2015: Urban Myths about Learning and Education, 1st Edition

Together with Casper Hulshof I wrote a popular book in Dutch on educational myths in 2013.

In 2015 a whole new, updated and upgraded version will be published internationally by Elsevier/Academic Press, written by myself, prof. Paul A. Kirschner and Casper Hulshof.

The manuscript has been sent in and… check here.


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Good read: Boy, Bill Gates’ Latest Interview Was Very Depressing…

If you don’t follow the blog of Larry Ferlazzo yet, this is a good moment. Larry just posted a reaction to a new interview with Bill Gates on education by Ezra Klein at Vox .  And I agree, it’s depressing with the key problem (as Larry explains):

He then puts the responsibility of student motivation all on teachers, and that the key to teachers learning to be better is through online education.

The conclusion may sound a bit cynical, but quite understandable:

I just hope he finds something else soon that catches his interest so he stop experimenting with the lives of our students, their families, and us teachers…

Read the full post here.


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Boosting success at school via a ‘kindness curriculum’ in preschool (mindfulness-study)

Grit is the present hype in education, but what about kindness? Over the course of 12 weeks, twice a week, the prekindergarten students in this study learned a new kind of their ABCs: attention, breath and body, caring practice. Researchers found that kids who had participated in the curriculum earned higher marks in academic performance measures and showed greater improvements in areas that predict future success than kids who had not. The results were recently published in the journal Developmental Psychology. This study is part of a special issue of the journal on mindfulness.

From the press release:

“This work started a number of years ago when we were looking at ways to possibly help children develop skills for school and academic success, as well as in their role as members of a global community,” says study lead author Lisa Flook, a CIHM scientist. “There was a strong interest in looking at cultivating qualities of compassion and kindness.”

While mindfulness-based approaches for children have become popular in recent years, few are backed by rigorous scientific evidence. The research team — graduate research assistant Simon Goldberg; outreach specialist Laura Pinger; and CIHM founder Richard Davidson, the UW-Madison William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry — set out to change that.

The team developed a curriculum to help children between the ages of 4 and 6 years learn how to be more aware of themselves and others through practices that encourage them to bring mindful attention to present moment experience. These practices, the researchers hypothesized, could enhance the children’s self-regulation skills – such as emotional control and the capacity to pay attention — and influence the positive development of traits like impulse control and kindness.

Past studies show the ability to self-regulate in early childhood predicts better results later in life with health, educational attainment and financial stability. Flook says early childhood is an opportune time to equip children with these skills since their brains are rapidly developing. The skills may also help them cope with future life stress.

“Knowing how critical these skills are at an early age, if there are ways to promote them, it could help set kids on a more positive life trajectory,” says Flook.

Throughout the study period, trained CIHM instructors taught the curriculum in diverse classrooms throughout the Madison area and worked with students through hands-on activities involving movement, music and books. Each lesson provided students and teachers the opportunity to participate in mindfulness practices, including activities focused on compassion and gratitude, and to take note of their experience.

For example, kids were encouraged to think about people who are helpful to them – sometimes those they may not know well, like the bus driver — and to reflect on the role these people play in their lives, Flook says.

Teachers reported one of the kids’ favorite activities was a practice called “Belly Buddies,” in which they listened to music while lying on their backs, a small stone resting on their stomachs. They were asked to notice the sensation of the stone, and to feel it rising and falling as they breathed in and out.

“It’s something that’s so simple and it allows them to experience internal quietness and a sense of calm,” says Flook.

They also each received alphabet bracelets to wear, to help them remember their kindness curriculum ABCs.

The curriculum itself is rooted in long-standing adult mindfulness-based practices but was adapted to the children’s developmental ability.

The researchers measured the impact of the curriculum on sharing by using stickers the kids could choose to give to a variety of others or keep for themselves. They measured the kids’ ability to delay gratification by choosing one small reward to have immediately or waiting to receive a larger treat later.

The team looked at how well kids could switch from one mental task to another in a card sorting activity, where they were first asked to sort by shape, then by color, and finally, a mix of both. That’s a particularly challenging skill for young kids, Flook says.

