Interesting post by Greg!
It is often argued that science is no good for analysing educational practices. The use of science is dismissed as ‘positivism’ or perhaps ‘scientism’. The claim is that human relationships are really complicated and so cannot be subjected to the same analytical techniques as atoms and molecules. We cannot possibly know how any given individual will react to a particular approach and so the determinism of science is profoundly flawed. Some have even argued that such complexities mean that there is no such thing as a teaching method.
Although I accept the limitations of science – we cannot use it to decide what is moral – I am sceptical about the idea that science has little to offer education. It is similar to claims that people used to make about medicine. The whole point of using a statistical approach is to tease out underlying mechanisms. Statistics take account of the…
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I like the work of Stuart Ritchie very much. This little twitter rant he shared with the world yesterday is actually very enlightening for anyone reading research:
Bilingualism keeps me fascinated. This new study shows that the 2 languages of young bilingual children develop simultaneously but independently from each other. But there is more: the study also shows Spanish is vulnerable to being taken over by English, but English is not vulnerable to being taken over by Spanish.
Btw, the study has also a video-abstract:
From the press release:
A new study of Spanish-English bilingual children by researchers at Florida Atlantic University published in the journal Developmental Science finds that when children learn two languages from birth each language proceeds on its own independent course, at a rate that reflects the quality of the children’s exposure to each language.
In addition, the study finds that Spanish skills become vulnerable as children’s English skills develop, but English is not vulnerable to being taken over by Spanish. In their longitudinal data, the researchers found evidence that as the children developed stronger skills in English, their rates of Spanish growth declined. Spanish skills did not cause English growth to slow, so it’s not a matter of necessary trade-offs between two languages.
“One well established fact about monolingual development is that the size of children’s vocabularies and the grammatical complexity of their speech are strongly related. It turns out that this is true for each language in bilingual children,” said Erika Hoff, Ph.D., lead author of the study, a psychology professor in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and director of the Language Development Lab. “But vocabulary and grammar in one language are not related to vocabulary or grammar in the other language.”
For the study, Hoff and her collaborators David Giguere, a graduate research assistant at FAU and Jamie M. Quinn, a graduate research assistant at Florida State University, used longitudinal data on children who spoke English and Spanish as first languages and who were exposed to both languages from birth. They wanted to know if the relationship between grammar and vocabulary were specific to a language or more language general. They measured the vocabulary and level of grammatical development in these children in six-month intervals between the ages of 2 and a half to 4 years.
The researchers explored a number of possibilities during the study. They thought it might be something internal to the child that causes vocabulary and grammar to develop on the same timetable or that there might be dependencies in the process of language development itself. They also considered that children might need certain vocabulary to start learning grammar and that vocabulary provides the foundation for grammar or that grammar helps children learn vocabulary. One final possibility they explored is that it may be an external factor that drives both vocabulary development and grammatical development.
“If it’s something internal that paces language development then it shouldn’t matter if it’s English or Spanish, everything should be related to everything,” said Hoff. “On the other hand, if it’s dependencies within a language of vocabulary and grammar or vice versa then the relations should be language specific and one should predict the other. That is a child’s level of grammar should predict his or her future growth in vocabulary or vice versa.”
Turns out, the data were consistent only with the final possibility — that the rate of vocabulary and grammar development are a function of something external to the child and that exerts separate influences on growth in English and Spanish. Hoff and her collaborators suggest that the most cogent explanation would be in the properties of children’s input or their language exposure.
“Children may hear very rich language use in Spanish and less rich use in English, for example, if their parents are more proficient in Spanish than in English,” said Hoff. “If language growth were just a matter of some children being better at language learning than others, then growth in English and growth in Spanish would be more related than they are.”
Detailed results of the study are described in the article, “What Explains the Correlation between Growth in Vocabulary and Grammar? New Evidence from Latent Change Score Analyses of Simultaneous Bilingual Development.”
“There is something about differences among the children and the quality of English they hear that make some children acquire vocabulary and grammar more rapidly in English and other children develop more slowly,” said Hoff. “I think the key takeaway from our study is that it’s not the quantity of what the children are hearing; it’s the quality of their language exposure that matters. They need to experience a rich environment.”
Abstract of the study:
A close relationship between children’s vocabulary size and the grammatical complexity of their speech is well attested but not well understood. The present study used latent change score modeling to examine the dynamic relationships between vocabulary and grammar growth within and across languages in longitudinal data from 90 simultaneous Spanish–English bilingual children who were assessed at 6-month intervals between 30 and 48 months. Slopes of vocabulary and grammar growth were strongly correlated within each language and showed moderate or nonsignificant relationships across languages. There was no evidence that vocabulary level predicted subsequent grammar growth or that the level of grammatical development predicted subsequent vocabulary growth. We propose that a common influence of properties of input on vocabulary and grammatical development is the source of their correlated but uncoupled growth. An unanticipated across-language finding was a negative relationship between level of English skill and subsequent Spanish growth. We propose that the cultural context of Spanish–English bilingualism in the US is the reason that strong English skills jeopardize Spanish language growth, while Spanish skills do not affect English growth.
