Evidence Based Interventions that South Gare Primary School can implement to Boost KS2 Grade Pupils’ Levels of Achievement
Academic performance has for a long period of time been regarded as one of the most important attributes to evaluate the overall well-being of pupils by acting an indicator of how pupils are faring academically (Bossaert et al., 2011). The importance given to academic performance has made it to receive significant attention over a relatively long period of time, particularly since the inception of formal education (McCormick & Pressley, 1997). This is due to the fact that, the meaning of academic performance is the extent to which pupils are performing academically in school. For instance, good academic performance is attributed to good grades, whereas bad academic performance is attributed to poor grades (Long et al., 2011). However, the pride of any teacher or academician is the good academic performance of their pupils because it indicates that the combined efforts of both the teachers or academicians and the pupils are bearing fruits (Woolfolk et al., 2008).
Globally, academic performance has been receiving significant attention not only in early childhood education schools, but also in tertiary and higher education institutions (Light & Littleton, 1999). This has also been the case in the United States where academic performance is prioritized throughout all grades (Woolfolk et al., 2008). For instance, in many schools when the performance trend remains constant for some time or begins to drop, this is a cause for concern and teachers as well as the schools’ managements devise the necessary strategies or evidence based interventions for implementation in order to boost the performance. The main cause for concern when academic performance remains constant or begins to drop is that, it shows the outcome of education which is an indicator of the extent to which an institution, teachers or pupils have achieved their educational goals (Bossaert et al., 2011). Academic performance goals are often set higher than previously achieved meaning that when they remain constant or begin to drop, this is an obvious cause for concern. In most cases continuous assessment or examinations are commonly used to measure academic performance, but there is no consensus on the best methods of measuring academic performance (McCormick & Pressley, 1997).
Considering that South Gare Primary School has a relatively low pupil population (i.e. 350 pupils) and is located in an area of traditionally low attainment, this does not justify the stable performance of KS2 grade pupils over the last 5 years in the core areas of English and Mathematics (Woolfson, 2011). Moreover, the stable performance cannot also be justified by the fact that a high proportion of the school’s parents are from low SES backgrounds and about 20% of pupils have EAL (Long et al., 2011). Hence, this is a genuine cause for concern to the school Headteacher and Board of Governors. This essay discusses three evidence based interventions that South Gare Primary School in LA can implement to boost KS2 grade pupils’ levels of achievement in the core areas of English and Mathematics. The three proposed evidence based interventions discussed in this essay are: embracing collaborative learning (or learning communities), motivation of pupils to learn and improving working memory in the classroom.
Implementing Collaborative Learning (or Learning Communities)
According to Entwistle (2001) in the future the classroom, and the relevant pedagogy is likely to be more concerned about co-learners meaning that pupils would be learning with and from each other, while at the same time making sense of the available information to them all. This will be equivalent to embracing the concept of collaborative learning or learning communities as one of the evidence based interventions to boost pupils’ academic performance (Hiebert & Carpenter, 1992). This evidence based intervention will also be appropriate for South Gare Primary School in order to boost the levels of academic achievement among the KS2 grade pupils in the core areas of English and Mathematics.
Scott et al., (2003) defines ccollaborative learning as an instruction method in which pupils at various levels of performance are given an opportunity to work together in small groups aimed at achieving a common goal. In collaborative learning, the pupils are responsible for the learning of each other as well as their own implying that one pupil’s success eventually helps other pupils to be successful (Stahl et al., 2006). Peer collaboration in a classroom now forms a significant part of classroom experience for pupils in lower grades, particularly in core areas of English, Science and Mathematics. For example, the US national curriculum standards identify the pupil’s ability to effectively collaborate as a key skill that both the teachers and pupils need to support and develop throughout the years of primary school (White & Gunston, 1992). This is due to the participatory nature of this mode of learning where considerable talk, dialogue and interaction occur between collaborating partners (Azmitia, 1988).
