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

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

Is a government-mandated reduced-class size policy likely to improve pupils’ achievement in France? The data says oui

French pupils from disadvantaged areas demonstrate lower achievement than their more affluent peers. In an effort to close this achievement gap, the French government issued a policy in 2017 reducing Year 2 class size in high-priority educational areas to no more than 12 pupils, extending to Year 3 classes and priority educational areas in 2018. In order to provide evidence regarding the feasibility of such a policy, researchers used data from a 2003 first-grade-class-size-reduction policy in France to examine its carry-over effects into the second grade.

The 2003 study involved assigning classrooms to either small (12 pupils/class n=100 classes) or large (20–25 pupils/class, n=100 classes) class sizes. At the start of the 2002–03 school year, children were pre-tested on pre-reading skills and matched. In post-tests at the end of the school year, results favoured the small-class-size group on word reading (ES = +0.14) and word spelling (ES = +0.22). These effects are very small in light of the costs of halving class size.

The new study examined these pupils’ reading achievement at the end of Year 3, where the pupils formerly placed in smaller classrooms had been placed in full-sized classes again. Subjects were 1,264 pupils (663 in the intervention group and 601 in the control group) who had received both the initial testing in Year 2 and had test scores at the end of Year 3. Results showed that while both groups were equivalent at the start of Year 2, and by the end of the year the small-class-size group showed greater academic achievement than the control group, this gain diminished over the summer break and had completely disappeared by the end of Year 3. That is, there was no long-term impact of one year of reduced class size.

For more information, the original 2003 study was reported in Best Evidence in Brief in July.

Source: Reducing the number of pupils in French first-grade classes: Is there evidence of contemporaneous and carryover effects? (November 2018), International Journal of Educational Research, Volume 96,

Play-based curriculum benefits young children and teachers

Findings from a randomised controlled trial of Tools of the Mind (Tools) suggest that the programme improves kindergarten (Year 1) pupils’ academic outcomes in reading and writing, enhances children’s joy in learning and teachers’ enjoyment of teaching, and reduces teacher burnout.

The Tools programme is a play-based preschool and kindergarten curriculum that emphasises self-control, language and literacy skills. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, analysed the effectiveness of Tools on kindergarten teachers and 351 children (mean age 5.2 years at entry) with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in 18 public schools in Canada. Schools were paired with closely matched schools and then randomised to either the intervention group or control group. Teachers in the intervention group received a three-day workshop on Tools before the school year began, along with funds for resources. Control group teachers were offered the same amount of training hours and funds for whatever training and resource materials they wanted.

The results showed that pupils in the Tools group made greater improvements than pupils in the control group on standardised tests for reading and writing. By May, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were reading at Grade 1 (Year 2) level or better. Similarly, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were able to write a full sentence that they composed themselves. Tools teachers also reported that their pupils could continue to work unsupervised for two and a half times longer than control teachers estimated for their pupils, and that 100% could get back to work right away after breaks, compared to 50% of control children.

The Tools programme also had a positive impact on how teachers felt about teaching. More than three-quarters of Tools teachers, but none of the control teachers, reported in May that they were still enthusiastic about teaching.

Source: Randomized control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers (September 2019), PLoS One

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

Do private schools give students an educational advantage?

Researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London have conducted a study that looks at whether there are any educational advantages to attending private schools in the upper secondary years (Years 12 and 13).

Published in the Oxford Review of Education, the study used data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps cohort study and linked this to national pupil achievement information between 2005 and 2009. The researchers followed a sample of 5,852 pupils who attended a private or state school while doing their A-levels.

The profiles of the two groups of pupils were very different – pupils arrived in private school sixth forms with significantly higher prior attainment in GCSEs, and from households that had twice the income of families whose children attended state school sixth form. However, the researchers used the data available from Next Steps to allow for socio-demographic characteristics and prior achievement. Allowing for these characteristics, pupils at private schools outperformed those at state schools in their total A-level score by eight percentile points. Private school pupils also performed better on those subjects deemed to be more important to elite universities.

The researchers suggest that the reason for the difference may lie in the vastly superior resources per pupil in private schools (three times the state school average), including smaller pupil-teacher ratios (roughly half the state school average). However, they caution that their results are not truly causal.

Source: Private schooling, subject choice, upper secondary attainment and progression to university (November 2019), Oxford Review of Education