Improving times table fluency

The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) has published a new report from a project funded by their Innovation Evaluation Grants. The IEE Innovation evaluations are small-scale and test the kinds of innovations that schools are interested in.

Thirty-four Year 4 classes took part in the evaluation of Improving times table fluency, which was conducted by Underwood West Academy. A total of 876 children were included in the study.

Five groups of four or five classes were created by matching the pre-test scores on a 25-item tables test and the percentage of children in receipt of pupil premium. All groups had similar pre-test scores and similar percentages of children in receipt of pupil premium. Each class used a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. Conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which pupils practiced multiplication facts.

Pupils had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week, and the intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating pupils carried out a simple times tables test comprising 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.

The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. The report concludes that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach – teaching both the concepts behind them and practising them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.

Source: Increasing times table fluency (May 2019), Institute for Effective Education

Teacher-pupil-parent feedback and academic performance

A discussion paper from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics reports on a randomised controlled trial to improve teacher-pupil-parent feedback in a rural area of central China with a large proportion of left-behind children (children who have both parents working in cities, and are living away from home).

W Stanley Siebert and colleagues collected data from over 4,000 primary school children (Years 4 and 6) over two school terms, which included academic scores from standardised tests. One class from each year group in each school was randomly chosen to be in the feedback group.  In these classes, all pupils received bi-weekly feedback from their teachers on their schoolwork and behaviour. Additionally, one-third of pupils in these classes were randomly selected to also have their bi-weekly feedback sent to their parents.

The results suggest that feedback does have a positive effect on improving maths and language scores for both left-behind and non-left behind children. In maths, there was an effect size of +0.16 standard deviations in Year 4 and +0.20 standard deviations in Year 6. For language the effect size was +0.09 standard deviations for Year 4 and +0.20 standard deviations for Year 6.  When feedback was communicated to parents the achievement gains were larger for younger left-behind children than for non-left behind children. For left-behind children in Year 4 there was an additional +0.30 standard deviations improvement in maths.

Source: Student feedback, parent-teacher communication, and academic performance: Experimental evidence from rural China (February 2018), IZA Institute of Labor Economics

What works for struggling readers?

Amanda Inns and colleagues from Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have completed a research review on effective programmes for struggling readers in elementary (primary) schools. A total of 61 studies of 48 programmes met study inclusion standards. 84% were randomised experiments and 16% quasi-experiments. Results showed positive outcomes for one-to-one tutoring and were positive but not as large for one-to-small group tutoring. There were no differences in outcomes between teachers and teaching assistants as tutors. Whole-class approaches (mostly cooperative learning) and whole-school approaches incorporating tutoring obtained outcomes for struggling readers as large as those found for one-to-one tutoring, and benefitted many more pupils. Technology-supported adaptive instruction did not have positive outcomes, however. The article concludes that approaches mixing classroom and school improvements with tutoring for the most at-risk pupils have the greatest potential for the largest numbers of struggling readers.

Source: A synthesis of quantitative research on programs for struggling readers in elementary schools (April 2019), Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education

Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF

Do young children favour boys over girls?

A new study published in American Psychologist looks at evidence of bias against women and girls for jobs or activities requiring intellectual ability.

Andrei Cimpian conducted a series of three experiments to test for evidence of gender bias and its developmental roots. In the two initial experiments, more than 1,150 participants (mean age 35 years) were asked to refer individuals for a job. The results showed that participants were less likely to refer a woman when the job description mentioned intellectual ability (43.5% female referrals) than when it did not (50.8%).

In the third experiment, the researchers looked at whether young children favour boys over girls for intellectually challenging activities. Children ages five to seven (n= 192) were recruited from a small mid-western city in the US, and taught how to play a team game. Half of the children were told that the game was for “really, really smart” children, the other half were not. Children were then asked to select three teammates from among six children (three boys and three girls) they did not know.

Initially, the children selected teammates of the same gender as themselves (so, girls chose the other girls, and boys chose the other boys), but by the third selection round they became less likely to select girls as teammates for the “smart” game (37.6% girls selected) than for the control game (53.4%). Girls were less likely to select other girls as teammates across selection rounds, particularly for the “smart” game.

Source: Evidence of bias against girls and women in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability (December 2018), American Psychologist 73(9)

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.