Play-based curriculum benefits young children and teachers

Findings from a randomised controlled trial of Tools of the Mind (Tools) suggest that the programme improves kindergarten (Year 1) pupils’ academic outcomes in reading and writing, enhances children’s joy in learning and teachers’ enjoyment of teaching, and reduces teacher burnout.

The Tools programme is a play-based preschool and kindergarten curriculum that emphasises self-control, language and literacy skills. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, analysed the effectiveness of Tools on kindergarten teachers and 351 children (mean age 5.2 years at entry) with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in 18 public schools in Canada. Schools were paired with closely matched schools and then randomised to either the intervention group or control group. Teachers in the intervention group received a three-day workshop on Tools before the school year began, along with funds for resources. Control group teachers were offered the same amount of training hours and funds for whatever training and resource materials they wanted.

The results showed that pupils in the Tools group made greater improvements than pupils in the control group on standardised tests for reading and writing. By May, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were reading at Grade 1 (Year 2) level or better. Similarly, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were able to write a full sentence that they composed themselves. Tools teachers also reported that their pupils could continue to work unsupervised for two and a half times longer than control teachers estimated for their pupils, and that 100% could get back to work right away after breaks, compared to 50% of control children.

The Tools programme also had a positive impact on how teachers felt about teaching. More than three-quarters of Tools teachers, but none of the control teachers, reported in May that they were still enthusiastic about teaching.

Source: Randomized control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers (September 2019), PLoS One

Examining the evidence on Learning Accounts

Social Programs That Work has released a new evidence summary on Learning Accounts, a demonstration programme in New Brunswick, Canada that provided up to $8,400 in conditional financial aid for post-secondary education to low-income 10th grade (Year 11) pupils. The pupils had to meet certain benchmarks (ie, completion of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade (Years 11-13)) to receive the funding.

The programme was evaluated through a randomised controlled trial with a sample of 1,145 low-income 10th graders in 30 high schools in New Brunswick, Canada. Within each school, the low-income pupils were randomly assigned to a group that was offered participation in the Learning Accounts programme, or to a control group that received usual school services. Survey data was used to measure high school graduation rates, and administrative data was used to examine later graduation from college.

According to the evidence report, over the 10 years following random assignment, the programme produced a 6.5 percentage point increase in the high school graduation rate, and 6.8 percentage point increase in the rate of post-secondary completion.

Source: Learning Accounts (September 2019), Social Programs That Work

Improving the maths and reading skills of children in foster care

A study published in Oxford Review of Education evaluates the effects of TutorBright tutoring on the reading and maths skills of children in family foster care. TutorBright uses one-to-one, at-home tutoring with detailed instructor’s manuals and customised pupil workbooks. Children receive two one-hour tutoring sessions per week, on designated days of the week, for up to 50 hours of tutoring. Children in the waiting list control group were asked to continue with their schooling as usual and not seek additional tutoring or academic support during the school year, and were then offered the tutoring intervention at the end of the school year. TutorBright tutors all had experience with teaching or mentoring, and an undergraduate or master’s degree (completed or in progress).

For the randomised controlled trial, conducted by Andrea J Hickey and Robert J Flynn, child welfare workers nominated foster care children in Ontario, Canada, who met the following criteria: enrolled in grades 1–11 (Years 2–12), fluent in English, currently living in a foster-family setting, and judged likely to remain in care for the duration of the study. Thirty-four children were randomly assigned to tutoring, and 36 to a waiting-list control condition.

The results suggest that the tutored children made greater gains than those in the control group in reading fluency (effect size = +0.16), reading comprehension (ES = +0.34) and maths calculation (ES = +0.39).

Source: Effects of the TutorBright tutoring programme on the reading and mathematics skills of children in foster care: a randomised controlled trial (July 2019), Oxford Review of Education, 45:4

Self-explanation may be more effective than presenting pupils with an explanation

Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada conducted a meta-analysis on research that investigated learning outcomes for pupils who received self-explanation prompts while studying or solving problems. Self-explanation is a process by which pupils use prior knowledge to make inferences in order to fill in missing information or monitor understanding.

Their study, published in Educational Psychological Review, examined 69 independent effect sizes from 64 studies (5,917 participants). Studies had to include a treatment condition in which learners were directed or prompted to self-explain during a learning task, with a comparison treatment where learners were directed not to self-explain. The measure was a cognitive outcome such as problem solving or comprehension. Learning activities were mostly of short duration (less than an hour) and carried out mostly with undergraduate students.

The analysis found an overall weighted mean effect size of +0.55 on learning outcomes for pupils who were prompted to self-explain compared to those who were not. However, most of the studies were very brief and artificial, so the outcomes cannot be assumed to apply to actual classroom practice. Moderating variables were also examined in order to investigate how learning outcomes varied under a range of conditions, but were found to have no significant difference on effect sizes. The study concludes that having pupils come up with an explanation themselves is often more effective than presenting them with an explanation.

Source: Inducing self-explanation: a meta-analysis (September 2018), Educational Psychological Review, Volume 30, Issue 3

Screen time or story time?

A new article published in Frontiers of Psychology analyses differences in parent-child talk and reading behaviour when reading print versus electronic versions of the same books.

Parents of 102 children aged 17-26 months from Toronto, Canada, were randomly assigned to read either two electronic books or two print format books with their child. The books had identical content, but while the parent read the words in the print books aloud, the electronic books had an automatic voiceover. After reading, the children were asked to identify an animal presented in the books. Children who read the e-book made more correct choices.

Gabrielle Strouse and Patricia Ganea found that parents who read the print books pointed more frequently to pages than parents who read the electronic books. But the opposite was true for the children. Parents and children spent almost twice as much time reading the electronic books as the print format books. Children who were read the electronic books paid more attention, made themselves more available for reading, participated in more page turns, and produced more content-related comments during reading than those who were read the print format books.

The researchers point out that while increased engagement does not always translate into increased learning, the positive engagement and content-related language observed in the children who were read the electronic books suggests they have a role in supporting learning for younger children. However, more work should be done to identify the potential benefits and hazards.

Source: Parent-toddler behavior and language differ when reading electronic and print picture books (May 2017), Frontiers in Psychology 8:677

Achievement gap for EALs closes as time goes by

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published two reports that investigate educational achievement by students who speak English as an additional language (EAL). There are around one million EAL pupils in England, representing 16.2% of the school population (up from 7.6% in 1997).

The first study analysed data from the National Pupil Database to find the most at-risk groups of EAL learners and to identify predictors of low attainment for them. Among the main findings were:

  • At age 5, EAL children were one-third less likely to achieve a target of good level of development than children with first-language English (FLE).
  • At age 16, EAL students demonstrated a small achievement gap for GCSE grades (58.3% of EAL students achieved five or more A*-C compared with 60.9% of FLE students), yet no gap at all for a scoring system based on performance in eight subjects at Key Stage 4.
  • There was no evidence of a negative impact on the attainment and progress of FLE students where there were high proportions of EAL students.

The second study was a systematic review that sought international evidence for effective interventions for raising standards in EAL students. Of the 29 studies that showed an impact, 27 were from the US, one from Canada, and one from the UK. Five of the studies addressed CPD for educators.

None of the interventions met criteria for high ratings for strength of evidence. The authors called for further and more rigorous research to increase the evidence base of effective interventions for EAL students.

Source: English as an Additional Language (EAL) and Educational Achievement in England: An Analysis of the National Pupil Database and A Systematic Review of Intervention Research Examining English Language and Literacy Development in Children with English as an Additional Language(EAL) (2015), Education Endowment Foundation