Randomised controlled trial of a whole-school reading programme

A study published in The Curriculum Journal presents the findings of a randomised controlled trial that evaluated the efficacy of the Bug Club programme on the reading, spelling and vocabulary skills of pupils in the first two years of primary school compared to pupils in a control group.

Bug Club is a whole-school reading programme based on the principles of guided reading and synthetic phonics. It is offered as part of, rather than in addition to, standard literacy lessons. This study analysed data from 1,273 pupils in Years 1 and 2 from 30 schools in the UK (15 intervention, 15 control). Pupils were tested at baseline and again at 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months, using the InCAS reading assessment for 5- to 11-year-olds.

At the 6- and 12-month tests, pupils in the Bug Club schools showed more progress on the standardised reading measure than pupils in control schools (effect size = +0.18 and +0.16). For disadvantaged pupils, the picture was mixed. After six months, there was a greater impact on reading gains in schools with high levels of pupils eligible for free school meals than those in control schools. After twelve months, this effect had disappeared, but pupils eligible for pupil premium were found to have improved more on reading gains than those in control schools.

Source: Evaluation of Bug Club: a randomised control trial of a whole school primary aged reading programme (February 2020), The Curriculum Journal. DOI: 10.1002/curj.29

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

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

Examining the effects of the CW-FIT intervention

Class-Wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT) is a classroom programme designed to increase academic, social and behavioural success for pupils. The programme emphasises group contingencies and self-management. It teaches positive social skills, uses teacher praise and group points for good behaviour, incorporates goal setting and provides rewards.

In order to build CW-FIT’s research base, a randomised controlled trial was carried out over four years, designed to replicate one site’s original study by adding two more research groups and to include investigators who were not the developers of the programme.

Seven elementary (primary) schools in three US states participated. Pupils were in grades K–6 (Years 1–7), 55% were of minority ethnicities, and 69% received free- or reduced-price school meals. Within each school were experimental and control classes – 83 experimental and 74 control in total. Baseline data collection included measures of pupil time on-task and teacher use of reinforcement during business-as-usual conditions for two to three weeks. At baseline, no teacher was observed using token rewards or group rewards. During the study, control group teachers received a two-hour training in general classroom management and were referred to district protocol when pupil behaviour problems occurred. Experimental group teachers implemented CW-FIT during one targeted period three to five times per week from October to March. During CW-FIT sessions, after teaching pupils the appropriate way to get attention, follow directions, and ignore inappropriate behaviour, the teacher set a timer at two to five minute intervals, awarding a point to teams with all members behaving at that moment. At the end of class, awards were given to all team members who met specific goals.

At the end of the study, results favoured the CW-FIT group. On-task behaviour for CW-FIT pupils increased from 55% to 80%, while the control group remained close to baseline at 58%. Teacher classroom management behaviours increased from 52% to 86% for the CW-FIT group, but remained at 55% for the control group. These results are reflective of earlier studies’ findings.

Source: Class-wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT): student and teacher outcomes from a multisite randomized replication trial (September 2018), The Elementary School Journal 119, no. 1

Play-based curriculum benefits young children and teachers

Findings from a randomised controlled trial of Tools of the Mind (Tools) suggest that the programme improves kindergarten (Year 1) pupils’ academic outcomes in reading and writing, enhances children’s joy in learning and teachers’ enjoyment of teaching, and reduces teacher burnout.

The Tools programme is a play-based preschool and kindergarten curriculum that emphasises self-control, language and literacy skills. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, analysed the effectiveness of Tools on kindergarten teachers and 351 children (mean age 5.2 years at entry) with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in 18 public schools in Canada. Schools were paired with closely matched schools and then randomised to either the intervention group or control group. Teachers in the intervention group received a three-day workshop on Tools before the school year began, along with funds for resources. Control group teachers were offered the same amount of training hours and funds for whatever training and resource materials they wanted.

The results showed that pupils in the Tools group made greater improvements than pupils in the control group on standardised tests for reading and writing. By May, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were reading at Grade 1 (Year 2) level or better. Similarly, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were able to write a full sentence that they composed themselves. Tools teachers also reported that their pupils could continue to work unsupervised for two and a half times longer than control teachers estimated for their pupils, and that 100% could get back to work right away after breaks, compared to 50% of control children.

The Tools programme also had a positive impact on how teachers felt about teaching. More than three-quarters of Tools teachers, but none of the control teachers, reported in May that they were still enthusiastic about teaching.

Source: Randomized control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers (September 2019), PLoS One

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