Maths anxiety, working memory and self-concept

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Jaén, Spain, and published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the relationship between maths anxiety and maths performance in primary school children, and also the possible mediating role of working memory and maths self-concept.

A total of 167 pupils in grades 3 and 5 (age 8–12 years) took part in the study. Each pupil completed a set of questionnaires to assess maths anxiety and self-concept as well as their mathematical performance. Working memory was assessed using two backward span tasks. Teachers were also asked to rate each pupils’ maths achievement.

As expected, results showed that pupils who demonstrated higher levels of anxiety about maths tended to have lower scores on maths outcomes such as ability, problem‐solving and teacher‐rated maths achievement. However, this relationship was lessened once the effects of working memory and self-concept were considered. The researchers suggest, therefore, that it is worth taking into consideration working memory and self-concept when designing interventions aimed at helping pupils with maths anxiety.

Source: Math anxiety and math performance in children: The mediating roles of working memory and math self‐concept (May 2017), British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 87, Issue 4

New evidence on maths teaching

A new review of evidence, commissioned by the EEF and the Nuffield Foundation, analyses the best available international research on teaching maths to children aged 9–14 to find out what the evidence says about effective maths teaching. It highlights some areas of maths teaching – like feedback, collaborative learning and different types of textbooks – and considers what the evidence says, and how much evidence there is.

One area where there is strong evidence is using calculators to support learning. The report suggests that pupils’ maths skills may not be harmed by using calculators as previously thought. In fact, using them in maths lessons can boost puipils’ calculation and problem-solving skills if they are used in a thoughtful and considered way.

Other findings include:

  • Maths homework tends to benefit older pupils, but not those in primary school
  • Teacher subject knowledge is crucial for realising the potential of maths resources and interventions to raise attainment
  • High-quality feedback tends to have a large effect on learning, but it should be used sparingly and mainly for more complex tasks

Source: Evidence for review of mathematics teaching: Improving mathematics in Key Stages two and three: Evidence review (March 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

A thirty-year look at studies on computer-assisted maths

During the past 30 years, thousands of articles have been written about technology’s effects on pupil achievement. In order to quantify technology’s effects on maths achievement, Jamaal Young at the University of Texas conducted a meta-analysis of all of the meta-analyses on the topic during the last three decades. His second-order meta-analysis was comprised of 19 meta-analyses representing 663 primary studies, more than 141,000 pupils and 1,263 effect sizes. Each meta-analysis that was included had to address the use of technology as a supplement to instruction, use pupil maths achievement as an outcome measure, report an effect size or enough data to calculate one, have been published after 1985 and be accessible to the public.

The author found that all technology enhancements positively affected pupil achievement, regardless of the technology’s purpose. However, technology that helped pupils perform computational functions had the greatest effects on pupil achievement, while combinations of enhancements demonstrated the least effects on pupil achievement. The author found that study quality and the type of technology used in the classroom were the main influencers on effect sizes. The highest-quality studies had the lowest effect sizes, which he attributes to their more rigorous analysis procedures. The high-quality reviews gave an overall effect size for the use of technology of +0.16 (compared with +0.38 for low- and +0.46 for medium-quality reviews).

Source: Technology-enhanced mathematics instruction: A second-order meta-analysis of 30 years of research (November 2017), Educational Research Review, Volume 22

Do teacher observations make any difference to pupil performance?

An evaluation published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has found that introducing more frequent and structured lesson observations – where teachers observe their colleagues and give them feedback – made no difference to pupils’ GCSE maths and English results.

A randomised controlled trial of the whole-school intervention Teacher Observation was conducted in 82 secondary schools in England, which had high proportions of pupils who had ever been eligible for free school meals. In total, the study involved 14,163 pupils – 7,507 pupils (41 schools) in the intervention, and 6,656 pupils (41 schools) in the control.

Maths and English teachers in the intervention schools were asked to take part in at least six structured 20-minute peer observations over a two-year period (with a suggested number of between 12 and 24). Teachers rated each other on specific elements of a lesson, such as how well they managed behaviour, engaged pupils in learning, or used discussion techniques.

The evaluation, which was conducted by a team from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), found that Teacher Observation had no impact on pupils’ GCSE English and maths scores compared to those of pupils in control schools (effect size = -0.01).

Source: Teacher Observation: Evaluation report and executive summary (November 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

New research on dual-language immersion programmes

A new research brief by Jennifer L Steele and colleagues, published by the RAND Corporation, presents new research on dual-language immersion (DLI) programmes. These programmes provide both native English speakers and children learning English as an additional language (EAL) with general academic teaching in two languages from kindergarten (Year 1) onwards.

In partnership with the American Councils on International Education and the Portland Public Schools in Oregon (PPS), the authors conducted a random-assignment study of DLI education. The goal was to estimate the causal effects of the district’s DLI programmes on pupil performance over time in reading, mathematics and science, and on EAL pupils’ reclassification as English proficient.

PBS allocates immersion slots using a random-assignment lottery process for those who apply to the programmes. The study focused on 1,625 DLI lottery applicants in the kindergarten cohorts from 2004–2005 to 2010–2011. Pupil achievement was tracked until 2013–2014.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • PPS pupils randomly assigned to dual-language immersion programmes outperformed their peers on state reading tests by 13% of a standard deviation in grade 5 (Year 6) and by 22% of a standard deviation in grade 8 (Year 9).
  • Immersion-assigned pupils did not show statistically significant benefits or deficits in terms of mathematics or science performance.
  • There were no clear differences in the effects of dual-language immersion according to pupils’ native language.
  • EAL pupils assigned to dual-language immersion were more likely than their peers to be classified as English proficient by grade 6 (Year 7). This effect was mostly attributed to EAL pupils whose native language was the same as one of the two languages taught.

Source: Dual-language immersion programs raise student achievement in English (2017), RAND Corporation Research Brief, RB-9903

Can teaching be simplified?

Technology that simplifies teaching by providing teachers with “off-the-shelf” lessons may increase pupil achievement, particularly if the teachers are supported in using them, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

The study, conducted by Kirabo Jackson and Alexey Makarin, provided middle school maths teachers with online lessons from the Mathalicious curriculum – an inquiry-based maths curriculum for grades 6 to 12 (Years 7 to 13) grounded in real-world topics and situations. Maths teachers from 170 schools across Virginia, US, took part and were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: full treatment (online access to Mathalicious lessons along with supports to promote their use); lesson-only (online access to Mathalicious lessons only); or control (business-as-usual).

While positive effects on pupil achievement in maths were seen in both the full treatment and lesson-only conditions, results were only significant for the full-treatment group. Providing teachers with online access to the lessons along with supports to promote their use increased pupil maths achievement by an effect size of +0.09 (p<.05). Test scores for pupils in the lesson-only group were non-significantly higher than those of the control group (effect size = +0.04).

Source: Can Online Off-The-Shelf Lessons Improve Student Outcomes? Evidence from A Field Experiment (January 2017), National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. 22398