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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High-quality early childhood education can save children from the effects of changes in family income

Life can have its bumps in the road and in many situations less income means an impact on how children learn. Education has a task to minimize (and maybe utopian spoken even to eliminate) these effects. How big the effect can be, was made clear by this chart I found last week on the website of the Washington Post:

What does this chart mean? Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, and Boston College now show that high quality early education can save children from those bumps in the road of life. In Norway, publicly subsidized high-quality early childhood education and care is available to all children, from low-income to affluent, starting at age 1. The study found that children who don’t take part in such programs have more early behavior problems when their families’ income drops.

Do note, I couldn’t read the study yet, as I couldn’t find it online yet. Still I want to share the information, based on the summary found in the press release:

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the potential power of universal access to high-quality early childhood education and care for improving children’s well-being and growth,” according to Henrik Daae Zachrisson, senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who was with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health at the time of the study, and Eric Dearing, associate professor at Boston College and senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development, who conducted the study.

When families’ incomes (adjusted for family size and yearly median income in Norway) decreased, their children’s behavior problems increased, the study found. Conversely, when families’ incomes increased, their children’s behavior problems decreased. These patterns were strongest in low-income families, so fluctuations in income seemed to matter most for those with the least. Children in both low- and middle-income households who attended high-quality centers had stable, low levels of internalizing problems (such as withdrawal and anxiety) regardless of whether their families experienced worsening or improving economic circumstances.

The researchers drew data from a longitudinal study of more than 75,000 children and their families who participated in assessments from birth through age 3. Family income data were taken from public tax records. When children were 1 and a half and 3 years old, mothers reported on children’s aggression and noncompliance (externalizing problems), withdrawal and anxiety (internalizing problems), and attendance at an early childhood and care center. Children who did not attend a center or were not cared for by a parent or family member were typically cared for by a family day care, nanny, or outdoor nursery (i.e., monitored playground); these settings are unregulated. At 36 months, almost 88 percent of the children were in an early childhood education and care center.

“Even in a context such as Norway, which has relatively little income inequality and relatively strong social supports for families, children in low-income families still appear to be sensitive to acute fluctuations in income, a finding that’s also been demonstrated in the United States,” according to Zachrisson and Dearing. “However, children in regulated, high-quality early childhood education and care centers appear to be protected against the negative effects of changes in income within families when it comes to internalizing problems.”


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Pearson report on effective pedagogy in primary schools

A new report on effective pedagogy (interesting that they use this word instead of education) by Iram Siraj and Brenda Taggart with a foreword by Dylan William.

I want to share the key finds, the full report can be downloaded here.


Teachers in excellent schools were rated particularly highly on their organisational skills. Their resources were prepared ahead of time, well managed during lessons and particularly fit for purpose and tailored to the individual needs of their pupils. They made productive use of instructional time by maintaining good pace and ensuring that every second of their lessons counted. Pupils in these classes had the highest ratings of self-reliance.Year 5 classrooms in schools identified as poor had significantly lower ratings than the other groups on the organisation and suitability (fit for purpose) of teacher resources, the productiveness of instructional time, the clarity of the teacher’s expectations, the management of classroom routines and the extent to which children were independent and self-reliant. Lessons were slow to start, pace was not maintained and time was wasted during transitions. Pupils in these classes received the lowest ratings of self-reliance.

Shared objectives

Teachers in excellent and good schools ensured that the concepts and ideas presented in lessons were understood by all children. They checked that children understood the main ideas of the lesson and intervened when understanding was not clear or complete, even if this required a change part way through the lesson or activity.
Although most teachers ensured the learning intention of the lesson/activity was clear (e.g., by writing the “learning objectives” on the board), teachers in excellent schools were especially good at making sure the children understood what this meant. Pupils in these classes were very clear about what they were expected to achieve and how much time they were given to do it.
In contrast, objectives, learning concepts and ideas were less clear in schools rated as poor.
Teachers were slower in checking and correcting pupils’ understanding of key concepts and ideas. Although children in these classrooms were aware of their lesson objectives, it was not clear whether they fully understood them or how to achieve them, and they were much less focused and less motivated to meet these goals.


