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.

Examining restorative practices in schools

A new research brief by Catherine Augustine and colleagues at the RAND Corporation examines findings from an evaluation of restorative practices as implemented in schools in Pennsylvania, USA. Restorative practices are described as inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community, and these practices were implemented through the SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change programme. Some key elements of the programme include:

  • Affective statements: Personal expressions of feeling in response to specific positive or negative behaviours of others.
  • Small impromptu conferences: Questioning exercises that quickly resolve lower-level incidents involving two or more people.
  • Fair process: A set of transparent practices designed to create open lines of communication, assure people that their feelings and ideas have been taken into account, and foster a healthy community as a means of treating people respectfully throughout a decision-making process so that they perceive that process to be fair, regardless of the outcome.

The research team conducted a randomised controlled trial of restorative practices in 44 schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between June 2015 and June 2017. Data included findings from observations, surveys, and interviews, and administrative.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • Restorative practices were successful in reducing pupil suspensions.
  • Restorative practices reduced suspension rates of elementary grade (primary school) pupils, African American pupils, pupils from low-income families, and female pupils more than for pupils not in these groups.
  • Restorative practices did not improve academic outcomes, nor did they reduce suspensions for middle school pupils or suspensions for violent offences.

Overall, the research team concludes that restorative practices are promising, particularly for elementary schools seeking to reduce suspension rates.

Source: Restorative practices help reduce student suspensions. (December 2018), RAND Corporation RB-10051-DOJ

The impact of web-based coaching on mathematics instruction

A new working paper, published by Brown University, reports on an online coaching programme that aimed to support maths teachers.

Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) is an observational instrument that helps structure teachers’ and coaches’ reflections about maths teaching. There are four “dimensions” of the instrument – richness of the mathematics, Common Core-aligned pupil practices, working with pupils and mathematics, and teacher errors. In several studies, teachers’ scores on MQI have predicted pupils’ academic achievement gains.

In MQI coaching, teachers selected an element of their practice to work on and filmed one of their lessons. A coach then selected a couple of extracts and chose a comparison stock film clip. The teacher watched the clips and then the two discussed them and developed a plan for improvement.

In the current trial, 142 upper elementary and middle school teachers (Years 4-9) from 51 schools in a mid-western state in the US were assigned to MQI coaching or a control condition. Teachers assigned to MQI coaching took part in a two-day summer school, followed by a bi-weekly coaching cycle for the following academic year.

At the end of that year, the coached teachers showed substantial improvements in their scores on the MQI instrument. They also had improved scores in pupil perceptions of classroom practices. However, there was no measurable impact on state achievement tests (the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC)). In the follow-up year, there were still large impacts on the four MQI dimensions, but none were found on pupils’ assessment of teachers or pupil achievement.

Source: Developing ambitious mathematics instruction through web-based coaching: A randomized field trial. (November 2018). Brown University Working Paper

IPEELL writing intervention finds scale-up challenging

The Education Endowment Foundation has published the results of a randomised controlled trial of IPEELL

The IPEELL intervention is a writing process model in which pupils are encouraged to plan, draft, edit, and revise their writing. IPEELL stands for Introduction, Point, Explain, Ending, Links, and Language. The strategy provides a clear structure to assist writers and can be used for most genres of writing, including narrative writing. In addition to the writing process, the IPEELL intervention also involves ‘memorable experiences’ for pupils designed to act as a stimulus for their writing.

The trial tested the impact of one year of IPEELL for children in Year 6 and the impact of two years of IPEELL for children who started it in Year 5 and continued in Year 6. In total, 84 schools and 2,682 children in the north of England participated in the one-year trial and 83 schools and 2,762 children participated in the two-year trial. Writing outcomes were measured using Key Stage 2 (KS2) writing outcomes for the one-year trial and a bespoke writing test based on historic KS2 writing tests for the two-year trial.

The results showed that pupils who used IPEELL for two years made more progress in writing (effect size = +0.11) than pupils who did not. However, they made less progress in reading, spelling and mathematics than pupils in the control group (ES = -0.17—0.30). Pupils who used IPEELL for one year made less progress in writing, reading, spelling and maths than comparison pupils.

A previous trial of the approach had shown large positive results, but there were important differences between the two trials. In this latest trial, the model used teacher trainers who had never seen IPEELL delivered in the classroom. It also measured the average impact across all pupils, while the first looked only at pupils with low prior attainment. In this latest trial, pupils with low prior attainment who used IPEELL for two years made more progress in writing (effect size = +0.26) than pupils who did not – a larger effect size than the figure for all pupils.

Source: Calderdale Excellence Partnership: IPEELL evaluation report and executive summary (November 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Examining a path to improved SEL skills

A study conducted by Neil Humphrey and colleagues, published in Public Health Research, reports on the findings of a randomised controlled trial of the social and emotional learning intervention, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS).

PATHS aims to promote children’s social skills via a taught curriculum, which is delivered by the class teacher. A total of 5,218 children in Years 3–5 (ages 7–9) from 45 primary schools in Greater Manchester participated in the trial. Schools were randomly allocated to deliver PATHS for two years or to continue as normal.

The findings of the study suggest that the impact of PATHS was modest and limited. Immediately after the intervention, there was tentative evidence that PATHS made a small improvement on children’s social skills (effect size = +0.09) as assessed by the Social Skills Improvement System. A small improvement in children’s psychological well-being (effect size = +0.07) was also found immediately after the intervention. However, there were no differences between children from PATHS and control schools for any outcomes at the 12- or 24-month post-intervention follow-ups.

Source: The PATHS curriculum for promoting social and emotional well-being among children aged 7–9 years: a cluster RCT. Public Health Research 6 (10).

A systematic review of RCTs in education research

The use of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in education research has increased over the last 15 years. However, the use of RCTs has also been subject to criticism, with four key criticisms being that it is not possible to carry out RCTs in education; the research design of RCTs ignores context and experience; RCTs tend to generate simplistic universal laws of “cause and effect”; and that they are descriptive and contribute little to theory.

To assess these four key criticisms, Paul Connolly and colleagues conducted a systematic review of RCTs in education research between 1980 and 2016 in order to consider the evidence in relation to the use of RCTs in education practice.

The systematic review found a total of 1,017 RCTs completed and reported between 1980 and 2016, of which just over three-quarters have been produced in the last 10 years. Just over half of all RCTs were conducted in North America and just under a third in Europe. This finding addresses the first criticism, and demonstrates that, overall, it is possible to conduct RCTs in education research.

While the researchers also find evidence to oppose the other key criticisms, the review suggests that some progress remains to be made. The article concludes by outlining some key challenges for researchers undertaking RCTs in education.

Source:  The trials of evidence-based practice in education: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials in education research 1980–2016 (July 2018), Educational Research, DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2018.1493353