Read two free chapters of The Ingredients for Great Teaching: Something about a burned steak and Prior knowledge: how learning begins

My new book The Ingredients for Great Teaching is almost available now. For the people who really can’t wait or who want to learn something about the importance of prior knowledge, I’ve got great news. Sage lets you download the second chapter for free!

Click this link to access the chapter. This free access offer is only available till the 31st of March. After that Sage will be closing the page. So get it while it’s hot. And if you want to read also the first chapter of the book, click on look inside on Amazon.


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Funny on Sunday: meetnapping

I first thought it was about taking a nap during a meeting, but it’s much, much worse

Found via Tommy Opgenhaffen.

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The benefits from an university education: students more agreeable, conscientiousness

Earlier this week I read something by an author who claimed that there weren’t any benefits to schools and education. This new recent study published in Oxford Economic Papers shows that author wrong, very wrong as it shows a robust positive relationship between university education and extraversion, and agreeableness, in addition to the expected intellectual benefits. Even better, the study also shows that the impact of education on these skills is even much more for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

From the press release:

University education coincides with the transition from adolescence into young adulthood. The nature of this maturation process is toward increasing levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability and decreasing levels of openness to experience and extraversion. University training may alter this maturation process: Theoretically, it could boost, weaken, or even reverse population trends in personality trait maturation.

University education may impact character skills development by providing students with exposure to new peer groups and extracurricular activities including sport, politics, and art. Because students from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to be more affected by a change in peer groups through day-to-day interaction with academically inclined peers and academic groups, there may be a greater effect of university education on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

To measure character skills researchers used five personality traits–openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism–which are widely accepted as a meaningful construct for describing differences in character skills by psychologists. Some of these character skills- extraversion or openness to new experiences – are important for employers. Other character skills- like agreeableness – are related to preferences such as reciprocity and altruism, which are significant for personal health and wellbeing.

To identify the effect of university education, researchers followed the education and character skills trajectories of 575 adolescents over eight years using nationally-representative, longitudinal data from the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey. The data provide measures of character skills before potential university entry, and follow up measures four and eight years later.

The results indicate that every additional year spent at university is associated with increases in extraversion and agreeableness for youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The results show that university education has positive effects on extraversion, reversing a downward sloping population trend in outward orientation as people age. It also accelerates an upward-sloping population trend in agreeableness for students from low socioeconomic status, boosting agreeableness scores from the lowest levels observed at baseline to the highest levels at the eight-year follow up. This finding suggests that the causal mechanism is likely to operate through actual exposure to university life, rather than through academic course content. Such interpretation is strengthened by the observation that length of exposure to university life is positively associated with character development.

As yet, no empirical evidence has existed on the matter. This study provides a robust empirical look at the role that university education plays in skills development in adolescents. Australian universities contribute to building sociability (extraversion) and the tendency to cooperate (agreeableness).

In addition, university education is associated with higher levels of agreeableness for both male and female students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, who started from the lowest baseline scores in adolescence and experienced the steepest growth curve as they entered university. This implies that students from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up with their peers from more privileged backgrounds, thus reducing initial levels of inequality in agreeableness.

“We see quite clearly that students’ personalities change when they go to university, said the paper’s lead researcher,” Sonja Kassenboehmer. “Universities provide an intensive new learning and social environment for adolescents, so it is not surprising that this experience could impact on students’ personality. It is good news that universities not only seem to teach subject-specific skills, but also seem to succeed in shaping skills valued by employers and society.”

Abstract of the study:

We examine the effect of university education on students’ non-cognitive skills (NCS) using high-quality Australian longitudinal data. To isolate the skill-building effects of tertiary education, we follow the education decisions and NCS—proxied by the Big Five personality traits—of 575 adolescents over eight years. Estimating a standard skill production function, we demonstrate a robust positive relationship between university education and extraversion, and agreeableness for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The effects are likely to operate through exposure to university life rather than through degree-specific curricula or university-specific teaching quality. As extraversion and agreeableness are associated with socially beneficial behaviours, we propose that university education may have important non-market returns.


