Maths anxiety, working memory and self-concept

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Jaén, Spain, and published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the relationship between maths anxiety and maths performance in primary school children, and also the possible mediating role of working memory and maths self-concept.

A total of 167 pupils in grades 3 and 5 (age 8–12 years) took part in the study. Each pupil completed a set of questionnaires to assess maths anxiety and self-concept as well as their mathematical performance. Working memory was assessed using two backward span tasks. Teachers were also asked to rate each pupils’ maths achievement.

As expected, results showed that pupils who demonstrated higher levels of anxiety about maths tended to have lower scores on maths outcomes such as ability, problem‐solving and teacher‐rated maths achievement. However, this relationship was lessened once the effects of working memory and self-concept were considered. The researchers suggest, therefore, that it is worth taking into consideration working memory and self-concept when designing interventions aimed at helping pupils with maths anxiety.

Source: Math anxiety and math performance in children: The mediating roles of working memory and math self‐concept (May 2017), British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 87, Issue 4

Do sleep problems in early childhood predict performance at school?

A study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology looks at whether problems with sleep and self-regulation might be used to predict how children settle in at school.

The study involved 2,880 children from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Child sleep problems and emotional self-regulation were assessed via reports from mothers at three time points between birth and age five. Child attentional regulation was assessed by the mothers at two time points, and school adjustment was measured by teacher reports of classroom self-regulation and social, emotional, and behavioural adjustment at school, when the children were aged 6-7 years.

Three profiles were found. A normative profile (69% of children) had consistently average or higher emotional and attentional regulation scores and sleep problems that steadily reduced from birth to five. The remaining 31% of children were members of two non-normative profiles, both characterised by escalating sleep problems across early childhood and below mean self-regulation. Children in the non-normative group were associated with higher teacher-reported hyperactivity and emotional problems, and poorer classroom self-regulation and prosocial skills.

The researchers conclude that early childhood profiles of self-regulation that include sleep problems offer a way to identify children at risk of poor school adjustment. Children with escalating early childhood sleep problems could be an important group for interventions to support transition into school.
Source: Early Childhood Profiles Of Sleep Problems And Self-Regulation Predict Later School Adjustment (2016), British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Early oral competence linked to literacy

A new article published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology describes a three-year longitudinal study exploring the predictive relationship between oral narrative competence at age 5/6 and written narrative competence during the following two years.

A total of 80 Italian children participated in the study. They were followed for three years and tested three times:
  • Oral production was assessed at the end of the first year of the study, when the children were at the end of the equivalent of Year 1. This was in terms of narrative competence (cohesion, coherence, and structure).
  • Written production was assessed at the end of the equivalent of Year 2 in terms of narrative competence (cohesion, coherence, and structure) and orthographic competence (spelling).
  • Written production was assessed at the end of the equivalent of Year 3 in terms of narrative competence (cohesion, coherence, and structure).
Overall, the study demonstrated that oral narrative competence in Year 1 predicted written narrative competence in the following two years, with orthographic competence (spelling) playing a relevant mediating role.
The authors conclude that their results suggest the importance of practising oral narrative competence in Year 1 and Year 2 and the value of composition quality independent of orthographic text accuracy.
Source: The Relationship Between Oral and Written Narratives: A Three-year Longitudinal Study of Narrative Cohesion, Coherence, and Structure (2015), British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4).

Buoyant students rise above exams

A study of GCSE exam performance among 705 secondary school students in state-funded schools in England shows that it is OK for students to be tense, but not good for them to be anxious, about high-stakes exams.

The authors used self-reported data from the students to investigate the relationship between academic buoyancy (withstanding routine setbacks, challenges, and pressures), test anxiety (feeling threatened by exams), and high-stakes exam performance. Buoyancy was defined as distinct from resilience (withstanding more severe adversity).

The students used the Revised Test Anxiety Scale to report worry and tension components of test anxiety and the Academic Buoyancy Scale to report academic buoyancy. Academic achievement was measured using average scores from English, maths, and science GCSE exams.

Student data revealed that academic buoyancy was high where the worry component of test anxiety was low (and vice versa). This was reflected in exam results where low worry and high buoyancy were associated with better average GCSE scores. The tension element of test anxiety was unrelated to exam results.

The authors suggested that future studies could take past academic achievement into account and investigate other aspects of test anxiety, such as test-irrelevant thinking and off-task behaviours. They also suggested that insights from the study may inform interventions that aim to reduce test anxiety, improve academic buoyancy, and boost exam performance.

Source: Academically buoyant students are less anxious about and perform better in high-stakes examinations (2015), British Journal of Educational Psychology

Does school entrance age matter?

Researchers in Croatia explored the relationship between the age that pupils begin school and school achievement. They found only a weak relationship in the lower grades of primary school, and at the end of primary schooling the effects are no longer evident.

The study looked at the achievement of fourth- (ages 10 and 11) and eighth-grade pupils (ages 14 and 15) in 844 primary schools in Croatia. Pupils were divided into groups of younger and older school entrants based on the difference between their year of birth and the year of school entry.

In the fourth grade, older entrants performed slightly better in all subjects than those who were younger when they entered school, but these differences in achievement were very small (effect sizes ranged from 0.02 to 0.07). By the eighth grade, there was no difference in achievement between younger and older entrants in the majority of subjects. However, contrary to the fourth grade sample, in the subjects where differences in achievement were found, the younger school entrants outperformed the older school entrants, but the effect sizes were again very small (effect sizes ranged from 0 to 0.12). In both samples, school entrance age explains less than one per cent of the variance in school achievement in different subjects.

Source: The relation between school entrance age and school achievement during primary schooling: Evidence from Croatian primary schools (2012), British Journal of Educational Psychology , 83(4)