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

Early maths knowledge among low-income children linked to later achievement

A longitudinal study published in Child Development evaluates an early maths trajectories model for 517 low-income US children from ages 4- to 11-years-old to determine whether children’s maths skills at 4- and 5-years-old predicted their maths achievement at age 11.

Children were tested on six maths skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating and understanding shapes) during their last year of pre-school and near the end of the first grade (Year 2). At the end of the fifth grade (Year 6), they were tested on a range of maths knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry.

Bethany Rittle‐Johnson and colleagues found that children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects in pre-school were strong predictors of their maths achievement at age 11. By the end of the first grade (Year2), understanding written numbers and calculating were the strongest predictors of later maths knowledge. Patterning skills remained a predictor, however, shape knowledge was never a unique predictor of later maths achievement.

These results suggest that children’s maths knowledge in pre-school is related to their later achievement; however, not all early achievement is a useful predictor of future performance.

Source: Early math trajectories: low-income children’s mathematics knowledge from ages 4 to 11 (2016) Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12662

Online maths homework increases student achievement

A study published in the journal AERA Open has found that a web-based mathematics homework intervention called ASSISTments made a positive impact on students’ maths achievement at the end of the school year.

Jeremy Roschelle and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial with 2,850 Grade 7 (Year 8) maths students across 43 schools in the US state of Maine, which since 2002 has provided every student in Grade 7 with a laptop. Schools in the intervention and control groups were matched in terms of demographics and socioeconomic status.

The ASSISTments intervention provided students with immediate personalised feedback as they worked on their homework, and when students struggled they were given the opportunity to work on supplementary problems sets. The intervention also enabled formative assessment practices for teachers, such as adapting their discussions of homework to fit students’ needs.

In schools where students and their teachers used the intervention, students achieved higher standardised maths test scores (effect size = + 0.18) compared with students in the control schools. Students with low prior maths achievement, in particular, benefited the most.

Source: Online mathematics homework increases student achievement (2016) AERA Open

Creativity is modestly correlated with achievement

A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Educational Psychology examines the link between creativity and academic achievement.

Aleksandra Gajda and colleagues initially selected 148 studies, but narrowed these down to include only those studies that used a quantitative measure of the link between creativity and academic achievement; included more objective measures of creativity (such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking) or self-report scales that showed sufficient reliability; and used grade point average (GPA), external exams, or researcher-developed tests to measure academic achievement.

The results showed a positive (albeit modest) relationship between creativity and academic achievement. The relationship was significantly stronger when creativity was measured with tests, particularly verbal tests, rather than when it was measured using self-report scales. The relationship was also significantly stronger when academic achievement was measured using standardised tests, rather than using GPA. The relationship between creativity and academic achievement was stable, no matter when, or where, the study had been carried out.

Source: Creativity and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis (2016), Journal of Educational Psychology

What makes a good principal?

The Florida Department of Education and REL Southeast have reviewed research on the effect of principals’ (head teachers) characteristics on pupil achievement. Researchers categorised “principal characteristics” as relating to a principal’s experience, behaviours, or beliefs and leadership styles.

Reviewers examined more than 800 studies published between 2001 and 2012, of which only 52 met inclusion criteria. The review found mixed results for all categories. However, there were several principal behaviours associated with improved pupil achievement, all of which showed an indirect influence on pupils. These were:
  • Providing feedback to teachers about their classroom performance;
  • Protecting teaching time;
  • Promoting high standards for learning;
  • Supporting teacher professional development;
  • Using data to make decisions; and
  • Establishing positive, professional relationships within the school.
Only one study reviewed was a randomised control trial addressing the relationship between principal characteristics and pupil achievement. It found that eighth grade pupils (Year 9) randomly assigned to talk with their principals about upcoming state tests had higher state scores than the control group who didn’t have such conversations.
The authors discuss how this data may be used to determine why some principals are so effective. In particular, it can inform the structure of principal preparation programmes and help them understand which parts of their jobs influence pupil achievement.
Source: A Systematic Review of the Relationships Between Principal Characteristics and Student Achievement (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.