Writing supported by virtual reality

In a recently published article in the British Journal of Educational Technology, Hwang and Chang examined how the spherical video-based virtual reality (SVVR) approach can support descriptive article writing in high school writing classes in Taiwan.

In traditional language learning activities, the authors noted, there is usually no chance for pupils to develop in-depth feelings about the context of topics, resulting in low learning motivations and limited expression in the writing process.

To provide in-depth experiences and to facilitate pupils’ descriptive article writing, the study introduced an SVVR system that used 360-degree photos or videos in a VR environment supporting pupils before they started to write. Pupils from two grade 11 classes participated in the study, with 30 pupils allocated to the experimental group and 35 students to the control group. After pupils understood the writing tasks and read a descriptive article about the Jade Mountain in Taiwan, pupils in the experimental group used SVVR to experience the ascent of the mountain, while pupils in the control group only watched videos and saw photos of the mountain. The study was conducted over two weeks with three hours of class per week. Before and after the intervention, a pre-test and a post-test on pupils’ writing performance were administered, along with questionnaires. The results showed that:

  • While pupils’ writing performance in both groups was similar in the pre-test, pupils who learned with the SVVR approach obtained better post-test results in terms of content and appearance than pupils in the control group, but not in organisation and vocabulary use.
  • Pupils’ learning with the SVVR approach also outperformed that of control-group pupils in creativity tendency and writing self-efficacy on the post-test.
  • However, experimental-group pupil and control-group pupils did not differ in learning motivation and cognitive load on the post-test.

The authors suggest that SVVR is worth promoting in school settings for language courses and experiential learning activities, as a way to provide deep experience in specific learning contexts. 

Source: Learning to be a writer: A spherical video‐based virtual reality approach to supporting descriptive article writing in high school Chinese courses (December 2019), British Journal of Educational Technology

Have GCSE reforms in England led to a widening of the achievement gap?

A report published by the Sutton Trust suggests that recent changes to GCSEs – including tougher exams and a new grading system – have led to a slight widening of the achievement gap in England, but the overall impact is small.

Making the Grade uses Key Stage 4 data from the National Pupil Database from before and after the GCSE reforms were introduced. Simon Burgess and Dave Thomson looked at the results and entry rates for disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for free school meals at any point in the six years up to and including the year in which they reached the end of Key Stage 4) and non-disadvantaged pupils to explore the impact on disadvantaged pupils and the achievement gap.

Their findings suggest that during the period that the reforms were introduced, test scores for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly compared to their classmates. Under the previous system, 2% of disadvantaged pupils achieved the top grade of A*, whereas just 1% now achieve a 9 (the re-designated top grade). The drop is less for non-disadvantaged pupils, falling from 8% achieving A* to 5% achieving a 9.

Source: Making the grade: The impact of GCSE reforms on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers (December 2019), the Sutton Trust

Learning together to reduce bullying

A study published in Public Health Research reports on an evaluation of the Learning Together intervention, which aims to reduce bullying and aggression and to promote pupil health and well-being.

Forty secondary schools in southeast England participated in the trial, with 20 schools randomly assigned to deliver the intervention over three years, and 20 schools continuing with existing practices. In the intervention schools, staff and pupils collaborated in an “action group” to change school rules and policies, with the goal of making it a healthier environment. This included focusing on improving relationships rather than merely punishment-based approaches to discipline, and using a classroom curriculum aimed at encouraging social-emotional skills.

All pupils completed a questionnaire at the start of the trial, and this was repeated three years later. Results showed that self-reported experiences of bullying victimisation were lower in intervention schools than in control schools (adjusted effect size = –0.08). There was no evidence of a reduction in pupil reports of aggression. Pupils in intervention schools also had higher scores on quality of life and psychological well-being measures, and lower scores on a psychological difficulties measure. They also reported lower rates of having smoked, drunk alcohol, been offered or tried illicit drugs, or been in contact with the police in the previous 12 months.

Source:  Modifying the secondary school environment to reduce bullying and aggression: the INCLUSIVE cluster RCT. (November 2019). Public Health Research Volume: 7, Issue: 18

Review of SEL assessments for secondary pupils

The Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education has released A review of instruments for measuring social and emotional learning skills among secondary school students. The review is designed to help state and local education agencies find assessments that measure secondary students’ social-emotional skills, specifically in the areas of collaboration, perseverance and self-regulated learning, and to help readers interpret the information about reliability and validity for each assessment.

A total of 16 assessments met the following inclusion criteria for the review: they had to be publicly available, had to have been administered to secondary students in the US, and had to have undergone validation study in 1994 or after. Tables in the review detail the format of instruments by emotional skill, and the reliability and type of validity information for each assessment. Authors conclude with implications for use of each type of instrument.

Source: A review of instruments for measuring social and emotional learning skills among secondary school students (October 2019), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (REL 2020–010

Examining the evidence on Learning Accounts

Social Programs That Work has released a new evidence summary on Learning Accounts, a demonstration programme in New Brunswick, Canada that provided up to $8,400 in conditional financial aid for post-secondary education to low-income 10th grade (Year 11) pupils. The pupils had to meet certain benchmarks (ie, completion of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade (Years 11-13)) to receive the funding.

The programme was evaluated through a randomised controlled trial with a sample of 1,145 low-income 10th graders in 30 high schools in New Brunswick, Canada. Within each school, the low-income pupils were randomly assigned to a group that was offered participation in the Learning Accounts programme, or to a control group that received usual school services. Survey data was used to measure high school graduation rates, and administrative data was used to examine later graduation from college.

According to the evidence report, over the 10 years following random assignment, the programme produced a 6.5 percentage point increase in the high school graduation rate, and 6.8 percentage point increase in the rate of post-secondary completion.

Source: Learning Accounts (September 2019), Social Programs That Work

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