How do young children develop agency, literacy, and numeracy

A new resource from Deans for Impact summarises current cognitive-science research related to how young children – from birth to age eight – develop skills across three domains: agency, literacy and numeracy.

It aims to give guidance to anyone working in education who is interested in understanding the science of how young children develop control of their own behaviour and intentions, how they learn to read and write, and how they develop the ability to think mathematically.

For each domain, the report identifies key questions about learning and provides a short list of the principles from learning science that inform the answers to these questions. The resource then connects these principles to a set of practical implications for specific teaching strategies. The original research is clearly referenced for anyone wishing to find out more.

Source: The science of early learning: How do young children develop agency, literacy, and numeracy? (2019), Deans for Impact.

Positive results for early years maths apps

A randomised controlled trial of two new maths apps to support young children’s early maths development has shown positive results. The apps, “Maths 3–5” and “Maths 4–6”, are based on core mathematical concepts in number and shape, and space and measure, which are covered in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and also start to introduce children to topics covered in Key Stage 1.

Laura Outhwaite and colleagues conducted the randomised controlled trial of the apps with 389 children aged 4–5 years from 12 schools in the UK. The trial took place over 12 weeks in the last weeks of their Reception school year before pupils moved to Key Stage 1. Pupils were randomised to either use the apps in addition to standard maths teaching activities (treatment); use the apps instead of a regular small group-based maths activity (time-equivalent treatment), or continue with usual maths teaching activities (control).

The results showed that pupils in the treatment group made more progress on standardised assessments of maths performance over 12 weeks than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.31). Similarly, pupils in the time-equivalent treatment made more progress in maths performance than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.21). There was no significant difference in maths performance between pupils in the two treatment groups (effect size = +0.08).

A randomised controlled trial of apps developed for primary children in Malawi, which we covered in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief, also showed positive results for maths achievement.

Source: Raising early achievement in math with interactive apps: A randomized control trial (February 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2)

Effects of initial skill and group size in the ROOTS Tier-2 maths intervention

Many factors influence a child’s responsiveness to an academic programme. The University of Oregon’s Ben Clark and colleagues recently evaluated the effects of baseline maths skills and their interaction with group size on the maths achievement of at-risk kindergartners (Year 1) in the ROOTs programme.

The ROOTS programme is a 50-lesson Tier-2 maths programme that addresses whole-number concepts and skills as a supplement to maths teaching. In this study, the researchers examined data from a randomised evaluation (Clark et al., 2017) studying kindergartners from 69 classrooms during two separate school years. Subjects were tested using five measures of whole-number sense each autumn, and those whose scores fell below a determined threshold were assigned to either a 2:1 ROOTS group (n=120), a 5:1 ROOTS group (n=295), or to the no-intervention control group (n=177). ROOTS pupils received 20-minute small-group sessions five times a week during ten weeks spanning late fall to early spring. Post-tests in the spring of kindergarten (Year 1) and then six months into first grade (Year 2) found that the pupils with lower initial maths skills demonstrated greater gains than others on two of the six outcome measures of the TEMA-3, although there was no correlation with intervention group size.

Source: Exploring the relationship between initial mathematics skill and a kindergarten mathematics intervention (January 2019) Exceptional Children, 85(2)

Does a parent’s anxiety about maths negatively affect their child’s maths achievement?

A maths app may help eliminate the negative association between parents’ maths anxiety and children’s maths achievement in early elementary (primary) school, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The researchers tracked the maths achievement of 587 pupils from 40 classrooms in the Chicago area from first to third grade (Year 2 to 4). In the first grade, pupils and their families were randomly assigned tablets loaded with either a maths app or a similar reading app.

Parents were also given a questionnaire to complete in order to assess a variety of attitudes and behaviours related to maths and reading. Maths anxiety was measured using the Mathematical Anxiety Rating Scale. At the end of the first grade, parents were given a second survey to complete. Children’s maths achievement was measured using the applied problems subset of a nationally-standardised test.

By the end of third grade (Year 4), children of maths-anxious parents who were in the reading app control group had learned less maths than children of parents with no maths anxiety; learning the equivalent of approximately five fewer months of maths. However, this was not the case for children in the maths app intervention group, and children with maths-anxious parents showed the same maths progress as pupils with parents who had no maths anxiety.

These results suggest that parents’ maths anxiety is negatively associated with children’s maths achievement in early elementary school, and that the decreased negative association observed in the intervention group is due in part to a change in parents’ attitudes. The researchers conclude that when families used the app together, parents’ attitudes toward maths changed and they were able to disassociate their own maths anxiety from their children’s ability in maths.

Source: Disassociating the relation between parents’ math anxiety and children’s math achievement: Long-term effects of a math app intervention (December 2018), Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 147(12)

The principles of success in maths

Helping pupils to understand the logical principles underlying maths may improve their mathematical achievement, according to the findings of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

Mathematical Reasoning lessons focus on developing pupils’ understanding of the logic principles underlying maths, and cover principles such as place value and the inverse relation between addition and subtraction. One hundred and sixty English primary schools took part in the trial, and were randomly allocated to receive either Mathematical Reasoning or to be in the control group. The control group was given the opportunity to take part in the programme the following year. Teachers in the intervention schools delivered the programme to Year 2 pupils over 12 to 15 weeks as part of their usual maths lessons. Learning was supported by online games, which could be used by pupils at school and at home.

The independent evaluation by a team from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found a small but statistically significant effect size of +0.08 on maths achievement for pupils who took part in the programme, compared to other pupils. It had the same impact for pupils eligible for free school meals. They also found some evidence that the programme had a positive impact on mathematical reasoning.

Source: Mathematical Reasoning: Evaluation report and executive summary (December 2018), Education Endowment Foundation.

Planning ahead for summer

Heather L Schwartz and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a final report on a six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project, an initiative from The Wallace Foundation that was implemented in 2011 in five urban school districts in the US. The summer programmes in these districts were district-led, voluntary summer learning programmes that featured both academic teaching and enrichment opportunities to improve outcomes for low-income pupils.

The overall study combined a randomised controlled trial with correlational analysis and implementation research to examine whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programmes can improve academic, behavioural, and social and emotional outcomes for low-income, urban children in both the short and long terms. The study followed approximately 5,600 pupils from third to seventh grade (Years 4 to 8). Data included surveys, observations and test data.

Findings showed that pupils who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics teaching in a summer performed better on the subsequent state maths test, and those receiving 34 hours of English lessons performed better on the subsequent state English language assessment.

These outcomes need to be viewed with caution, however, as pupils who actually attended summer school, as opposed to those who signed up but did not attend, are likely to be more highly motivated and better achieving, introducing possible bias.

Based on their research, the authors offer several recommendations for planning for summer learning, including:

  • Commit in the autumn to a summer programme, and start active planning by January with a programme director who has at least half of his or her time devoted to the job.
  • Prior to the start of the summer programme, professional development for summer teachers should include specific guidance on use of the summer curricula, minimising loss of teaching time, and on checking for pupil understanding.
  • Operate the programme for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academic lessons per day.

A more detailed and comprehensive list of recommendations can be found in the report.

Source: Getting to work on summer learning. Recommended practices for success, 2nd edition (2018), RAND Corporation