Self-explanation may be more effective than presenting pupils with an explanation

Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada conducted a meta-analysis on research that investigated learning outcomes for pupils who received self-explanation prompts while studying or solving problems. Self-explanation is a process by which pupils use prior knowledge to make inferences in order to fill in missing information or monitor understanding.

Their study, published in Educational Psychological Review, examined 69 independent effect sizes from 64 studies (5,917 participants). Studies had to include a treatment condition in which learners were directed or prompted to self-explain during a learning task, with a comparison treatment where learners were directed not to self-explain. The measure was a cognitive outcome such as problem solving or comprehension. Learning activities were mostly of short duration (less than an hour) and carried out mostly with undergraduate students.

The analysis found an overall weighted mean effect size of +0.55 on learning outcomes for pupils who were prompted to self-explain compared to those who were not. However, most of the studies were very brief and artificial, so the outcomes cannot be assumed to apply to actual classroom practice. Moderating variables were also examined in order to investigate how learning outcomes varied under a range of conditions, but were found to have no significant difference on effect sizes. The study concludes that having pupils come up with an explanation themselves is often more effective than presenting them with an explanation.

Source: Inducing self-explanation: a meta-analysis (September 2018), Educational Psychological Review, Volume 30, Issue 3

Screen time or story time?

A new article published in Frontiers of Psychology analyses differences in parent-child talk and reading behaviour when reading print versus electronic versions of the same books.

Parents of 102 children aged 17-26 months from Toronto, Canada, were randomly assigned to read either two electronic books or two print format books with their child. The books had identical content, but while the parent read the words in the print books aloud, the electronic books had an automatic voiceover. After reading, the children were asked to identify an animal presented in the books. Children who read the e-book made more correct choices.

Gabrielle Strouse and Patricia Ganea found that parents who read the print books pointed more frequently to pages than parents who read the electronic books. But the opposite was true for the children. Parents and children spent almost twice as much time reading the electronic books as the print format books. Children who were read the electronic books paid more attention, made themselves more available for reading, participated in more page turns, and produced more content-related comments during reading than those who were read the print format books.

The researchers point out that while increased engagement does not always translate into increased learning, the positive engagement and content-related language observed in the children who were read the electronic books suggests they have a role in supporting learning for younger children. However, more work should be done to identify the potential benefits and hazards.

Source: Parent-toddler behavior and language differ when reading electronic and print picture books (May 2017), Frontiers in Psychology 8:677

Achievement gap for EALs closes as time goes by

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published two reports that investigate educational achievement by students who speak English as an additional language (EAL). There are around one million EAL pupils in England, representing 16.2% of the school population (up from 7.6% in 1997).

The first study analysed data from the National Pupil Database to find the most at-risk groups of EAL learners and to identify predictors of low attainment for them. Among the main findings were:

  • At age 5, EAL children were one-third less likely to achieve a target of good level of development than children with first-language English (FLE).
  • At age 16, EAL students demonstrated a small achievement gap for GCSE grades (58.3% of EAL students achieved five or more A*-C compared with 60.9% of FLE students), yet no gap at all for a scoring system based on performance in eight subjects at Key Stage 4.
  • There was no evidence of a negative impact on the attainment and progress of FLE students where there were high proportions of EAL students.

The second study was a systematic review that sought international evidence for effective interventions for raising standards in EAL students. Of the 29 studies that showed an impact, 27 were from the US, one from Canada, and one from the UK. Five of the studies addressed CPD for educators.

None of the interventions met criteria for high ratings for strength of evidence. The authors called for further and more rigorous research to increase the evidence base of effective interventions for EAL students.

Source: English as an Additional Language (EAL) and Educational Achievement in England: An Analysis of the National Pupil Database and A Systematic Review of Intervention Research Examining English Language and Literacy Development in Children with English as an Additional Language(EAL) (2015), Education Endowment Foundation

Positive results for mindfulness programme

Elementary school pupils who took part in a mindfulness programme showed improved social-emotional competencies and maths achievement.

The study in Canada took place in four elementary schools, which were allocated at random to deliver either a mindfulness programme or a social responsibility programme as a control. In total, almost 100 grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) children took part. The mindfulness programme, MindUp, consisted of 12 lessons taught once a week, each lesson lasting around 45 minutes. The programme included mindfulness activities such as breathing and attentive listening and lessons encouraging acts of kindness and community service.

Children in the MindUp programme showed significant improvements in executive function, self-reported well-being, and self- and peer-reported social behaviour. They also demonstrated better maths performance.

The authors argue that although this study is small, it shows potential for this kind of training to improve cognitive skills, social-emotional competence, and well-being in a real-world setting.

Source: Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial (2015), Developmental Psychology, 51(1)

Mother’s reading level makes a difference

A new article published in the Early Childhood Education Journal shows that maternal reading level predicts both a child’s receptive vocabulary and reading proficiency prior to schooling, after maternal education is taken into account. The findings also controlled for ethnicity, number of children in the family, and marital and employment status.

The authors used a sample of 155 children (aged 3–5 years) and their mothers (aged 20–44 years) of low income and low educational background from Western Canada. Children and mothers were tested individually for their reading proficiency using standardised tests, and children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency also was tested. The mothers were also interviewed one-to-one for demographic information. All the families spoke English first and foremost, although some were bilingual.

The study concludes that both mothers’ measured reading levels and their reported educational levels were significant predictors of children’s reading proficiency, each over and above the other. However, in the case of children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency, they found that mothers’ reading levels were a significant predictor but that mothers’ educational level was not.

In the light of this, the authors recommend that early childhood educators may consider implementing programmes to support mothers in improving their reading, in order to raise their children’s language and literacy levels.

Source: Unique Contributions of Maternal Reading Proficiency to Predicting Children’s Preschool Receptive Vocabulary and Reading Proficiency (2014), Early Childhood Education Journal, online first January 2014.

Lengthening time in preschool is good! Or is it?

new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates that receiving an additional year of preschool education benefits disadvantaged children. The authors conducted a study of children participating in a daily preschool programme in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who were largely from disadvantaged backgrounds. They compared the outcomes of the children who participated for two years (entering at age three) and one year (entering at age four). Assessments were conducted simultaneously across participating schools by a team of research assistants in the autumn of each year. The findings showed that receiving a second year of preschool led to significant improvements in the children’s early literacy and numeracy skills and school readiness.

However, a new paper by Canadian researchers offers a different perspective. The authors investigated the long-term effects of the length of early childhood education using a variation created by a policy experiment in British Columbia in the late 1980s. The experiment resulted in a period where some children attended kindergarten for only six months, and others for sixteen months (compared to the usual ten months). The pupils were tracked over time, and of the original sample, 82,499 pupils were tracked as far as their grade ten (age 16/17) maths and reading tests. The authors found that “long kindergarten” reduced grade ten maths scores by about 2.6% of a standard deviation, and reading scores by about 6.2% of a standard deviation, though only the latter is statistically significant. The findings also implied that being in kindergarten longer increased the probability of grade repetition. Negative effects were highest for disadvantaged pupils and males. However, the authors note that the strong negative effect for long kindergarten may also arise from larger class sizes, the relatively lower age for this group, and the fact that they may have spent time in a low-quality kindergarten instead of being at home or in formal daycare.

Sources: One Versus Two Years: Does Length of Exposure to an Enhanced Preschool Program Impact the Academic Functioning of Disadvantaged Children in Kindergarten? (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

The Long-run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Failed Policy Experiment (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.