UCLA-led study suggests people often don’t recall memories that threaten the way they want to see themselves. This may mean students may forget relevant information in order to protect their own psyches, even if this relevant information is something they had to learn in class.
From the press release:
UCLA-led research has found that students in a college mathematics course experienced a phenomenon similar to repression, the psychological process in which people forget emotional or traumatic events to protect themselves.
In a study published online by the Journal of Educational Psychology, the researchers found that the students who forgot the most content from the class were those who reported a high level of stress during the course. But, paradoxically, the study also found that the strong relationship between stress level and the tendency to forget course material was most prevalent among the students who are most confident in their own mathematical abilities.
The phenomenon, which the authors call “motivated forgetting,” may occur because students are subconsciously protecting their own self-image as excellent mathematicians, said Gerardo Ramirez, a UCLA assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author.
For the study, researchers analyzed 117 undergraduates in an advanced calculus course at UCLA. The students generally consider themselves to be strong in mathematics and plan to pursue careers that rely on high-level mathematical skills, so the logical assumption would be that they would be likely to remember most of the material from the course.
Researchers asked students a series of questions at the start of the course, including having them assess to what extent they see themselves as “math people.” Each week throughout the course, students were asked to gauge how stressful they thought the course was. Then, the study’s authors examined students’ performance on the course’s final exam and on another similar test two weeks later. On average, students’ grades were 21 percent lower on the follow-up.
Among students who strongly considered themselves to be “math people,” those who experienced a lot of stress performed measurably worse on the follow-up exam than those whose stress levels were lower.
The results were striking because, in the cases of the students whose stress levels were highest, test scores dropped by as much as a full letter grade — from an A-minus to a B-minus, for example. But, according to Ramirez, the findings make sense from a psychological perspective.
“Students who found the course very stressful and difficult might have given in to the motivation to forget as a way to protect their identity as being good at math,” he said. “We tend to forget unpleasant experiences and memories that threaten our self-image as a way to preserve our psychological well-being. And ‘math people’ whose identity is threatened by their previous stressful course experience may actively work to forget what they learned.”
The idea that people are motivated to forget unpleasant experiences — activating a sort of “psychological immune system” — goes back to Sigmund and Anna Freud, the pioneers of psychoanalysis, Ramirez said.
The students who think of themselves as excellent at math and felt high levels of stress were also more likely to report they avoided thinking about the course after it ended more than other students did.
Previous studies by other researchers seem to support the concept of motivated forgetting. For example, a 2011 Harvard University study found that when people were asked to memorize an “honor code” and then pay themselves for solving a series of problems, those who cheated and overpaid themselves remembered less of the honor code at the end of the experiment than those who did not cheat.
“Motivated forgetting, or giving in to the desire to forget what we find threatening, is a defense mechanism people use against threats to the way they like to depict themselves,” Ramirez said. “The students are highly motivated to do well and can’t escape during the course, but as soon as they take their final exam, they can give in their desire to forget and try to suppress the information.”
Ramirez said there are steps teachers can take to help students retain information. Some of them:
- Emphasize the material’s real-world applications. This will give students incentives to remember information and review it later on. “I think we often do a poor job of showing students why the content is relevant to their lives and future job skills,” Ramirez said.
- Cover the entire course in final exams. And not just the most recent material. “Non-cumulative exams tell students they can forget what they have already been tested on,” he said.
- Guard against learning-by-photo. Specifically, Ramirez advises students not to try to capture course notes by taking photos with their smartphones — it might subtly create an impression that they don’t need to actually learn the information.
- Embrace the challenges. When his students struggle, Ramirez tells them the challenge they’re facing will lead to deeper learning. “I try to change what ‘struggle’ means for them so that they don’t feel threatened when they are stressed out about the material,” he said.
Abstract of the study:
The ability to retain educationally relevant content in a readily accessible state in memory is critical for students at all stages in schooling. We hypothesized that a high degree of stress in mathematics courses can threaten students’ mathematics self-concept and lead to a motivation to forget course content. We tested the aforementioned hypothesis by recruiting students from a college course on multivariate calculus. Students were asked to report their ongoing stress in the course. The forgetting rate was assessed by comparing students’ final exam performance against their performance for a subset of the same final exam items 2 weeks later. We found that among students with a strong mathematics self-concept, a higher amount of ongoing weekly stress during the course was associated with increased forgetting of course content and a higher report of avoidant thinking about the course. Neither of these associations was found among students with a weaker mathematics self-concept. Our results provide evidence for a scientific account of the affective and motivational forces that shape why students forget educationally relevant content. We discuss the various educational practices that cue forgetting and make recommendations for reducing motivated forgetting in the classroom.
Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen
Dick Clark and Dave Feldon (D&D for short) wrote a chapter in the second revised edition of the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning in which they raise questions with regards to ten commonly vented reasons that people (educators, administrators, policy makers, etc.) give when implementing multimedia in education. They discussed five of these reasons in their chapter in the first edition of the book (2005) on the basis of strong empirical research. In the second edition of the book they do the same for five new positively perceived learning benefits of multimedia (in addition to the original five that were in the first edition of the book). The first five were that multimedia instruction should be used because it:
- Leads to more learning. D&D show that there is no convincing nor plausible proof that one medium or a combination of various…
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There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I already discussed several of the studies mentioned in this great news letter on this blog. But this study was new to me, and quite interesting:
A Brookings report by Paul T. Hill and Georgia Heyward examines the four-day school week in rural Idaho. According to the report, four-day weeks have been implemented in approximately 42 of Idaho’s 115 school districts, with a primary goal of cost savings (e.g., savings on transportation, heating, janitorial, and clerical costs). The revised schedule adds roughly 30 to 90 minutes to each day that students are in school, and then on the fifth day (usually Friday), the goal is to assign projects and encourage parent and community groups to organize study halls and enrichment activities.The authors collected data by interviewing district and school leaders in Idaho communities that had moved to the four-day week. Key findings included:
- Though cost cutting was the original motivation for the four-day week, savings have been elusive in most localities. This is because so many costs are fixed (e.g., teacher and administrator salaries).
- Teachers reported difficulty restarting instruction and focusing children’s attention after a three-day weekend.
- Teachers in many places now consider the fifth day an amenity, and some superintendents reported that the four-day week made the locality more attractive to teacher candidates.
- Working parents found the longer hours in school more convenient as it meant that children’s days more nearly matched their own workdays. However, the fifth day presented new problems of child care and planning for positive uses of children’s time.
- No district that had adopted the four-day week had rigorously assessed the effects on student achievement. Several district leaders said student and teacher attendance had improved in the first year of the four-day week, but they had not assessed whether these results persisted over time.The authors discuss the limits of their evidence, and note that the long-term effects for rural students’ education are unknown.
I found this article by Düvel et al via Jelle Jolles. It measures how popular certain myths are in music education for both teachers and students. The authors call it neuromyths, although I would rather call some of them educational myths. But guess what? Well, it seems not that depressing, as both teachers and students correctly rejected 60% and 59%, respectively, of the seven neuromyths as scientifically unsubstantiated statements. It’s way better than earlier results. Still, it’s far from perfect. The L-R brain myth seems still very popular.
In the last decade, educational neuroscience has become increasingly important in the context of instruction, and its applications have been transformed into new teaching methods. Although teachers are interested in educational neuroscience, communication between scientists and teachers is not always straightforward. Thus, misunderstandings of neuroscientific research results can evolve into so-called neuromyths. The aim of the present study was to investigate the prevalence of such music-related neuromyths among music teachers and music students. Based on an extensive literature research, 26 theses were compiled and subsequently evaluated by four experts. Fourteen theses were selected, of which seven were designated as scientifically substantiated and seven as scientifically unsubstantiated (hereafter labelled as “neuromyths”). One group of adult music teachers (n = 91) and one group of music education students (n = 125) evaluated the theses (forced-choice discrimination task) in two separate online surveys. Additionally, in both surveys person-characteristic variables were gathered to determine possible predictors for the discrimination performance. As a result, identification rates of the seven scientifically substantiated theses were similar for teachers (76%) and students (78%). Teachers and students correctly rejected 60% and 59%, respectively, of the seven neuromyths as scientifically unsubstantiated statements. Sensitivity analysis by signal detection theory revealed a discrimination performance of d’ = 1.25 (SD = 1.12) for the group of teachers and d’ = 1.48 (SD = 1.22) for the students. Both groups showed a general tendency to evaluate the theses as scientifically substantiated (teachers: c = -0.35, students: c = -0.41). Specifically, buzz words such as “brain hemisphere” or “cognitive enhancement” were often classified as correct. For the group of teachers, the best predictor of discrimination performance was having read a large number of media about educational neuroscience and related topics (R² = .06). For the group of students, the best predictors for discrimination performance were a high number of read media and the hitherto completed number of semesters (R² = .14). Our findings make clear that both teachers and students are far from being experts on topics related to educational neuroscience in music and would therefore benefit from current education-related research in psychology and neuroscience.