Reassessing concerns about school may help improve academic achievement

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at what impact an intervention designed to help students with concerns about starting middle school has on their academic achievement, behaviour, and well-being.

Geoffrey Borman and colleagues conducted the study with 1,304 sixth graders (Year 7) at 11 middle schools in a US Midwestern school district. Within each of the 11 schools, students were randomly assigned to the intervention or control condition. The intervention group was given reflective writing exercises, two months apart, which were designed to help students reassess any concerns and worries they might have about belonging in school. The control condition exercises asked students to write about neutral middle school experiences that were not related to school belonging.

The researchers collected pre- and post-intervention survey data on students’ reported social and emotional well-being, and official school records of student attendance, disciplinary records, and grades. The results of the study suggested that the intervention reduced behavioural referrals by 34% (effect size = -0.14), decreased absence by 12% (ES = -0.13), and reduced the number of failing grades by 18% (ES = -0.11). Differences across demographic groups were not statistically significant.

Source: Reappraising academic and social adversity improves middle school students’ academic achievement, behavior, and well-being (August 2019) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Promoting positive youth development in afterschool programmes

Researchers at Child Trends, the Claremont Evaluation Center, and LA’s BEST—a large afterschool programme for children aged 5 to 12, in Los Angeles—have developed a white paper for programme leaders, policymakers and other afterschool stakeholders that examines promising practices for promoting positive youth development in afterschool programmes.

The research team conducted a review of the literature (limited to meta-analyses) on protective and promotive factors that (1) support positive developmental outcomes among young people, (2) are malleable through intervention, and (3) have direct relevance to the afterschool context. The literature review highlighted four categories of actionable, evidence-informed practices that afterschool programme leadership and staff can implement to build protective and promotive factors. The four categories are as follows:

  • Intentional organisational practices: practices that afterschool leadership can purposefully utilise to support the implementation of high-quality programming in afterschool programmes (eg, leadership engages in thoughtful staff hiring, onboarding and training practices; leadership fosters collaboration among staff and across settings).
  • High-quality learning environments: practices fostered by staff that can create afterschool environments in which young people feel physically and emotionally safe and supported in various domains of development (eg, staff offer a variety of activities that align with diverse needs and interests of young people; staff facilitate small, interactive groups).
  • Supportive and nurturing relationships: practices that enhance staff members’ interactions and communications with, and responses to, young people enrolled in afterschool programmes (eg, staff model and reinforce positive behaviours, empower youth to discover and embrace their unique identities, set and enforce clear rules and expectations).
  • Intentional and explicit focus on youth skill development: staff can focus on this area through concrete supports that help young people develop malleable individual characteristics and competencies (eg, supporting the use of effective problem-solving skills, helping children develop positive interpersonal relationship skills and working with children to develop their understanding of emotions).

Source: Promising practices for building protective and promotive factors to support positive youth development in afterschool (November 2018), Claremont Evaluation Center, Claremont Graduate University

Kindergarten-based yoga programme improves cognition and behaviour in children

A randomised controlled trial published in Frontiers of Psychology, assesses the impact of a kindergarten-based yoga programme on cognitive performance, visual-motor coordination, and inattentive and hyperactive behaviours in five-year-old Tunisian children.

Forty-five children (28 female and 17 male) took part in the 12-week trial, and were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Fifteen children performed Hatha yoga twice a week for 30 minutes per session, 15 children performed generic physical education twice a week for 30 minutes per session, and another 15 children performed no kind of physical activity, and served as a control group.

Prior to and after the 12 weeks, all children completed a visual attention test and a visual-motor precision test, and teachers evaluated their inattention and hyperactivity behaviours. The three interventions were conducted in parallel and supervised by teachers who were not involved in rating the children’s behaviour pre- and post-test.

Sana Jarraya and colleagues found that yoga had a positive impact on children’s inattention and hyperactivity compared to the other two groups. Yoga also had a positive impact on the completion times for two visual-motor precision tasks in comparison to children in the physical education group. The visual attention scores of the yoga group were also higher in comparison to the control group.

