We need more evidence on writing

Students perform less well in writing than in reading, maths, and science at Key Stages 1 and 2. A new review from the Department for Education synthesises the existing evidence from the UK and abroad, in and out of school, and for both primary and secondary pupils. It covers achievement, effective teaching, the gender gap, pupils’ attitudes, and writing as an activity outside school.

The review looks at “what works” in the classroom. Techniques that have been proven to be effective include teaching students to write for a variety of purposes, teaching the writing process, and providing daily time to write. Approaches that are effective for specific groups, such as boys and students with special education needs and disabilities, are also analysed. The review also looks at factors outside the classroom, for example, attainment in writing in the early years can be predicted by mother’s education, family size, parental assessment of the child’s writing ability, and a measure of home writing activities. However, the review highlights that there are evidence gaps in terms of specific interventions that can help students with writing, and on the effectiveness of teaching spelling. There is also little evidence on writing in studies of international comparisons.

The issue of Better on English (Winter 2013) included an article by Debra Myhill on the importance of teaching grammar, while a recent study by the IEE has shown how hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar.

Sources: What is the research evidence on writing? (2012) Department for Education

Effects of technology-enhanced formative assessment on achievement in primary grammar (2012), Institute for Effective Education

A double dose takes time to work

A study in Education Next looks at the impact of double-dose algebra in Chicago Public Schools. In double-dose algebra, pupils are taught algebra for twice as long as normal. From 2003 in Chicago Public Schools, pupils who scored below the national median in their 8th-grade (Year 9) maths exam were given double-dose algebra during 9th grade, with the extra class providing support and extra practice.

An initial study found little short-term effect, but this new study follows the further progress of pupils who are just above the median (who did not receive double-dose algebra) or just below (who did receive the double dose). It found that pupils who had received the double dose had increased rates of high-school graduation and college enrollment. In particular, the intervention was most effective for pupils with relatively high maths skills, but relatively low reading skills. This may be a result of the intervention’s focus on reading and writing skills in the context of learning algebra.

Source: A double dose of algebra (2012), Education Next, 13(1)

Home computer use and children’s academic performance

A paper in the Oxford Review of Education examines the link between children’s home computer use and their academic performance in reading and maths. The study uses data from the nine-year-old cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland survey and a multiple regression model to estimate the effect of home computer use on reading and maths test scores. It finds that computer use is associated with increased scores. This result holds after taking into account other factors that determine school performance, and there is no significant difference in effect for the amount of use.

The study also looks at the effects of different types of computer use. Surfing the internet for fun, doing projects for school, and emailing are associated with higher reading and maths test scores, and children who use the computer unsupervised tend to have higher scores in maths, but instant messaging and downloading music or watching films are negatively associated with test scores. However, while these results indicate significant association with academic performance, the study was not able to establish a definitive direction of causation.

Source: Home computer use and academic performance of nine-year-olds (2012), Oxford Review of Education, 38(5)

Traditional teaching methods may be putting off maths pupils

Traditional teaching methods, where the teacher stands at the front and dictates to the class, may be affecting pupils’ attitudes toward maths, suggest researchers at the University of Manchester. The initial findings of the Economics and Social Research Council-funded study were presented at the British Educational Research Association’s annual conference.

More than 13,000 11- to 16-year-old pupils and 128 teachers at 40 secondary schools across England were asked to complete questionnaires detailing the kind of activities they experienced in maths lessons. Traditional activities such as copying the teacher’s notes from the board and being asked questions by the teacher were most frequently cited, ahead of alternative learning approaches such as using media, like magazines and videos, in class. Pupils who reported a more traditional teaching experience in their lessons also named maths as their least favourite subject.

The results of a 2009 review from the Institute for Effective Education,Effective programmes in secondary mathematics, found that the most successful programmes for teaching maths focus on changing daily teaching practices, particularly the use of co-operative learning methods, and encourage pupil interaction.

Sources: What works in teaching maths? (2009), Institute for Effective Education

Teaching and learning practices in secondary mathematics: measuring teaching from teachers’ and students perspectives (2012), Pampaka M, Wo L, Kalambouka A, Qasim S, and Swanson D, presentation at BERA Conference 2012

Improving mathematical problem solving

This practice guide from the What Works Clearinghouse in the US provides five recommendations for improving pupils’ mathematical problem solving in Grades 4 to 8 (the equivalent of Years 5 to 9). The guide is aimed at teachers and policymakers who want to improve the mathematical problem solving of pupils. Recommendations include:

  • Assisting pupils in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process.
  • Teaching pupils how to use visual representations.
  • Exposing pupils to multiple problem-solving strategies.

The guide presents evidence-based suggestions for putting each recommendation into practice and describes the problems that may be encountered, as well as possible solutions. Each recommendation is rated based on the strength of the research evidence that has shown the effectiveness of the recommendation. The recommendations listed above have strong to moderate evidence of effectiveness.

Source: Improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8 (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

The effectiveness of education technology for enhancing maths achievement

Findings of this review of research into the effects of technology use on mathematics achievement suggest that educational technology applications produce a positive but small effect. This review was completed in 2011, but a new educator’s summary has been posted that presents the findings in a more accessible form.

The review, from the Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Center for Research and Reform in Education, examines three major categories of education technology:

  • comprehensive models, which use computer-assisted teaching alongside non-computer activities;
  • supplemental computer-assisted teaching programmes, which provide individualised computer-assisted instruction to supplement traditional classroom teaching; and
  • a computer-managed learning programme, Accelerated Math.

All three were found to produce a positive effect on mathematics achievement, with supplemental computer-assisted teaching programmes having the largest effect. The review concludes that educational technology is making some difference in mathematics learning, but new and better tools are needed to harness the power of technology to further enhance mathematics achievement for all students.

Source: The effectiveness of educational technology applications for enhancing mathematics achievement: A meta-analysis (2012), Best Evidence Encyclopedia