The benefits of theatre field trips

Field trips to the theatre provide a number of educational benefits to pupils, according to research published in Educational Researcher. Jay P Greene and colleagues found that giving pupils the opportunity to take part in a field trip to see a live theatre performance produced an increase in tolerance as well as a greater understanding of the plot and vocabulary of those plays.

Schools in Arkansas in the US were assigned by lottery to receive free tickets to attend one of five live theatre performances over a two-year period. Grade 9 (Year 10) classes from participating schools were then randomly assigned to take part in theatre field trip or to serve as a control group and not take part in the field trips. In addition, for two of the five experiments, a second treatment group was added in which pupils were randomly assigned to watch a film version of the theatre play. The average age of pupils in the treatment and control groups was 14 years old.

The impact to pupils of the theatre field trip was measured on five outcomes: tolerance, social perspective taking (the ability to understand others’ feelings and perspectives), content knowledge, theatre consumption and theatre participation. Pupils in the theatre field trip treatment groups scored higher for levels of tolerance and social perspective taking (+0.14 and 0.16 of a standard deviation higher than the control group). Pupils’ content knowledge of the plot and vocabulary in the plays was also greater (by 0.15 of a standard deviation) than pupils in the control group.

However, watching a film did not produce benefits, and as the film-viewing group also left school for a field trip, the results suggest that the educational benefits to pupils come from the experience of watching live theatre, and not simply from leaving school for a field trip. Results also indicate that theatre field trips may encourage pupils to visit the theatre more often.

Source: The play’s the thing: experimentally examining the social and cognitive effects of school field trips to live theater performances (March 2018), Educational Researcher, Vol 47, Issue 4, pp. 246 – 254

Spectacular results using self-regulation to improve writing

A new study has used memorable visits and self-regulation to improve the writing of children in Year 6 and 7.

The Education Endowment Foundation project involved 23 primary schools and their Year 6 teachers in West Yorkshire. 11 schools were randomly allocated to receive training, from an external consultant, in the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) approach. Twelve schools were allocated to the comparison. SRSD provides a clear structure to help pupils plan, monitor, and evaluate their writing. It aims to encourage pupils to take ownership of their work. Memorable experiences, such as trips to local landmarks or visits from World War II veterans, were used as a focus for writing lessons.

The project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes. The overall effect size for writing, comparing the progress of pupils in the project to similar pupils who did not participate, was +0.74. This was statistically significant, and equivalent to approximately nine months’ additional progress. The approach was even more effective for pupils eligible for free school meals, although this was not statistically significant.

Source: Improving Writing Quality Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.

Cultural trips important for underprivileged children

A new article in Education Next describes a large-scale randomised controlled trial designed to measure what pupils learn from field trips to art museums. It was based on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas, which opened in 2011. Although the museum is in a deprived area, there was a very high demand for school tours. It is in an area that did not previously have a museum, tours are free, and the museum even covers the cost of transport, lunch, and cover for the teachers going on the tour.

The researchers were able to work with the museum to allocate tour slots to 525 schools that applied (representing 38,347 pupils). They created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in age and other demographic factors. Each pair was randomly allocated to go on their tour in the first term, or have their tour deferred and act as the control group. Surveys were administered to 10,912 pupils and 489 teachers at 123 different schools (both treatment and control) on average three weeks after the treatment group received its tour.

The findings revealed that treatment pupils displayed a stronger ability (around 9% of a standard deviation) to think critically about art than the control group, a 6% of a standard deviation increase in historical empathy, a 7% of a standard deviation increase in tolerance, and their interest in visiting art museums was 8% of a standard deviation higher. These benefits were particularly significant for disadvantaged pupils, with pupils from rural areas, schools in deprived areas, and pupils from ethnic minorities typically showing gains two to three times larger than those of the total sample. The authors conclude that the less prior exposure to culturally enriching experiences pupils have, the larger the benefit of receiving a school tour of a museum.

Source: The Educational Value of Field Trips (2013), Education Next.