Children’s temperament and teachers as mediators

A new article in Child Development reports on a Finnish study of children’s temperament and their maths and reading development, focusing on whether teachers’ interaction style acts as a mediator between pupils’ temperament characteristics and their skill development.

The study followed 156 Finnish children, each from a different class, during their first year of primary school (equivalent to Year 3 in the UK). The participating children completed maths and English tests in October and April, and parents and teachers completed questionnaires about the child’s temperament. Teachers also answered daily questionnaires over a one-week period about their interaction style with the target child.

There were four components of the child’s temperament: Task orientation (activity, persistence, and distractibility); inhibition; positive mood; and negative emotionality. There were three components of teacher’s interaction styles: Affection (a positive and warm daily relationship with the child); behavioural control (the degree to which the teacher aimed to directly influence the child’s behaviour); and psychological control (teachers expressing disappointment and appealing to guilt).

The authors found different results for reading and maths. Although children’s low task orientation and negative emotionality were negatively associated with the children’s initial reading skill level at the beginning of the year, temperament did not predict children’s subsequent reading skill development during the year. The authors suggest this may reflect the relatively late school starting age and the consistent nature of Finnish orthography.

In contrast, the study indicated that for maths, temperament does play a role, perhaps reflecting the different learning process. The results showed that the impact of children’s low task orientation and negative emotionality on maths skill development was mediated by teachers’ behavioural control and, among girls, also by psychological control. However, the negative impact of children’s inhibition on maths skill development was not mediated by teachers’ interaction style.

Source: Children’s Temperament and Academic Skill Development During First Grade: Teachers’ Interaction Styles as Mediators (2015), Child Development, 86(4).

Effective teacher collaboration

A new article in the Educational Research Review presents a systematic review on teacher collaboration, with 82 studies meeting the authors’ inclusion criteria.

The authors found that such collaboration appeared to hold most benefits for the teachers themselves, including increased motivation and morale, increased communication, and decreased workload. However, the review also identified possible negatives for them, including competitiveness, a loss of autonomy, an increased workload, and a push towards conformity with the majority.

Pupils were found to benefit from improved understanding and performance, with teaching strategies becoming more pupil-centred. Organisational level benefits included a positive influence on the perception that the school climate is supportive of innovation, improved adaptation and innovation, a cultural shift to more equity, a school-wide attention for needs of pupils, a flattened power structure, and the fostering of a professional culture of intellectual enquiry.

The review found that successful collaboration required a number of factors, including realising task interdependence, developing clear roles for the members, and a defined focus for collaboration. Structural support was also required, for example providing meeting time.

Source: Teacher Collaboration: A Systematic Review (2015), Educational Research Review, 15.

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.

Effective group work boosts critical thinking

A new article in the International Journal of Educational Research explores the use of a number of effective group work strategies, informed by the UK-based SPRinG project, and whether these strategies can facilitate students’ learning of critical thinking. The author concludes that they can.

The intervention was trialled with more than 200 children age 11-12 in General Studies lessons in two Hong Kong schools, both with little experience of conducting group work in classrooms. In each school, three classes were randomly chosen from five classes. One (class A) acted as a control group, using a mainly “whole-class teaching approach” (WCTA, N = 69), and classes B and C constituted the experimental group, with one adopting “group work with no specific strategies” (GWNS, N = 68), and the other “group work with effective strategies” (GWES, N = 68).

The strategies developed in the SPRinG project (particularly those for primary school) were employed in the GWES subgroups. This included students attending workshops in which they were taught how to ask questions, take turns, propose ideas, and give explanations; teachers being consistently reminded to provide their classes with regular briefing and debriefing; teachers being encouraged to provide hints and direction but not steer or dominate discussions; and, physically, the tables in the GWES condition were movable, allowing students to form groups relatively quickly and quietly. Group work activities included peer critiquing, collaborative graffiti, and group discussions. Ten interventional sessions took place over approximately five months.

Data collection comprised pre- and post-test scores obtained from the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the Test of Critical Thinking Skills for Primary and Secondary School Students, the graffiti sheets submitted by the group work children in the intervention, and in-depth interviews with the four experimental teachers. The author concluded that the intervention was effective, and the strategies developed in the SPRinG project made a substantial difference both to students’ group work and their critical thinking abilities.

Source: Promoting Critical Thinking Through Effective Group Work: A Teaching Intervention for Hong Kong Primary School Students (2014), International Journal of Educational Research, 66.

Preventing and addressing behaviour problems

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has posted a new tip sheet with five evidence-based strategies to help educators prevent and address behaviour problems. These strategies, which are based on reviews of research and recommendations from experts in the field, are as follows:

  1. Modify the classroom environment to alter or remove factors that trigger problem behaviours (eg, revisit and reinforce expectations, modify the learning space to motivate pupils, and vary teaching strategies to increase academic success).
  2. Identify, deliver, and reinforce explicit teaching in appropriate behaviour.
  3. Learn about interventions that can help support pupils with an emotional/behavioural problem in making good choices. The WWC has identified four effective interventions.
  4. Adapt teaching to maintain or increase pupil engagement in academics, preventing disruptive behaviour. The WWC offers strategies to engage pupils in reading, writing, maths, and out-of-school-time learning.
  5. Enlist adult advocates to help pupils at risk of dropping out address academic and social needs.

Better: Evidence-based Education magazine has addressed similar topics in classroom management and social-emotional learning.

Tips for teaching maths to young children

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide with tips on teaching maths to children up to the age of six. Recommendations are based on a systematic review of the available literature and on the experience of a panel recruited by the US Institute of Education Sciences. Suggested techniques to help children succeed include:

  • Use small-group activities to target different skill levels.
  • Get the most out of maths teaching by continually monitoring children’s progress and tailoring lessons to their needs. Gather specific information about each child’s skill level, such as how they perform on a new activity. Watch how they complete the activities in class, as well as how they perform on tests.
  • Make maths a part of the school day, and create a maths-rich environment so children can see that maths is a part of their everyday activities.

The guide is geared toward teachers, and other educators who want to build a strong foundation for later maths learning.

Source: Teaching Math to Young Children (2013), Institute of Education Sciences.