Teaching secondary students to write effectively

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Educator’s Practice Guide. The guide, Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, provides evidence-based recommendations for improving the writing skills of middle and secondary school students.

The WWC and a panel chaired by Steve Graham at Arizona State University synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Explicitly teach appropriate writing strategies using a Model-Practice-Reflect instructional cycle (strong evidence)
  • Integrate writing and reading to emphasise key writing features (moderate evidence)
  • Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback (minimal evidence)

To help teachers put the recommendations into practice, the guide describes over 30 specific strategies for the classroom, including sample writing prompts, activities that incorporate both writing and reading, and ways to use formative assessment to inform writing instruction.

Source: Teaching secondary students to write effectively (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

What are the effects of increased learning time?

The US Institute of Education Sciences has released a new report that examines the effects of increased learning time on pupils’ academic and non-academic outcomes. A meta-analysis was conducted on the topic in which over 7,000 studies were screened, but only 30 met the research team’s standards for rigorous research (including meeting evidence standards established by the What Works Clearinghouse). A review of those 30 studies found that increased learning time does not always produce positive results. However, some forms of teaching tailored to the needs of specific types of pupils were found to improve their circumstances. Specific findings included:

  • Increased learning time promoted pupil achievement in maths and literacy when it was led by a certified teacher using a traditional teaching style (ie, the teacher is responsible for the progression of activities and pupils follow directions to complete tasks).
  • Increased learning time improved literacy outcomes for pupils performing below standards.
  • Increased learning time improved the social-emotional skills of pupils with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Source: The Effects of Increased Learning Time on Student Academic and Nonacademic Outcomes: Findings from a Meta-Analytic Review (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.

What works for EAL pupils?

The US What Works Clearinghouse has released an updated practice guide on teaching academic content and literacy to pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL) in junior and middle school. It provides suggestions for teaching and supporting EAL learners as they acquire academic vocabulary, learn from increasingly complex informational texts, and engage in analytical writing activities. The recommendations, which are based on currently available research evidence and feedback from experts in the field, are as follows:

  • Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  • Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  • Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  • Provide small-group instructional interventions to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

For each recommendation, the guide provides examples of activities that can be used to support students as they build the language and literacy skills needed to be successful in school.

Source: Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.

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.

New York Times profiles evidence-based education

The New York Times has published an article on the work of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the rise of evidence-based education.

The institute (an office in the US Education Department), aims to get real data about what works in education, particularly from randomised controlled trials, and shares findings through its What Works Clearinghouse website. Among those interviewed are Robert Slavin, a professor in the IEE (and Director of the Centre for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins School of Education), Peter Tymms from Durham University, and Jon Baron, president of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy.

The article covers the history of the IES and considers the difficulties of translating the institute’s research into practical change. As Slavin explains in the article “It’s fascinating what a secret this is”. Instead, he says, educators are often “swayed by marketing or anecdotes or the latest fad.” However, he is hopeful of change. Despite little political drive in the US, the Obama administration has said its goal is to enable schools to use programmes that have been proven to work.