Author Archives: Pedro

Can attention span in infancy predict later executive function? (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with some interesting studies, such as this one, although I do think it can be regarded in part for an extra argument that executive functions (note the plural) are heavily influenced by nature:

Infant attention skills are significantly related to preschool executive function at age three, according to a new study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

One hundred and fourteen children took part in the study. Jessica H. Kraybill and colleagues measured children’s attention at five months by using parental-report questionnaires and by assessing look duration and shifting rate while the children watched a video clip. Children’s single longest continuous look and the number of shifts of gaze at the video were recorded. Shorter looking durations were taken as an indication of better information processing, and high shift rates typically represent better attention. The performance on four different executive function tasks for these same children was then measured when they were three years old.

Results indicated that higher attention at age five was related to higher executive function at age three (effect size = + 0.05), supporting the notion that attention span in infancy may serve as an early marker of later executive function.

The authors measured character strengths by the Value in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth), and positive classroom behaviors with the Classroom Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS), which cover positive achievement-related behavior and positive social behavior. For primary students, achievement was obtained by teacher ratings; for secondary students, the schools’ administration offices provided their grades. The findings showed that:

  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, social intelligence, and self-regulation were positively related to positive classroom behavior for both primary and secondary students.
  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, love of learning, perspective, zest, and gratitude were positively related to school achievement for both primary and secondary students.
  • Perseverance, prudence, and hope were associated with both positive classroom behavior and school achievement across primary and secondary sectors.
According to the authors, these findings indicate there is a rather distinct set of strengths most relevant in schools. The authors also suggest that further research could explore whether teachers and students value these strengths.

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How many words are sufficient to recognize the author? 12 or less!

Well, if you want to recognize my texts, just count the typo’s ;). No, seriously, I’ve heard about software that was able to write in a certain style of a famous author. This study shows that people are more original than you might have thought. The author’s individuality can already be seen in connections between no more than a dozen of words in English text. In Slavic languages authorship identification would require even fewer words with the results being more certain. I do think it’s important to notice that they did this research on works of famous authors.

From the press release:

Finding out the author of a text is usually not difficult: just read the signature. However, sometimes there is no signature since it has not been preserved or has been deliberately omitted by the author. Often, instead of a first and last name, we see a pseudonym. So, how can we verify who penned a historical text known only from fragments? How can we establish the true creator of an Internet lampoon? How can we really determine if the text of a thesis or doctoral dissertation is not plagiarized? In many cases, traditional stylometric methods fail or do not lead to sufficiently reliable conclusions. In Information Sciences, scientists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN) in Cracow have presented their own statistical tool for stylometric analysis. Constructed with the use of graphs, it makes it possible look at the structure of texts in a qualitatively new way.

“The conclusions of our research are, on the one hand, encouraging. They indicate that the individuality of any person manifests itself clearly in the way they use a surprisingly small number of words. But there is also another, darker side of the coin. Since it turns out we are so original, it will be easier to identify us by our statements,” says Prof. Stanislaw Drozdz (IFJ PAN, Cracow University of Technology).

Stylometry – i.e. the science dealing with the determination of the statistical characteristics of the style of texts – is based on the observation that each of us uses even the same language in a slightly different way. Some have a broader vocabulary, others narrower, some like to use certain phrases and make mistakes, others avoid repetition and are linguistic purists. And when we write, we also differ in the way we use punctuation. In the typical stylometric approach, the basic features of a text are usually examined, e.g. the frequency of occurrence of individual words, whilst punctuation is ignored. Analyses are carried out for the studied text and for texts written by potentially well-known authors. The creator is deemed to be the person whose works have parameters with the values closest to those obtained for the material being identified.

“We suggested that the characteristic features of the style be sought in a network representation of the text, using graphs,” explains Tomasz Stanisz, PhD student at the IFJ PAN and the first author of the publication, and he specifies: “The graph is a collection of points, or vertices of the graph, connected by lines, i.e. the edges of the graph. In the simplest case – in the so-called unweighted network – the vertices correspond to individual words and are connected by edges if and only if two given words have occurred adjacent to each other at least once in the text. For example, for the sentence ‘Jane is hungry’, the graph would have three vertices, one for each word, but there would only be two edges, one between ‘Jane’ and ‘is’, the other between ‘is’ and ‘hungry’.”

