Spectacular results using self-regulation to improve writing

A new study has used memorable visits and self-regulation to improve the writing of children in Year 6 and 7.

The Education Endowment Foundation project involved 23 primary schools and their Year 6 teachers in West Yorkshire. 11 schools were randomly allocated to receive training, from an external consultant, in the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) approach. Twelve schools were allocated to the comparison. SRSD provides a clear structure to help pupils plan, monitor, and evaluate their writing. It aims to encourage pupils to take ownership of their work. Memorable experiences, such as trips to local landmarks or visits from World War II veterans, were used as a focus for writing lessons.

The project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes. The overall effect size for writing, comparing the progress of pupils in the project to similar pupils who did not participate, was +0.74. This was statistically significant, and equivalent to approximately nine months’ additional progress. The approach was even more effective for pupils eligible for free school meals, although this was not statistically significant.

Source: Improving Writing Quality Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.

Effective group work boosts critical thinking

A new article in the International Journal of Educational Research explores the use of a number of effective group work strategies, informed by the UK-based SPRinG project, and whether these strategies can facilitate students’ learning of critical thinking. The author concludes that they can.

The intervention was trialled with more than 200 children age 11-12 in General Studies lessons in two Hong Kong schools, both with little experience of conducting group work in classrooms. In each school, three classes were randomly chosen from five classes. One (class A) acted as a control group, using a mainly “whole-class teaching approach” (WCTA, N = 69), and classes B and C constituted the experimental group, with one adopting “group work with no specific strategies” (GWNS, N = 68), and the other “group work with effective strategies” (GWES, N = 68).

The strategies developed in the SPRinG project (particularly those for primary school) were employed in the GWES subgroups. This included students attending workshops in which they were taught how to ask questions, take turns, propose ideas, and give explanations; teachers being consistently reminded to provide their classes with regular briefing and debriefing; teachers being encouraged to provide hints and direction but not steer or dominate discussions; and, physically, the tables in the GWES condition were movable, allowing students to form groups relatively quickly and quietly. Group work activities included peer critiquing, collaborative graffiti, and group discussions. Ten interventional sessions took place over approximately five months.

Data collection comprised pre- and post-test scores obtained from the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the Test of Critical Thinking Skills for Primary and Secondary School Students, the graffiti sheets submitted by the group work children in the intervention, and in-depth interviews with the four experimental teachers. The author concluded that the intervention was effective, and the strategies developed in the SPRinG project made a substantial difference both to students’ group work and their critical thinking abilities.

Source: Promoting Critical Thinking Through Effective Group Work: A Teaching Intervention for Hong Kong Primary School Students (2014), International Journal of Educational Research, 66.

Preventing and addressing behaviour problems

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has posted a new tip sheet with five evidence-based strategies to help educators prevent and address behaviour problems. These strategies, which are based on reviews of research and recommendations from experts in the field, are as follows:

  1. Modify the classroom environment to alter or remove factors that trigger problem behaviours (eg, revisit and reinforce expectations, modify the learning space to motivate pupils, and vary teaching strategies to increase academic success).
  2. Identify, deliver, and reinforce explicit teaching in appropriate behaviour.
  3. Learn about interventions that can help support pupils with an emotional/behavioural problem in making good choices. The WWC has identified four effective interventions.
  4. Adapt teaching to maintain or increase pupil engagement in academics, preventing disruptive behaviour. The WWC offers strategies to engage pupils in reading, writing, maths, and out-of-school-time learning.
  5. Enlist adult advocates to help pupils at risk of dropping out address academic and social needs.

Better: Evidence-based Education magazine has addressed similar topics in classroom management and social-emotional learning.

Tips for teaching maths to young children

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide with tips on teaching maths to children up to the age of six. Recommendations are based on a systematic review of the available literature and on the experience of a panel recruited by the US Institute of Education Sciences. Suggested techniques to help children succeed include:

  • Use small-group activities to target different skill levels.
  • Get the most out of maths teaching by continually monitoring children’s progress and tailoring lessons to their needs. Gather specific information about each child’s skill level, such as how they perform on a new activity. Watch how they complete the activities in class, as well as how they perform on tests.
  • Make maths a part of the school day, and create a maths-rich environment so children can see that maths is a part of their everyday activities.

The guide is geared toward teachers, and other educators who want to build a strong foundation for later maths learning.

Source: Teaching Math to Young Children (2013), Institute of Education Sciences.

Examining the effects of assessment

Researchers at the RAND Corporation have conducted a series of literature reviews that focus on topics such as high-stakes testing, performance assessment, and formative evaluation.

Their findings, published in a new report, suggest that there are a wide variety of effects that testing might have on teachers’ activities in the classroom, including changes in curriculum content and emphasis (eg, changes in the sequence of topics, reallocation of emphasis across and within topics); changes in how teachers allocate time and resources across different pedagogical activities (eg, focusing on test preparation); and changes in how teachers interact with individual pupils (eg, using test results to personalise teaching). The report, “New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement”, also identifies a number of factors (eg, pupil characteristics and regional policies) that mediate the relationship between assessment and teaching practices.

The authors suggest that the role of tests would be enhanced by policies that ensure tests mirror high-quality teaching, are part of a larger, systemic change effort, and are accompanied by specific supports for teachers.

Source: New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement (2013), RAND Corporation.

High-stakes tests may damage teaching quality

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal has found that the quality of instructional support (ie, teaching methods and classroom organisation) is lower when teachers are under the greatest pressure to increase test performance.

The authors used two years of observation data from a cohort of US pupils who were first graders (Year 2) during the 2007–08 school year. A total of 348 observations took place in 23 classrooms in eight selected schools, when the children were in second grade and third grade (Years 3 and 4).

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the researchers found that in the months leading up to high-stakes testing in Year 4, teachers in these classrooms offered lower levels of instructional support than Year 3 teachers who were not experiencing the same level of accountability pressure. However, observations after the tests revealed the quality of instructional support was indistinguishable between Years 3 and 4.

The authors suggest that accountability policies do not necessarily need to have negative consequences for classroom quality, but could be designed to improve it by including relevant measures.

Source: Pressures of the Season: An Examination of Classroom Quality and High-Stakes Accountability (2013), American Educational Research Journal, 50(5).