Positive results for mindfulness programme

Elementary school pupils who took part in a mindfulness programme showed improved social-emotional competencies and maths achievement.

The study in Canada took place in four elementary schools, which were allocated at random to deliver either a mindfulness programme or a social responsibility programme as a control. In total, almost 100 grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) children took part. The mindfulness programme, MindUp, consisted of 12 lessons taught once a week, each lesson lasting around 45 minutes. The programme included mindfulness activities such as breathing and attentive listening and lessons encouraging acts of kindness and community service.

Children in the MindUp programme showed significant improvements in executive function, self-reported well-being, and self- and peer-reported social behaviour. They also demonstrated better maths performance.

The authors argue that although this study is small, it shows potential for this kind of training to improve cognitive skills, social-emotional competence, and well-being in a real-world setting.

Source: Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial (2015), Developmental Psychology, 51(1)

Mother’s reading level makes a difference

A new article published in the Early Childhood Education Journal shows that maternal reading level predicts both a child’s receptive vocabulary and reading proficiency prior to schooling, after maternal education is taken into account. The findings also controlled for ethnicity, number of children in the family, and marital and employment status.

The authors used a sample of 155 children (aged 3–5 years) and their mothers (aged 20–44 years) of low income and low educational background from Western Canada. Children and mothers were tested individually for their reading proficiency using standardised tests, and children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency also was tested. The mothers were also interviewed one-to-one for demographic information. All the families spoke English first and foremost, although some were bilingual.

The study concludes that both mothers’ measured reading levels and their reported educational levels were significant predictors of children’s reading proficiency, each over and above the other. However, in the case of children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency, they found that mothers’ reading levels were a significant predictor but that mothers’ educational level was not.

In the light of this, the authors recommend that early childhood educators may consider implementing programmes to support mothers in improving their reading, in order to raise their children’s language and literacy levels.

Source: Unique Contributions of Maternal Reading Proficiency to Predicting Children’s Preschool Receptive Vocabulary and Reading Proficiency (2014), Early Childhood Education Journal, online first January 2014.

Lengthening time in preschool is good! Or is it?

new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates that receiving an additional year of preschool education benefits disadvantaged children. The authors conducted a study of children participating in a daily preschool programme in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who were largely from disadvantaged backgrounds. They compared the outcomes of the children who participated for two years (entering at age three) and one year (entering at age four). Assessments were conducted simultaneously across participating schools by a team of research assistants in the autumn of each year. The findings showed that receiving a second year of preschool led to significant improvements in the children’s early literacy and numeracy skills and school readiness.

However, a new paper by Canadian researchers offers a different perspective. The authors investigated the long-term effects of the length of early childhood education using a variation created by a policy experiment in British Columbia in the late 1980s. The experiment resulted in a period where some children attended kindergarten for only six months, and others for sixteen months (compared to the usual ten months). The pupils were tracked over time, and of the original sample, 82,499 pupils were tracked as far as their grade ten (age 16/17) maths and reading tests. The authors found that “long kindergarten” reduced grade ten maths scores by about 2.6% of a standard deviation, and reading scores by about 6.2% of a standard deviation, though only the latter is statistically significant. The findings also implied that being in kindergarten longer increased the probability of grade repetition. Negative effects were highest for disadvantaged pupils and males. However, the authors note that the strong negative effect for long kindergarten may also arise from larger class sizes, the relatively lower age for this group, and the fact that they may have spent time in a low-quality kindergarten instead of being at home or in formal daycare.

Sources: One Versus Two Years: Does Length of Exposure to an Enhanced Preschool Program Impact the Academic Functioning of Disadvantaged Children in Kindergarten? (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

The Long-run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Failed Policy Experiment (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.

Does the SpellRead programme improve literacy?

SpellRead is a small-group literacy programme for struggling readers aged 7–18. It integrates the auditory and visual aspects of the reading process and emphasises specific skill mastery through systematic and explicit teaching. Pupils are taught to recognise and manipulate English sounds; to practise, apply, and transfer their skills using texts at their reading level; and to write about their reading.

After reviewing the research on SpellRead, the US What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) found the programme to have potentially positive effects on alphabetics, reading fluency, and comprehension based on two studies that met WWC evidence standards. These studies included 137 young readers in grades 5 and 6 (Years 6 and 7) in Pennsylvania, US, and Newfoundland, Canada.

Source: Adolescent Literacy: SpellRead (2013), What Works Clearinghouse

Improve school performance to get more disadvantaged children to university

New research from the Institute of Education compares how well England, Canada, Australia, and the US do in terms of getting children from disadvantaged homes into university. The authors used longitudinal data from each country, and found that socio-economic gaps in university participation are substantial in all four countries. However, they are more pronounced in England and Canada.

Prior academic achievement is found to play a key role, and one major recommendation of the report is that initiatives designed to boost school performance will be pivotal in reducing socio-economic inequality in university participation, rather than lowering the costs of university through bursaries and fee waivers. The authors argue that this is where the vast majority of governments’ “widening access” funds should be spent.

Source: University access for disadvantaged children: A comparison across English speaking countries (2012), Department of Quantitative Social Science

How parental involvement affects a child’s academic performance

This meta-analysis published in Urban Education;examines the relationship between school-based parental involvement programmes and the academic achievement of children aged four to 18. Findings of the study indicate that overall there is a significant relationship between parental involvement programmes and academic outcomes, but that further research is needed to examine why some types of programmes have a greater impact on educational achievement than others.

The types of parental involvement programmes examined are:

  • Shared reading programmes, which show the strongest relationship with improvement in educational outcomes (effect size = .51, p< .01).
  • Emphasised partnership programmes, which involve parents and teachers working together as equal partners to help improve pupils’ academic or behavioural outcomes. This type of programme has the second largest effect size on educational outcomes (ES=.35, p< .05).
  • Communication between parents and teachers has an effect size of .28 (p< .05).
    Checking homework produced the smallest effect size of the four programmes (ES=.27, p< .05).

A 2008 meta-analysis, published in the Review of Educational Research, found similar results. Parents who taught their children to read had a much larger impact than those that only listened to their children reading; suggesting that giving parents practical means of helping their children succeed in school is important in improving their children’s achievement.

Sources:A meta-analysis of the efficacy of different types of parental involvement programs for urban students (2012), Urban Education , 47(4),

The effect of family literacy interventions on children’s acquisition of reading from kindergarten to grade 3: A meta-analytic review (2008), Review of Educational Research, 78(4)