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

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

Three-year achievement gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers

Research published by the Sutton Trust shows that for schools in the UK, the achievement gap in maths, science and reading between the top-performing pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds is around two years and eight months.

Global Gaps by Dr John Jerrim of the UCL Institute of Education analyses the 2015 test scores from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA tests to assess how well the top 10% of pupils in the UK’s schools are doing. In England, the highest-achieving pupils score above the median score for OECD countries in maths, science and reading. However, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, high-achieving pupils perform, on average, below the OECD median scores.

For girls in England, the achievement gap in science and reading is even greater. High-achieving girls from low socio-economic backgrounds are around three years behind their more advantaged, high-achieving peers. This is around eight months greater than the equivalent gap for boys for science, and nine months greater for reading. There is no significant gender difference in maths, with an achievement gap of around two years and nine months for both girls and boys.

Source: Global Gaps: Comparing socio-economic gaps in the performance of highly able UK pupils internationally (February 2017), The Sutton Trust

Predicting success in STEM

The Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest has conducted a literature review to determine what predictors from primary school of postsecondary STEM success have been identified in peer-reviewed studies, with a focus on predictors for Hispanic students.

The review defined postsecondary STEM success as enrollment in, persistence in, and completion of postsecondary STEM majors or degrees. Twenty-three relevant studies were identified, but only four examined factors predictive of success specifically for Hispanic students.
Key findings from the review included:

  • The number of high school maths and science courses taken and the level of those courses predict postsecondary STEM success for all student subgroups, but racial/ethnic minority students were less likely than White students to take the highest level maths and science courses.
  • Interest or confidence in STEM showed statistically significant predictive relationships with students’ postsecondary STEM success, and the relationships were evident as early as middle school. Racial/ethnic minority and White students had similar interest and confidence in STEM.
  • Statistically significant high school predictors of postsecondary STEM success included schools’ academic rigour, percentage of students enrolled in college preparatory programmes, students’ satisfaction with their teachers, and levels of parent participation.

Source: A Review of the Literature to Identify Leading Indicators Related to Hispanic STEM Postsecondary Educational Outcomes (2016), Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

Targeting EALs with science

A recent large-scale randomised controlled trial, published in the American Educational Research Journal, has examined the impact of a science curriculum with a focus on pupils with English as an Additional Language (EALs).

The study was implemented in 66 schools (33 treatment and 33 control) across three school districts in one south-eastern US state. During the 2012–2013 school year, the project involved 258 teachers (123 treatment and 135 control) and a total of 6,673 students. The trial evaluated P-SELL, a science curricular and professional development intervention for fifth-grade students with a focus on EALs.

The P-SELL curriculum’s approach aligns with state science standards and high-stakes science assessments administered at fifth grade. It is based on an inquiry-oriented approach and addresses the learning needs of EALs by providing guidance and scaffolding for English language development. Teachers are supported with a teacher’s guide and professional development workshops. The workshops incorporated critical features of effective professional development: content focus, active learning, coherence, sufficient duration, and collective participation.

The study used both the high-stakes state science assessment as an outcome measure and a researcher-developed science assessment that was administered at the beginning and end of the year and allowed for a pre-measure of science achievement. The study examined the effect of the intervention on science achievement for all students and for students of varying levels of English proficiency (EAL, recently reclassified EAL, former EAL, and non-EAL).

The results found significant and meaningfully sized average intervention effects on the researcher-developed science assessment scores (effect size = +0.25) and the state science assessment scale scores (+0.15). The P-SELL intervention had significant and meaningfully sized effects for EALs (+0.35) on the researcher-developed assessment. The intervention effects were positive but not statistically significant for EALs (+0.12) on the state science assessment, although other subcategories (non-EALs and former EALs) were positive and significant. This is the first year of a three year study, and future years will provide information on the long-term impact of the teachers’ professional development.

Source: Impact of a Large-Scale Science Intervention Focused on English Language Learners (2016), American Educational Research Journal.

Stories about struggling scientists improved science grades

A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the impact of “struggle stories” on success in science.

Students who think that success in science is only possible with exceptional talent may become demotivated and, for example, turn away from the idea of studying science in college.
In this study, 402 students in ninth and tenth grades (Year 10 and 11) in New York City schools read one of three kinds of story about an eminent scientist who:

  • struggled intellectually (eg, made mistakes and overcame them through effort);
  • struggled personally (eg, was poor or lacked parental support, but overcame it); or
  • made great discoveries (a control condition, without struggle).

The intervention lasted five weeks. Student achievement was measured using grades from the six-week sessions before and after the intervention, and motivation was measured using a pre- and post-test. Students in both of the “struggle story” conditions had higher grades than did those in the control condition, though the difference was not significant. There was no measurable difference on the motivation of the groups, but analysis of interviews showed that the students felt more connected to the scientists.

Source: Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science. (2016), Journal of Educational Psychology.