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No evidence Omega-3 fish oil supplements improve reading ability or memory

It’s something that sometimes pop up for a possible item in one of our Urban Myths books: the link between food and learning. Well, this study could than come in handy if we ever would include it… But even better: this study is an example of a very honest team of researchers: New research has found no evidence Omega-3 fish oil supplements help aid or improve the reading ability or memory function of underperforming schoolchildren. These findings are in contradiction to an earlier study run by the same team using the same supplement.

I really appreciate this kind of replication with preregistration even if it’s on your own earlier research. Respect!

From the press release:

In the second high-quality trial of its kind, published in PLOS ONE, the researchers found an entirely different result to an earlier study carried out in 2012, where omega-3 supplements were found to have a beneficial effect on the reading ability and working memory of school children with learning needs such as ADHD.

In this second study, the researchers tested children who were in the bottom quarter of ability in reading, and found that fish oil supplements did not have any or very little effect on the children’s reading ability or working memory and behaviours.

The team from the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford tested 376 children aged 7-9 years old, learning to read, but in the bottom quarter in terms of their ability.

Half of the children took a daily Omega-3 fish oil supplement and the remaining children took a placebo for 16 weeks.

Their reading and working memories were tested before and after by their parents at home and teachers in school — with no real differences found in the outcomes.

Professor Paul Montgomery, University of Birmingham, who led the research said: “We are all keen to help kids who are struggling at school and in these times of limited resources, my view is that funds should be spent on more promising interventions. The effects here, while good for a few kids, were not substantial for the many.”

Dr Thees Spreckelsen, University of Oxford, Co-Author of the report added: “Fish oil or Omega-3 fatty acids are widely regarded as beneficial. However, the evidence on benefits for children’s learning and behaviour is clearly not as strong as previously thought.”

Abstract of the study:

Omega-3 fatty acids are central to brain-development of children. Evidence from clinical trials and systematic reviews demonstrates the potential of long-chain Omega-3 supplementation for learning and behavior. However, findings are inconclusive and in need of robust replication studies since such work is lacking.

Replication of the 2012 DOLAB 1 study findings that a dietary supplementation with the long-chain omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) had beneficial effects on the reading, working memory, and behavior of healthy schoolchildren.

Parallel group, fixed-dose, randomized (minimization, 30% random element), double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (RCT).

Mainstream primary schools (n = 84) from five counties in the UK in 2012–2015.

Healthy children aged 7–9 underperforming in reading (<20th centile). 1230 invited, 376 met study criteria.

600 mg/day DHA (from algal oil), placebo: taste/color matched corn/soybean oil; for 16 weeks.

Main outcome measures
Age-standardized measures of reading, working memory, and behavior, parent-rated and as secondary outcome teacher-rated.

376 children were randomized. Reading, working memory, and behavior change scores showed no consistent differences between intervention and placebo group. Some behavioral subscales showed minor group differences.

This RCT did not replicate results of the earlier DOLAB 1 study on the effectiveness of nutritional supplementation with DHA for learning and behavior. Possible reasons are discussed, particularly regarding the replication of complex interventions

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Funny on Sunday: how to argue with research you don’t like?

H/T Carl Hendrick

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My #IngredientsForGreatTeaching presentation at #rEDHan

This was the presentation I gave at my first stop of my little world tour promoting my new book for this lovely audience:

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Double meta-analysis on Growth Mindset: how big are the effects really?

It has been quite a Mindset-week as earlier this week I wrote this post on a new big well performed study. But there is more, as also this week a new double meta-analysis was published on the same intervention.

Stuart Ritchie summarized the study as follows:

But maybe the best summary comes from the authors of the study themselves:

Some researchers have claimed that mind-set interventions can “lead to large gains in student achievement” and have “striking effects on educational achievement” (Yeager & Walton, 2011, pp. 267 and 268, respectively). Overall, our results do not support these claims. Mind- set interventions on academic achievement were non- significant for adolescents, typical students, and students facing situational challenges (transitioning to a new school, experiencing stereotype threat). How- ever, our results support claims that academically high- risk students and economically disadvantaged students may benefit from growth-mind-set interventions (see Paunesku et al., 2015; Raizada & Kishiyama, 2010), although these results should be interpreted with caution because

(a) few effect sizes contributed to these results,

(b) high-risk students did not differ significantly from non-high-risk students, and

(c) relatively small sample sizes contributed to the low-SES group.