Teachers in excellent and good schools set homework that was more meaningful and more clearly linked to what the children were learning. They had a more flexible approach to setting homework, which was set to extend and deepen the children’s understanding.
In schools rated as poor, teachers set homework simply because they were required to, and the work itself did not appear to be expressly linked to what the children were learning in class. There were no examples of teachers using opportunities that arose during a lesson to set homework other than what was already planned.

Classroom climate

Classroom climate (the overall feeling in a classroom, evidenced through teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil relationships) was rated highly in excellent and good schools. For example, in classrooms in both excellent and good schools children appeared to be liked and respected by their peers.
The overall classroom climate in poor schools was less favourable and sometimes unpleasant.
Teachers were more likely to display negativity (disapproval, reprimands, expression of teacher’s dislike, etc.) and children in poor schools were less sociable and less cooperative than their peers in other schools.

Behaviour management

The differences between the three groups of schools were evident when considering the management of behaviour. Children in excellent and good schools were less disruptive and rarely needed to be disciplined. Where teachers did need to correct behaviour, they used humour or a quiet reminder.
Although overall levels of indiscipline throughout the sample were generally low, children in schools rated as poor were more disruptive and teachers disciplined them more frequently. Discipline was often public and sometimes involved threats, personal attacks, shaming or belittling children. Levels of chaos were significantly higher in these classrooms, and teachers practised “over control” – rigid approaches designed to meet the teachers’ (rather than children’s) needs with teacher-dominated talk.

Collaborative learning

Children in excellent schools spent relatively more time, overall, in collaborative learning situations than those in poor schools, although overall the amount of time children spent in these groups was fairly low.

Personalised teaching and learning

Teachers in excellent and good schools were more likely to personalise their pupils’ learning experiences. They did this by being sensitive to the individual needs of the children in their classes and by providing learning materials that were rich and varied. They were rated very low in teacher detachment (e.g., distancing themselves from their pupils by staying at their desks, not offering feedback, not noticing children’s behaviour or needs) and high in providing social support for pupil learning, particularly in literacy.
Teachers in excellent schools were exceptionally sensitive to the needs of the children and provided outstanding learning materials specifically chosen and adapted for their pupils. The individual needs of the Year 5 children in these schools were met through their teachers’ friendly approach, high expectations and appropriately challenging and differentiated tasks.

Making links explicit

On the whole, there were few instances of teachers making extra and cross-curricular links explicit. Teachers in excellent schools were better able and more consistent in making links with areas outside the specific lesson.

Dialogic teaching and learning

The extent of dialogic teaching showed few differences between the three groups of schools, except in maths where teachers in excellent schools received the highest ratings on using dialogic teaching and learning. Teachers in excellent and good schools were rated significantly higher on dialogic teaching for their use of analysis in maths and in the depth of their pupils’ knowledge and understanding. They were also rated more highly on maths discussion and communication, and on sharing the locus of maths authority. In literacy, they were rated higher on instructional conversations.

Assessment for Learning (AfL)

Teachers in excellent and good schools provided more evaluative feedback than those in poor schools. In addition, teachers in excellent schools provided greater opportunities for pupils to reflect on their learning through review than teachers in both good and poor schools, who did not differ in providing these opportunities.


Teachers in excellent and good schools included plenaries in their lessons almost twice as often as those in poor schools.
In addition, those in excellent schools were more likely to use the plenary to provide opportunities for further discussion, to explore issues in more depth and to extend work and concepts covered in the lesson. In poor schools, a plenary session was often not included at the end of the lesson.

