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

DLL por favor!

Projections estimate that by 2030, children with English as an Additional Language will comprise 25% of US students, 77% of whom will speak Spanish. Yet there is little evidence-based research addressing what works in literacy for the Spanish-speaking population. Trisha Borman and colleagues recently reported the first-year results of a randomised study of Descubriendo La Lectura (DLL), an individually administered Spanish literacy programme for first graders (Year 2) struggling with literacy in their native Spanish, examining its effects on both Spanish and English literacy.

DLL incorporates the research-proven practices of 1:1 tutoring, using a student’s native language to improve their second language, intervening early (in first grade), using data to track and guide progress, professional development, research-proven practices, and teacher collaboration.

Subjects were first-grade students in 22 schools in 3 states, statistically matched at baseline and randomly assigned to receive DLL either in the 2016 school year (experimental group, n=78), or the 2017 school year (delayed treatment control group, n=74). Students qualified for DLL if they spoke Spanish at home and scored below 25% on the IdO (a test that assesses literacy). Students were also pretested and post-tested using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and Logramos (the Spanish equivalent of the ITBS). The experimental group received 30-minute lessons daily with students and teachers meeting 1:1, progressing at their own pace until they qualified to leave the programme and were post-tested. This process took 12-20 weeks, depending on the student.

Results favoured the DLL group, with statistically significant effect sizes on the Spanish Logramos averaging +0.55 (p<.001). On the English ITBS, the mean effect size was +0.17, which was not significant.  There were larger positive outcomes on measures made by the developers. The programme will continue to be studied in two subsequent cohorts.

Source: Addressing Literacy Needs of Struggling Spanish-Speaking First Graders: First-Year Results From a National Randomized Controlled Trial of Descubriendo la Lectura (July 2019) AERA Open

A systematic review of classroom-based mathematical interventions

The Nuffield Foundation has published a systematic review by researchers at Ulster University that analyses the outcomes of classroom-based mathematical interventions.

The systematic review included studies that assessed the outcomes of interventions aimed at improving maths achievement in primary school children. Forty-five randomised controlled trials were included along with thirty-five quasi-experimental studies. The studies were published between 2000 and 2017, and were mostly conducted in the US and Europe.

The results of the review suggest that there are effective strategies teachers can use to help with learning maths and being fluent with mathematical facts. It also found there are many different ways teachers can support children to have a wide bank of strategies to complete mathematical problems, and for children to know when is best to apply them. Technology in the classroom can also be helpful as long as these tools have been developed with a clear understanding of how children learn. 

The report concludes that the evidence base on mathematical interventions is weak, and recommends that researchers should test how effective mathematical interventions are in order to help teachers support children’s learning. 

Source: Interventions to improve mathematical achievement in primary school-aged children. A systematic review (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation

Improving times table fluency

The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) has published a new report from a project funded by their Innovation Evaluation Grants. The IEE Innovation evaluations are small-scale and test the kinds of innovations that schools are interested in.

Thirty-four Year 4 classes took part in the evaluation of Improving times table fluency, which was conducted by Underwood West Academy. A total of 876 children were included in the study.

Five groups of four or five classes were created by matching the pre-test scores on a 25-item tables test and the percentage of children in receipt of pupil premium. All groups had similar pre-test scores and similar percentages of children in receipt of pupil premium. Each class used a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. Conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which pupils practised multiplication facts.

Pupils had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week, and the intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating pupils carried out a simple times tables test comprising 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.

The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. The report concludes that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach – teaching both the concepts behind them and practising them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.

Source: Increasing times table fluency (May 2019), Institute for Effective Education

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