Generally collaborative learning occurs through a learning community (Scott et al., 2003). However, learning communities are valuable for pupils because they help them to become active and stay actively engaged, while at the same time learning from each other as well as sharing in common goals (Stahl et al., 2006). This implies that learning communities and active learning are key ingredients to pupil understanding and success in the classroom. According to Scott et al., (2003) a learning community is a group of pupils taking a common set of academic assignments or tasks or sharing a common academic experience. Collaborative learning or learning communities are crucial evidence based intervention likely to significantly boost performance among KS2 grade pupils because participants in a learning community develop a deeper understanding of subject matter of the course, while at the same time building relationships and learning from each other outside the classroom (Stahl et al., 2006).
Furthermore, for collaborative learning or a learning community as a key evidence based intervention that can be implemented to boost performance, it requires to adopt the learning cycle concept which has been applied for decades and has received wide acceptance as a superior form of instruction compared to models of instruction that are passive (Bybee, 1997). In order for teachers at South Gare Primary School to boost performance of KS2 grade pupils in core areas of English and Mathematics, they will be required to develop learning activities on the basis of the BSCS learning cycle model by making sure that each step of the BSCS learning cycle is addressed in every learning activity given to the pupils (Bybee, 1997). This is mainly because the BSCS learning cycle model consists of 5Es which are: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate (Bybee, 1997).
For example, the teachers should begin any learning activity with an engagement activity where the teacher generates curiosity and interest among the pupils by raising questions and also assessing pupils’ current knowledge, including misconceptions on a particular topic. The pupils will be required to work in groups in order to explore specific aspects of the chosen topic. In the next step of the BSCS learning cycle model, the pupils are required to explain their observations or findings and compare them to those of their peers. According to Bybee (1997) the previous step should be followed by the pupils elaborating their findings by applying scientific concepts, skills, and vocabulary, while the teacher provides guidance to them. Finally, the teacher is supposed to evaluate the pupils by observing and assessing them as they apply new skills and concepts, while at the same time asking the pupils open-ended questions (Polman, 2000). This evidence based intervention proves to be very vital in making sure that pupils understand what they are taught as a result of working as a group and learning from each other.
This is attributed to the vital importance of understanding which helps pupils in shifting from a narrow emphasis on discrete skills towards focusing on pupils’ understanding in core areas of English and Mathematics. Hence the best teaching is based on ensuring that pupils’ understanding of key concepts is developed. Nickerson (1985) identified a number of the outcomes of understanding which include the ability see deeper characteristics of a concept; the ability to represent situations; as well as the ability to envision a situation using mental models. Furthermore, Skemp (1976) described the relational mathematics learning process using collaborative learning as a conceptual structure building implying that pupils are able to easily and quickly grasp the concepts. This is further supported by Hiebert and Carpenter (1992) who asserts that ease of understanding of mathematics occurs if its mental representation is incorporated in a network of representations, and the extent to which mathematics is understood depend on the strength and number of these connections.
Collaborative learning is also supported the Bruner theory of constructivism mainly because the basic tenet of constructivism is that pupils’ learning is based on doing instead of observation (Bruner, 1966). Bruner (1966) also note that group discussions which are a key component of collaborative learning or learning communities allow participants to explore, elaborate and expand their skills and knowledge. Moreover, shared “cognitive load” through collaborative learning enhances pupils’ ability to solve problems. White and Gunston (1992) noted that group discussions that occur during group work provide a sort of ‘scaffold’ which enables all the pupils involved to work slightly beyond their current capabilities because of the provided support. This is attributable to the fact that group work encourages reasoning with language while at the same time developing understanding through discussion of shared knowledge. Some research (e.g., Scott et al., 2003) has found that collaboration learning is most effective when pupils are first acquiring a skill, while other researchers (e.g., Stahl et al., 2006; White & Gunston, 1992) have found that collaboration learning is a very important evidence based intervention to boost performance. Hiebert & Carpenter (1992) notes that poor performing pupils usually benefit from collaboratively working with high performing pupils in learning communities or group works eventually making the former to move closer to latter in terms of academic performance resulting to subsequent improvement of the overall class performance.