Good teachers did all of the above but teachers in excellent schools excelled in their:

  • organisational skills;
  • positive classroom climate;
  • personalised, highly interactive approaches to teaching and learning;
  • use of dialogic teaching and learning and
  • more frequent and effective use of the plenary.


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Jazz musicians are more creative than classical musicians (research)

A new study compared the personality and creativity of classical, jazz, and folk musicians. As Jazz musicians are more into improvisation, it’s not that surprising that they deemed more creative than classical musicians. Jazz musicians showed also higher divergent thinking ability than both folk and classical musicians. If you look at the Big Five-personality traits, most of the traits aren’t significant different when looking at the musical genres, but the study also describes folk musicians as more extraverted (but significant only at .05 level while the creativity differences.

Also interesting is this insight:

…we did not observe group differences in error orientation or motivational variables between music genres in this study. This is an interesting finding as one might have expected that jazz musicians e.g. are more comfortable with risk taking during their improvisational play.

Still, there is an important thing to know about this study, they should rather say student musicians. A total of 120 students enrolled in the study of instrumental pedagogy at the University of Music and Arts in Graz participated in this study, after exclusion a n of 99 students remained. Also when you read the study, the emphasis is strongly on Jazz musicians, the other 2 genres are more used as a means of comparison.

Hat tip to @daanballegeer for mentioning this study.

Abstract of the study (open access when writing this blog):

The music genre of jazz is commonly associated with creativity. However, this association has hardly been formally tested. Therefore, this study aimed at examining whether jazz musicians actually differ in creativity and personality from musicians of other music genres. We compared students of classical music, jazz music, and folk music with respect to their musical activities, psychometric creativity and different aspects of personality. In line with expectations, jazz musicians are more frequently engaged in extracurricular musical activities, and also complete a higher number of creative musical achievements. Additionally, jazz musicians show higher ideational creativity as measured by divergent thinking tasks, and tend to be more open to new experiences than classical musicians. This study provides first empirical evidence that jazz musicians show particularly high creativity with respect to domain-specific musical accomplishments but also in terms of domain-general indicators of divergent thinking ability that may be relevant for musical improvisation. The findings are further discussed with respect to differences in formal and informal learning approaches between music genres.

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New research warns: beware of trivial graphs and formulas

We mentioned earlier on that some research suggests that people tend to believe something more if there are brain images included, although the research isn’t that conclusive. Published this week in Public Understanding of Science, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found trivial graphs or formulas accompanying medical information can lead consumers to believe products are more effective.

From the press release:

“Your faith in science may actually make you more likely to trust information that appears scientific but really doesn’t tell you much,” said lead author Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing.”

The study showed that when a graph — with no new information — was added to the description of a medication, 96.6 percent of people believed that the medicines were effective in reducing illness verses 67.7 percent of people who were shown the product information without the graph.

“Even those with professed faith in science were more likely to be swayed by trivial scientific looking product information,” said Tal. “In fact, the more people believed in science, the more they were convinced by the graphs. What this means is that when you read claims about new products, whether it’s a medication or a new technology, you should ask yourself, ‘where does this information come from?’, ‘what’s the basis for the claims being made?’ Don’t let things that look scientific but don’t really tell you much fool you. Sometimes a graph is just a graph!”

Abstract of the research:

The appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness. Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis. In our studies, including simple elements, such as graphs (Studies 1–2) or a chemical formula (Study 3), increased belief in a medication’s efficacy. This appears to be due to the association of such elements with science, rather than increased comprehensibility, use of visuals, or recall. Belief in science moderates the persuasive effect of graphs, such that people who have a greater belief in science are more affected by the presence of graphs (Study 2). Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion despite their not truly indicating scientific expertise or objective support.

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Digital native fallacy: Teachers still know better when it comes to using technology (new study)

It’s a recurring theme on this blog and I’ve just finished a paper as second author on the topic with Paul Kirschner. This new study confirms all the studies we’ve checked for our paper: adults know digital better than kids.

