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.

Research is vital, but isn’t always straightforward

The EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) is funding a series of randomised controlled trials, with the aim of increasing the research base on various educational interventions. The first six reports have now been published. Three of the reports provide clear guidance as to the effectiveness of the interventions they evaluate.

  • Switch-on Reading is an intensive ten-week literacy intervention, delivered on a one-to-one basis by teaching assistants to struggling Year 7 pupils. The EEF evaluation found an overall effect size of +0.24, meaning that the programme made a noticeable positive impact.
  • Catch Up® Numeracy is a one-to-one intervention delivered by teaching assistants to primary children who are struggling with numeracy. The EEF evaluation found that although the Catch-Up children made significant gains, there was little evidence that this was over and above gains made from one-to-one teaching with teaching assistants not using Catch-Up.
  • Grammar for Writing is a literacy intervention that aims to improve the writing skills of Year 6 pupils by providing contextualised grammar teaching. The EEF evaluation found it was not effective when delivered as a whole-class intervention over four weeks, and only modestly effective as a small-group intervention (although this is likely to be a result of small-group teaching, rather than an intrinsic benefit of Grammar for Writing itself).

The other three reports illustrate the challenges of conducting robust research. None were able to draw decisive conclusions because of problems with implementation fidelity (Anglican Schools Partnership Effective Feedback); difficulties in recruiting pupils and preventing dropout (Future Foundations Summer School); and unreliable data (Response to Intervention).

Neuroscience approaches with promise

A new review commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation summarises existing evidence about education approaches and interventions that are based (or claim to be based) on neuroscience. The review looked at 18 different topics and considered the strength of evidence to support them and how close they are to a practical application in education.

Five topics were found to be the most developed in terms of educational application and have the most promising evidence about their impact on educational outcomes. These were:

  • Mathematics. Maths anxiety interferes with neurocognitive processes that are crucial to learning, but the effects can be mediated by an individual’s recruitment of cognitive control networks.
  • Reading. Mapping letter symbols to sound and comprehending meaning.
  • Exercise. Participating in physical activity to increase the efficiency of neural networks.
  • Spaced learning. Learning content multiple times with breaks in between.
  • Testing. Being tested on studied material aids memory.

The author notes that there is a growing interest in neuroscience-informed education, but that this enthusiasm means that the topic needs to be approached with care. He concludes that all of the parties involved – neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, educational researchers, and teachers – should work together to ensure that the neuroscience is properly interpreted and applied through educational interventions that are meaningful, feasible, and rigorously tested.

Source: Neuroscience and Education: A Review of Educational Interventions and Approaches Informed by Neuroscience (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.