The researchers concluded that yoga could be a cost-effective exercise for enhancing cognitive and behavioural factors relevant for leaning and academic achievement among young children.

Source: 12 weeks of kindergarten-based yoga practice increases visual attention, visual-motor precision and decreases behavior of inattention and hyperactivity in 5-year-old children (April 2019), Frontiers in Psychology

Test anxiety intervention and uncertain control

Increasing a student’s sense of being in control is an important factor in reducing test anxiety, according to a study published in School Psychology Quarterly, which reports the findings of an intervention to reduce test anxiety in secondary school students who are preparing for high-stakes exams.

Fifty-six Year 10 and 11 students from two secondary schools in urban areas of England participated in the study and were randomly allocated to one of two intervention groups: an early intervention group (n=25), or a wait-list control group (n=31). The intervention comprised six sessions which used both cognitive and behavioural approaches, delivered over six weeks (one session per week).

David Putwain and Marc Pescod measured test anxiety (using the Revised Test Anxiety Scale) and uncertain control (using the Motivation and Engagement Scale) for all participants at three time points: a baseline measurement before either group had received the intervention; after the early intervention group had received the intervention; and after the wait-list control had received the intervention.

The results suggest that after receiving the intervention, students showed a moderate reduction in the worry and tension components of test anxiety and uncertain control.

Source: Is reducing uncertain control the key to successful test anxiety intervention for secondary school students? Findings from a randomized control trial, (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly.

Which character strengths lead to good achievement?

An article previously published in Frontiers in Psychology by Lisa Wagner and Willibald Ruch reported on two studies conducted with 179 primary pupils from three schools, and 199 secondary pupils from four schools in Switzerland to examine whether character strengths are important to school success for primary and secondary pupils.

The authors measured character strengths by the Value in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth,) and positive classroom behaviours with the Classroom Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS), which cover positive achievement-related behaviour and positive social behaviour. For primary pupils, achievement was obtained by teacher ratings; for secondary pupils, the schools’ administration offices provided their grades. The findings showed that:

  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, social intelligence and self-regulation were positively related to positive classroom behaviour for both primary and secondary pupils.
  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, love of learning, perspective, zest and gratitude were positively related to school achievement for both primary and secondary pupils.
  • Perseverance, prudence and hope were associated with both positive classroom behaviour and school achievement across primary and secondary sectors.

According to the authors, these findings indicate there is a rather distinct set of strengths most relevant in schools. The authors also suggest that further research could explore whether teachers and pupils value these strengths.

Source: Good character at school: positive classroom behavior mediates the link between character strengths and school achievement (May 2015), Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 6    

Say hello, wave goodbye to behaviour problems

A small-scale study by Clayton Cook and colleagues, published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, investigated the impact of a Positive Greetings at the Door (PGD) strategy.

Ten English and maths classrooms (from sixth to eighth grade – Years 7-9) in two schools in the Pacific Northwest of the United States were identified that had low levels of academic engaged time (AET) and a high rate of disruptive and off-task behaviour. In total, 203 pupils took part. A randomised block design was used to allocate the classes to intervention and control groups.

Teachers of intervention classes were provided with training sessions and follow-up coaching on a PGD strategy (greeting the pupils by name, reminding pupils individually and collectively of behaviours for success, having a structured learning activity ready, and positively recognising on-time behaviour). Teachers in the control classes were given the same amount of time to talk with other teachers about their classroom management practice.

Class-wide and individual pupils behaviour was measured using the Behavioral Observation of Students in Schools (BOSS). Over two months, results showed that AET increased for the intervention group and stayed relatively constant for the control group (effect size = +0.93), while disruptive behaviour decreased by a similar amount (ES = -0.87).

The authors caution that the small sample of teachers lessens the generalisability of the study findings, and that the study focused on classes with low baseline levels of academic engagement and classroom management practices, so a similar impact might not be seen in all classrooms.

Source: Positive greetings at the door: Evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy (October 2018), Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149–159