From the press release (bold by me):

Members of today’s younger Net Generation aren’t more tech savvy than their teachers just because they were born into a world full of computers. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaxing and support of their educators, many students would never use their electronic devices for more than playing games or listening to music. So says Shiang-Kwei Wang of the New York Institute of Technology in the US, who led a study on how middle school science teachers and their students use technology inside and outside the classroom. The findings¹ appear in the journal Educational Technology Research & Development², published by Springer.

Wang and her team investigated the technology skills of 24 science teachers and 1,078 middle school students from 18 different schools in two US states. The students surveyed are considered third-generation digital natives, for whom technology access and ownership has become the norm.

Both teachers and students were found to have rich outside-of-school technology experience, but students were not tech savvy in the classroom. Most were not very familiar with information and communication technology or even Web 2.0 tools designed to make information production and sharing easier. Their teachers, on the other hand, depended much more on using technology to solve daily problems, to improve productivity, and as learning aids.

Wang says that this disconnection cannot be linked to how old teachers are or what kind of technology skills they have. The problem rather lies with how little opportunity students get to practice technology beyond pursuing personal interests, such as entertainment. Much depends on how teachers require their students to make use of new technologies, and the ways that these technologies are integrated into teaching. School-related tasks usually require students to use technology limited to researching information and writing papers. Rarely do teachers provide opportunities to allow students to use technology to solve problems, enhance productivity, or develop creativity.

The findings reinforce directions currently being proposed to reduce the gap between how technology is used inside and outside the school setting. High-quality training should be provided to teachers on how they can integrate content-specific technology into their curricula – and how to teach their students how to use technology more effectively in the process.

“School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but they need guidance to learn how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated thinking problems,” says Wang. “The school setting is the only institution that might create the needs to shape and facilitate students’ technology experience. Once teachers introduce students to a new technology to support learning, they quickly learn how to use it.”

Abstract of the research:

The purpose of the study is to investigate the popular assumption that the ‘‘digital natives’’ generation surpasses the previous ‘‘digital immigrants’’ generation in terms of their technology experiences, because they grow up with information and com- munication technology. The assumption presumes that teachers, the digital immigrants, are less technology savvy than the digital natives, resulting in a disconnect between students’ technology experiences inside and outside of the formal school setting. To examine the intersection of these generations and their technology experiences, this study used a mixed- methods approach to survey and compare middle school science teachers’ (n = 24) and their students’ (n = 1,060) inside–outside school technology experiences, and conducted focus group interviews to investigate any barriers that prevented them from using tech- nology in school. The findings imply that the concept of digital natives may be misleading and that the disconnect between students’ inside–outside school technology experiences may be the result of the lack of sufficient teacher training concerning technology inte- gration strategies.

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ResearchEd-presentation by Dorothy Bishop on educational neuroscience (video)

Slides for this talk are available here and do check her blog here.

Oh, I sure like her suggestion for kidney-based learning ;).

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How the brain tricks us to believe we have sharp vision (study)

We always need to be careful in believing what we see. We also assume that we can see the world around us in sharp detail. In fact, our eyes can only process a fraction of our surroundings precisely. In a series of experiments, psychologists have been investigating how the brain fools us into believing that we see in sharp detail.

From the press release:

“In our study we are dealing with the question of why we believe that we see the world uniformly detailed,” says Dr. Arvid Herwig from the Neuro-Cognitive Psychology research group of the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science. The group is also affiliated to the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) of Bielefeld University and is led by Professor Dr. Werner X. Schneider.

Only the fovea, the central area of the retina, can process objects precisely. We should therefore only be able to see a small area of our environment in sharp detail. This area is about the size of a thumb nail at the end of an outstretched arm. In contrast, all visual impressions which occur outside the fovea on the retina become progressively coarse. Nevertheless, we commonly have the impression that we see large parts of our environment in sharp detail.

