Social skills intervention programme shows small positive effects

Results from a study published in the Journal of Education Psychology suggest that a classroom social skills programme, The Social Skills Improvement System Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP), generally has small positive effects on social skills and approaches to learning.

James Clyde DiPerna and colleagues from the Pennsylvania State University evaluated the effects of SSIS-CIP on the social, behavioural and academic outcomes of Year 2 pupils from six primary schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. Classrooms were randomly assigned to either treatment or business-as-usual control groups. Teachers assigned to the treatment group implemented the SSIS-CIP over a 12-week period. Outcomes were assessed via teacher ratings and direct observations of classroom behaviour as well as computer-adaptive tests of reading and maths.

Results showed that SSIS-CIP has a small positive effect on social skills across all social skills subscales (effect sizes ranged from +0.13 to +0.31), with empathy and social engagement showing the largest positive effects (+0.31 and +0.21). The direct observation measure, however, yielded the smallest effect size (+0.05). Students in the treatment group also demonstrated positive effects on academic motivation and engagement (+0.17). However, SSIS-CIP did not demonstrate any substantial effects for problem behaviours, with effect sizes across subscales ranging from +0.01 to +0.07.

Source: A cluster randomized trial of the Social Skills Improvement System-Classwide Intervention Program (SSIS-CIP) in first grade (2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(1), 1-16.

Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing

A study published in Journal of Educational Psychology reports on two years of findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Pathway Project, an intervention designed to reduce achievement gaps in academic writing for pupils who are Latino or have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Ninety-five teachers from 16 secondary schools in the Anaheim Union High School District – a large, diverse, low-socioeconomic status, urban district with over 33,000 pupils (60% Latino and 66% EAL) – were randomly assigned to the treatment (Pathway) or control condition. Teachers in the Pathway group took part in a 46-hour professional development programme where they were trained to help improve pupils’ interpretative reading and text-based analytical writing using a cognitive strategies approach.

Findings from the study show promising results in both years of the intervention that appear to close the achievement gap in writing outcomes for Latino pupils and EALs in grades 7 to 12 (Years 8-13). In the first year of the trial, Pathway pupils gained 0.99 points more for an on-demand academic writing assessment than control pupils, which was highly statistically significant. Significant effects were attained for all grade levels except 12th grade (Year 13). The second year also showed a large positive, significant effect of the intervention on the full sample. Pre- and post-test scores for the academic writing assessment showed an effect size of +0.48 in the first year and +0.60 in the second year.

Programme effects were positive and significant for all the language groups, with the very largest occurring for EALs. This suggests that the Pathway Project may be particularly beneficial for pupils still in the process of learning English. In addition, pupils in the Pathway group had higher odds than pupils in the control group of passing the California Higher School Exit Exam in both years.

Source: Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in Grades 7–12 (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1), 1-21.

Improving reading comprehension for English learners

A randomised controlled trial, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, has examined the impact of a version of the PACT reading comprehension and content acquisition intervention, which was modified to meet the needs of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EALs), in eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies classes.

Sharon Vaughn and colleagues carried out the trial with schools with moderate to high concentrations of EALs. In the selected schools, all eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies teachers participated, and classes were randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison condition. Each teacher taught both PACT treatment classes and comparison classes, and the same social studies content was delivered to pupils in both conditions, but with the interrelated components of PACT included in the treatment classes.

Pupils in the treatment group did better than pupils in the comparison group on measures of content knowledge acquisition and content reading comprehension, but not general reading comprehension. Both EALs and non-EALs who received the intervention performed better on measures of content knowledge acquisition (effect size = 0.40) and content-related reading (effect size = 0.20).

Source: Improving content knowledge and comprehension for English language learners: Findings from a randomized control trial (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1)

Creativity is modestly correlated with achievement

A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Educational Psychology examines the link between creativity and academic achievement.

Aleksandra Gajda and colleagues initially selected 148 studies, but narrowed these down to include only those studies that used a quantitative measure of the link between creativity and academic achievement; included more objective measures of creativity (such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking) or self-report scales that showed sufficient reliability; and used grade point average (GPA), external exams, or researcher-developed tests to measure academic achievement.

The results showed a positive (albeit modest) relationship between creativity and academic achievement. The relationship was significantly stronger when creativity was measured with tests, particularly verbal tests, rather than when it was measured using self-report scales. The relationship was also significantly stronger when academic achievement was measured using standardised tests, rather than using GPA. The relationship between creativity and academic achievement was stable, no matter when, or where, the study had been carried out.

Source: Creativity and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis (2016), Journal of Educational Psychology

Stories about struggling scientists improved science grades

A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the impact of “struggle stories” on success in science.

Students who think that success in science is only possible with exceptional talent may become demotivated and, for example, turn away from the idea of studying science in college.
In this study, 402 students in ninth and tenth grades (Year 10 and 11) in New York City schools read one of three kinds of story about an eminent scientist who:

  • struggled intellectually (eg, made mistakes and overcame them through effort);
  • struggled personally (eg, was poor or lacked parental support, but overcame it); or
  • made great discoveries (a control condition, without struggle).

The intervention lasted five weeks. Student achievement was measured using grades from the six-week sessions before and after the intervention, and motivation was measured using a pre- and post-test. Students in both of the “struggle story” conditions had higher grades than did those in the control condition, though the difference was not significant. There was no measurable difference on the motivation of the groups, but analysis of interviews showed that the students felt more connected to the scientists.

Source: Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science. (2016), Journal of Educational Psychology.

Preschool maths and science professional development fails to improve learning

A new article published in the Journal of Educational Psychology describes a study into the impact of professional development on maths and science learning in early childhood education.

For the study, 65 staff from 34 varied early childhood settings in Ohio were randomly assigned to experience 10.5 days (64 hours) of training on maths and science or an alternative topic (art and creativity). The maths and science training was adapted from the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence, which provides a developmental progression based on early childhood research and theory.

The study looked at both maths and science learning opportunities, and the maths and science learning gains of the children (n=385). In terms of opportunities, the authors found that the professional development significantly impacted on the provision of science learning opportunities, but not maths. However, in terms of learning gains, none were observed.

The authors suggest a number of factors that may have contributed to the outcome. These include the fact that although educators were provided with hands-on opportunities to try new maths and science activities during training, there were no systematic means of ensuring they had regular opportunities to apply these in their classrooms. Also, that changes in practice may be difficult to achieve as the emphasis on these subject areas is relatively new in early childhood education.

Source: Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators: Efforts to Improve Math and Science Learning Opportunities in Early Childhood Classrooms (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2).