Does increasing time spent in class improve pupil performance?

A study by Huebener and colleagues examined whether increasing the amount of time pupils spend in the classroom affects their performance.

The authors used PISA scores to analyse the effect of increasing the time spent in class by two hours per week over a five-year period for ninth-grade students in Germany (average age = 15 years old). During the additional classroom time, pupils were taught new content.

Their findings indicate that while increasing the time spent in class did improve pupils’ average performance, effect sizes were small. The increase in lesson time was shown to increase average PISA test scores in reading, maths and science (effect size between +0.04 and +0.06 for one additional hour per week). However, these results differ according to pupil ability, with a widening gap in performance between low- and high-performing pupils. The researchers suggest this is because the additional teaching time was used to teach new content, and that lower-performing pupils may not be able to cope with this additional content. They recommend that when policymakers consider adding additional classroom time, they consider how this time is spent. Different pupils have different learning needs, so the content of the extra lessons, rather than the time, is more important to improving pupil performance.

Source: Increased instruction hours and the widening gap in student performance (August 2017), Labour Economics, Volume 47

Keep it real

A new article published by the American Psychological Association used data on more than 3,500 German secondary pupils to explore the link between parental aspirations and their children’s maths achievement. It concludes that realistic aspirations are beneficial, but that unrealistic aspirations can be detrimental.

The authors used data from the Project for the Analysis of Learning and Achievement in Mathematics (PALMA), a longitudinal study investigating adolescents’ development in mathematics during the secondary school years (German grades 5 to 10; 2002 to 2007). Samples were drawn from schools in Bavaria and were representative of the child population and the three major school types within the German public school system. The project included assessments of children, teachers, and parents.

The study found that parental aspiration and children’s mathematical achievement were linked by positive reciprocal relations over time. However, the authors also found that parental over-aspiration can be detrimental to children’s maths achievement when aspiration exceeds expectation. These effects were robust across different types of analyses and after controlling for a variety of demographic and cognitive variables, including children’s gender, age, intelligence, school type, and family socio-economic status. The results were also replicated with an independent sample of US parents and children.

The authors conclude that their findings highlight the danger of simply raising parental aspirations to promote children’s academic achievement and behaviour. They suggest that educational interventions should not focus on changing aspirations of parents and children per se, but on facilitating opportunities and information for parents and children to develop realistic expectations.

Source: Don’t aim too high for your kids: Parental overaspiration undermines students’ learning in mathematics (2015), American Psychological Association.

Similar personalities lead to poor judgement

When a teacher has a similar personality to a student, it can bias the teacher’s judgement; that’s the finding of a recent study in Germany.

The researchers looked at 94 teachers and 293 of their students, all of whom were in Grade 8 (Year 9). Teachers and students undertook a personality survey, and researchers compared the performance of the students on maths and reading comprehension tests. Teachers were also asked how well they thought the children would do in the test generally (a global judgement) and on specific questions (a task-specific judgement).

The results showed that when teachers and students had a similar personality, the teacher tended to give the student a higher rating on the global judgement. However, the similarity had little impact on the teacher’s task-specific judgement. The researchers suggest that, when considering a global judgement, teachers do not consider the specifics of how the individual student might approach a test and instead fall back on more subjective opinion.

Source: Personality similarity between teachers and their students influences teacher judgement of student achievement (2015), Educational Psychology.

PEP programme may relieve the burden of problem behaviours

The Prevention Program for Externalizing Problem Behavior (PEP) includes a module for teachers (PEP-TE) that aims to help them deal effectively with problem behaviours in young children, such as hyperactivity and oppositional and aggressive behaviours.

A study in kindergartens in Germany (attended by children aged 3 to 6) enrolled 144 teachers of various ages and experience into PEP-TE. Each teacher identified a child who they considered to show problem behaviours. The study followed each teacher and child for three months before the intervention and analysed child and teacher behaviours before, during, and after the training.

The intervention consisted of 11 weekly group training sessions where teachers would discuss and then apply their responses to the child’s behaviour. The study authors described how problem behaviours reduced slightly during the run-up to the intervention, reduced further during the intervention, and were stable during follow-up at three and 12 months. The authors concluded that the training resulted in improvements in teacher reactions to problem behaviours, reductions in problem behaviours, and teacher burdens. They acknowledged methodological problems with the study including that before-and-after studies are less robust than randomised controlled trials, potential for overestimated effect sizes and reporting bias, and a high drop-out rate.

Source: Effectiveness of a Teacher-Based Indicated Prevention Program for Preschool Children with Externalizing Problem Behavior (2015), Prevention Science.

Phonics works, but other approaches need more research

A new meta-analysis published online in PLoS ONE has concluded that phonics is the only approach whose effectiveness on reading and spelling performance in children and adolescents with reading difficulties has been proven.

The research aimed to determine the effectiveness of a number of different treatment approaches for improving the literacy skills of children and adolescents with reading problems. A total of 22 studies met the search criteria, and these assessed a number of approaches: phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, reading fluency training, reading comprehension training, auditory training, medical treatment, and coloured overlays.

The analysis concluded that teaching phonics is the only approach proven to have a statistically significant effect on reading and spelling performance. However, this approach was also the most intensively investigated, and therefore the only one where enough trials had been conducted to provide a reliable answer.

The Education Elf blog provides further analysis of this research.

Source: Effectiveness of Treatment Approaches for Children and Adolescents with Reading Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (2014), PLoS ONE.

Examining the connection between music and reading

This study published in Journal of Research in Reading examines the correlation between musical skills and reading skills, and investigates whether musical training has a positive effect on reading ability. A total of 159 primary school children from eight classes in Germany participated in the study. Children in the experimental group received special musical training twice a week for eight months, while children in the comparison group had additional training in visual arts to the same extent as the musical training. A second comparison group did not receive any special training for the period of the study. Assignment to the different groups was randomised.

Pre-tests (a standardised test, a questionnaire that explored socio-economic background, and music and reading measurements) were conducted before the training began, and then reading skills and musical ability were tested again immediately after the training had been administered. Key findings were as follows:

  • Rhythmical abilities (the ability to differentiate between rhythmic patterns and tone lengths) were correlated significantly positively with decoding skills (both reading accuracy and reading prosody – the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech).
  • Tonal skills (discrimination of pitch and melodic/tonal patterns) were not correlated with reading skills.
  • The special musical training had a significant effect on reading accuracy in word reading.

Source: The Effects of Musical Training on the Decoding Skills of German-speaking Primary School Children (2013), Journal of Research in Reading.