Herwig and Schneider have been getting to the bottom of this phenomenon with a series of experiments. Their approach presumes that people learn through countless eye movements over a lifetime to connect the coarse impressions of objects outside the fovea to the detailed visual impressions after the eye has moved to the object of interest. For example, the coarse visual impression of a football (blurred image of a football) is connected to the detailed visual impression after the eye has moved. If a person sees a football out of the corner of her eye, her brain will compare this current blurred picture with memorised images of blurred objects. If the brain finds an image that fits, it will replace the coarse image with a precise image from memory. This blurred visual impression is replaced before the eye moves. The person thus thinks that she already sees the ball clearly, although this is not the case.

The psychologists have been using eye-tracking experiments to test their approach. Using the eye-tracking technique, eye movements are measured accurately with a specific camera which records 1000 images per second. In their experiments, the scientists have recorded fast balistic eye movements (saccades) of test persons. Though most of the participants did not realise it, certain objects were changed during eye movement. The aim was that the test persons learn new connections between visual stimuli from inside and outside the fovea, in other words from detailed and coarse impressions. Afterwards, the participants were asked to judge visual characteristics of objects outside the area of the fovea. The result showed that the connection between a coarse and detailed visual impression occurred after just a few minutes. The coarse visual impressions became similar to the newly learnt detailed visual impressions.

“The experiments show that our perception depends in large measure on stored visual experiences in our memory,” says Arvid Herwig. According to Herwig and Schneider, these experiences serve to predict the effect of future actions (“What would the world look like after a further eye movement”). In other words: “We do not see the actual world, but our predictions.”

Abstract of the study:

When we move our eyes, we process objects in the visual field with different spatial resolution due to the nonhomogeneity of our visual system. In particular, peripheral objects are only coarsely represented, whereas they are represented with high acuity when foveated. To keep track of visual features of objects across eye movements, these changes in spatial resolution have to be taken into account. Here, we develop and test a new framework proposing a visual feature prediction mechanism based on past experience to deal with changes in spatial resolution accompanying saccadic eye movements. In 3 experiments, we first exposed participants to an altered visual stimulation where, unnoticed by participants, 1 object systematically changed visual features during saccades. Experiments 1 and 2 then demonstrate that feature prediction during peripheral object recognition is biased toward previously associated postsaccadic foveal input and that this effect is particularly associated with making saccades. Moreover, Experiment 3 shows that during visual search, feature prediction is biased toward previously associated presaccadic peripheral input. Together, these findings demonstrate that the visual system uses past experience to predict how peripheral objects will look in the fovea, and what foveal search templates should look like in the periphery. As such, they support our framework based on ideomotor theory and shed new light on the mystery of why we are most of the time unaware of acuity limitations in the periphery and of our ability to locate relevant objects in the periphery.

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The Missing Link


A critical analysis of Bloom’s taxonomy, or rather of the many ideas derived from this taxonomy. Great phrase to quote “There is no shortcut to understanding and good teachers know this.”

Originally posted on Webs of Substance:

I think that we can all agree that Bloom’s taxonomy is a terrible way of viewing learning. This is not because it really isn’t based on anything. Although it really isn’t; it’s just something that a committee of worthy people made-up. It is not even because Bloom’s tries to generalise the movement from simple to complex across widely different subjects. Clearly, different subjects proceed from simple to complex in their own sweet ways and Bloom’s just encourages whole-staff training meetings where people talk in vague and general terms. However, this is still not the main problem. Talking in vague and general terms might be a waste of time but it is not actively harmful.

No, the problem with Bloom’s is the way that it is interpreted; the way in which, intentionally or otherwise, it encourages people to teach. For instance, here is the current version of Bloom’s taxonomy:


And here is the…

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Study suggests: action video games bolster sensorimotor skills

Sometimes it seems that people think you can only learn how to be bad via action video games although there isn’t a consensus about this aspect. Still we know that reading is probably better for cognitive development, although video games aren’t bad neither for certain cognitive skills. And this new study suggests that people who play action video games such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed seem to learn a new sensorimotor skill more quickly than non-gamers do. The study is based on an experiment with a rather little n, but interesting enough to share.

