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

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


Unhealthy school lunches nibble away academic performance

A National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper looks at the effect of offering healthier school lunches on end-of-year test scores for pupils in California.

Michael L Anderson and colleagues analysed data collected over a five-year period (academic years 2008/2009 to 2012/2013) from around 9,700 schools that reported test scores on California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting exam, a state-wide test given to all pupils in grades 2 to 11 (Years 3 to 13). In order to determine the link between food quality and pupil achievement, they also collected data from the California Department of Education on school districts’ meal vendors for the same time span. Over that five-year period, about 12% of California schools contracted an outside company to provide lunch for at least one school year. The nutritional value of the school lunch menus was analysed by nutritionists at the Nutrition Policy Institute using the Healthy Eating Index.

The results of the study found that in years when schools offered a healthy lunch menu, pupil test scores were on average higher (effect size +0.03 to +0.04). In addition, test scores for pupils who qualified for reduced-price or free school lunches, (and therefore more likely to eat the healthy lunches), increased by about 40% in comparison to pupils who didn’t receive free school lunches.  The positive effect of healthy lunches on academic achievement persisted for the duration of a long-term contract.

Source: School lunch quality and academic performance (March 2017), NBER Working Paper No. 23218, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Children who enjoy reading over three years ahead in the classroom

Research published by the National Literacy Trust highlights the link between enjoyment of reading and achievement, with children who enjoy reading more likely to do better at reading – over three years ahead in the classroom – of their peers who don’t enjoy it.

The findings are based on data from 42,406 children aged 8 to 18 who participated in a National Literacy Trust survey at the end of 2016. At age 10, children who enjoy reading have a reading age 1.3 years higher than their peers who don’t enjoy reading, rising to 2.1 years for 12-year-olds. At age 14, children who enjoy reading have an average reading age of 15.3 years, while those who don’t enjoy reading have an average reading age of just 12 years, a difference of 3.3 years.

The survey also indicates that three-quarters (78%) of UK primary school children enjoy reading, with girls more likely to enjoy reading than boys. Overall, 64.9% of girls enjoying reading either very much or quite a lot compared with 52.4% of boys, and this gap increases with age. At ages 8 to 11, 82.8% of girls and 72.4% of boys said they enjoyed reading. By ages 14 to 16, this figure has dropped to 53.3% of girls and 35.7% of boys reporting that they enjoy reading.

Source: Celebrating reading for enjoyment: findings from our annual literacy survey 2016 (June 2017), National Literacy Trust

Mindfulness-based interventions in schools

This Campbell systematic review examines the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) implemented in school settings on cognition, behaviour, socio-emotional outcomes and academic achievement. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, and is often combined with yoga, cognitive-behavioural strategies, or relaxation-skills training.

A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomised or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis, with a total of 6,207 pupil participants. Most of the studies were carried out in schools in the US (74%), with some in Asia (5%), Europe (16%) and Canada (5%). The interventions ranged in duration (4–28 weeks), number of sessions (6–125 sessions) and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week).

The findings show that MBIs in schools have a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socio-emotional outcomes, but do not improve behaviour or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioural outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socio-emotional and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues find a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behaviour and academic achievement.

Source: Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students (March 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:5

How much sleep do teenagers need?

In a new study published in Child Development, Andrew J Fuligni and colleagues examined whether there is an “optimal” amount of sleep for peak levels of academic achievement and mental health in teenagers.

A total of 421 pupils (mean age = 15.03 years) with Mexican-American backgrounds from the 9th and 10th grades (Years 10 and 11) of two high schools in the Los Angeles area reported the amount of sleep they had every night for two weeks. Official school records were obtained at the end of the academic year to measure academic achievement. The Youth Self-Report form of the Child Behavior Checklist was used as a measure of mental health. A year later, 80% repeated the same process and a second wave of data was collected.

Pupils who averaged 8.75 – 9 hours of sleep per school night demonstrated peak levels of mental health, whereas those who averaged 7 – 7.5 hours of sleep per night had the highest levels of academic achievement (see also an earlier study reported in Best Evidence in Brief).

While the results showed that the “optimal” amount of sleep needed is different for the two developmental outcomes, the researchers note that reducing sleep for the sake of academic performance may result in a greater decline in mental health than in the decline in academic performance from increasing sleep for the sake of mental health.

Source: Adolescent sleep duration, variability, and peak levels of achievement and mental health (January 2017), Child Development DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12729