Digital vs. paper reading

A study published in the American Educational Research Journal compares reading processes and outcomes for pupils when reading a text from paper with the same text delivered on a touchscreen laptop.

Amanda P Goodwin and colleagues conducted the study with 371 pupils in grades 5–8 (Years 6–9) from three schools in an urban district in the southeastern US. Pupils were randomly assigned to two conditions: Condition A read the first section of a text on paper, and the second half digitally, whereas pupils in Condition B read the first part digitally and the second part on paper. The content in both conditions was identical. When reading on paper, pupils had access to highlighters, pens and sticky notes; when reading digitally, they had access to digital highlighters, annotating and dictionaries.

Results suggest that pupils highlight and annotate more when reading on paper vs. digital text. Also, reading on paper vs. digitally was slightly supportive of reading comprehension for the longer sections of text, although effect sizes were very small (odds ratio of 1.077).

Source: Digital versus paper reading processes and links to comprehension for middle school students (December 209), American Educational Research Journal

Using pupil data to support teaching

A report from the Institute of Education Sciences has found that an intensive approach to providing support for using pupil data to inform teaching did not improve pupil achievement, perhaps because the approach did not change teachers’ use of data or their reported classroom practices.

For the study, researchers recruited 102 elementary (primary) schools from 12 US districts. Schools were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group. Treatment schools received funding for a half-time data coach of their choosing, as well as intensive professional development for coaches and school leaders on helping teachers use pupil data to inform their teaching. The control schools received no additional funding for a data coach or professional development. Impacts on teacher and pupil outcomes were measured after an  18-month implementation period.

The results suggest that despite the additional resources, teachers in the treatment schools did not increase how often they used data or change their teaching practices in response to that data. Similar percentages of teachers in treatment and control schools reported data-related activities, such as analysing data to understand pupil needs. The intervention also had no effect on pupil achievement. On average, pupils in treatment and control schools had similar achievement in maths and English.          

Source: Evaluation of support for using student data to inform teachers’ instruction (September 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education. NCEE 2019-4008 

Suspending suspensions

Out-of-school suspensions have typically been used as punishment for pupils who are truant (absent from school without parental consent) or chronically absent (missing 10% or more of school days). Given that the goal is to keep pupils in school and academically engaged, a few US states have banned this practice. A recent JESPAR article examined the effects of this ban on absence rates in Arkansas, which established a law in 2013 banning out-of-school suspensions. The state offered no training to schools, and each was left to make its own way with the policy change. Although out-of-school suspensions were banned, other punishments were allowed to continue, including in-school suspension, which takes a pupil out of the regular classroom for a time but allows them to continue their work elsewhere.

Using data from all Arkansas state schools, researchers compared the attendance of truant and non-truant pupils between 2012–13 (pre-policy) and 2013–14 (post-policy) to see if there were any dramatic changes in attendance for truant pupils that did not occur with non-truant pupils. Subjects were limited to grades 7–12 (Years 8–13), in which 96% of truancy occurs.

Researchers found that compliance with the law was low, particularly in disadvantaged schools, with only a third of all schools complying. Among schools that did comply, there was no evidence of change in student behaviour after the policy went into effect. Three key findings were:

  • Policy alone is not enough to change behaviour—implementation of a policy must be overseen and reinforced.
  • When policies change, schools must be evaluated regarding whether their resources are sufficient to enforce this change, or whether they need support or training in order to be able to comply.
  • High-level policy changes need to be followed by quantitative and qualitative evaluation to assess key outcomes and compliance.

In addition, researchers reflected that, perhaps because there was still other punishment, truancy continued. They stated that punishment does not address the root causes as to why pupils are truant, and that pupil outcomes might not change if schools simply replace out-of-school suspensions with other types of punishment.

Source: Discipline reform: The impact of a statewide ban on suspensions for truancy (January 2019), Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), Volume 24, Issue 1

More evidence for growth mindset

The findings of an MDRC evaluation of a growth mindset intervention have suggested a positive impact on pupils’ academic performance.

To test whether a growth mindset intervention could improve pupils’ academic performance, the National Study of Learning Mindsets implemented a randomised controlled trial of a low-cost growth mindset intervention specifically designed for ninth grade (Year 10) pupils. A total of 11,888 pupils from 63 high schools across the US took part in the intervention, which included two 25-minute self-administered online training modules on the topic of brain development. Pupils in the intervention group were given modules about growth mindset and were asked to answer reflective questions in a survey. Instead of learning about the brain’s malleability, pupils in the control group learned about basic brain functions, and they were also asked to answer survey questions.

The results of the evaluation found a positive impact on pupils’ average grade point average (GPA) (effect size = +0.04), as well as their maths GPA (effect size = +0.05). Other results from the evaluation suggest that:

  • The intervention changed pupils’ self-reported mindset beliefs, their attitudes towards efforts and failure and their views on academic challenges.
  • Immediately after the intervention, students were more likely to attempt more challenging academic tasks.
  • Pupils who were lower performing at pre-test benefited more than their higher-performing peers.

Source: Using a growth mindset intervention to help ninth-graders: An independent evaluation of the National Study of Leaning Mindsets (November 2019), MDRC

Effects of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes

A study published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness reports on the impact of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes for pupils in grades 4 to 7 (Years 5 to 8).

Word Generation (WG) is a vocabulary programme designed to teach academic vocabulary words through English, maths, science and social studies classroom activities. For this study, 7,725 fourth to seventh grade pupils from 25 schools in the northeast US were randomised within pairs to either treatment or business-as-usual control conditions. In treatment schools, the programme was implemented throughout the school year. In grades 4 and 5 (Years 5 and 6), this involved 12 ten-day long units of 45-50 minutes per day. For grades 6 and 7 (Years 7 and 8), the programme was implemented in six-week long units designed to take 45 minutes each day in science and social studies classes.

At the end of the first year, pupils in grades 4 and 5 also made improvements on their academic language skills (ES = +0.06), and in their reading comprehension at the end of the second year (ES = +0.15). Reading comprehension also improved at the end of the second year for pupils in grades 6 and 7 (ES = +0.10).

The study also showed gains on tests of the specific words emphasised in the programme, but these effects are considered potentially inflated.

Source: Experimental effects of Word Generation on vocabulary, academic language, perspective taking and reading comprehension in high-poverty schools (August 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 12:3

No evidence of impact for a modularisation and self-paced computer-assisted approach to college maths

One of the greatest challenges facing community colleges in the US is that most students’ maths skills are below college level. These students are often referred to developmental maths courses, however, most students never complete the course and fail to earn a college degree.

A study published in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness looks at whether a modularised, computer-assisted approach that allows students to move at their own pace through the developmental maths course has any impact on students’ likelihood of completing the developmental maths course, compared with more traditional teaching.

The findings of the randomised trial of 1,400 students found that although the programme was well-implemented, there was no evidence that it was any more or less effective than traditional courses at helping students complete the developmental maths course. The researchers comment that although the results are disappointing, they are important because modularisation and self-paced computer-assisted approaches are popular teaching methods.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of a modularized, computer-assisted, self-paced approach to developmental math (September 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness