A self-fulfilling prophecy

“Stereotype threat” refers to the idea that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling, with individuals’ performance suffering as a result. In a new article, researchers from the University of Kent have explored the role that stereotype threat plays in boys’ academic performance, and found a correlation. The research comprised three studies.

Study 1 (children aged 4–10, n = 238) showed that girls from age 4 years and boys from age 7 years believed, and thought adults believed, that boys are academically inferior to girls. Study 2 manipulated stereotype threat, informing children aged 7–8 years (n = 162) that boys tend to do worse than girls at school. This manipulation hindered boys’ performance on a reading, writing, and maths test, but did not affect girls’ performance. Study 3 counteracted stereotype threat, informing children aged 6–9 years (n = 184) that boys and girls were expected to perform similarly. This improved the performance of boys and did not affect that of girls.

Source: A Stereotype Threat Account of Boys’ Academic Underachievement (2013), Child Development (online).

Is success in school infectious?

A new article has revealed the “social contagion” of academic success within children’s friendship networks. The authors, from a school and university in New York, analysed the correlation between high school pupils’ academic progress over one year and the social environment that surrounds them in their friendship network. Information about the pupils’ social network came from the results of an electronic survey asking them about their friendships, while data on their academic progress came from their school, using a Grade Point Average (GPA) – the average of a student’s grades. Pupils whose friends’ average GPA was greater than their own had a higher tendency toward increasing their academic ranking over time. Conversely, the ranking decreased for those whose friends’ average GPA was less than their own.

Source: Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network (2013), PLoS ONE.

Pay-for-performance programmes that don’t perform

New research, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, has analysed the results of three randomised studies of pay-for-performance incentive programmes for teachers. The three programmes considered were: Project on Incentives in Teaching, Project on Team Incentives, and School-Wide Performance Bonus. Findings showed that the programmes did not motivate teachers to make the behavioural changes that lead to pupil achievement gains.

Similarly, the What Works Clearinghouse has released a review of a study into the Chicago Public Schools’ Teacher Advancement Program (Chicago TAP). Chicago TAP provides mentoring, leadership opportunities, and financial incentives to teachers. The study used a randomised controlled trial to examine academic achievement, and a quasi-experiment to examine teacher retention rates. After one year, pupils attending the Chicago TAP schools did not score significantly differently in maths, reading, or science, nor were there statistically significant differences in teacher retention rates between these schools and comparison schools after either one year or two years of implementation.

Sources: Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies (2013), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(1).
WWC Review of the Report “An Evaluation of the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program (Chicago TAP) After Four Years” (2013), What Works Clearinghouse.

Mixed results for maths and science programmes

New reports from the US What Works Clearinghouse review the research on three programmes designed to improve pupil achievement in maths and science. Findings were as follows:

  • Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, a peer-tutoring programme for primary pupils that aims to improve pupil proficiency in maths and other disciplines, was found to have no discernible effects on mathematics achievement.
  • Carnegie Learning Curricula and Cognitive Tutor, a secondary maths curriculum that offers textbooks and interactive software to provide individualised, self-paced teaching based on pupil needs, was found to have mixed effects on mathematics achievement.
  • GEMS The Real Reasons for Seasons, a curriculum unit for pupils aged 11–14 that focuses on the connections between the Sun and the Earth to teach the scientific concepts behind the seasons, was found to have potentially negative effects on general science achievement.

Sources: Peer-assisted learning strategies (2013), What Works Clearinghouse
Cognitive learning curricula and cognitive tutor (2012), What Works Clearinghouse
Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) The Real Reasons for Seasons (2013), What Works Clearinghouse

Simple ways to improve learning

A new article published by the Association for Psychological Science argues that educational outcomes can be improved by helping pupils to better regulate their own learning. The authors discuss ten techniques that might help them to do this. The techniques were selected on the grounds that they should be relatively easy to implement, and the article itself gives a clear review of each technique.

The authors gave two techniques an overall high rating. The first of these was “practice testing”, which is usually self-testing outside the classroom. The second was “distributed practice”, essentially the opposite of “cramming”, where study activities are spread over a single session or across multiple sessions. Some of the techniques with low- or moderate-utility ratings also showed promise, but there was insufficient evidence for a higher rating. The authors looked at all of the available evidence for each technique, and considered how easily the technique could be rolled out in different contexts, issues for implementation, and an overall assessment of its utility – low, moderate, or high.

Source: Improving students learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology (2013), Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(458)

SPORT programme achieves “promising” rating

The SPORT programme, which integrates physical activity and other health-enhancing habits with substance abuse prevention, has been rated “promising” by the US Promising Practices Network (PPN). According to a new PPN programme summary, a rigorous evaluation of SPORT showed that participants in the programme were less likely to start using alcohol and significantly more likely to exhibit self-control related to alcohol when compared to a control group.

An article about SPORT was featured in the spring 2012 issue of Better: Evidence-based Education, which focused on mind and body.

Sources: Programs that work (2013), Promising Practices Network
Promoting positive behaviours and self-image (2012), Better: Evidence-based Education