What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

Can a postcard reduce pupils’ absenteeism?

In an effort to improve parents’ and guardians’ awareness of absenteeism, and therefore reduce pupil absenteeism, the Philadelphia school district in the US together with the National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance conducted a randomised controlled trial based on the principles of “nudge” theory. Nudge theory is an approach that involves unobtrusive intervention to promote desired behaviours.

In this study, the “nudge” was a single postcard sent to the homes of pupils in grades 1–12 (Years 2–13 in the UK) who had been absent the previous year to test whether it could reduce absenteeism and what impact, if any, different messages had. Two types of message were tested: one simply encouraging parents to improve their child’s attendance; the other included specific information about their child’s attendance history as well as encouraging them to improve their child’s attendance. A control group received no postcards from the school.

Todd Rogers and colleagues found that receiving a postcard reduced absences by around 2.4 percent. There was no statistically significant difference in pupils’ absence according to which message their parents received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between pupils in grades 1– 8 (Years 2–9) and pupils in grades 9–12 (Years 10–13).

Source: A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

Report presents latest research on Read 180 programme

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has updated its Intervention Report on READ 180, a programme designed for struggling readers who are reading two or more years below grade level.

The WWC identified nine studies of READ 180 that fell within the scope of the WWC’s Adolescent Literacy topic area and met WWC research standards. Three studies met WWC standards without reservations, and six studies met WWC standards with reservations (according to the WWC, studies receiving this rating provide a lower degree of confidence that an observed effect was caused by the intervention). Together, these studies included 8,755 teenage readers in more than 66 schools in 15 school districts and 10 states.

After examining the research, the WWC concluded that READ 180 has positive effects on comprehension and general literacy achievement, potentially positive effects on reading fluency, but no discernible effects on alphabetics.

Source: READ 180® Adolescent Literacy What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report:  A summary of findings from a systematic review of the evidence (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

Teaching secondary students to write effectively

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Educator’s Practice Guide. The guide, Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, provides evidence-based recommendations for improving the writing skills of middle and secondary school students.

The WWC and a panel chaired by Steve Graham at Arizona State University synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Explicitly teach appropriate writing strategies using a Model-Practice-Reflect instructional cycle (strong evidence)
  • Integrate writing and reading to emphasise key writing features (moderate evidence)
  • Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback (minimal evidence)

To help teachers put the recommendations into practice, the guide describes over 30 specific strategies for the classroom, including sample writing prompts, activities that incorporate both writing and reading, and ways to use formative assessment to inform writing instruction.

Source: Teaching secondary students to write effectively (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

Examining the impact of content-intensive teacher professional development

A new evaluation report by Michael S Garet and colleagues, published by the US Institute of Education Sciences, examines the impact of providing elementary (primary) school teachers with content-focused maths continuing professional development (CPD) on their knowledge, teaching, and students’ achievement.

The study’s CPD had three components totalling 93 hours. The core of the CPD was Intel Math, an 80-hour workshop delivered in the summer of 2013 that focused on deepening teachers’ knowledge of grades K–8 mathematics (Years 1 to 9). Two additional CPD components totalling 13 hours were delivered during the 2013–14 school year.

The study’s sample included grade 4 (Year 5) teachers from 94 schools in six US school districts and five states that were randomly assigned within schools to either a treatment group that received the study CPD or a control group that did not receive the study CPD.
Key findings were as follows:

  • The CPD had a positive impact on teacher knowledge. On average, treatment teachers’ maths knowledge scores on a study-administered maths assessment were 21 percentile points higher than control teachers’ scores in spring 2014, after the CPD was completed.
  • The CPD had a positive impact on some aspects of teaching practice, particularly Richness of Mathematics, which emphasises the conceptual aspects of maths, such as the use and quality of mathematical explanations.
  • Despite the CPD’s generally positive impact on teacher outcomes, the CPD did not have a positive impact on student achievement. On average, treatment teachers’ students scored 2 percentile points lower than control teachers’ students in spring 2014 on both a study-administered maths assessment aligned with the content of the CPD and the state maths assessment. This difference was statistically significant for the state maths assessment but not for the study-administered assessment.

Source: Focusing on Mathematical Knowledge: The Impact of Content-Intensive Teacher Professional Development (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

The impact of pay-for-performance

A new report from Alison Wellington and colleagues, published by the Institute of Education Sciences, looks at the implementation and impacts in US schools that offered pay-for-performance as part of their 2010 Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants. These grants, now named the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program, support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

An experimental study design was used to assess the impacts of pay-for-performance on educator and student outcomes. Elementary and middle schools within the evaluation districts were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The treatment schools were to fully implement their performance-based compensation system. The control schools were to implement the same performance-based compensation system with one exception—the pay-for-performance bonus component was replaced with a one percent bonus paid to all educators regardless of performance.

For the 10 evaluation districts that completed three years of TIF implementation (between 2011 and 2014), key findings showed that pay-for-performance had small, significant positive impacts on students’ math and reading achievement. The report notes that after three years of TIF implementation, the average math score was 2 percentile points higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. The average reading score was 1 percentile point higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. This difference was equivalent to a gain of about four additional weeks of learning.

Source: Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Implementation and Impacts of Pay-for-Performance After Three Years (2016), Institute of Education Sciences