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

Is personalised learning effective?

A new research brief by John F Pane and colleagues at the RAND Corporation asks the question: “Does personalised learning improve pupil learning more than other educational approaches?” As part of their report, the authors present findings from an evaluation of personalised learning (PL) schools conducted by RAND Corporation researchers for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The research team analysed maths and reading scores for approximately 5,500 pupils in 32 US schools that received funding from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative to support highly personalised approaches to learning. These schools took the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) mathematics and reading assessments for one academic year: autumn 2014 to spring 2015. The research team compared the achievement of pupils in PL schools with matched peers attending non-PL schools and national norms.

Key findings from the research brief include:

  • Early evidence suggests that PL can improve achievement for pupils, regardless of their starting level of achievement.
  • Benefits of PL may take some time to emerge. Analyses suggest that effects may be more positive after schools have experience implementing PL.
  • To date, the field lacks evidence on which practices are most effective or what policies must be in place to maximise the benefits.

The authors note that additional research is needed using more rigorous experimental studies.

Source: How Does Personalized Learning Affect Student Achievement? RAND Corporation, 2017.

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

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

Insights on personalised learning

As part of a recent study for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, RAND Corporation researchers have tried to identify what personalised learning (PL) looks like in a small sample of schools that are using PL approaches schoolwide.

This report describes the concept and implementation of personalised learning, along with some of the challenges, and considers how PL affects achievement in these schools. To measure how PL affects achievement, To measure how PL affects achievement, John F Pane and colleagues analysed maths and reading scores for all pupils in the sample (approximately 5,500 pupils) who took the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress assessments. They found positive effect sizes of approximately +0.09 in maths and +0.07 in reading relative to a comparison group of similar pupils.

Based on the findings from the study, the researchers offer the following recommendations for implementing PL:

  • Provide teachers with resources and time to pilot new teaching approaches and gather evidence of how well they work.
  • Provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate on developing curriculum material and on reviewing and scoring pupil work.
  • Identify a school staff member who is comfortable with technology and has curriculum expertise to serve as a “just-in-time” resource for teachers.
  • Provide resources and support for school staff to help them choose the most appropriate digital or non-digital curriculum materials.
  • Provide resources and support for school staff to integrate multiple data systems.

Source: Informing progress: Insights on personalized learning implementation and iffects (July 2017), RAND Corporation