How do teachers choose to give feedback?

While the impacts of feedback on pupils’ learning are well-established, it is less clear what factors influence the ways teachers provide feedback. To help rectify this, an article published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology examines how teachers’ perceptions of task difficulty and views of intelligence influence whether and how they give feedback.

The study was conducted with 169 English teachers from Chinese primary schools attending an English summer school for enhancing teacher skills. Teachers were given six scenarios to read, each of which described a lesson where the teacher asked a designated pupil to complete a task. In three of the scenarios, the pupil succeeded, while in the other three scenarios, the pupil failed. After reading each scenario, teachers were asked to rate their perception of task difficulty, the likelihood of giving feedback, and the likelihood of giving both person and process forms of feedback. Moreover, teachers completed a measure assessing their views on whether intelligence is malleable. The results showed that:

  • teachers were more likely to provide feedback following success than failure
  • following pupils’ failure, teachers were more likely to provide process feedback rather than person feedback
  • when the tasks were perceived to be challenging, teachers were more likely to provide feedback
  • teachers who believed more in the view that intelligence was fixed reported that they would give more person and process praise, but following failure gave more process feedback.

The authors recommend that future research could explore in detail what feedback teachers in other cultures provide and the underlying reasons, with the goal of enriching our understanding of the entire feedback mechanism in order to benefit pupils.

Source: Examining teachers’ ratings of feedback following success and failure: a study of Chinese English teachers (December 2019), British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 89, Issue 4

The benefits of peer learning

Harriet R Tenenbaum and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to examine results from 71 studies about the effects of peer interaction on learning. To be included in the review, studies had to include a comparison group. Peer interaction was defined as small groups of pupils working together to achieve common goals of learning. Approaches using more formal training, such as cooperative learning or peer tutoring, were excluded. The majority of the studies were conducted in the US and UK and included more than 7,000 children between ages 4 and 18.

Published in Journal of Educational Psychology, their findings suggest that peer interaction was effective in promoting learning in comparison with other types of learning conditions (effect size = +0.40) across different gender and age groups. In contrast, children working in peer groups were not more effective than children working individually with adults. There was also no effect for group size, with findings suggesting that children learn the same amount in groups of two children and in larger groups. Moderator analyses also indicated that peer interaction is more effective when children are specifically instructed to reach consensus than when no instruction is given.

The researchers conclude that although peer interaction does facilitate learning, the conditions and means by which this happens varies and depends on a number of moderating factors. They say the findings indicate that the benefits of peer interaction can be realised by educators if they create opportunities not just for discussion, but also for the negotiation of a shared understanding.

Source: How effective is peer interaction in facilitating learning? A meta-analysis (December 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

Professional development for early childhood language and literacy

In the field of education, professional development (PD) is intended to improve both classroom teaching and children’s learning. A new study, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at what effect PD has when used at scale with large numbers of educators.

In this large-scale randomised controlled trial, Shayne B Piasta and colleagues examined the effectiveness of a language and literacy PD programme on both teacher and child outcomes in early childhood education. More than 500 teachers across one US state took part in the trial and were randomly assigned to one of three groups: professional development with coaching, professional development without coaching, or a comparison group. Teachers in the PD groups received 30 hours of state-sponsored language and literacy professional development, with those assigned to the coaching groups also receiving ongoing individualised coaching throughout the academic year. Teachers in the comparison group also received state-sponsored PD, but in other subjects.

The results of the trial suggest that PD affected only a few aspects of classroom language and literacy teaching practices relative to the comparison group, and did not affect children’s literacy learning. PD with coaching showed a small positive impact on the quantity of phonological awareness, while both PD with and without coaching had a small positive impact on the quality of teaching in phonological awareness and writing.