Motivation of Pupils to Learn
Motivation of pupils to learn is the other evidence based intervention that can significantly boost performance. Historically, numerous approaches have been used towards understanding pupils’ motivation, and even though they cove from varied perspectives there is a consensus that motivation is key to successful academic performance (Cassidy, 2004). In terms of negative self- perceptions change promotion, it is easy to modify the unstable causes compared to the stable ones. In the case of South Gare Primary School, the causes of dwindling performance cannot be succinctly determined if they are stable or unstable, hence the teachers need to help the pupils to establish the belief that they are academically competent meaning they can improve their performance (Pintrich, 1999; Stipek, 1998).
In order for KS2 grade pupils at South Gare Primary School to boost their performance, they need to be motivated by their teachers by encouraging positive attributions. Guay et al., (2000) suggest that a clear and accurate feedback can significantly motivate pupils than criticism. This is because accurate feedback is directed at the pupils’ actions, and not the character; helps pupils to believe in their abilities; and also reflects an honest and accurate evaluation. According to Dweck (1999) praising pupils for their effort to solve mathematical problems shows much better long-term performance compared to praising pupils for their intelligence.
According to Self-determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), there are varied types of motivation underlying human behaviour. For example, the teachers should promote intrinsically motivated behaviours which are likely to boost performance because pupils engage in them for their own pleasure and satisfaction, hence teachers should encourage the positive ones (Woolfson, 2011). However, there is also extrinsic motivation, which exists in two forms including: external regulation and identified regulation. External regulation occurs through behaviour regulation using rewards to encourage avoidance of negative consequences (Light & Littleton, 1999). This may be specifically used to motivate pupils to boost their performance where good performance is motivated or encouraged through rewards. However, there are differences in these motivations in their integral self-determination levels which is believed to enhance psychological functioning (Woolfson, 2011).
Improving Working Memory in the Classroom
Improving working memory in the classroom is the other important evidence based intervention to boost performance of KS2 grade pupils’ performance. Teachers often observe working memory failures through forgetting of instructions, failure to be attentive as well as place-keeping errors in complex tasks all which can hinder pupils’ academic performance (Gathercole et al., 2006). Working memory is used to process and store information during cognitive tasks, and is used in daily activities such as arithmetic and reading (Gathercole & Pickering, 2000).
Gathercole and Baddeley (1989) in their vocabulary acquisition study established a relationship between short-term phonological memory skills and new vocabulary acquisition. Holmes & Adams (2006) also investigated relationship between maths skills and working memory in pupils aged 7/8 years and 9/10 years, and found it was significant. Gathercole et al., (2004) investigated the relationship between working memory skills and national curriculum assessments performance in English, science and mathematics in groups of pupils aged 7 (KS1) and 14 (KS3) years, and the relationship was significant. According to Gathercole et al. (2006) pupils with lower working memory often show high levels of distractibility, poor attention span and difficulties to follow instructions, remember, plan and organise information required to complete an activity. Therefore, working memory is a crucial predictor of a pupil’s ability to solve problems as well as overall exam performance (St Clair-Thompson et al., 2010).
Teachers can adopt various approaches to alleviate working memory difficulties in order to boost pupils’ performance including minimizing failures in the classroom through effective working memory loads management or by direct working memory improvement (Gathercole & Pickering, 2000). This can be achieved by ensuring that the storage of learning activities’ demands are not excessive; engaging in regular pupil monitoring; avoiding activities placing excessive demands on working memory’s processing and storage; supporting use of external memory aids by pupils to reduce working memory loads; as well as encouraging pupils to use strategies that overcome working memory difficulties (Gathercole et al., 2006).
In conclusion, three evidence based interventions discussed above which can be implemented by South Gare Primary School to boost KS2 grade pupils’ levels of achievement have been shown to be effective. Hence it is proposed that if they are appropriately implemented the pupils’ performance can be significantly improved.
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