Talking in class boosts progress in maths, science and English

An intervention that trained teachers to improve and monitor the quality of classroom talk had a positive impact on primary pupils’ test scores in English, maths and science, a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reveals.

Seventy-six primary schools with higher-than-average proportions of disadvantaged pupils took part in a randomised control trial of the Dialogic Teaching intervention, which is designed to improve the quality of classroom talk as a means of increasing pupils’ engagement, learning and achievement. Year 5 teachers in 38 schools (2,493 pupils), and a teacher mentor from each school, received resources and training from the delivery team and then implemented the intervention over the course of the autumn and spring terms in the 2015/16 school year. A control group of 38 schools (2,466 pupils) continued with business as usual. Following the intervention, pupils were tested in English, maths and science.

The results showed that pupils in the intervention schools did better in the main outcome measures of English (effect size = +0.16), science (+0.12), and maths (+0.09) when compared with pupils in the control schools who didn’t receive the intervention. For pupils who received free school meals, the intervention had a higher impact on maths (+0.16), but around the same for English (+0.12) and science (+0.11). Teachers reported positive effects on pupil engagement and confidence, and on the whole the intervention was highly regarded by participating schools. However, some teachers felt that it would take longer than two terms to fully embed a Dialogic Teaching approach in their classrooms.

Source: Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

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

Science professional development and pupil achievement: A cluster-randomised trial

Joseph Taylor of Abt Associates and colleagues conducted a rigorous study of the Science Teachers Learning Through Lesson Analysis (STeLLA) professional development (PD) programme.

STeLLA is designed to increase elementary (primary) teachers’ science knowledge. Instead of the standard practice of teaching pupils to memorise science concepts and then perform activities that prove these concepts, STeLLA teachers lead pupils to discover science concepts through experience and experimentation. One of STeLLA’s main tenets is to have pupils think through science problems aloud so that teachers can respond to pupils’ ideas and guide them to scientific conclusions and specific learning goals. Its other distinguishing feature is that during the course of a year, groups of 5–10 teachers led by a PD coach watch and critique videos of experienced science teachers’ lessons, later moving on to their own and their colleagues’ lessons, to analyse them regarding science content, teaching and learning. In addition, STeLLA teachers are taught by university-level science teachers the summer prior to implementation to provide them with greater science content knowledge, a process called “content deepening”.

In the current study, researchers used a cluster-randomised design to compare STeLLA to The Content Deepening Program, a PD programme that deepens teachers’ science knowledge through university faculty-led science teaching, like STeLLA does, but without STeLLA’s analysis-of-practice component. Seventy-seven schools, with 144 teachers and 2,823 fourth and fifth grade pupils (Years 5 and 6) in Colorado, were randomly assigned either to STeLLA (n=42 schools) or to The Content Deepening Program (n=35 schools) in two cohorts, the first in 2011–12 and the second in 2012–13. Teachers in both conditions experienced 88 hours of PD and had the same learning goals for their pupils. Pupils were pre- and post-tested on a science measure based on established assessments. Although the control group demonstrated a slight achievement advantage at baseline, results showed that pupils in STeLLA classes scored higher (effect size = +0.55) at post-test than pupils in classes whose teachers had been through The Content Deepening Program.

Source: The effect of an analysis-of-practice, videocase-based, teacher professional development program on elementary students’ science achievement (2017),  Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Volume 10:  Issue 2

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