The research team also assessed the students’ ability to pay attention by measuring how well they identified particularly oriented arrows on a screen despite the presence of other on-screen distractions, and it examined the students’ academic performance in the months following the study.

In addition to improved academics, the 30 students who went through the curriculum showed less selfish behavior over time and greater mental flexibility than the 38 kids in the control group.

Flook cautions that while the study was designed as a randomized control trial, additional, larger studies are needed to demonstrate the curriculum’s true power. However, the results demonstrate its potential.

Ultimately, the researchers would like to see mindfulness-based practices become “woven into” the school day, adapted to students across grade levels, becoming a foundation for how teachers teach and how students approach learning, Flook says.

“I think there’s increasing recognition of how social, emotional and cognitive functioning are intermingled; that kids may have difficulty in school when emotional challenges arise and that impacts learning,” she adds. “Can you imagine how this could shift the climate of our schools, our community, our world, if cultivating these qualities was at the forefront of education?”

Abstract of the study:

Self-regulatory abilities are robust predictors of important outcomes across the life span, yet they are rarely taught explicitly in school. Using a randomized controlled design, the present study investigated the effects of a 12-week mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum (KC) delivered in a public school setting on executive function, self-regulation, and prosocial behavior in a sample of 68 preschool children. The KC intervention group showed greater improvements in social competence and earned higher report card grades in domains of learning, health, and social-emotional development, whereas the control group exhibited more selfish behavior over time. Interpretation of effect sizes overall indicate small to medium effects favoring the KC group on measures of cognitive flexibility and delay of gratification. Baseline functioning was found to moderate treatment effects with KC children initially lower in social competence and executive functioning demonstrating larger gains in social competence relative to the control group. These findings, observed over a relatively short intervention period, support the promise of this program for promoting self-regulation and prosocial behavior in young children. They also support the need for future investigation of program implementation across diverse settings.

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Good read: ‘Brain Drinks’ Might Make You Less Smart

I never had heard about the drinks before, but it seems there a now also “Neuro-drinks”:

You can find the drinks here: drinkneuro.com. The site has a tab Science but that doesn’t tell you much about the evidence that this should benefit your brain.

Luckily we have ‘Brain Watch’ on Wired and Christian Jarrett to check the facts, and you’ll already guessed it:

NeuroSonic’s “proprietary blend” includes caffeine and l-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea). The good news, for NeuroSonic drinkers at least, is that several studies suggest that a combination of caffeine and l-theanine can have beneficial mental effects, such as improving the ability to switch between tasks, speeding upanticipatory shifts of attention, and increasing feelings of alertness.

However, these studies are of variable quality (for example, not all of them feature a placebo control condition), and perhaps most importantly, they don’t tell us about the effects of NeuroSonic’s specific mix and quantities of ingredients.

Do read the whole piece about the possible or absent evidence and find out that there are even two important possible benefits of the drinks you didn’t expect but that won’t make you smarter.

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Funny on Sunday: Every group project in school you have ever done…

Found this yesterday on Twitter, and I admit I was often the person on the left…

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Do you want your dream job? Display a learning attitude!

I read in my newspaper this week that everybody on Linkedin seems to call himself creative. Actually it’s a better idea to show an attitude that you want to learn. A new joint study by University of Missouri and Lehigh University researchers found that job seekers with attitudes focused on “learning” from the job-seeking process will have more success finding their dream jobs. Oh, and this doesn’t mean that you than can stop learning…

The study in highlights:


  • Affect and perceived stress provide signals about job search progress, and in turn influence job search intensity.
  • We examine the moderating role of job search learning goal orientation (LGO).
  • Higher LGO leads to more adaptive responses to increased affect and perceived stress.
  • Increased positive affect leads to a decrease in job search intensity only for those low in LGO.
  • Increased perceived stress leads to a stronger increase in job search intensity for those high in LGO.


From the press release:

“Attitude means a lot,” said Daniel Turban, a professor of management at the MU Trulaske College of Business. “In our study, we found that job seekers who have a ‘learning goal orientation’ or a natural disposition to learn from every situation in life, tend to be more successful in achieving their career goals. We also found that this disposition is not just influenced by genetics; it can be acquired.”

