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

Does playing chess improve maths ability?

An article published in Learning & Behavior examines whether learning to play chess can help improve children’s mathematical ability. To test this hypothesis, Giovanni Sala and Fernand Gobet, from the University of Liverpool, conducted two studies with primary school children in schools in Italy.

The first experiment involved 233 children from eight schools (mean age = 8.5 years). The experimental group (N=53) attended 25 hours of chess lessons during school hours (although not necessarily during maths lessons), along with regular school activities, and were then given a test to assess their mathematical ability and a questionnaire to assess their metacognitive ability. The results were compared to both an active control group (who were similarly taught to play draughts) and a passive control group (who continued with regular school activities). The results showed no significant difference between the three groups in mathematical or metacognitive ability.

For the second experiment, 52 children (mean age = 9.32 years) in three classes of a primary school in Italy participated. Classes were randomly assigned to the three experimental conditions, but this time the active control group learned the game of Go instead of draughts, and both the chess and Go instruction replaced some of the time originally dedicated to learning maths (approximately 15 hours). The results showed no significant effects of learning chess on mathematical ability. Children in the passive control group seemed to benefit slightly more than those learning chess or Go. There was no difference between the three experimental groups on metacognitive ability.

The study concludes that the results of the two experiments do not support the hypothesis that learning chess benefits children’s mathematical ability. The effects of chess, if any, appear to be minimal and too limited to provide any educational advantage over traditional teaching methods.

Source: Does chess instruction improve mathematical problem-solving ability? Two experimental studies with an active control group (June 2017), Learning & Behavior doi:10.3758/s13420-017-0280-3

Report finds mixed effects for Saxon Math

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the US has released a new research report on Saxon Math, and findings show mixed results for the programme.

Saxon Math is a curriculum for pupils in grades K-12 (Years 1-13). It uses an incremental structure that distributes content throughout the year. For the IES report, researchers reviewed studies of Saxon Math’s primary courses, which include kindergarten (Year 1) through pre-algebra. Out of 26 studies eligible for review, five studies fell within the scope of the What Work Clearinghouse’s (WWC) primary maths topic area and met WWC design standards. These five studies included 8,855 pupils in grades 1–3 and 6–8 in 149 schools across at least 18 states.

According to the report, the estimated impact of the intervention on outcomes in the mathematics achievement domain was positive and substantively important in two studies and indeterminate in three studies. The authors conclude that Saxon Math has mixed effects on maths test scores of pupils in primary classes.

Source: Saxon Math (May 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse

Links between pre-school absenteeism and academic learning

A new study, published in Child Development, found that children in the US pre-school programme Head Start who missed 10% or more of the school year had fewer academic gains than their peers who attended pre-school more regularly.

Arya Ansari and Kelly M Purtell used data from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009 cohort (n=2,842) to examine the effects of absenteeism among 3- and 4-year-olds on early academic learning. Their findings revealed that, on average, children missed eight days of the school year. However, 12% of children were chronically absent – defined as missing 10% of the school year or more – and missed an average of 22 days of school. Children who missed more days of school, especially those who were chronically absent, demonstrated fewer gains in maths and literacy during the pre-school year. For maths, this was equivalent to approximately two months of lost academic skill gains. In literacy the loss was three months.

The study also found that Black and Latino children were less likely to be absent than white children. Children from households with married parents were less likely to be absent than those from households without two parents. In addition, children were less likely to be absent when they were enrolled in classrooms that operate for more hours per week and in larger and bilingual classrooms. Children were more likely to be absent if their mother showed more depressive symptoms and was unemployed. The quality of interactions between teachers and children positively affected children’s development of literacy skills, and the benefits were roughly twice as large for children who were absent less often.

Source:  Absenteeism in Head Start and children’s academic learning (May 2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12800

Academic interventions for low-SES pupils

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Review of Education Research looks at effective academic interventions for pupils with low socio-economic status (SES).

Jens Dietrichson and colleagues included studies that used a treatment–control group design, were performed in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and EU countries and measured achievement with standardised tests in maths or reading. The analysis included 101 studies performed between 2000 and 2014, 76% of which were randomised controlled trials.

Positive effect sizes (ES) were reported for many of the interventions. Comparatively large and robust average effect sizes were found for interventions that involved tutoring (ES = +0.36), feedback and progress monitoring (ES = +0.32) and co-operative learning (ES = +0.22). The report points out that, although these effect sizes are not large enough to close the gap between high- and low-SES pupils, they represent a substantial reduction of that gap if targeted towards low-SES students.

Source: Academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status: a systematic review and meta-analysis (January 2017), Review of Educational Research