What to say when you meet a teacher or a teacher trainee

This morning I wrote a little piece in Dutch that has been read and shared a lot the past few hours. I’ll try to translate it for this blog too.

The reason I wrote this post is because I recognized a tone about teachers I know all to well in the typical ‘back to school’-news coverage. Even worse: I know the effect of this tone on my students who will be teachers soon.

In the meantime the teacher shortage is a global phenomenon…


So that’s why I wanted to write something positive, as a kind of alternative: what to say when you meet a teacher or a teacher trainee:

Thank you for teaching our kids, we really need you.

And if you have some extra time to spare, maybe you can add this:

I know you sometimes get the question if you couldn’t find anything better,
while teaching is one of the greatest jobs on earth:
reaching kids in their world and making their world bigger.
I’m jealous because you will see the miracle of a first sentence being written,
or because you’ll be able to see the faces of our kids when they suddenly reach a new insight.

I know people always will talk about the many days off teachers have,
but we both know what those days compensate.

I know that people will say teaching has been a negative choice
(most of the time it isn’t, btw),
but we welcome every single great teacher.

So thank you that you want to help, console and correct our children.

I’ll be critical as a parent, but won’t take the side of my child by definition,
I’ll want to hear what you’ve got to say, I’ll try to understand,
and together we’ll work it out.

So thank you for your choice to teach!

I wish more people would make this choice.

So, for everybody who want to hear something similar by me or other teacher trainers, there is still room for you. But do know that we set the bar real high before we let you teach, you wouldn’t want any other way as a teacher.

Dear students, see you in September!

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Best evidence in brief: review study about technology integration in education

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this review study will interest many:

Morrison, Morrison, & Ross, from our own Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, have completed a review of the research literature on the infusion of technology into the school curriculum.

The review examines the results from a number of studies investigating the effectiveness of computer use in the classroom. The focus of the studies ranged from student engagement to achievement using observations, surveys, and achievement tests. The researchers also summarize the results from several meta-analyses.

Key findings from the research included:

  • Multiple studies reported higher engagement of students with their coursework when involved in one-to-one laptop programs, which produced two key benefits: (1) a development of a deeper level of understanding and (2) an increase in student achievement.
  • Several studies reported increased interactions with peers. One study found that students interacted twice as much when they were using a computer than doing other activities, with the conversations focused primarily on problem-solving (Svensson, 2000). 
  • Many studies found an increase in student-centered instruction. Teachers had additional tools and time they could devote to individualized instruction to meet the needs of specific learners. Thus, rather than a one size fits all approach, teachers could customize the instruction to address the specific needs of individual students.

The researchers point out that, “Just as buying a professional-looking mixer will not make you a better cook, technology alone will not make student learning better. If the teacher, though, introduces new methods of teaching requiring different uses of a computer rather than to simply present information, then we are likely to see an improvement in learning.”

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John Oliver on Charter Schools

We should have known that John Oliver would tackle charter schools one day, so he did:

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Longitudinal study shows: babies’ spatial reasoning predicts later math skills

Don’t go checking it with your baby if you have one, but a new longitudinal study describes how spatial reasoning measured in infancy predicts how children do at math at four years of age.

From the press release:

“We’ve provided the earliest documented evidence for a relationship between spatial reasoning and math ability,” says Emory University psychologist Stella Lourenco, whose lab conducted the research. “We’ve shown that spatial reasoning beginning early in life, as young as six months of age, predicts both the continuity of this ability and mathematical development.”

Emory graduate student Jillian Lauer is co-author of the study.

The researchers controlled the longitudinal study for general cognitive abilities of the children, including measures such as vocabulary, working memory, short-term spatial memory and processing speed.

“Our results suggest that it’s not just a matter of smarter infants becoming smarter four-year-olds,” Lourenco says. “Instead, we believe that we’ve honed in on something specific about early spatial reasoning and math ability.”

The findings may help explain why some people embrace math while others feel they are bad at it and avoid it. “We know that spatial reasoning is a malleable skill that can be improved with training,” Lourenco says. “One possibility is that more focus should be put on spatial reasoning in early math education.”

Previous research has shown that superior spatial aptitude at 13 years of age predicts professional and creative accomplishments in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math more than 30 years later.

To explore whether individual differences in spatial aptitude are present earlier, Lourenco’s lab tested 63 infants, ages six months to 13 months, for a visual-spatial skill known as mental transformation, or the ability to transform and rotate objects in “mental space.” Mental transformation is considered a hallmark of spatial intelligence.

