New review of evidence on parental engagement

review of evidence published by the Education Endowment Foundation shows how parental engagement can have a positive effect on a child’s academic achievement – regardless of age or socioeconomic status.

The review, conducted by the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter and supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula, concludes that parental engagement in children’s learning is associated with improved academic outcomes, and that the association is stronger when parental engagement is defined as parents’ expectations for their children’s academic achievement. All studies controlled for parents’ education and/or family socioeconomic status.

The review highlights areas of promise for how schools and early education settings can support parents in a way that improves their children’s learning. Examples include family literacy interventions to help boost younger children’s learning, and summer reading programmes that improve school-aged children’s learning, particularly among families from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

An overarching recommendation is the importance of schools planning and monitoring parental engagement activities to get the most out of them. Other recommendations look at the best ways to communicate with parents, and strategies for supporting learning at home.

The report also includes guidance on tailoring school communications to encourage parental engagement and offering more intensive support where needed.

Source: How can schools support parents’ engagement in their children’s learning? Evidence from research and practice (September 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Improving the language and communication of secondary school children with language difficulties

A research report published in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders investigates the effectiveness of teaching assistant (TA)-delivered narrative and vocabulary interventions to secondary school children with language difficulties.

Researchers at City University of London and University of Oxford conducted a randomised controlled trial in two outer London boroughs. Across 21 schools, 358 Year 7 underperforming pupils (mean age = 12.8 years) were recruited, and randomised to four groups within each school: vocabulary intervention, narrative intervention, combined narrative and vocabulary intervention, and delayed waiting control group. The narrative programme focused on the understanding and telling of stories, using a story structure to support story generation. Pupils were introduced to different types of stories (fictional, non‐fictional, scripts) and narrative genres. The vocabulary programme focused on developing key concepts and vocabulary items relevant to the curriculum (eg, nutrition) and age-appropriate (eg, careers). A variety of tasks including word associations, categorisation, mind‐mapping and word‐building were used to reinforce word learning.

The language and communication programmes (narrative, vocabulary, and combined narrative and vocabulary) were delivered by TAs in the classroom, three times per week, for 45–60 min each, over six weeks, totalling 18 sessions. Assessments were conducted pre- and post-intervention.

Overall, pupils in the intervention groups made greater improvements on standardised measures of narrative (effect size = +0.296), but not vocabulary skills, compared with control group children.

Source: Improving storytelling and vocabulary in secondary school students with language disorder: a randomized controlled trial (March 2019), International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 54:4

Improving attendance by improving school conditions

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Attendance Works have released a new report, Using Chronic Absence Data to Improve Conditions for Learning, which describes how data on chronic absence, defined as a pupil missing 10 or more days of school, can be a tool to warn administrators that pupils are not getting the support they need. The first half of the report describes four school characteristics that promote attendance — physical and emotional health and safety; belonging, connectedness and support; academic challenge and engagement; and adult and pupil social and emotional competence — and how they relate to attendance. The second half of the report describes how chronic attendance data can be used to diagnose weaknesses in learning conditions and presents specific steps that schools can take to promote better conditions.

Source: Using chronic absence data to improve conditions for learning (September 2019), Attendance Works and American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Effects of positive emotion interventions on Chinese adolescents

In recent years, interventions that apply positive psychology principles have become increasingly popular, providing an alternative approach to promoting pupils’ well-being. A recent research study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined a positive education programme in China focusing on positive emotion for middle school pupils.

Participants were drawn from a public middle school in the city of Chengdu, China. A total of 173 eighth graders (Year 9) from six classes participated in the study, of which three classes (84 pupils) were randomly allocated to the intervention group, and three classes (89 pupils) were assigned to the control group. Pupils in the intervention group received a 10-session positive education programme delivered by their teachers who received training in positive psychology from the researchers. The programme consisted of three main modules, namely understanding emotions, fostering positive emotions, and managing negative emotions. Each session lasted 45 minutes. Pupils in the control group spent the same time taking a moral education class that covered moral character, school discipline and class culture building.

Pupils completed online assessments (a Chinese version of the PROMIS paediatric scale) measuring depressive symptoms before and after the intervention. The study found that:

  • The level of depressive symptoms for pupils in both groups increased as measured by the post-test.
  • However, compared to the pupils in the control group, the increase in the level of depressive symptoms of pupils in the intervention group was significantly less.

The authors suggest that compared to correcting pupils’ behaviours, positive interventions which keep pupils intrinsically motivated could also help pupils improve their life in an effective way.

Source: Positive education interventions prevent depression in Chinese adolescents (June 2019), Frontiers in Psychology, volume 10

Do higher teacher qualifications mean better early childhood education and care?

This Campbell systematic review examines the evidence on the correlation between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood learning environments, as measured by the Environment Rating Scale (ERS). The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. The studies had to be comparative or correlational and report either an overall quality scale or an environment rating scale.

Overall, the review suggests that higher teacher qualifications are positively associated with classroom quality in early childhood education and care (effect size = +0.20). The review also suggests a positive correlation between teacher qualifications and classroom quality on a number of subscales, including:

  • Programme structure – focusing on the schedule, time for free play, group time and provisions for children with disabilities (ES = +0.22).
  • Activities – this relates to fine motor, art, music/movement, blocks, sand/water, dramatic play, nature/science, maths/number, use of digital technologies, and promoting acceptance of diversity (ES = +0.20).
  • Language and reasoning – encouraging children to communicate, use language to develop reasoning skills, and the informal use of language (ES = +0.20).

The researchers conclude that while there is evidence for the relationship between teacher qualification and classroom quality as measured by the ERS, further research is also needed into the specific knowledge and skills that are learned by teachers with higher qualifications that enable them to complete their roles effectively. It is important to note also, that while higher quality in early childhood education and care may lead to improved outcomes for children, we cannot assume that this is the case.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 1.

Results of an early literacy intervention to improve reading outcomes

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation report of a randomised controlled trial of MiniLit, a small group, phonics-based programme for struggling Year 1 readers. The intervention is targeted at the bottom 25% of pupils struggling to read, and focuses on improving pupils’ literacy in five areas: phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The programme involved struggling readers from Year 1 classes in nine Australian primary schools located in New South Wales, and consisted of 80 one-hour lessons delivered four to five days per week over 20 weeks. The lessons were delivered in school outside of regular lessons by teachers to small groups of up to four pupils. A total of 237 pupils participated, of which 119 were allocated to the MiniLit intervention group and 118 to the control group. Pupils in the control group received the school’s usual learning support for struggling readers, which could include whole-class approaches and/or support programmes for struggling readers.

Overall, there was no evidence that MiniLit had any additional impact on pupils’ reading at 12 months, measured using the York Assessment of Reading Comprehension – Passage Reading (YARC-PR) tests compared to pupils receiving usual reading support (ES = -0.04). However, there were some positive effects for reading accuracy (ES = +0.13) and reading rate (ES = +0.06). There was also evidence of improvement in foundational reading skills at six months, particularly letter sound knowledge, which was also sustained at 12 months.

The researchers point out, however, that the findings were dependent on the quality of the MiniLit lessons which were provided to pupils. Schools were limited to 20 weeks’ duration, and in many cases, teachers reported that this length was not sufficient to complete the programme for all groups. They suggest that improving how MiniLit is implemented may lead to more positive outcomes; however, this requires further evaluation to determine.

Source: MiniLit: Learning impact fund: Evaluation report (2019). Independent report prepared by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne for Evidence for Learning