What does good professional development for teaching language look like?

Research published in AERA Open examines the features needed for effective teacher professional development (PD) aimed at preparing teachers to support their pupils in mastering language expectations across the curriculum.

Eva Kalinowski and colleagues conducted a systematic review of studies of PD programmes, published between 2002 and 2015, which aimed to support teachers to improve their pupils’ academic language ability in different subject areas. Of the 38 studies they reviewed, all but one were carried out in the US. Eighteen studies used quantitative data only, three used a mainly qualitative approach, and 17 used mixed methods.

Although the researchers were unable to conclude which elements actually influenced the effectiveness of the programmes analysed, they found that all of the studies were effective to some extent, and shared many characteristics considered to be important in successful teacher PD across different subject areas. The forms of PD likely to show some effect for teachers and pupils in this area:

  • were long-term intensive programmes that included multiple learning opportunities aimed at elaborating and practising newly learned knowledge and strategies
  • provided practical assistance
  • enabled and encouraged teachers to work together
  • considered teachers’ needs as well as pupils’ learning processes and languages spoken at home.

Source: Effective professional development for teachers to foster students’ academic language proficiency across the curriculum: A systematic review (February 2-19), AERA Open.

Supporting pupils in primary school may help keep them in education

Elementary (primary) pupils who participated in a comprehensive support intervention in the Boston public school district are less likely to drop out of high school (secondary school) than pupils not in the intervention, according to a new study published in AERA Open.

Terrence K Lee-St. John and colleagues examined the impact of City Connects – a schoolwide systemic pupil support programme which provides extra academic and social support for pupils in poverty – on high school drop-out rates. Their study tracked pupils from six elementary (primary) schools who participated in the intervention from kindergarten until fifth grade (Years 1 to 6). These pupils were compared to pupils who were enrolled in the school district at the same time but didn’t use the intervention programme.

In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree-level licensed school counsellor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every pupil, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs for academic, social/emotional/behavioural development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence later drop-out presents itself as a “red flag”, this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

The study found that pupils who participated in the intervention had a 9.2% drop-out rate in high school, compared to 16.6% for the non-intervention pupils.

Source: The long-term impact of systemic student support in elementary school: Reducing high school dropout (October 2018), AERA Open, Volume: 4 issue: 4

Have gender gaps in maths closed?

A study, published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, explored the early development of gender gaps in mathematics achievement, including when gaps first appear, where in the distribution they develop, and whether these gaps have changed over the years.

Cimpian and colleagues compared two cohorts in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: the kindergarten (Year 1) classes of 1998-1999 (N = 21,399) and 2010-2011 (N = 18,170). They observed that the gender gap at the top of the distribution (among the highest achievers in maths) begins in early elementary school (Year 2) and continues to get worse, and has not improved over the last decade. In both the 1998-1999 and 2010-2011 cohorts, girls represented less than one-third of students above the 99th percentile as early as the spring of kindergarten. By Grade 3 (Year 4) for the 1998-1999 cohort and Grade 2 (Year 3) for the 2010-2011 cohort, girls made up only one-fifth of those above the 99th percentile.

In addition to maths achievement, students’ learning behaviours and teacher expectations were examined, as these could be two potential contributors to the gender gaps. When boys and girls behaved and performed similarly, teachers in both cohorts underrated the maths skills of girls as early as Grade 1 (Year 2). In other words, in mathematics, for teachers to rate girls equally with boys, girls must work harder and behave better than the boys.

Source: Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts (2016), AERA Open

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