Review of professional learning and development in early childhood education

Approaches to professional development that combine coaching or mentoring with new knowledge and opportunities for reflection on practice may be the most effective in improving outcomes in early childhood settings, according to a study published in Review of Education.

Sue Rogers and colleagues conducted the systematic review, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, in order to examine the impact of professional learning and development. The studies included in the review identify approaches to professional learning that demonstrate impact on early childhood education on one or more outcomes across three main areas: literacy knowledge and skills, maths and science knowledge, and social-emotional and behavioural development. 

The findings from the review suggest that coaching models, and approaches that help develop pedagogical knowledge, may be the most effective in improving outcomes in early childhood settings. The evidence on duration, frequency and intensity of the professional learning, although likely to be important factors, was inconclusive.

Source: A systematic review of the evidence base for professional learning in early years education (The PLEYE Review) (February 2020), Review of Education, Vol 8, No 1

Little evidence of the effectiveness of CPD

This Campbell systematic review looks at the effect of continuing professional development (CPD) approaches for education professionals on educational and social outcomes for children, and also any effects on professional practice.

The review summarises evidence from 51 studies, including 48 randomised controlled trials, however, only 26 studies were included in the meta-analysis. The 51 studies were grouped into three CPD areas: social and emotional development interventions, language and literacy development interventions, and stress reduction interventions.

The main findings of the review were:

  • No effect of CPD on social and emotional development interventions on pupil academic outcomes. The weighted average effect size = +0.05.
  • No effect of CPD language and literacy development interventions on pupil academic outcomes. The weighted average effect size = +0.04.
  • It was not possible to draw any conclusions concerning the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of CPD on social and emotional development or language and literacy development interventions on teacher outcomes.
  • As there was only one study in the CPD category of stress reduction interventions, it was not possible to draw any conclusions.

The researchers conclude that there is insufficient evidence for conclusions to be drawn, with the exception of language and literacy development interventions. For this type of CPD, there seems to be no positive impact on pupil academic outcomes.

Source: Effectiveness of continuing professional development training of welfare professionals on outcomes for children and young people: A systematic review (November 2019), Campbell Systematic Reviews

The effect of linguistic comprehension training on language and reading comprehension

Kristin Rogde and colleagues from the Campbell Collaboration have completed a systematic review that examines the effects of linguistic comprehension teaching on generalised measures of language and reading comprehension skills. Examples of linguistic comprehension skills include vocabulary, grammar and narrative skills.

The authors searched literature dating back to 1986, and identified 43 studies to include in the review, including samples of both pre-school and school-aged participants. Randomised controlled trials and quasi-experiments with a control group and a pre-post design were included.

Key findings of the review were as follows:

  • The linguistic comprehension programmes included in the review display a small positive immediate effect on generalised outcomes of linguistic comprehension.
  • The effect of the programmes on generalised measures of reading comprehension is negligible.
  • Few studies report follow-up assessment of their participants.

According to the authors, linguistic comprehension teaching has the potential to increase children’s general linguistic comprehension skills. However, there is variability in effects related to the type of outcome measure that is used to examine the effect of such instruction on linguistic comprehension skills.

Source: The effect of linguistic comprehension instruction on generalized language and reading comprehension skills: A systematic review (November 2019), Campbell Systematic Reviews

How to make a systematic review’s meta-analysis high quality

Terri Piggott at Loyola University Chicago and Joshua Polanin at American Institutes for Research have published a Methodological guidance paper: High-quality meta-analysis in a systematic review, now appearing on Review of Educational Research’s Online First website.

A meta-analysis synthesises the quantitative findings of many studies on a given topic. The guidance paper outlines the characteristics that make a meta-analysis in a systematic review high quality, discussing unbiased screening and coding procedures, establishing a protocol for carrying out a review, and then discussing in depth the best practices for computing effect sizes and reporting the data.

The authors conclude that “the role of researchers using systematic review and meta-analysis is to produce both high-quality analyses and to interpret those results in ways accessible to a wide audience. A high-quality systematic review and meta-analysis is difficult and time-consuming to produce; it is worth the effort to ensure that the results inform future research and policymaking through clear discussion of the results. Researchers should consider preparing different summaries of their review tailored to their audience of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.”

Source: Methodological guidance paper: High-quality meta-analysis in a systematic review (September 2019), Review of Educational Research

Do higher teacher qualifications mean better early childhood education and care?

This Campbell systematic review examines the evidence on the correlation between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood learning environments, as measured by the Environment Rating Scale (ERS). The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. The studies had to be comparative or correlational and report either an overall quality scale or an environment rating scale.

Overall, the review suggests that higher teacher qualifications are positively associated with classroom quality in early childhood education and care (effect size = +0.20). The review also suggests a positive correlation between teacher qualifications and classroom quality on a number of subscales, including:

  • Programme structure – focusing on the schedule, time for free play, group time and provisions for children with disabilities (ES = +0.22).
  • Activities – this relates to fine motor, art, music/movement, blocks, sand/water, dramatic play, nature/science, maths/number, use of digital technologies, and promoting acceptance of diversity (ES = +0.20).
  • Language and reasoning – encouraging children to communicate, use language to develop reasoning skills, and the informal use of language (ES = +0.20).

The researchers conclude that while there is evidence for the relationship between teacher qualification and classroom quality as measured by the ERS, further research is also needed into the specific knowledge and skills that are learned by teachers with higher qualifications that enable them to complete their roles effectively. It is important to note also, that while higher quality in early childhood education and care may lead to improved outcomes for children, we cannot assume that this is the case.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 1.

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