The researchers showed the babies a series of paired video streams. Both streams presented a series of two matching shapes, similar to Tetris tile pieces, which changed orientation in each presentation. In one of the video streams, the two shapes in every third presentation rotated to become mirror images. In the other video stream, the shapes only appeared in non-mirror orientations. Eye tracking technology recorded which video stream the infants looked at, and for how long.

This type of experiment is called a change-detection paradigm. “Babies have been shown to prefer novelty,” Lourenco explains. “If they can engage in mental transformation and detect that the pieces occasionally rotate into a mirror position, that’s interesting to them because of the novelty.”

Eye-tracking technology allowed the researchers to measure where the babies looked, and for how long. As a group, the infants looked significantly longer at the video stream with mirror images, but there were individual differences in the amount of time they looked at it.

Fifty-three of the children, or 84 percent of the original sample, returned at age four to complete the longitudinal study. The participants were again tested for mental transformation ability, along with mastery of simple symbolic math concepts. The results showed that the children who spent more time looking at the mirror stream of images as infants maintained these higher mental transformation abilities at age four, and also performed better on the math problems.

High-level symbolic math came relatively late in human evolution. Previous research has suggested that symbolic math may have co-opted circuits of the brain involved in spatial reasoning as a foundation to build on.

“Our work may contribute to our understanding of the nature of mathematics,” Lourenco says. “By showing that spatial reasoning is related to individual differences in math ability, we’ve added to a growing literature suggesting a potential contribution for spatial reasoning in mathematics. We can now test the causal role that spatial reasoning may play early in life.”

In addition to helping improve regular early math education, the finding could help in the design of interventions for children with math disabilities. Dyscalculia, for example, is a developmental disorder that interferes with doing even simple arithmetic.

“Dyscalculia has an estimated prevalence of five to seven percent, which is roughly the same as dyslexia,” Lourenco says. “Dyscalculia, however, has generally received less attention, despite math’s importance to our technological world.”

Abstract of the study:

Despite considerable interest in the role of spatial intelligence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) achievement, little is known about the ontogenetic origins of individual differences in spatial aptitude or their relation to later accomplishments in STEM disciplines. The current study provides evidence that spatial processes present in infancy predict interindividual variation in both spatial and mathematical competence later in development. Using a longitudinal design, we found that children’s performance on a brief visuospatial change-detection task administered between 6 and 13 months of age was related to their spatial aptitude (i.e., mental-transformation skill) and mastery of symbolic-math concepts at 4 years of age, even when we controlled for general cognitive abilities and spatial memory. These results suggest that nascent spatial processes present in the first year of life not only act as precursors to later spatial intelligence but also predict math achievement during childhood.


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Funny on Sunday: Metacognition explained…

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Famous psychology study ‘killed by replication’: does a pencil in your mouth make you feel happy?

Replication is very important in science, but sometimes the results can hurt. Hurt a lot. Yesterday I found this new replication meta-study on a very famous insight in psychology via this tweet by Stuart Ritchie:

The study he discusses is the 1988 study by Strack, Martin & Strepper:

We investigated the hypothesis that people’s facial activity influences their affective responses. Two studies were designed to both eliminate methodological problems of earlier experiments and clarify theoretical ambiguities. This was achieved by having subjects hold a pen in their mouth in ways that either inhibited or facilitated the muscles typically associated with smiling without requiring subjects to pose in a smiling face. Study 1’s results demonstrated the effectiveness of the procedure. Subjects reported more intense humor responses when cartoons were presented under facilitating conditions than under inhibiting conditions that precluded labeling of the facial expression in emotion categories. Study 2 served to further validate the methodology and to answer additional theoretical questions. The results replicated Study 1’s findings and also showed that facial feedback operates on the affective but not on the cognitive component of the humor response. Finally, the results suggested that both inhibitory and facilitatory mechanisms may have contributed to the observed affective responses.

It’s a famous study and I think there is indeed a big chance you’ve heard about the results.

But this new replication meta-study examining 17 studies replicating the original research is quite damning:

According to the facial feedback hypothesis, people’s affective responses can be influenced by their own facial expression (e.g., smiling, pouting), even when their expression did not result from their emotional experiences. For example, Strack, Martin, and Stepper (1988) instructed participants to rate the funniness of cartoons using a pen that they held in their mouth. In line with the facial feedback hypothesis, when participants held the pen with their teeth (inducing a “smile”), they rated the cartoons as funnier than when they held the pen with their lips (inducing a “pout”). This seminal study of the facial feedback hypothesis has not been replicated directly. This registered replication report describes the results of 17 independent direct replications of Study 1 from Strack et al. (1988), all of which followed the same vetted protocol. A meta- analysis of these studies examined the difference in funniness ratings between the “smile” and “pout” conditions. The original Strack et al. (1988) study reported a rating difference of 0.82 units on a 10 point Likert scale. Our meta-analysis revealed a rating difference of 0.03 units with a 95% confidence interval ranging from -0.11 to 0.16.