In the study, Turban and Serge da Motta Veiga, lead author on the study, focused on college seniors who were currently in the job-search process. Turban and da Motta Veiga surveyed approximately 120 individuals at different points during the job-seeking process. The data were collected while da Motta Veiga was a doctoral student at the MU Trulaske College of Business; he is now an assistant professor of management in the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University,

People who had a strong learning goal orientation (LGO) reacted to failures by putting more intensity into the search process compared to job seekers who had a low LGO. Additionally, when the process was going well, individuals with a high LGO maintained or slightly increased their intensity, while those who had a low LGO decreased their intensity.

“It’s not that people with a high LGO have less stress, but they deal with the stress better than others,” Turban said. “With the right amount of stress, individuals with a high LGO increased their intensity, and as a result, were more successful with reaching their goals. We always think stress is bad, but that’s not the case. Feeling a moderate amount of stress can be very motivating.”

Turban and da Motta Veiga also said that it’s not just about genetics. People with a low LGO can learn techniques or behaviors to help them improve their LGO so they handle stress and failures better.

“Job seekers can be trained to improve their LGO,” da Motta Veiga said. “Such training could help them realize that the stress and failure they experience while searching for a job is not a bad thing, but instead represents an opportunity to learn from the process and determine how they can be successful at it.”

Turban and da Motta Veiga said that it’s best when job seekers spend time reflecting on how they are doing. The more intentional job seekers are about learning from the process, the more successful they are likely to be in their job searches, Turban said.

Abstract of the study:

Although job seekers have variability in affect and perceived stress during their job search, little is known about whether and how such within-person variability is related to job search intensity. We integrated learning goal orientation (LGO) with control theory to theorize that affect and perceived stress provide signals about job search progress that are interpreted differently depending on job seekers’ LGO. Specifically, higher LGO would lead to more adaptive responses to increased affect and perceived stress. Results from job seekers with 4 waves of panel data supported our hypotheses. For job seekers higher in LGO, perceived stress was more strongly positively related to subsequent job search intensity than for job seekers lower in LGO. Additionally, job seekers higher in LGO maintained their job search intensity following increased positive affect, whereas those lower in LGO decreased it. Such results suggest control theory can be extended by including between-subjects differences in LGO.

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Good read: Poor boys fare worse in rich areas, suggests research

This post on the BBC-website has some troubling news:

Behaviour of boys from poor homes is worse when they grow up with wealthier neighbours, suggests research. By contrast, poor boys in “hard-pressed” areas had the lowest rates of antisocial behaviour, data on 1,600 children in England and Wales suggests.

Is this a plea for more segregation? Don’t think so. But prof Candice Odgers of Duke University in the United States, followed the children in a longitudinal study from birth to the age of 12 and expected actually to find the opposite results:

The authors found that in economically mixed areas, poorer boys engaged in more antisocial behaviour – such as lying, cheating, swearing and fighting.

But disadvantaged boys living in areas where three-quarters of the population was poor had the lowest rates of such behaviour.

Poor boys’ behaviour was worse in middle-income neighbourhoods and worse still in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.

The findings held true for boys from the ages of five to 12 – but the researchers found no sign of a similar effect on girls.

Prof Odgers said “relative position hypothesis” suggests children evaluate their social rank and self-worth based on comparisons with those around them.

So being poor may be more distressing to a child surrounded by others who are better-off.

Read the full article here.

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Introducing attribute amnesia: what you see is not necessarily what you remember (study)

I like new concepts, and this study has learned me a new one: attribute amnesia. This occurs when a person uses a piece of information to perform a task, but is then unable to report specifically what that information was as little as one second later. And even worse: our memory is far more selective than previously thought, seeing is not the same as remembering. Even if you become consciously aware of a visual stimulus, this doesn’t mean you will remember.

From the press release:

“It is commonly believed that you will remember specific details about the things you’re attending to, but our experiments show that this is not necessarily true,” said Brad Wyble, assistant professor of psychology. “We found that in some cases, people have trouble remembering even very simple pieces of information when they do not expect to have to remember them.”

