Providing free glasses to secondary age pupils

Jingchun Nie and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial to examine the effects of providing free glasses to pupils in a poor rural area of Western China. 

In this study, screening and vision testing were provided to 1,974 grade seven and eight (Year 8 and 9) pupils from 31 schools located in northern Shaanxi province in China before they were divided into treatment and control groups. Free glasses were distributed in treatment schools to pupils found to need them, regardless of whether they had a pair of glasses already. In contrast, pupils in the control group solely received a prescription for glasses. The glasses usage of the treatment group increased from 31% at baseline at the start of the school year to 72% at the end of the school year, while that of the control group increased from 28% to 50%.

The study questioned pupils about their academic aspirations, administered a standardised exam using items drawn from a bank of questions developed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and measured the dropout rate to evaluate the intervention. Findings were as follows:

  • Among the pupils without glasses at baseline, the provision of glasses increased their maths achievement (effect size = +0.196), while there was no effect on pupils who already had glasses at baseline.
  • Providing glasses also increased pupils’ aspiration for attending academic high schools (instead of vocational schools) by 9% on average.
  • Providing glasses reduced the rate of dropout by 44% among the pupils who did not own glasses at baseline.

Source: Seeing is believing: Experimental evidence on the impact of eyeglasses on academic performance, aspirations and dropout among junior high school students in rural China (May 2019), Economic Development and Cultural Change DOI: 101086700631

Interleaved practice improves maths test scores

The results of a randomised controlled trial, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, suggest that a greater emphasis on interleaved practice may dramatically improve maths test scores for grade 7 (Year 8) pupils. Whereas most mathematics worksheets consist of a block of problems devoted to the same skill or concept, an interleaved worksheet is arranged so that no two consecutive problems require the same strategy.

Doug Rohrer and colleagues conducted the study with 54 classes in a large school district in Florida during the 2017–2018 school year. Over a period of four months, the classes periodically completed either interleaved or blocked worksheets, and then both groups completed an interleaved review worksheet. All pupils completed the same problems. One month later, pupils took an unannounced test which was set by the researchers. Pupils who had completed the interleaved assignments performed much better on the unannounced test than those in the blocked assignment group (effect size = +0.83).                

The researchers suggest that the large effect sizes observed in the study for interleaved maths practice may be due to the learning strategies it involves, which force the pupil to choose an appropriate strategy for each problem on the basis of the problem itself. They also identified some limitations of the study – particularly that the interleaving pupils took longer to complete their worksheets so effectively spent more time on each topic.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of interleaved mathematics practice (May 2019). Journal of Educational Psychology

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

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

Trialling a social-emotional learning programme for teenagers

The MindOut programme is a social-emotional learning programme, developed in Ireland, and based on CASEL’s five core competencies for social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management and responsible decision-making. A new article by Katherine Dowling and colleagues in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence reports the results of a cluster-randomised controlled trial of the programme.

The study took place in 34 secondary schools in Ireland (17 intervention, 17 control) with high levels of disadvantage (at least 70% of pupils classified as educationally disadvantaged). Teachers from the intervention schools took part in a one-day training session, and then delivered the MindOut programme over 13 weekly sessions. A total of 675 pupils (ages 15-18) completed a baseline assessment, with 497 pupils remaining in the study post-intervention. A range of measures were used to evaluate the impact on social-emotional skills, mental health and well-being and academic outcomes.

Results showed that for some social and emotional skills, there were significant improvements for intervention pupils, including the use of more positive coping strategies and increased social support coping. On mental health and well-being, the intervention significantly reduced levels of stress and depressive symptoms. However, there was no effect on academic outcomes (pupils’ achievement motivation as rated by teachers, and attitudes toward school).

Source: A cluster randomized-controlled trial of the MindOut social and emotional learning program for disadvantaged post-primary school students (April 2019), Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Kindergarten-based yoga programme improves cognition and behaviour in children

A randomised controlled trial published in Frontiers of Psychology, assesses the impact of a kindergarten-based yoga programme on cognitive performance, visual-motor coordination, and inattentive and hyperactive behaviours in five-year-old Tunisian children.

Forty-five children (28 female and 17 male) took part in the 12-week trial, and were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Fifteen children performed Hatha yoga twice a week for 30 minutes per session, 15 children performed generic physical education twice a week for 30 minutes per session, and another 15 children performed no kind of physical activity, and served as a control group.

Prior to and after the 12 weeks, all children completed a visual attention test and a visual-motor precision test, and teachers evaluated their inattention and hyperactivity behaviours. The three interventions were conducted in parallel and supervised by teachers who were not involved in rating the children’s behaviour pre- and post-test.

Sana Jarraya and colleagues found that yoga had a positive impact on children’s inattention and hyperactivity compared to the other two groups. Yoga also had a positive impact on the completion times for two visual-motor precision tasks in comparison to children in the physical education group. The visual attention scores of the yoga group were also higher in comparison to the control group.

The researchers concluded that yoga could be a cost-effective exercise for enhancing cognitive and behavioural factors relevant for leaning and academic achievement among young children.

Source: 12 weeks of kindergarten-based yoga practice increases visual attention, visual-motor precision and decreases behavior of inattention and hyperactivity in 5-year-old children (April 2019), Frontiers in Psychology