Source: At-scale, state-sponsored language and literacy professional development: Impacts on early childhood classroom practices and children’s outcomes (June 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

Interleaved practice improves maths test scores

The results of a randomised controlled trial, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, suggest that a greater emphasis on interleaved practice may dramatically improve maths test scores for grade 7 (Year 8) pupils. Whereas most mathematics worksheets consist of a block of problems devoted to the same skill or concept, an interleaved worksheet is arranged so that no two consecutive problems require the same strategy.

Doug Rohrer and colleagues conducted the study with 54 classes in a large school district in Florida during the 2017–2018 school year. Over a period of four months, the classes periodically completed either interleaved or blocked worksheets, and then both groups completed an interleaved review worksheet. All pupils completed the same problems. One month later, pupils took an unannounced test which was set by the researchers. Pupils who had completed the interleaved assignments performed much better on the unannounced test than those in the blocked assignment group (effect size = +0.83).                

The researchers suggest that the large effect sizes observed in the study for interleaved maths practice may be due to the learning strategies it involves, which force the pupil to choose an appropriate strategy for each problem on the basis of the problem itself. They also identified some limitations of the study – particularly that the interleaving pupils took longer to complete their worksheets so effectively spent more time on each topic.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of interleaved mathematics practice (May 2019). Journal of Educational Psychology

Positive results for early years maths apps

A randomised controlled trial of two new maths apps to support young children’s early maths development has shown positive results. The apps, “Maths 3–5” and “Maths 4–6”, are based on core mathematical concepts in number and shape, and space and measure, which are covered in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and also start to introduce children to topics covered in Key Stage 1.

Laura Outhwaite and colleagues conducted the randomised controlled trial of the apps with 389 children aged 4–5 years from 12 schools in the UK. The trial took place over 12 weeks in the last weeks of their Reception school year before pupils moved to Key Stage 1. Pupils were randomised to either use the apps in addition to standard maths teaching activities (treatment); use the apps instead of a regular small group-based maths activity (time-equivalent treatment), or continue with usual maths teaching activities (control).

The results showed that pupils in the treatment group made more progress on standardised assessments of maths performance over 12 weeks than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.31). Similarly, pupils in the time-equivalent treatment made more progress in maths performance than pupils in the control group (effect size = +0.21). There was no significant difference in maths performance between pupils in the two treatment groups (effect size = +0.08).

A randomised controlled trial of apps developed for primary children in Malawi, which we covered in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief, also showed positive results for maths achievement.

Source: Raising early achievement in math with interactive apps: A randomized control trial (February 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2)

The effects of cooperative learning in middle school on reducing bullying

While many studies show positive effects of cooperative learning on pupil achievement, a recent study examined the effects of cooperative learning on reducing bullying in middle school.

A total of 15 rural schools (n=1,460 seventh graders) in the Pacific Northwest were matched based on size and free-lunch percentage, and then seventh graders (Year 8) were randomly assigned to either receive a cooperative learning programme (n=792) or to continue business as usual (n=668). The cooperative learning programme used techniques by Johnson & Johnson, incorporating peer tutoring, collaborative reading, and methods where classmates rely on each other to learn new information while being held individually accountable for what they have learned. The theory behind this study was that in cooperative groups, bullies would not be reinforced by their peers to continue bullying, and socially isolated pupils would have opportunities to interact with others more and make new friends. All participating teachers received a copy of Cooperation in the Classroom and received three training days in person, and check-ins by video conference during the course of the 2016–17 school year. Pre-tests and post-tests (online surveys completed by pupils) evaluated pupils’ bullying and victimisation, stress levels, emotional problems, relatedness and engagement.

After five-and-a-half months of the cooperative learning programme, results showed significant reductions in bullying (effect size = +0.37), victimisation (+0.69), and stress levels (>+0.99) for pupils who had been shown to be marginalised at pre-test, and reduced emotional problems (+0.30) and greater relatedness (+0.43) for all pupils, regardless of their feelings of victimisation/isolation at pre-test.

Source: Cooperative learning in middle school: A means to improve peer relations and reduce victimization, bullying, and related outcomes (November 2018), Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(8)