To study or to sleep?

The amount of time spent studying may not matter if the pupil has not had enough sleep, according to research published in Child Development. This longitudinal study examined the effect that varying amounts of study and sleep had on teenagers’ studies the following day. The results suggest that regardless of how much a pupil generally studies each day, if they sacrifice sleep time to study more than usual they will be more likely to struggle in class, or on an assignment or test, the following day.

This problem becomes increasingly prevalent over time, the study proposes, because pupils are more likely to sacrifice sleep time for study time in the latter years of secondary school. A further study in this area, reported in the latest Better: Evidence-based Education, adds to the evidence that the amount of sleep a teenager gets (too much or too little) affects academic performance. It found that teenagers who sleep seven hours a night tend to have the highest test scores, while teenagers who sleep for less than six or more than 11 hours tend to perform poorly on tests.

Source: To study or to sleep? The academic costs of extra studying at the Expense of Sleep (2012), Child Development, 84(1)

Do students perform better when schools offer extracurricular activities?

A new PISA in Focus study from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), looks at whether pupils perform better in science if they are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, such as field trips and science projects. Most countries (22 of 31 OECD countries) demonstrated that pupils did perform better at science in schools that offer more extracurricular activities compared with pupils in schools that offer fewer of these activities. The types and availability of extracurricular activity vary widely across countries, but the study shows that the relationship between improved pupil performance and extracurricular activity is consistent, with Germany and Australia having the strongest correlation.

Another finding of the study is that in addition to performing better, pupils in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities also report more positive attitudes toward the subject. They tend to believe more in their own ability in the subject (22 OECD countries) and enjoy learning science more (20 OECD countries). After accounting for socio-economic background, the positive relationships between achievement, enjoyment, and self-efficacy still hold for most countries. In particular, no negative relationships between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards science learning were found.

Source: Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities? (2012), PISA in Focus

What makes for an effective student reward?

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US explores the short-term effects of incentives on student effort and performance, varying the size and type of the rewards as well as how they are presented. As part of the study, field experiments were conducted across multiple years in over 7,000 US elementary and high schools. Findings were as follows:

  • Incentives framed as losses (ie, a reward that is given before an assessment begins that the pupil can keep if they meet the goal, or will have to give back if they don’t) have more robust effects than comparable incentives framed as gains (ie, receiving a reward only after the goal is met).
  • Non-financial incentives (eg, a trophy) are considerably more cost-effective than financial incentives for younger pupils, but were not effective with older pupils.
  • All motivating power of the incentives vanishes when rewards are handed out with a delay rather than immediately. For this study, the delay was one month.

Source: The Behavioralist goes to school: Leveraging behavioral economics to improve educational performance (2012), National Bureau of Economic Research

The effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes

This article from the Journal of Early Childhood Research presents findings of a randomised controlled trial evaluation of the effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes among struggling readers aged eight to nine years. The trial involved children from 50 primary schools who received two 30-minute mentoring sessions per week from volunteer mentors that involved paired reading activities.

The evaluation showed that the programme was effective in improving decoding skills, reading rate, and reading fluency. However, no evidence was found of the programme having an effect on reading comprehension or reading confidence and enjoyment of reading. The findings make an important contribution to the existing evidence in this area, and show that mentoring programmes that use non-specialist volunteers, rather than teachers or highly trained mentors, can be effective in improving some core reading but may be less effective in improving reading comprehension.

Source: The effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes among eight- to nine-year-old children: A follow up randomised controlled trial (2012), Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(2)

Teaching and Learning Toolkit keeps growing

An expanded version of the Sutton Trust-EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) Teaching and Learning Toolkit is now available, providing guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students. This new version has been developed from the “Pupil Premium Toolkit” and provides a summary of educational research on 21 topics in terms of potential impact on attainment, strength of supporting evidence, cost, and applicability.

A new addition to the Teaching and Learning Toolkit is phonics. The approach shows a moderate impact (an average impact of +4 months) for a moderate cost, and good evidence – three or more meta-analyses from well controlled experiments.

Source: Education Endowment Foundation, Sutton Trust