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

The effects of engaging teachers

Brookings’ Evidence Speaks series recently featured an article by Susanna Loeb and Jing Liu describing the effects of teacher engagement on students’ later life outcomes. The article explains that teachers who keep their students engaged are more likely to have students attend their classes, which leads to higher graduation rates. Research shows that absence rates double between middle and secondary school, due to multiple factors including difficulty getting to school, students’ preferring to work to bring in money, and the unpleasantness of being in certain classes.  Many students only miss partial days of school, skipping classes that are either too difficult or too easy.

In order to isolate the effects of individual teachers on student attendance, Loeb and Liu examined teachers’ abilities to engage with students as measured by class-period absence rates versus whole-day absence rates. They found that teachers who improved their students’ class-period attendance rates, and therefore were deemed engaging teachers, were a positive influence on these students’ graduation rates.

Source: Going to school is optional: Schools need to engage students to increase their lifetime opportunities (2016), The Brookings Institution

Behaviour incentives improve exam results for low-achieving students

Low-achieving students respond to incentives to increase their effort and engagement at school and do better than predicted on GCSE exams as a consequence. That is the main finding of a discussion paper published by the University of Bristol.

The project, led by Simon Burgess, Director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), included more than 10,000 Year 11 students in 63 schools. The schools were recruited in the poorest parts of neighbourhoods in England and were randomised to one of the following treatment groups: financial incentives, non-financial incentives, or control. Students in the incentive treatment groups earned rewards every half-term based on inputs such as attendance, conduct, homework, and classwork, rather than for outputs such as assessment results. The financial incentive rewarded students with cash up to the value of £80 per half-term, while the non-financial incentive offered students the chance to qualify for a high-value event determined jointly by the school and students, such as a sporting event or trip to a theme park.

The researchers hoped to find that the incentives would improve effort and engagement and ultimately lead to improved GCSE performance even though the results themselves carried no rewards. The analysis showed that overall the impact of either financial or non-financial incentives on achievement was low, with small, positive but statistically insignificant effects on exam performance. However, among students with low predicted GCSE grades, those in the intervention groups got better marks than students in the control group, with treatment effects stronger for the financial incentives than the non-financial incentives (particularly in science). For students who were expected to do well, and already making an effort at school, the incentives made little difference.

Source: Understanding the response to financial and non-financial incentives in education: Field experimental evidence using high-stakes assessments (2016), Discussion Paper 16 / 678, University of Bristol

Report examines research on the gender gap in reading and student engagement

The Brown Center on Education Policy in the US has released a new report that asks How Well Are American Students Learning? The report describes the results of three educational research studies.

The first study examines the gender gap in reading. Historically, boys in the US score lower than girls on standardised reading tests and the gap widens in middle and high school. This trend is seen around the world, even in countries that scored high on the PISA reading subtests. The authors debunk several popular explanations for the gap, most notably the theory that females are biologically better at reading. The authors also note that the reading gap disappears in adulthood and that after age 35, men score significantly higher on reading measures than women. The authors comment that the effects of life cycle experiences on reading proficiency need to be examined.

The second study looks at the effects of intrinsic motivation on maths in 15-year-olds. Surprisingly, results showed a negative correlation between engagement level and maths achievement (higher engagement levels yielded lower test scores). Fifteen-year-olds in the US scored at average engagement levels. Countries who scored higher in PISA scores (Japan, Finland, South Korea) reported lower engagement levels for mathematics.

The third study discusses the early effects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – a set of standards that details what children age 5 to 18 should know in maths and literacy. The findings showed small, non-significant effects in fourth grade (Year 5) reading and eighth grade (Year 9) maths in states with strong CCSS implementation.

Source: How Well Are American Students Learning? (2015), Brown Centre on Education Policy

What works for reintegrating disengaged children and young people?

This systematic review from The Campbell Collaboration summarises the effectiveness of harm-reduction and reintegration-promotion interventions for “street-connected” children and young people (ie, who live or work in street environments) up to the age of 24.

Eleven studies evaluating 12 interventions from high-income countries were included in the analysis (the authors note that they did not find any sufficiently robust evaluations conducted in low- and middle-income countries). All of the studies used a comparison group study design and were randomised or quasi-randomised. Interventions were included if their goal was to have an impact on any of the following key outcomes: inclusion, reintegration, health, well-being, and/or educational and occupational achievement.

The results of the studies were mixed, but overall the authors found that there were favourable changes from baseline in outcomes for most participants in therapy-based interventions and also in “standard” services (youth drop-in centres and shelters). However, no study measured the primary outcome of reintegration or reported on adverse effects.

Source: Interventions for Promoting Reintegration and Reducing Harmful Behaviour and Lifestyles in Street-connected Children and Young People: A Systematic Review (2013), The Campbell Collaboration.

What do we know about well-being?

The Department for Education’s Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre has published a new review of evidence on well-being and learning. Their starting point was that, although previous literature suggests a link, less is known about how multiple dimensions of well-being (emotional, behavioural, social, school) predict later educational outcomes. The authors conducted a review of relevant literature, as well as using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Key findings included:

  • Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social, and school well-being, on average, have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school;
  • As children move through the school system, emotional and behavioural well-being become more important in explaining school engagement, while demographic and other characteristics become less important; and
  • The relationships between emotional, behavioural, social, and school well-being and later educational outcomes are generally similar for children and adolescents, regardless of their gender and parents’ educational level.

Source: The impact of pupil behaviour and wellbeing on educational outcomes (2012), Department for Education