Or shown as an image:


Via the tweet conversations following the tweet by Stuart Ritchie I also found this reply by Strack and this reply on this reply by the researchers.

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Is that smartphone making students more or less connected with friends and family? Answer: it depends

This study is a bit of fun as it looks at how our smartphones makes us feel connected or disconnected.

Oh, wait, the study was conducted with a specific age group, so it’s rather about how connected their smartphones make students feels.

It’s a pretty straightforward study with less simple results, as gender seems to have an influence:


  • Male’s calling, texting and total cell phone use was not related to attachment.
  • Male’s problematic cell phone use was negatively related to attachment.
  • Female’s calling was positively related to parent attachment.
  • Female’s texting was positively related to peer attachment.
  • Female’s problematic cell phone use was negatively related to attachment.


So the study suggests that the phone may have more social value for women compared to men, and women may be better at using it to augment or complement existing social relationships.

But sadly enough, the researchers didn’t compare this with non-smartphone usage…

And this insight is also a bit problematic:

“the students in the study who tended to use their cell phones compulsively and at inappropriate times felt less socially connected to parents and peers than other students”

This is a correlation, and we can explain a causal relationship in both directions…

From the press release:

In this digital age, with phones at our finger tips, you would think that access to constant communication would make us feel closer to one another. But a new study by researchers at Kent State University shows that may not be the case. In fact, cell phone use might actually lead to feeling less socially connected, depending on your gender or cell phone habits.

Three researchers, Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Jian Li, Ph.D., from Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services surveyed 493 students, ranging in age from 18-29, to see whether cell phone use, including texting and talking, was associated with feeling socially connected to their parents and peers. The results show a significant difference between men and women.

Female students reported spending an average of 365 minutes per day using their cell phones, sending and receiving an average of 265 texts per day, and making and receiving six calls per day.

Male students reported spending less time on their phone (287 minutes), sending and receiving fewer texts (190), and making and receiving the same amount of calls as the female students.

For the women, the study found that talking on the phone was associated with feeling emotionally close with their parents. However, when it came to relationships with friends, texting was associated with feeling emotionally close.

For the men, the opposite holds true – daily calling and texting were not related in any way to feelings of emotional closeness with either parents or with peers.

Researchers also looked at problematic use, which is a recurrent craving to use a cell phone during inappropriate times – such as driving a car, or at night when you should be sleeping. For both the men and women, the study found that problematic cell phone use was negatively related to feelings of emotional closeness with parents and peers.

“In other words, the students in the study who tended to use their cell phones compulsively and at inappropriate times felt less socially connected to parents and peers than other students,” Lepp said.

According to Lepp, the study suggests that the phone may have more social value for women compared to men, and women may be better at using it to augment or complement existing social relationships.

As for problematic use, Lepp says given the cell phone’s many other functions, communicating with one another may no longer be the phone’s central purpose, which could be replacing more meaningful forms of relationship building, such as face-to-face communications for both genders.

Abstract of the study:

College students spend hours each day using their cell phones. A common motivation for this behavior is the maintenance of social relations. Yet depending on cell phone use behavior, cell phone use could potentially strengthen or weaken social relations. We investigated this possibility with a survey (N = 493) assessing students’ perceptions of important social relations (i.e., Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment) and various cell phone use behaviors. The relationship between cell phone use and Parent Attachment was modeled with three regression equations, one for each Parent Attachment subscale (i.e., communication, trust, alienation). These subscales were the criterion variables. Each regression equation contained the same predictor variables: total daily cell phone use, calling, texting, and problematic use. Anxiety and self-esteem were control variables. The relationship between cell phone use and Peer Attachment was modeled similarly. Regression equations were estimated simultaneously using the Seemingly Unrelated Regression technique. For males: calling, texting and total daily use were not related to parent or peer attachment; problematic use was negatively related to parent and peer attachment. For females: calling was positively related to parental attachment and texting to peer attachment; problematic use was negatively related to parent and peer attachment. Implications are discussed.

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Video: Is most published research wrong?

Good video on p-hacking and publication bias, although maybe a bit too grim – if it wasn’t for the ending.

