was similar in magnitude but not statistically significant. The effect on reading in both years was positive but not statistically significant.
  • Providing teachers with bonuses based on their performance for four years improved pupils’ reading achievement after one, two and three years of implementation and pupils’ maths achievement after three years. After each of those periods of implementation, the effect size was +0.04 for reading and +0.06 for maths. However, as noted in the evaluation report, the impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools, as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

The brief was prepared for NCEE by Andrew Wayne and Michael Garet of American Institutes for Research and Alison Wellington and Hanley Chiang of Mathematica Policy Research.

Source: Promoting educator effectiveness: the effects of two key strategies (March 2018), National Center for Education Evaluation, The Institute of Education Sciences

Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6

Two behaviours linked to dropout rates in high school

A study published in the Journal of School Health examines how two behaviours – aggression and poor study skills – may be a factor in why some pupils do not finish high school.

Pamela Orpinas and colleagues randomly selected 620 sixth-grade (Year 7) pupils from northeast Georgia schools. Teachers completed a behaviour rating scale for these pupils every year from grades six to twelve (Year 7 to Year 13). Based on teacher ratings, the pupils were categorised into low, medium and high aggression trajectories from middle to high school and into five study skills groups (low, average-low, decreasing, increasing and high).  Examples of behaviours considered to be aggressive were threatening to hurt, hitting, bullying and teasing others. Examples of study skills were doing extra credit work, being well organised, completing homework, working hard and reading assigned chapters. Participants in the study were classed as a dropout if they were not enrolled in school and had not obtained a high school diploma by the end of the spring term in grade 12 (Year 13).

Pupils who were identified in the high-aggression/low-study-skills group had a 50% dropout rate compared to pupils with low aggression and high study skills who had a dropout rate of less than 2%. The results highlight the importance of early interventions that combine academic enhancement and behavioural management for reducing school dropout rates.

Source: Longitudinal examination of aggression and study skills From middle to high school: Implications for dropout prevention (February 2018), Journal of School Health Volume 88, issue 3