The results do not support the claim that mind-set interventions benefit both high- and low-achieving students (e.g., see Mindset Scholars Network4). Mind-set interventions are relatively low cost and take little time, so there may be a net benefit for students’ academic achievement. However, there may be a detriment relative to fixed-mind-set conditions when students are confident in their abilities (Mendoza-Denton et al., 2008). Regardless, those seeking more than modest effects or effects for all students are unlikely to find them. To this end, policies and resources targeting all students might not be prudent.

This week I had a few talks about this on- and offline. As written in the summary some colleague researchers argued that a mindset intervention can be extremely low-cost, so that even a very small effect is to be welcomed. I think this meta-analysis adds more than enough food for thought, even for this point of view.

Abstract of the meta-analyses:

Mind-sets (aka implicit theories) are beliefs about the nature of human attributes (e.g., intelligence). The theory holds that individuals with growth mind-sets (beliefs that attributes are malleable with effort) enjoy many positive outcomes—including higher academic achievement—while their peers who have fixed mind-sets experience negative outcomes. Given this relationship, interventions designed to increase students’ growth mind-sets—thereby increasing their academic achievement—have been implemented in schools around the world. In our first meta-analysis (k = 273, N = 365,915), we examined the strength of the relationship between mind-set and academic achievement and potential moderating factors. In our second meta-analysis (k = 43, N = 57,155), we examined the effectiveness of mind-set interventions on academic achievement and potential moderating factors. Overall effects were weak for both meta-analyses. However, some results supported specific tenets of the theory, namely, that students with low socioeconomic status or who are academically at risk might benefit from mind-set interventions.

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There is something strange with most studies on the effects of meditation

Yesterday I found out about this new review study and meta-analysis on meditation via a tweet by Neuroskeptic. What did the researchers find? Well, read on…

First the good news:

Despite these high hopes, our analysis suggests that meditating is likely to have a positive, but still relatively limited effect in making individuals feel or act in a substantially more socially connected, or less aggressive and prejudiced way. Compared to doing no new emotionally engaging activity, it might make one feel moderately more compassionate or empathic…

Well, that’s not that bad, there is an effect but it’s moderate.

But there is more:

…but our findings suggest that these effects may be, at least in part, the result of methodological frailties, such as biases introduced by the meditation teacher, the type of control group used and the beliefs and expectations of participants about the power of meditation.

To make it more concrete:

…compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one.

The researchers aren’t saying there isn’t an effect, what they are saying is:

…the adaptation of spiritual practices into the lab suffers from methodological weaknesses and is partly immersed in theoretical mist. Before good research can be conducted on the prosocial effects of meditation, these problems need to be addressed.

Abstract of the report:

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

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Effective reading programs for secondary students (Best evidence in brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I’m picking this study from their overview:

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin from our Center for Research and Reform in Education have completed an update to their report on effective secondary reading programs. The paper, A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students, focuses on 69 studies that used random assignment (n=62) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 51 programs on widely accepted measures of reading.
The authors found that categories of programs using one-to-one and small-group tutoring, cooperative learning, whole-school approaches including organizational reforms such as teacher teams, and writing-focused approaches showed positive outcomes. Individual approaches in a few other categories also showed positive impacts. These approaches included programs emphasizing social studies/science, structured strategies, and personalized and group/personalization rotation approaches for struggling readers. Programs that provide a daily extra period of reading and those utilizing technology were no more effective, on average, than programs that did not provide these resources.
The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from socially and cognitively engaging instruction than from additional reading periods or technology.

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Don’t try this at home or in school just yet: anxiety can help your memory (but it has several downsides)

Ok, the title was maybe a bit of clickbait, still I’ve seen worse conclusions made in the past based on research:  a study from the University of Waterloo has found that anxiety can help people to remember things. Still, I know that math-anxiety does the opposite to a math-exam, so the key word is probably can.

An extra reason why I wrote the title is because this experiment actually was meant for educators, but that another key concept is manageable levels of optimal anxiety . Manage that…

From the press release (bold are some warning signs made bold by me):

Anxiety can help people to remember things, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

The study of 80 undergraduate students found that manageable levels of anxiety actually aided people in being able to recall the details of events.

It also found that when anxiety levels got too high or descended into fear, it could lead to the colouring of memories where people begin to associate otherwise neutral elements of an experience to the negative context.