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Once you’ve used internet as an external memory, you’ll probably use it again (study)

First of all: no! No, this isn’t an Internet is making us dumber-study. The title of the press release is making it a bit too spectacular: “Cognitive offloading: How the Internet is increasingly taking over human memory.” The study actually confirms previous work by Sparrow et al: our memory – or rather how we use our memory – is changing in the way that we learn how to use the internet as a kind of external, additional memory when it’s present. In this way the study tells us more about behavior, rather than about how our memory works as the real result is that using a certain method for fact finding has a marked influence on the probability of future repeat behavior.

In short:

The present results suggest that using the Internet as an information source influences the extent to which a person uses the Internet as an information source in the future. Participants instructed to answer one set of trivia questions with the help of the Internet were significantly more likely to answer a new, relatively easier, set of trivia questions with the help of the Internet than were participants instructed to answer the first set from memory.

Maybe one of the best sentences from the article is this one:

It remains to be seen, however, whether this increased reliance on the Internet is in any way different from the type of increased reliance one might experience on other information sources, such as books or people.

From the press release:

Our increasing reliance on the Internet and the ease of access to the vast resource available online is affecting our thought processes for problem solving, recall and learning. In a new article published in the journal Memory, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign have found that ‘cognitive offloading’, or the tendency to rely on things like the Internet as an aide-mémoire, increases after each use. We might think that memory is something that happens in the head but increasingly it is becoming something that happens with the help of agents outside the head. Benjamin Storm, Sean Stone & Aaron Benjamin conducted experiments to determine our likelihood to reach for a computer or smartphone to answer questions. Participants were first divided into two groups to answer some challenging trivia questions — one group used just their memory, the other used Google. Participants were then given the option of answering subsequent easier questions by the method of their choice.

The results revealed that participants who previously used the Internet to gain information were significantly more likely to revert to Google for subsequent questions than those who relied on memory. Participants also spent less time consulting their own memory before reaching for the Internet; they were not only more likely to do it again, they were likely to do it much more quickly. Remarkably 30% of participants who previously consulted the Internet failed to even attempt to answer a single simple question from memory.

Lead author Dr Benjamin Storm commented, “Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”

This research suggests that using a certain method for fact finding has a marked influence on the probability of future repeat behaviour. Time will tell if this pattern will have any further reaching impacts on human memory than has our reliance on other information sources. Certainly the Internet is more comprehensive, dependable and on the whole faster than the imperfections of human memory, borne out by the more accurate answers from participants in the internet condition during this research. With a world of information a Google search away on a smartphone, the need to remember trivial facts, figures, and numbers is inevitably becoming less necessary to function in everyday life.

The last sentence is a bridge too far imho, confusing information and knowledge as ever. Luckily the article is better in discussing this:

It is also worth noting that the costs and benefits of altering one’s reliance on the Internet are likely to vary as a function of a number of factors, including an individual’s expertise within a domain. Although the Internet may be effective in helping people access certain types of information, it may be much less effective in helping people access other types of information. In such cases, using the Internet to access information could prove detrimental. Furthermore, there are forms of expertise that require the possession of vast amounts of knowledge and the ability to rapidly and flexibly use that information is unlikely to be attained when it is stored externally

Abstract of the study:

The ways in which people learn, remember, and solve problems have all been impacted by the Internet. The present research explored how people become primed to use the Internet as a form of cognitive offloading. In three experiments, we show that using the Internet to retrieve information alters a person’s propensity to use the Internet to retrieve other information. Specifically, participants who used Google to answer an initial set of difficult trivia questions were more likely to decide to use Google when answering a new set of relatively easy trivia questions than were participants who answered the initial questions from memory. These results suggest that relying on the Internet to access information makes one more likely to rely on the Internet to access other information.

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The importance of a positive teacher-student relationship: it can boost good behavior in teens for up to 4 years

We’ve known for a long time that a positive relationship between teachers and students is important for learning. In the work of John Hattie the effect size is similar to that of giving optimal feedback. This new study looks at another but related effect: what does a good relationship mean for the behavior of teenagers?

From the press release with a plea for teacher training programs:

A new study has found that having a positive relationship with a teacher around the age of 10-11 years old can markedly influence the development of ‘prosocial’ behaviours such as cooperation and altruism, as well as significantly reduce problem classroom behaviours such as aggression and oppositional behaviour.

The research also found that beneficial behaviours resulting from a positive teacher-student relationship when a child is on the cusp of adolescence lingered for up to four years – well into the difficult teenage years.

