Teaching pupils to be effective writers

A new practice guide from the What Works Clearinghouse in the US, Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers, offers four strategies for improving pupils’ writing:

  • Provide daily time for pupils to write
  • Teach pupils to use the writing process for a variety of purposes
  • Teach pupils to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing
  • Create an engaged community of writers.

For each recommendation, the guide provides implementation ideas and examples, summaries of supporting research, and solutions to common roadblocks. It is aimed at teachers, literacy advisers, and other practitioners who want to improve the writing of their pupils.

Source: Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

Improving literacy though music

An independent evaluation of the New London Orchestra’s (NLO) “Literacy through Music” programme shows that participants achieve significantly more in literacy and music compared to similar children outside the programme.

The 20-week NLO programme took place in seven Year 2 classes in three schools in the London borough of Newham. It aimed to improve the reading abilities of six- to seven-year-old children by engaging them in a special programme of music activities that were combined with sessions involving games, poetry, and story-telling.

Researchers tested children at the beginning and end of the NLO programme and found that participants’ reading ages went up by 8.4 months on average. The reading ages of the children in the control group improved by only 1.8 months. Participants’ singing ability also improved significantly, as measured by a researcher-led singing assessment.

Source: Literacy through music: A research evaluation of the New London Orchestra’s literacy through music programme (2012), International music education research centre

Poor pupils more than two years behind in reading

New research published in a special issue of Fiscal Studies shows that the link between family background and high achievement is stronger in England than in most other developed countries.

The study uses data from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and analyses the reading test scores of 15-year-old pupils in 23 countries.

The results show that high-achieving pupils from the lowest socio-economic groups in England are, on average, two-and-a-half years behind their wealthier peers. This is more than twice the gap found in in some other developed countries. Only the US, New Zealand, and Scotland have a bigger socio-economic gap than England in the reading test scores of high-achieving pupils.

The Government is attempting to improve the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing £10 million for projects to help those who fail to reach the expected level of English by the end of primary school (level 4 at Key Stage 2).The announcement comes as a response to last year’s Key Stage 2 results, which showed around 100,000 pupils in England failed to reach level 4 in English by the end of primary school.

Source: The socio-economic gradient in teenagers’ reading skills: How does England compare with other countries? (2012), Fiscal Studies, 33(2).

Qualifications are the key to better early years education

Providing staff with the right skills is essential for ensuring better quality early years education. Professor Cathy Nutbrown has published her final independent report on early education and childcare qualifications Foundations for Quality, which shows that high quality early years provision narrows the gap between disadvantaged children and others, and that staff qualifications improve quality.

A large-scale public consultation was conducted to gather evidence, and an interim report was released in March 2012. In this final report, Professor Nutbrown has set out 19 recommendations to improve the quality of education in the early years sector. These include, mentoring and support for newly-qualified staff, improving qualifications to make them more rigorous and with a stronger focus on child development, and that the government should not impose a licensing system for the sector at this stage.

The government will now consider Professor Nutbrown’s report in detail before responding later in the year.

Source: Foundations for quality: The independent review of early education and childcare qualifications – Final Report (2012), Nutbrown Review

Persistent poverty damages young children’s cognitive development

Persistent poverty has a greater effect on children’s cognitive development than intermittent poverty, according to the latest working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the University of London’s Institute of Education. The study, which analyses data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, shows that children born into poverty have significantly lower cognitive development test scores at ages 3, 5, and 7, and that continually living in poverty in their early years has a cumulative negative impact on their cognitive development.

The researchers looked at whether the children were in poverty at ages 9 months, 3 years, 5 years, and 7 years and then estimated the effect of poverty on the children’s scores on cognitive tests taken at ages 3, 5, and 7, which included vocabulary, pattern construction, picture recognition, and reading. For children who had been poor at only one point since birth, it was being born into poverty that had the most detrimental effects on cognitive development, whereas recent episodes of poverty had the least impact.

Source: Persistent poverty and children’s cognitive development: Evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (2012), Institute of Education University of London

Randomised controlled trial of the Teens and Toddlers programme

This report from the Department for Education presents findings of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the impact of the Teens and Toddlers (T&T) programme, which aims to reduce teenage pregnancy by raising the aspirations and educational attainment of 13- to 17-year-old girls at most risk of leaving education early, social exclusion, and becoming pregnant.

The T&T programme, which consisted of weekly three-hour sessions over 18 to 20 weeks, combined group-based learning with work experience in a nursery. The RCT measured the impact of the programme on a specific set of outcomes while it was taking place, immediately afterwards, and one year later. Immediately after the intervention, there was no evidence of a positive impact on the three primary outcomes:

  • use of contraception;
  • expectation of teenage parenthood; and
  • general social and emotional development.

However, there was evidence of improved self-esteem and sexual-health knowledge, which were secondary outcomes. One year later, the only impact was that the teenagers were less likely to have low self-esteem.

Source: Randomised controlled trial of the ‘teens and toddlers’ programme (2012), Department for Education