“People with high anxiety have to be careful,” said co-author Myra Fernandes, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.

“To some degree, there is an optimal level of anxiety that is going to benefit your memory, but we know from other research that high levels of anxiety can cause people to reach a tipping point, which impacts their memories and performance.”

The study saw 80 undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo (64 females) complete the experiment. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to a deep encoding instruction group while the other half were randomly assigned to a shallow encoding group. All participants completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales.

It was discovered that individuals high in anxiety showed a heightened sensitivity to the influences of emotional context on their memory, with neutral information becoming tainted, or coloured by the emotion with which it was associated during encoding

“By thinking about emotional events or by thinking about negative events this might put you in a negative mindset that can bias you or change the way you perceive your current environment,” said Christopher Lee, a psychology Ph. D. candidate at Waterloo. “So, I think for the general public it is important to be aware of what biases you might bring to the table or what particular mindset you might be viewing the world in and how that might ultimately shape what we walk away seeing.”

Fernandes also said that for educators, it is important to be mindful that there could be individual factors that influence the retention of the material they are teaching and that lightening the mood when teaching could be beneficial.

Abstract of the study:

We investigated whether anxious individuals, who adopt an inherently negative mindset, demonstrate a particularly salient memory bias for words tainted by negative contexts. To this end, sequentially presented target words, overlayed onto negative or neutral pictures, were studied in separate blocks (within-subjects) using a deep or shallow encoding instruction (between-subjects). Following study, in Test 1, participants completed separate recognition test blocks for the words overlayed onto the negative and the neutral contexts. Following this, in Test 2, participants completed a recognition test for the foils from each Test 1 block. We found a significant three-way interaction on Test 2, such that individuals with high anxiety who initially studied target words using a shallow encoding instruction, demonstrated significantly elevated memory for foils that were contained within the negative Test 1 block. Results show that during retrieval (Test 1), participants re-entered the mode of processing (negative or neutral) engaged at encoding, tainting the encoding of foils with that same mode of processing. The findings suggest that individuals with high relative to low anxiety, adopt a particularly salient negative retrieval mode, and this creates a downstream bias in encoding and subsequent retrieval of otherwise neutral information.

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A preregistered test of Growth mindset produces a .03 improvement in GPA (and sets a gold standard)

I have had a couple of people tweeting this study today and I can understand why:

  • This study is a preregistered test which means that the researchers give their plans free beforehand so they can’t alter anything afterwards.
  • The study has a huge sample (12,542),
  • There was a field setting (65 U.S. public schools),
  • They also used independent research consultancy for many aspects of the research process,

To sum it up:

But what are the results?

The good:

While this may seem small, do note, this is actually not bad for a very low-cost intervention. But it’s more nuanced as the researchers state:

…the growth mindset intervention effect was heterogeneous in predictable ways. Some sub-groups of students (lower-achievers) and schools (those with supportive behavioral norms) showed appreciably larger increases in grades.

But what do we learn from this, another favorite tweep sums it up as follows:

And also this question remains:

You can check the preprint here from which this is the abstract:

A pressing global challenge is to identify interventions that improve adolescents’ developmental trajectories. But no intervention will work for all young people everywhere. It is critical then to study the heterogeneity of intervention effects in a way that is generalizable and replicable. In the National Study of Learning Mindsets (N = 12,542) researchers randomly assigned 9th grade students in a representative sample of 65 U.S. public schools to a growth mindset intervention, which conveyed that intellectual abilities are not fixed but can be developed. The brief (~50-minute), scalable and low-cost intervention reduced by 3 percentage points the rate at which adolescents in the U.S. were off-track for graduation at the end of the year, corresponding to an estimated benefit of approximately 100,000 adolescents per year. This is the first experimental evidence that an intervention can improve adolescents’ educational trajectories in a national probability sample. Yet the growth mindset intervention effect was heterogeneous in predictable ways. Some sub-groups of students (lower-achievers) and schools (those with supportive behavioral norms) showed appreciably larger increases in grades. Heterogeneity findings were reproduced in a conservative Bayesian “sum-of-regression-trees” analysis, which guards against false discoveries. These findings lead to novel hypotheses about ways to enhance intervention effects and target public policies. Findings also illustrate the power of even slight adjustments in motivational priorities to create enduring change during adolescence.



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