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Three interesting reports

Dylan Wiliam tweeted these three studies about performance at KS3. I only have time to note a few points from the abstracts. You might find them interesting, particularly the reference to modern languages.

One finding:

Students were generally confident about their overall ability in Year 9 although there was some variation between subjects, with students being more confident of their ability in maths, science, sports and the arts than other subjects. They were least confident about their ability in modern languages. Boredom in lessons was reported by a substantial minority.

This does not surprise me and may simply reflect that language learning is inherently difficult given the demands it places on memory, attention to detail, mastery of grammatical patterns and oral/aural skills, not to mention the psychological challenges of speaking another tongue. It is a useful reminder to MFL teachers how difficult our subject area is and how sensitive we have to be to the fears of students. I genuinely believe that our job is one of the hardest in secondary schools. If you do not pitch lessons just right, handle students sensitively, reduce tension, create a positive and enjoyable environment, then you risk generating a negative attitude to the subject.

Here is another quotation:

Older students (autumn-born compared with summer-born) in a year group showed higher attainment and appeared to increase their advantage by making more progress over KS3.

I confess that I rarely take this into account when assessing a student's progress. It's a point worth remembering.

Time spent on homework, as reported by students, was a relatively strong predictor of better attainment and progress in all three core areas. Spending any amount of time was beneficial, but the strongest effects were for spending 2-3 hours per day after school.

This would, at first view, support the view that homework is useful. This is my view, despite the somewhat unconvincing evidence from some research, but one wonders about the causality involved here. A student who spends more time on homework may also benefit from other home advantages, greater general motivation and higher expectations. Is the greater time spent on homework a cause of higher achievement or a by-product of it? I still strongly support homework for modern languages because it gives the opportunity for greater practice and we know how inmportant practice is in the acquisition of a second language.

On pupils' "dispositions" in Y9:

- Attendance at pre-school (compared to none) had no influence on later dispositions in KS3.
- After background factors were taken into account there were few significant effects for the quality and effectiveness of pre-school on students’ dispositions in Year 9.

The key findings of these three reports are worth a look and highlight, not surprisingly, the importance of early years support and home background. They also indicate that the school environment is a key factor in pupil attainment including leadership from the headteacher, physical environment, support from teachers who care and resources.

Dylan Wiliam argues, of course, that teacher quality is the prime factor in student achievement and he could cite plenty of research to support that view. These three studies show, howver, that the school environment is not without importance.


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