Pupil motivation and school reform

The Center on Education Policy in the US offers a series of papers that examines topics related to pupils’ academic motivation. The summary paper, Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform, summarises findings from a wide array of studies by academics in a range of disciplines, as well as lessons from programmes intended to increase motivation.

Topics include: why motivation is important and how it might be defined and measured; whether rewarding pupils can result in higher motivation; whether pupils can be motivated by goal-setting; the role of parental involvement, family background, and culture; strategies schools might use to motivate pupils; and non-traditional approaches to motivating otherwise unenthusiastic pupils.

A few of the many suggestions that the authors offer for schools to consider are:

  • Programmes that reward academic accomplishments are most effective when they reward pupils for mastering certain skills or increasing their understanding rather than rewarding them for reaching a performance target or outperforming others.
  • Tests are more motivating when pupils have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through low-stakes tests, performance tasks, or frequent assessments that gradually increase in difficulty before they take a high-stakes test.

Source:S tudent Motivation: An overlooked piece of school reform (2012), Center on Education Policy

New study evaluates a summer camp for children with military parents

This RAND study assesses “Operation Purple”, a free one-week summer camp programme in the US for children with a parent who is on military deployment. The study used a quasi-experimental approach to determine whether there were differences between attendees and non-attendees in four Operation Purple theme areas: comfort and skill in communicating about feelings, understanding and appreciation of military life, sense of service/stewardship, and outdoor education. Data included children and parent survey data (from both camp attendees and a control group of non-attendees), camp after-action reports, and visitor observation logs. Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • The most significant difference between children who attended an Operation Purple camp and those who did not was in parent reports that children had a greater ability to communicate feelings of anxiety and stress surrounding parental deployment and a greater connection to the military and their peers. Parents also reported that camp participants had a greater interest in camping in the follow-up surveys.
  • The study found no significant differences between children who attended camp and those who did not in the area of sense of service/stewardship

Source: Assessing Operation Purple: A program evaluation of a summer camp for military youth (2012), RAND

What does research tell us about the effects of expanded learning time?

This report from Child Trends reviews what is known about the effectiveness of programmes designed to raise achievement by expanding learning time. It evaluates studies of initiatives to extend the school day (ESD), extend the school year (ESY), and expand learning time outside of school hours (ELO).

The report recognises that while many of the studies lack the rigorous experimental testing needed for firm evidence, the available evidence suggests that extending school time can help raise academic achievement. Studies of ELO programmes were found to be more rigorous and to support a positive impact on improving precursors to achievement and learning outcomes, such as educational expectations. In all studies, programme quality and implementation were found to be important.

Source: Expanded time for learning both inside and outside the classroom: A review of the evidence base (2012), Child Trends

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