Wyble and Hui Chen, postdoctoral fellow in psychology, tested the memories of 100 undergraduate students, divided into several groups. Each group performed a variation of the experiment in order to replicate the results for different kinds of information, such as numbers, letters or colors.

In each trial participants were shown four characters on a screen arranged in a square — for example three numbers and one letter — and were told that they would need to report which corner the letter was in. After a set amount of time, the characters disappeared from the screen and the participants reported where they remembered the letter had been. This part of the task was expected to be easy — participants rarely made an error.

After repeating this simple task numerous times, the participant was asked an unexpected question in order to probe the memory for the very information used to find the letter’s location. Four letters appeared on the screen and the participant was asked to identify which one had appeared on the previous screen. Only 25 percent of the participants identified the correct letter — the same percentage as would be expected to randomly guess it.

Similar results were obtained when participants were asked to locate odd numbers, even numbers and colors.

“This result is surprising because traditional theories of attention assume that when a specific piece of information is attended, that information is also stored in memory and therefore participants should have done better on the surprise memory test,” said Wyble.

Chen and Wyble have called the phenomenon they observed attribute amnesia, as they reported in an article recently published online in the journal Psychological Science. Attribute amnesia occurs when a person uses a piece of information to perform a task, but is then unable to report specifically what that information was as little as one second later.

“The information we asked them about in the surprise question was important, because we had just asked them to use it,” said Chen. “It was not irrelevant to the task they were given.”

After the surprise trial, the same question was repeated on the next trial, however it was no longer a surprise. Participants did dramatically better with the average of correct answers between 65 and 95 percent across the different experiments.

The researchers point out that this result suggests that people’s expectations play an important role in determining what they remember, even for information they are specifically using.

“It seems like memory is sort of like a camcorder,” said Wyble. “If you don’t hit the ‘record’ button on the camcorder, it’s not going to ‘remember’ what the lens is pointed at. But if you do hit the ‘record’ button — in this case, you know what you’re going to be asked to remember — then the information is stored.”

Wyble and Chen argue that this selective memory storage might be a useful adaptation because it prevents the brain from remembering information that is probably not important. The researchers plan to continue this line of research as they study whether people are aware of their own lack of memory.

Abstract of the study:

People intuitively believe that when they become consciously aware of a visual stimulus, they will be able to remember it and immediately report it. The present study provides a series of striking demonstrations of behavior that is inconsistent with such an intuition. Four experiments showed that in certain conditions, participants could not report an attribute (e.g., letter identity) of a stimulus even when that attribute had been attended and had reached a full state of conscious awareness just prior to being questioned about it. We term this effect attribute amnesia, and it occurs when participants repeatedly locate a target using one attribute and are then unexpectedly asked to report that attribute. This discovery suggests that attention to and awareness of a stimulus attribute are insufficient to ensure its immediate reportability. These results imply that when attention is configured by using an attribute for target selection, that attribute will not necessarily be remembered.

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New study shows (again) it’s not Facebook that hurts your grades, it’s what you do on Facebook (and how much)

A new study confirms older studies, Facebook doesn’t hurt the grades of students by definition, it’s rather what a student does on social media that can have a negative effect (or even a positive effect, e.g. sharing links and checking in with friends). In his latest study, Reynol Junco, an associate professor of education at Iowa State University, found that while freshman struggle to balance their use, social media is less of a problem for upper classmen. The difference relates to self-regulation.

In short:

  • This study examined Facebook multitasking in a large sample split by class rank.
  • Seniors spent less time on Facebook than students at other class ranks.
  • Seniors spent less time multitasking with Facebook than other class ranks.
  • Facebook time was negatively predictive of GPA for freshmen but not for others.
  • Facebook multitasking was negatively predictive of GPA for others but not for seniors.

I personally don’t think that the seniors have become better in multitasking, but maybe are more focused on their tasks, but it’s hard to tell as the research used self-reports.

From the press release:

Junco surveyed more than 1,600 college students about their Facebook behavior, looking at time spent strictly using the social networking site and time spent on Facebook while multitasking. In the study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, freshmen averaged a total of two hours a day. For just over half of that time spent on Facebook, freshmen said they were also doing schoolwork.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors also reported using Facebook while studying, but how it affected their grade point average varied. For freshmen, all Facebook use had a negative impact on their grades. For sophomores and juniors, only time spent using Facebook while doing schoolwork hurt their GPA. For seniors, there was no relationship between the two.

