Evaluation of “Code Clubs”

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) has published the results of a randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of Code Clubs – a UK network of after-school clubs where children aged 9–11 learn to program by making games, animations, websites and applications. Code Club UK produces material and projects that support the teaching of Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. The clubs, which are supported by volunteers, usually run for one hour a week after school during term time.

The evaluation, conducted by Suzanne Straw and colleagues, assessed the impact of Code Clubs on Year 5 pupils’ computational thinking, programming skills and attitudes towards computers and coding. Twenty-one schools in the UK took part in the trial which used a pupil-randomised design to compare pupil outcomes in the intervention and control groups. Intervention group pupils attended Code Club during the 2015/16 academic year, while control group pupils continued as they would do normally.

The results of the evaluation showed that attending Code Club for a year did not impact on pupils’ computational thinking any more than might have occurred anyway, but did significantly improve their coding skills in Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. This was true even when control children learned Scratch as part of the computing curriculum in school. Code Club pupils reported increased usage of all three programming languages – and of computers more generally. However, the evaluation data suggests that attending Code Club for a year does not affect how pupils view their abilities in a range of transferable skills, such as following instructions, problem solving, learning about new things and working with others.

Source: Randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of code clubs (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)

What is the evidence to support reading interventions?

A review from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance in the US assesses the evidence base supporting reading interventions in grades 1–3 (Years 2–4 in the UK) to improve reading outcomes for pupils struggling with typical classroom reading lessons.

The findings are based on studies of 20 interventions conducted in the US that Russell Gersten and colleagues identified that met the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards. Of these 20 interventions, 19 produced positive or potentially positive effects in at least one area of reading. Interventions in grade 1 (Year 2) produced lower effects in reading comprehension (+0.39) than in word and pseudo-word reading (+0.45), but higher effects than in passage reading fluency (+0.23). For grade 2 and 3 (Years 3 and 4) interventions, the weighted mean effects in reading comprehension (+0.33) were lower than those for both word and pseudo-word reading (+0.46) and passage reading fluency (+0.37). The strongest and most consistent effects were found in word and pseudo-word reading for all three grades.

Although the evidence supports the efficacy of reading interventions, the review points out that the majority of interventions evaluated are interventions for individual pupils, as opposed to small-group interventions which are more typical in school settings. In addition, most of the interventions include high levels of ongoing support for teachers.

Source: What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3? (April 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast (REL 2017–271)

Cross-age peer tutoring benefits for EAL pupils and native English speakers

Research suggests that peer tutoring helps reading achievement, especially for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL). Studies of cross-age peer tutoring, where older pupils tutor younger pupils, have shown positive effects on vocabulary and comprehension. Given that EAL pupils often lag behind their non-EAL peers in reading, University of Maryland’s Rebecca Silverman and colleagues conducted the first study to examine whether the benefits of cross-age peer tutoring are equivalent for EAL pupils and native English speaking pupils.

For the study, researchers used a “reading buddies” design, pairing kindergarten pupils (Year 1 in the UK) with fourth grade (Year 5) pupils to discuss books they’d read about STEM-related topics. The programme incorporated strategies demonstrated to be effective with EAL pupils, such as explicit instruction about specific word meaning and using multi-modalities to demonstrate word learning and comprehension. Following development and field testing, the researchers evaluated the effects of the final programme, called the MTS Buddies Program, in 24 classrooms with high EAL populations. The sample included 12 classrooms (6 kindergarten, 6 fourth grade) that used the MTS Buddies Program and 12 classrooms (6 kindergarten, 6 fourth grade) that continued with business as usual.

All pupils were tested on vocabulary and comprehension using both standardised and researcher-made tests before and after receiving the 14-week intervention. Results showed benefits for vocabulary learning in kindergarten (Year 1) and fourth grade (Year 5) and also reading comprehension and strategy use for the fourth grade pupils. Both EAL pupils and native English speaking pupils demonstrated gains. Although expressive vocabulary scores were lower for EALs than non-EALs, the overall positive effects indicate that the MTS Buddies Program could be helpful for all pupils’ vocabulary learning, regardless of English proficiency.

Source: Effects of a cross-age peer learning program on the vocabulary and comprehension of English learners and non-English learners in elementary school (March 2017), The Elementary School Journal

Professional development not the answer to improving maths achievement

Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) is a professional development programme designed to increase teachers’ knowledge of fourth grade (Year 5) maths fractions and rational numbers with the ultimate goal of improving their pupils’ maths achievement.

A study conducted in the 2014–15 school year, prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences by Madhavi Jayanthi and colleagues at Instructional Research Group and REL Southeast, investigated the effects of DMI on teacher content knowledge and their pupils’ subsequent achievement in fractions. A total of 264 fourth grade (Year 5) teachers in 84 elementary (primary) schools in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the US were randomly assigned by school to receive either DMI (n=42 schools, 129 teachers) or their usual professional development programme (n=42 schools, 135 teachers). The 84 schools were matched on grade four enrolment, number of pupils who exceeded fourth grade maths standards, percentage of African American and Hispanic pupils and percentage of pupils eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. In autumn 2014, DMI teachers received eight three-hour training sessions conducted over four days, followed by homework and concluding with a test on fractions. A total of 4,204 fourth grade pupils’ (2,091 E, 2,113 C) baseline scores on third grade standardised tests were used as a pre-test, because most third graders know little about fractions and the Test for Understanding of Fractions was used as the post-test at the end of the academic year to measure their knowledge gain after their teachers had completed DMI.

Results showed no significant differences between either the DMI or non-DMI teachers’ knowledge of fractions and their pupils’ proficiency in fractions.

Source: Impact of the Developing Mathematical Ideas professional development program on grade 4 students’ and teachers’understanding of fractions (March 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

Trends in early literacy

The transition from kindergarten to first grade (Year 1 to Year 2 in the UK) is considered to be a critical period for children’s academic and social development. Expectation about children’s early literacy learning has risen over time, but has their achievement – and how?

Jerome V D’Agostino and Emily Rodgers analysed achievement data obtained from a US database for Reading Recovery (a literacy intervention for first grade pupils) for more than 364,000 children entering first grade in the same schools. From this data they created a literacy profile for pupils at entry to the first grade over a 12-year period, beginning in the 2002–03 school year.

Their research, published in Educational Researcher, found that overall, reading for all pupils in the first grade improved measurably between 2002 and 2013. Literacy scores on entry increased over time. The effect size change in achievement gaps narrowed (-0.10) on basic skills like letter identification, but widened on advanced skills like text reading level (+0.08) over 12 years.

Source: Literacy achievement trends at entry to first grade (March 2017), Educational Researcher, Vol 46, Issue 2.

What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.