Researchers found that students with a more positive relationship with their teacher displayed towards peers, on average, 18% more prosocial behaviour (and 10% more up to two years later), and up to 38% less aggressive behaviour (and 9% less up to four years later), over students who felt ambivalent or negative toward their teacher.

Positivity toward their teacher also resulted in students displaying an average of 56% less ‘oppositional defiant’ behaviour: such as argumentativeness and vindictiveness toward authority figures. This was still reduced by 22% up to three years later.

In fact, the researchers found the beneficial effect on behaviour was as strong, if not stronger, than that of established school-based ‘intervention programmes’ such as counselling and other anti-bullying therapies.

The importance of good teacher relationships on infant behaviour was already known, and programmes have been designed to help preschool teachers improve relationships with pupils, which in turn improves pupil behaviour.

Researchers say the latest results suggest that developing similar programmes for those who teach students in early adolescence has the potential to promote better classroom behaviour in schools that may otherwise rely more on exclusionary practises – such as detentions, or being sent out of class – to manage student behaviour.

“Teachers play an important role in the development of children. Students who feel supported tend to be less aggressive and more prosocial, and we now have evidence that this is the case from preschool right through to adolescence,” said the study’s lead author Dr Ingrid Obsuth.

“Educational and school policies should take this into consideration when supporting teachers in fostering their relationships with students,” she said.

The research was conducted by members of the Violence Research Centre at Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, along with colleagues from ETH Zurich and the University of Toronto. The findings are published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

The researchers analysed data from eight ‘waves’ of a major longitudinal study of culturally-diverse Swiss youth being schooled across Zurich. The latest study involved 1,067 students randomly sampled across 56 of the city’s schools.

Only students who experienced a change of teacher between ages 9 and 10 were used for the study, with data gathered from teachers, students and their parents on an annual and later biannual basis.

Using the multitude of data from interviews and surveys across the years*, the research team used an innovative statistical technique that enabled them to ‘score’ the children on over 100 different characteristics or experiences that could potentially account for good or bad behaviour – from background to past behaviour, parenting to student and teacher genders.

They then matched students in pairs with highly similar scores in all respects except one: how they felt about their teacher, and how the teacher felt about them. This allowed researchers to emulate a ‘randomised-controlled trial’ – the most rigorous way of establishing causal links. The only difference between the students in each pair was that one had the ‘treatment’ of a positive relationship with their teacher, and the other, the ‘control’, did not.

While the researchers approached data collection from both sides of the teacher-student relationship, they say that it is how the student perceives the relationship that is most important for behaviour. Students who saw themselves as having a more positive relationship with their teacher engaged in fewer aggressive behaviours right up to age 15.

Cambridge’s Prof Manuel Eisner, senior author on the study, said: “Most adults remember some teachers that they admired and that fit their learning needs, and others that they felt hard done-by. This is not necessarily only because they have more or less supportive teachers. Each child will respond differently to a teacher’s style and personality. Our study shows that once a child develops an impression of a teacher, one way or the other, it can have significant long-term effects on their behaviour.”

“While this is the first study to look at the effect of teacher-student relationships on adolescents, our findings are consistent with previous research suggesting that bonds with prosocial others – whether peers, teachers or institutions – are a protective factor against children engaging in problem behaviours,” he said.

Added Obsuth: “Ideally, building healthy and supportive teacher-student relationships would become part of the curriculum in teacher training and intervention programmes as a way of improving adolescent well-being.”

Abstract of the study:

Previous research suggests a link between the quality of teacher–student relationships and the students’ behavioral outcomes; however, the observational nature of past studies makes it difficult to attribute a causal role to the quality of these relationships. In the current study, therefore, we used a propensity score analysis approach to evaluate whether students who were matched on their propensity to experience a given level of relationship quality but differed on their actual relationship quality diverged on their concurrent and subsequent problem and prosocial behavior. Student/self, teacher, and parent- (only waves 1–3) reported data from 8 waves of the Zurich Project on the Social Development of Children and Youths (zproso), a longitudinal study of Swiss youth among a culturally diverse sample of 7- to 15-year-olds were utilized. The initial sample included 1483 (49.4 % female) students for whom information relevant for this study was available. The sample represented families from around 80 different countries, from across all the continents; with approximately 42 % of the female primary caregivers having been born in Switzerland. Following successful matching, we found that students who reported better relationships with their teachers and whose teachers reported better relationships with them evidenced fewer problem behaviors concurrently and up to 4 years later. There was also evidence for an analogous effect in predicting prosocial behavior. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to prevention and intervention practices.


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