Teachers’ use of intervention programmes to support underachieving pupils

A new research report from the RAND Corporation provides insight into teachers’ use of intervention programmes and the factors that may influence that use.

Laura Stelitano and colleagues used data from a sample of 4,402 teachers who indicated on the spring 2019 American Instructional Resources Survey (AIRS) that they teach English and/or maths. The survey asked teachers whether they used intervention programmes to support pupils who are performing below the required level for their year group in their respective subject area, and if so, to select the programmes they use from a list of common interventions.

The report found that, overall, intervention programmes were used less often for maths and in high (secondary) schools. Teachers were more likely to use intervention programmes in English (62%) than in maths (52%). Although high school teachers were least likely to use an intervention programme than elementary (primary) or middle school teachers, 42% of high school teachers reported using a reading or maths intervention. The report also found that teachers’ use of intervention programmes varied depending on the level of school poverty. Teachers in high-poverty schools were more likely than those in lower-poverty schools to use intervention programmes in English. However, the use of maths intervention programmes does not appear to be tied to school poverty levels.

The authors of the report recommend that research could also explore why such a large percentage of teachers are using intervention programmes, the quality of the programmes they are using, and how they are using the interventions to support learning.

Source: Teachers’ use of intervention programs: Who uses them and how context matters (2020), Insights from the American Educator Panels, RAND Corporation, RR-2575/16-BMGF/SFF/OFF

Evaluation of Maths Counts

A paper published in Educational Research and Evaluation presents the findings of a one-year efficacy trial of Maths Counts – an intensive, individualised programme to support children who struggle with basic maths skills at Key Stage 2 (age 7 to 11).

The participants were 291 pupils in Years 3 to 6 from 35 primary schools in England. Pupils were randomised within school and allocated to an intervention (Maths Counts) or control (business-as-usual) group. The programme was delivered to intervention pupils by specially trained teaching assistants three times per week, for 10 weeks, during curriculum time but outside the regular classroom. The first ten minutes of each session focused on revision of prior learning, and the next 20 minutes introduced new knowledge and skills.

The results of the trial suggest that Maths Counts is effective for pupils who struggle with basic maths skills (effect size = +0.12 for general maths skills, and +0.18 for maths attitude). However, there was no evidence that it was effective for pupils eligible for free school meals (effect size = -0.14 for general maths skills, and +0.07 for maths attitude).

Source: Evaluation of the impact of Maths Counts delivered by teaching assistants on primary school pupils’ attainment in maths (November 2019), Educational Research and Evaluation, 25:3-4

Let’s Talk about language development

The findings from a randomised controlled trial of Let’s Talk – an interactive intervention to support young children’s language development – suggest that the intervention has a positive effect on narrative and vocabulary development.

The trial, conducted by Gillian Lake and Maria Evangelou, and published in European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, involved 94 three- to four-year-old children in early education settings in Oxfordshire. The children were randomly assigned to control or intervention groups and tested pre- and post-intervention on standardised vocabulary and narrative assessments. Children in the intervention group attended twice-weekly sessions over ten weeks, in groups of three to five children. The first session of the week was a group shared storybook reading session with a puppet, while the second weekly session consisted of a planned pretend play session based on the storybook read in the first session that week. Children in the control group completed age-appropriate early numeracy activities and games – also in groups of three to five children.

The results suggest that the intervention had a positive effect on the vocabulary of the children in the intervention group, with medium to large effect sizes, and also on their narrative ability.

Source: Let’s Talk! An interactive intervention to support children’s language development (February 2019). European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 27:2

Improving the language and communication of secondary school children with language difficulties

A research report published in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders investigates the effectiveness of teaching assistant (TA)-delivered narrative and vocabulary interventions to secondary school children with language difficulties.

Researchers at City University of London and University of Oxford conducted a randomised controlled trial in two outer London boroughs. Across 21 schools, 358 Year 7 underperforming pupils (mean age = 12.8 years) were recruited, and randomised to four groups within each school: vocabulary intervention, narrative intervention, combined narrative and vocabulary intervention, and delayed waiting control group. The narrative programme focused on the understanding and telling of stories, using a story structure to support story generation. Pupils were introduced to different types of stories (fictional, non‐fictional, scripts) and narrative genres. The vocabulary programme focused on developing key concepts and vocabulary items relevant to the curriculum (eg, nutrition) and age-appropriate (eg, careers). A variety of tasks including word associations, categorisation, mind‐mapping and word‐building were used to reinforce word learning.

The language and communication programmes (narrative, vocabulary, and combined narrative and vocabulary) were delivered by TAs in the classroom, three times per week, for 45–60 min each, over six weeks, totalling 18 sessions. Assessments were conducted pre- and post-intervention.

Overall, pupils in the intervention groups made greater improvements on standardised measures of narrative (effect size = +0.296), but not vocabulary skills, compared with control group children.

Source: Improving storytelling and vocabulary in secondary school students with language disorder: a randomized controlled trial (March 2019), International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 54:4

Effects of positive emotion interventions on Chinese adolescents

In recent years, interventions that apply positive psychology principles have become increasingly popular, providing an alternative approach to promoting pupils’ well-being. A recent research study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined a positive education programme in China focusing on positive emotion for middle school pupils.

Participants were drawn from a public middle school in the city of Chengdu, China. A total of 173 eighth graders (Year 9) from six classes participated in the study, of which three classes (84 pupils) were randomly allocated to the intervention group, and three classes (89 pupils) were assigned to the control group. Pupils in the intervention group received a 10-session positive education programme delivered by their teachers who received training in positive psychology from the researchers. The programme consisted of three main modules, namely understanding emotions, fostering positive emotions, and managing negative emotions. Each session lasted 45 minutes. Pupils in the control group spent the same time taking a moral education class that covered moral character, school discipline and class culture building.

Pupils completed online assessments (a Chinese version of the PROMIS paediatric scale) measuring depressive symptoms before and after the intervention. The study found that:

  • The level of depressive symptoms for pupils in both groups increased as measured by the post-test.
  • However, compared to the pupils in the control group, the increase in the level of depressive symptoms of pupils in the intervention group was significantly less.

The authors suggest that compared to correcting pupils’ behaviours, positive interventions which keep pupils intrinsically motivated could also help pupils improve their life in an effective way.

Source: Positive education interventions prevent depression in Chinese adolescents (June 2019), Frontiers in Psychology, volume 10

Research on writing approaches for pupils in Years 3 to 13

 This paper, written by Robert Slavin and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Liege and the Institute for Effective Education, reviews research on the outcomes of writing interventions for pupils in Years 3 to 13. Studies had to meet rigorous standards of research including use of randomised or well-matched control groups; measures independent of the programme developers, researchers and teachers; and adequate sample size and duration. Fourteen studies of 12 programmes met the criteria and programmes were divided into three categories: writing process models, cooperative learning writing programmes, and programmes integrating reading and writing.

Pupil achievement effects on writing were positive in all categories, with an effect size of +0.18 across all 14 studies. Similar outcomes were found for writing programmes that focused on the writing process (effect size = +0.17), those using cooperative learning (effect size = +0.16), and those focusing on interactions between reading and writing (effect size = +0.19).

Source: A quantitative synthesis of research on writing approaches in Years 3 to 13 (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation