Digital feedback in primary maths

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of Digital Feedback in Primary Maths, a programme that aims to improve primary school teachers’ feedback to pupils.

The intervention uses a tablet application called Explain Everything, diagnostic assessments, and training on effective feedback. The app allows teachers to provide pupils with digitally recorded feedback on a tablet, rather than written feedback. Pupils have the opportunity to review their feedback and develop their work further. By improving teachers’ diagnostic and feedback skills when teaching maths in primary schools, the intervention aims to ultimately improve pupils’ outcomes in maths.

To estimate the impact of Digital Feedback on maths achievement, the evaluation used a randomised controlled trial involving 2,564 pupils in 108 classes across 34 English primary schools. While the intervention took place in each school, classrooms were randomly assigned to the treatment or control group, which carried on with business-as-usual teaching.

The results of the evaluation found no evidence that pupils taking part in the programme made more progress in maths, on average (effect size = -0.04), than the control group. 

Source: Digital feedback in primary maths (September 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Teacher-pupil-parent feedback and academic performance

A discussion paper from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics reports on a randomised controlled trial to improve teacher-pupil-parent feedback in a rural area of central China with a large proportion of left-behind children (children who have both parents working in cities, and are living away from home).

W Stanley Siebert and colleagues collected data from over 4,000 primary school children (Years 4 and 6) over two school terms, which included academic scores from standardised tests. One class from each year group in each school was randomly chosen to be in the feedback group.  In these classes, all pupils received bi-weekly feedback from their teachers on their schoolwork and behaviour. Additionally, one-third of pupils in these classes were randomly selected to also have their bi-weekly feedback sent to their parents.

The results suggest that feedback does have a positive effect on improving maths and language scores for both left-behind and non-left behind children. In maths, there was an effect size of +0.16 standard deviations in Year 4 and +0.20 standard deviations in Year 6. For language the effect size was +0.09 standard deviations for Year 4 and +0.20 standard deviations for Year 6.  When feedback was communicated to parents the achievement gains were larger for younger left-behind children than for non-left behind children. For left-behind children in Year 4 there was an additional +0.30 standard deviations improvement in maths.

Source: Student feedback, parent-teacher communication, and academic performance: Experimental evidence from rural China (February 2018), IZA Institute of Labor Economics

What happens when teachers get more feedback?

A study published by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that even small amounts of the right kind of feedback to teachers and principals can have an effect on pupil achievement in maths.

A total of 127 schools from eight districts across five US states participated in the study. Schools were assigned to either a treatment or control group. In both the treatment and control group schools, teachers and principals continued to receive the performance feedback they had received in the past. For those in the treatment group schools, additional feedback was also given for classroom practice, pupil achievement and principal leadership. The study focused on principals and teachers of reading/ English and maths in grades 4–8 (Years 5–9).

In the first year of the study, the pupils in the treatment schools outperformed pupils in control schools in maths by the equivalent of four weeks of learning. In the second year, while there was a difference of the same size, it was not statistically significant. There was no difference in either year on pupil achievement in reading/ English.

Source: The Impact of Providing Performance Feedback to Teachers and Principals: Final Report (December 2017), American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

An evaluation of a Learner Response System

An evaluation published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) tested a trial of a Learner Response System (LRS) using Promethean handsets to assess whether it could improve pupil outcomes by increasing the speed and quality of teacher and pupil feedback. An LRS is a classroom feedback tool. Teachers and pupils used electronic handheld devices to provide immediate feedback during lessons.

A team from Edge Hill University developed the intervention and trained teachers to deliver it to pupils in Years 5 and 6. The trial involved 6,572 pupils in 97 primary schools from the north west of England and West Yorkshire with higher-than-average proportions of children eligible for free school meals (35% compared to the national average of 18%). A cluster randomised controlled trial was used to evaluate the impact of the intervention on Year 6 maths and reading outcomes. Randomisation was at the school level, with 49 schools allocated to the intervention group (3,062 pupils), and 48 schools to the control group (3,510 pupils). The intervention was delivered over two school years (cohort B), or for only one school year (cohort A). The devices were used in at least three lessons a week for between 25 and 32 weeks each year.

The main finding was that the LRS intervention did little to improve pupils’ Key Stage 2 test scores (maths and reading standardised assessment tests at the end of Year 6), regardless of whether it was delivered over one or two years (effect sizes ranged from -0.09 to 0.00). However, teachers and pupils were generally positive about the LRS. Teachers welcomed the ability to quickly assess pupil responses and give instant feedback, and felt that the LRS helped to engage pupils and allowed different pupils to work at their own pace.

Source: Learner Response System: Evaluation report and executive summary (November 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

The evidence for marking

The Education Endowment Foundation has published a new review of the evidence on written marking. Researchers from Oxford University found that there were very few robust studies – too few to conduct a formal systematic review or to make definitive recommendations. Based on the limited evidence, the review makes the following tentative suggestions:

  • Careless mistakes should be marked differently to errors resulting from misunderstanding. The latter may be best addressed by providing hints or questions which lead pupils to underlying principles; the former by simply marking the mistake as incorrect, without giving the right answer.
  • Awarding grades for every piece of work may reduce the impact of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with grades at the expense of a consideration of teachers’ formative comments.
  • The use of targets to make marking as specific and actionable as possible is likely to increase pupil progress.
  • Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking.
  • Some forms of marking, including acknowledgement marking, are unlikely to enhance pupil progress. Schools should mark less in terms of the number of pieces of work marked, but mark better. 
The researchers argue that there is an urgent need for more studies so that teachers have better information about the most effective marking approaches.

Source: A Marked Improvement? (2016), Education Endowment Foundation.

Does inflated praise deflate some children?

A new article published in Psychological Science suggests that using inflated praise with children with low self-esteem may be counter-productive. The authors conducted three studies. Two of these tested whether adults are more likely to give inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than to children with high self-esteem, both inside the laboratory (Study 1. N = 712 adults) and outside the laboratory (Study 2. N = 114 parents). A third experiment looked at whether inflated praise decreases challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem (N = 240 children aged 8-12).

The findings showed that adults are especially inclined to give inflated praise, such as “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!”, to children with low self-esteem. However, they also found that such praise decreases challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem and has the opposite effect on children with high self-esteem. They conclude that inflated praise, although well intended, may cause children with low self-esteem to avoid crucial learning experiences.

Source: “That’s Not Just Beautiful–That’s Incredibly Beautiful!”: The Adverse Impact of Inflated Praise on Children With Low Self-Esteem (2014),Psychological Science, online first January 2014.