Does exercise improve children’s cognitive performance?

Research published in Frontiers in Psychology looks at the effects of a nine-week programme of daily exercise on children’s cognitive performance, aerobic fitness and physical activity levels.

Vera van den Berg and colleagues conducted a cluster randomised controlled trial in 21 classes in eight Dutch primary schools. A total of 512 children aged 9 to 12 participated. The intervention consisted of daily classroom-based exercise breaks of moderate to vigorous intensity. Each break lasted approximately ten minutes, and children were asked to mimic dance moves from a video. Children in the control group watched 10- to 15-minute information and educational videos related to the body, exercise and sports.

Before and after the intervention, children were asked to perform four cognitive tasks to measure their cognitive performance in selective attention, inhibition and memory retrieval. Children’s aerobic fitness was measured with a shuttle run test, and accelerometers were used to measure physical activity throughout the day.

At the end of the nine weeks, the exercise intervention had no effect on children’s cognitive performance or aerobic fitness. Children in the intervention group spent 2.9 minutes more of the school day involved in moderate to vigorous physical activity compared to the children in the control group. The study concludes that daily exercise breaks can be implemented in the classroom in order to promote physical activity during school time, but don’t improve children’s cognitive performance.

Source: Improving cognitive performance of 9-12 years old children: Just Dance? A randomized controlled trial (February 2019), Frontiers in Psychology 10:174

Praise to raise self-esteem?

An observational longitudinal study published in Child Development tests whether receiving overly positive, inflated praise from a parent eventually fosters low self-esteem and even narcissism, rather than raising it as might be expected.

The study involved 120 children recruited from schools in the Netherlands and their parents. Children were aged 7 to 11. Children completed questionnaires in school at four six-month intervals, and levels of narcissism and self-esteem were measured using the Childhood Narcissism scale and the Global Self-Worth Subscale of the Self-Perception Profile for Children.

Eddie Brummelman and colleagues found that children with lower levels of self-esteem at the beginning of the study received more inflated praise from parents, which in turn led to lower self-esteem at the later test points. Inflated praise also predicted higher narcissism over time, but only in children with high initial levels of self-esteem.

Source: When parents’ praise inflates, children’s self-esteem deflates (November 2017), Child Development, Volume 88, Issue 6 doi:10.1111/cdev.12936

Are classroom management programmes effective?

Ada Chukwudozie and Howard White at The Campbell Collaboration have prepared a new summary of a previously published systematic review of teacher classroom management practices.

The review examined the effects of teacher classroom management programmes on disruptive or aggressive pupil behaviour and sought to identify which management components were most effective. Examples of the classroom management programmes included COMP (Classroom Organization and Management Program) and the Good Behaviour Game.

A total of 12 studies were included in the review. These studies reported on public school general education classes with pupils from Kindergarten to  12th grade (Years 1 to 13). Effectiveness studies had to use a valid experimental or quasi-experimental design with control groups to be included in the review.

According to the summary, multi-component classroom management programmes had a significant positive effect in decreasing aggressive or problematic behaviour in the classroom. Results showed that pupils in the treatment classrooms in all 12 studies reviewed showed less disruptive or problematic behaviors when compared to pupils in control classrooms without the intervention.

The summary notes that it was not possible to make any conclusions regarding which components of the management programmes were most effective due to small sample size and lack of information reported in the studies reviewed.

Source: Effective multi-component classroom management programmes seem to improve student behavior in the classroom but further research is needed (2017) The Campbell Collaboration.

The effects of data-based decision making

The use of data to inform educational decisions is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. An article in the most recent American Educational Research Journal describes the effect of a two-year schoolwide data-based decision-making intervention, called Focus, on student achievement.

Focus trains schoolwide teams of teachers and administrators to use data to guide their teaching using a protocol developed at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Staff receive seven training meetings in year 1 and four training meetings in year 2, and are provided with documents and planning aids to help them track student data and progress.

Fifty-three primary schools (1,193 staff members) in the Netherlands used Focus to apply student achievement data to guide instruction during a two-year study. All schools (n=53) were trained to use data-based decision-making in mathematics during years 1 and 2, and had the option to also use it in spelling lessons in year 2 (n=38). Student achievement data from standardised maths tests given twice a year were collected for children aged 6-12 for two years before implementing Focus and then for two years during the intervention. Results showed benefits of the intervention equal to an extra month of schooling and were most statistically significant for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Source: Assessing the Effects of a School-Wide Data-Based Decision-Making Intervention on Student Achievement Growth in Primary Schools (2016), American Educational Research Journal.

Do teachers show bias when gauging pupil ability?

New research from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands has analysed teachers’ opinions of the academic abilities of their pupils at the end of primary school to see whether these were accurate, inaccurate, or showed bias.

The research was based on a sample of 7,550 pupils in 500 classes in their final year of Dutch primary school (aged approximately 12 years). In the Netherlands, pupils are placed in various “tracks” when they start secondary school based on their scores on a standardised test at the end of primary school and their primary teacher’s track recommendation. This study explored whether teachers’ recommendations were fair reflections of pupils’ previous performance.

The authors found that for more than 70% of the teachers the average observed expectation did not differ significantly from the average expected expectation based on the performance records of the pupils in their classes. However, the differences among teachers in expectations for Turkish, Moroccan, and other ethnic minority pupils with low-educated parents were larger than the average teacher expectation bias for these groups in the sample. Teacher expectation bias for demographic groups was found to be independent of the class population.

The authors found that the teachers in the sample had higher expectations for pupils in high-performing classes or classes with only a small proportion of pupils from underprivileged families.

Similar bias was found among UK teachers in a study we featured in Best Evidence in Brief in June.

Source: Accurate, Inaccurate, or Biased Teacher Expectations: Do Dutch Teachers Differ in their Expectations at the End of Primary Education? (2015), British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Dutch twins and the importance of teacher experience

A study in the Netherlands has concluded that students do better when taught by experienced teachers. The authors matched date of birth, family name, and school data from the PRIMA longitudinal study of primary schools in the Netherlands to identify 495 twin pairs. The study used data on twins who went to the same school but were assigned to different classes, enabling researchers to assess teacher quality as the main variable.

The results revealed a “robust finding that students in classrooms with more experienced teachers perform better”. This was particularly true of the early years in a child’s education but not exclusively so.

Source: Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: Evidence from a Dutch Sample Of Twins (2014), CPB Discussion Paper 294