It would be easy to conclude that simply spending less time on Facebook would improve a student’s GPA, but Junco cautions against rushing to that conclusion. Certain tasks on Facebook, such as sharing links and checking in with friends, were positively linked to GPA. And in previous research, Junco found that tasks, such as creating or RSVP’ing to an event, were positively linked to student engagement.

“It’s not just the way students are accessing the site, but the way in which they’re using the site that has an effect on academic outcomes,” Junco said. “Students use social media to make friends and create the support network they need. If they’re committed to their social circles, then they’re also committed to their institution, and that’s a major part of academic success.”

Facebook is not the problem

The negative relationship between Facebook use and GPA has little to do with Facebook, Junco said. Instead it is reflective of a broader issue, one that all students must confront when they go to college – self-regulation. And in that regard, Facebook use is no different than any other distraction for students.

“Freshmen have all of these adjustment issues. They come to college and they don’t know what to do, because they don’t have a parent or teacher telling them when to study, what to eat or when to go to bed,” Junco said. “They haven’t developed the self-regulation skills that they need.”

Most students will develop that skill throughout their college career. But Junco says higher education professionals can offer more assistance and teach students about responsible Facebook use, rather than telling them to completely abstain from social media. Parents and teachers could also do a better job of helping students develop better self-regulation in middle and high school.

There could be several explanations for the fact that seniors in the study used Facebook while studying, although for a shorter period of time, without seeing an effect on their grades. Junco says it could be that they have learned how to better multitask. He attributes the drop in seniors’ Facebook use to two factors. One, they have built a strong social network and rely less on social media to meet new people. And two, they are looking ahead to their future careers.

Taken in consideration with his other studies on this topic, Junco says the negative effect on GPA does not outweigh the positives associated with social media use, student engagement and academic success.

Abstract of the study:

Although some research has shown a negative relation between Facebook use and academic performance, more recent research suggests that this relation is likely mitigated by multitasking. This study examined the time students at different class ranks spent on Facebook, the time they spent multitasking with Facebook, as well as the activities they engaged in on the site (N = 1649). The results showed that seniors spent significantly less time on Facebook and spent significantly less time multitasking with Facebook than students at other class ranks. Time spent on Facebook was significantly negatively predictive of GPA for freshmen but not for other students. Multitasking with Facebook was significantly negatively predictive of GPA for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors but not for seniors. The results are discussed in relation to freshmen transition tasks and ideas for future research are provided.

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Good read: Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb

Daniel Willingham is writing again. Some time ago the cognitive psychologist announced a blogging sabbatical but now he published short reviews of five books and this OpEd in the NY Times on smartphones allegedly making us dumber. He explains this is not the case (or rather that we don’t have much evidence for it).

His conclusion is both reassuring and a warning:

Digital devices are not eating away at our brains. They are, however, luring us toward near constant outwardly directed thought, a situation that’s probably unique in human experience. A flat cap on time with devices — the restriction we first think of for ourselves and our kids — might help. So would parking devices in another room for a while. But it would be more effective if we could learn to recognize in ourselves when escape from our thoughts is O.K. and when reflection is in order. As a bonus, judgments like that require inwardly directed attention, a mental habit that in our smartphone era, we’d be dumb to lose.

Read the whole piece here!


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Filed under Media literacy, Review, Social Media, Technology, Youngsters

Debate on evidence based education (video)

In this engaging discussion, filmed at the Battle of Ideas, speakers confront the rise and rise of evidence-based teaching in British classrooms. All agree that teaching is a craft that needs to resist the fads and fashions of brain gym, NLP and neuroscience. But do we need further research and better evidence to improve teaching? Or, is this desire to mimic evidence-based medicine in order to improve student marks an evasion of teaching’s mission to inspire a love of knowledge?

Participants in the debate: Tom Bennett, Carl Hendrick, Ellie Lee and David Perks. Read more about the debate here.

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