Teaching secondary students to write effectively

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Educator’s Practice Guide. The guide, Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, provides evidence-based recommendations for improving the writing skills of middle and secondary school students.

The WWC and a panel chaired by Steve Graham at Arizona State University synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Explicitly teach appropriate writing strategies using a Model-Practice-Reflect instructional cycle (strong evidence)
  • Integrate writing and reading to emphasise key writing features (moderate evidence)
  • Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback (minimal evidence)

To help teachers put the recommendations into practice, the guide describes over 30 specific strategies for the classroom, including sample writing prompts, activities that incorporate both writing and reading, and ways to use formative assessment to inform writing instruction.

Source: Teaching secondary students to write effectively (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

What works for test preparation?

A new intervention report from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the research on ACT and SAT test preparation and coaching programmes, which are designed to improve students’ scores on these college entrance exams.

The WWC reviewed 26 eligible studies on the topic, of which six met WWC research standards. Of these, three studies showed statistically significant positive effects for general academic achievement, and three showed indeterminate effects.

The WWC aggregated the reported effects from each study to create an assessment of effectiveness. Using this method, they concluded that ACT and SAT test preparation programmes have positive effects on general academic achievement for high school students.

Source: ACT/SAT Test Preparation and Coaching Programs (2016), What Works Clearinghouse

New guide to foundational reading skills

A new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide focuses on the foundational reading skills that enable students to read words, relate those words to their oral language, and read connected text with sufficient accuracy and fluency to understand what they read.

The authors conducted a thorough literature search, identified studies that met protocol requirements, and then reviewed those studies against WWC standards. The review focused on studies published since 2000. The guide, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade, provides four recommendations that can be used to improve literacy skills from kindergarten to third grade (Years 1–4). Each recommendation is assigned a level of evidence based on the quantity and quality of the research:

  • Teach students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language, and vocabulary knowledge (minimal evidence)
  • Develop awareness of the segments of sounds in speech and how they link to letters (strong evidence)
  • Teach students to decode words, analyse word parts, and write and recognise words (strong evidence)
  • Ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension (moderate evidence)

The practice guide is a companion to another WWC practice guide, Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade.

Source: Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade (2016), What Works Clearinghouse

A review of the research on Cognitive Tutor

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released an intervention report for Cognitive Tutor, a secondary mathematics curriculum that focuses on how students think about and learn maths. The programme can be implemented through a textbook, through adaptive software, or a combination of these activities.

The WWC identified six studies of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I and one study of Cognitive Tutor Geometry that met WWC research standards. The review showed the following:

  • Cognitive Tutor Algebra I has mixed effects on algebra achievement and no discernible effects on general mathematics achievement for secondary students.
  • Cognitive Tutor Geometry has potentially negative effects on geometry achievement for secondary students, with a small extent of evidence.

Source: Cognitive Tutor® (2016), What Works Clearinghouse.

Not so fast for Accelerated Reader and early reading

Accelerated Reader is a computerised supplementary reading programme that provides guided reading instruction from ages 4-18. It aims to improve reading skills through reading practice and by frequent feedback on students’ progress to teachers. Students select and read a book based on their area of interest and reading level. When they have finished reading the book they take a computerised quiz based on the book’s content and vocabulary. Results on the quiz allow teachers to monitor student progress and identify students who need additional help.

An intervention report from the US What Works Clearinghouse considers the impact of Accelerated Reader on beginning reading (ages 4-9). The review identified two studies that fell within the scope of beginning reading and the WWC group design standards. The studies included a total of 265 beginning readers in grades 1-3 (age 5-9) in four schools. Accelerated Reader was found to have mixed effects for comprehension and no discernible effects on reading fluency for beginning readers.

Source: Accelerated Reader™ (2016), What Works Clearinghouse.

What works in secondary maths?

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released new intervention reports on two core mathematics curricula that seek to improve maths achievement in the secondary grades: The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and Saxon Math.

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) uses a student-centred approach to learning, incorporating problem solving, real-world applications, and the use of technology. The WWC identified two studies of UCSMP Algebra and one study of multiple UCSMP courses that fell within the scope of the WWC’s secondary maths topic area and met WWC research standards. According to the research, UCSMP Algebra I has potentially positive effects on both general maths achievement and algebra for secondary students. In addition, the cumulative effect of multiple UCSMP courses was found to have potentially positive effects on general maths achievement for these students. The full report can be found here.

Saxon Math is designed for students in grades K–12 (age 5–18) and uses an incremental structure that distributes content throughout the year. The WWC identified two studies of Saxon Algebra I that fell within the scope of the WWC’s secondary maths topic area and met WWC research standards. According to the research, Saxon Algebra I has no discernible effects on algebra achievement for secondary students. The full report can be found here.

Source: University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) and Saxon Math (2016), What Works Clearinghouse.