From the press release (bold by me):

A new sensorimotor skill, such as learning to ride a bike or typing, often requires a new pattern of coordination between vision and motor movement. With such skills, an individual generally moves from novice performance, characterized by a low degree of coordination, to expert performance, marked by a high degree of coordination. As a result of successful sensorimotor learning, one comes to perform these tasks efficiently and perhaps even without consciously thinking about them.

“We wanted to understand if chronic video game playing has an effect on sensorimotor control, that is, the coordinated function of vision and hand movement,” said graduate student Davood Gozli, who led the study with supervisor Jay Pratt.

To find out, they set up two experiments. In the first, 18 gamers (those who played a first-person shooter game at least three times per week for at least two hours each time in the previous six months) and 18 non-gamers (who had little or no video game use in the past two years) performed a manual tracking task. Using a computer mouse, they were instructed to keep a small green square cursor at the centre of a white square moving target which moved in a very complicated pattern that repeated itself. The task probes sensorimotor control, because participants see the target movement and try to coordinate their hand movements with what they see.

In the early stages of doing the tasks, the gamers’ performance was not significantly better than non-gamers. “This suggests that while chronically playing action video games requires constant motor control, playing these games does not give gamers a reliable initial advantage in new and unfamiliar sensorimotor tasks,” said Gozli.

By the end of the experiment, all participants performed better as they learned the complex pattern of the target. The gamers, however, were significantly more accurate in following the repetitive motion than the non-gamers. “This is likely due to the gamers’ superior ability in learning a novel sensorimotor pattern, that is, their gaming experience enabled them to learn better than the non-gamers.”

In the next experiment, the researchers wanted to test whether the superior performance of the gamers was indeed a result of learning rather than simply having better sensorimotor control. To eliminate the learning component of the experiment, they required participants to again track a moving dot, but in this case the patterns of motion changed throughout the experiment. The result this time: neither the gamers nor the non-gamers improved as time went by, confirming that learning was playing a key role and the gamers were learning better.

One of the benefits of playing action games may be an enhanced ability to precisely learn the dynamics of new sensorimotor tasks. Such skills are key, for example, in laparoscopic surgery which involves high precision manual control of remote surgery tools through a computer interface.

The research was done in collaboration with Daphne Bavelier who has appointments with both the University of Geneva and the University of Rochester.

Their study is published in the journal Human Movement Science.

Abstract of the study:

Research on the impact of action video game playing has revealed performance advantages on a wide range of perceptual and cognitive tasks. It is not known, however, if playing such games confers similar advantages in sensorimotor learning. To address this issue, the present study used a manual motion-tracking task that allowed for a sensitive measure of both accuracy and improvement over time. When the target motion pattern was consistent over trials, gamers improved with a faster rate and eventually outperformed non-gamers. Performance between the two groups, however, did not differ initially. When the target motion was inconsistent, changing on every trial, results revealed no difference between gamers and non-gamers. Together, our findings suggest that video game playing confers no reliable benefit in sensorimotor control, but it does enhance sensorimotor learning, enabling superior performance in tasks with consistent and predictable structure.

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Funny on Sunday: Increasing Number Of U.S. Toddlers Attending Online Preschool

The Onion is so often great (remember their piece on Teach for America). This satiric news article on toddlers and online school is no exception.

A short fragment:

“With access to their Show-And-Tell message boards, recess timers, and live webcams of class turtle tanks, most toddlers are finding that they can receive the same experience of traditional preschooling from the comfort of their parents’ living room or home office. In addition, most cited the ability to listen to their teacher’s recordings of story time at their own pace as a significant benefit of choosing an online nursery school.”

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