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.

The Dialogic Teaching intervention was developed by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and the University of York. This University of York news story has more.

Source: Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Scale-up evaluation of Switch-on disappoints

An independent evaluation for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) of the Switch-on intervention has found no evidence that it improves the reading outcomes of pupils struggling with literacy at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7 years) compared to schools’ usual practices.

Switch-on is an intensive, targeted literacy intervention that aims to improve the reading skills of pupils who are struggling with literacy. There are two versions of the intervention: Switch-on Reading and Switch-on Reading and Writing. Both involve specially trained Teaching Assistants (TAs) delivering a tailored programme of literacy support in daily 20-minute sessions over a ten-week period.

Schools selected pupils in Year 3 who were working below age-related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1 and who did not have a high level of special needs. Each of the 184 participating schools was then randomly assigned to receive either Switch-on Reading, Switch-on Reading and Writing, or to continue their usual practices of supporting pupils with reading difficulties. In total, 999 pupils were involved in the trial.

Estimated effect sizes were zero and not statistically significant. The intervention also showed no effect on pupils eligible for free school meals. These findings contradict a previous, smaller EEF-funded evaluation of Switch-on which had shown signs of promise in raising reading outcomes for Year 7 pupils.

Source: Switch-on – effectiveness trial (May 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Is the pen mightier than the computer?

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a report assessing the impact of Abracadabra (ABRA), a 20-week online literacy programme, on literacy outcomes for Year 1 pupils. ABRA is composed of phonic fluency and comprehension activities based around a series of age-appropriate texts and is designed to be delivered by a teaching assistant to groups of three to five pupils in four 15-minute sessions per week. The EEF evaluation tested the ABRA online intervention alongside a paper-based alternative using the same material.

Fifty-one schools were randomly assigned to receive either a version of the intervention or to act as a control school delivering business as usual. In the schools receiving the intervention, pupils were randomised to receive the online intervention (ABRA), the paper-based intervention, or standard literacy provision.

Positive effects were found for both the online and paper-based interventions. Pupils in the online treatment group (effect size = +0.14) and the paper-based treatment group (ES = +0.23) both showed an improvement in literacy outcomes. The impact was higher for children eligible for free school meals for both ABRA (+0.37) and the paper-based intervention (+0.40). Pupils with below average pre-test outcomes seemed to benefit from ABRA, whereas the paper-based intervention seemed to benefit all pupils. Pupils who received normal literacy provision in the schools where the interventions took place did better than pupils who received normal literacy provision in control schools.

Source: ABRA: Online reading support: Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Catch up with Fresh Start phonics

The EEF has published an evaluation of Fresh Start, a phonics intervention that seeks to help pupils at risk of falling behind their peers in literacy.

The study in 10 schools in England looked at 433 Year 7 pupils who had not achieved National Curriculum Level 4b or above. Pupils were allocated to intervention and control groups and those who participated in Fresh Start were removed from regular English lessons for an hour three times a week.

Pupils who used Fresh Start made an estimated three months’ extra progress in literacy. The effect size was moderate (+0.24) and the EEF judged the evidence strength as moderate. Pupils who received free school meals showed the same effect size (+0.24), but the smaller numbers of participants in the subgroup made this finding less robust.

According to the EEF, all 10 schools in the study plan to continue using Fresh Start.

Source: Fresh Start (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.

It’s hard work to motivate students

The results of an experiment to use incentives to increase student effort have shown little evidence of a significant positive impact.

The trial was carried out in 63 relatively deprived schools in England in the first two terms of the 2012/13 academic year. The 7,730 Year 11 students who took part were allocated to one of three groups:

  • In the control group schools (n=33), students received no incentives for student effort, but student effort was monitored in the same way as in the two treatment groups.
  • Students at schools in one treatment group (n=15) received financial rewards twice a term (every eight weeks) depending on their effort.
  • Students at schools in the other treatment group (n=15) were able to attend an event at the end of each term (at Christmas and Easter) if their effort met a certain threshold.

The trial aimed to test loss aversion (the idea that individuals dislike losses more than they like gains of the same value), so, for example, the students were told they had £80 in incentives, but money was deducted if they did not reach the threshold in four measures of effort: attendance, behaviour, classwork, and homework.

The results showed no significant improvement in attainment, for either type of incentive, in maths and English standardised tests. For students with a lower level of prior attainment, there was a small but significant improvement in maths scores (effect size +0.13). For the financial incentive there was a positive and statistically significant increase in classwork for English, maths, and science, and a similar (but not significant) improvement with the event incentive. There was no improvement in any of the other measures of effort.

The report is one of seven studies recently published by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Source: Increasing Pupil Motivation (2014), Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

High hopes for good behaviour

A new review, published in the Review of Educational Research, analyses the evidence on The Good Behavior Game (GBG), a classroom management programme that has been used (and studied) for 40 years. Strategies in the programme include acknowledging appropriate behaviour, teaching classroom rules, providing feedback about inappropriate behaviour, verbal praise, and providing rewards as reinforcement.

A total of 22 studies met the authors’ inclusion criteria. In these, the programme was mainly being used in mainstream primary schools with externalising, challenging behaviours (eg, disruptive behaviour, off-task behaviour, aggression, talking out, and out-of-seat behaviours).

The review aimed to describe and quantify the effect of the GBG on various challenging behaviours in school and classroom settings. The findings suggested that the GBG had moderate to large effects on a range of challenging behaviours, and that these effects were immediate. The correct use of rewards was found to be important for intervention effectiveness. Few studies considered the long-term impact of the GBG, but the authors conclude that the effects were largely stable, with only a very slight decrease over time.

The authors note that the GBG has been implemented by individuals in a variety of school roles (such as classroom teachers, student teachers, librarians, and lunchtime staff), and that this highlights the ease with which the GBG can be implemented under a variety of conditions. Additionally, the relatively brief training for practitioners in the studies suggests that the GBG can be used successfully without extensive training.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is currently funding a randomised controlled trial of the GBG in 74 schools in England.

Source: Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Challenging Behaviors in School Settings (2014), Review of Educational Research, online first June 2014.