While constructing their stylometric tools, the IFJ PAN researchers tested different types of graphs. The best results were obtained for weighted graphs, that is, those in which each edge carries information about the number of occurrences of its corresponding connection between words. Two parameters turned out to be the most useful in such networks: the node degree and the clustering coefficient. The first describes the number of edges coming from a given node and is directly related to the number of occurrences of a given word in the text. In turn, the clustering coefficient describes the probability that two words connected by an edge with a given word are connected with an edge also between themselves.

Using statistical tools prepared in this way, the Cracow-based physicists looked at 96 books: six novels by eight well-known English authors (Austen, Conrad, Defoe, Dickens, Doyle, Eliot, Orwell and Twain) and eight Polish authors (Korczak, Kraszewski, Lam, Orzeszkowa, Prus, Reymont, Sienkiewicz and Zeromski). The authors included two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Wladyslaw Reymont and Henryk Sienkiewicz). All the texts were downloaded from the internet libraries Project Gutenberg, Wikisource and Wolne Lektury. The group from the IFJ PAN then checked the reliability with which the authorship of 12 randomly selected works in one language could be determined, treating the rest of the pool of works as comparative material.

“In the case of English texts, we identified the authors correctly in almost 90% of cases. In addition, in order to achieve success, it was necessary to trace the connections between only 10-12 words of the examined text. Contrary to naive intuition, a further increase in the number of words studied did not significantly increase the effectiveness of the method,” says Tomasz Stanisz.

In Polish, the determination of authorship turned out to be even simpler: only 5-6 words needed to be traced. What is particularly interesting is that despite the fact that the pool of significant words was half as many as in English, the probability of correct identification was increased by up to 95%! Such high diagnostic accuracy, however, was only achieved when punctuation marks were also treated as separate words. In both languages, omitting punctuation resulted in a significant reduction in the number of correct guesses. The observed role of punctuation is another confirmation of the conclusions from the publication of the group of Prof. Drozdz of 2017, where it was shown that punctuation plays an equally important role in language as the words themselves.

“In comparison with English, Polish seems to give greater possibilities of revealing the style of the author. We think that the other Slavic languages are characterised by similar features. English is a positional language, which means that the order of the words in a sentence is important. This sort of language leaves less room for an individual style of expression than the Slavic languages, in which inflection, or variation, decides about the role of a word or phrase in a sentence. This allows for greater freedom to organize the order of words in a sentence, whilst its meaning remains unchanged,” sums up Prof. Drozdz.

Links to the papers:

“Linguistic data mining with complex networks: A stylometric-oriented approach”
T. Stanisz, J. Kwapien, S. Drozdz
Information Sciences 482 (2019) 301-320
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ins.2019.01.040

“In narrative texts punctuation marks obey the same statistics as words”
A. Kulig, J. Kwapien, T. Stanisz, S. Drozdz
Information Sciences 375 (2017) 98-113
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ins.2016.09.051

 

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Funny on Sunday: An idiot’s guide to the philosophy of education

Was Dewey in the original line-up of the Sugababes, as well as being the inventor of the Corby Trouser Press?

Did Socrates’ last words were “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius; please pay it and don’t forget”?

Did John Lock state yhat “nine parts of ten” of what constitutes a person comes from their education. The tenth part is made up of all lies they tell about themself on their CV and dating profiles (“love my work”, “really into existential theatre”, “do a lot of work for charity”, “quinoa is delicious”, etc.)?

Do read the idiot’s guide to the philosophy of education and have a great laugh reading about all great men of education (no, woman yet in the list…).

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Gender differences in spatial skills probably start in elementary school (meta-analysis)

Is it nature or nurture that men seem to better in spatial skills than women? Well, a new meta-analysis suggests that nurture plays a role and a takeaway idea for parents is that parents it’s a good idea to encourage both their daughters and sons to play with blocks and other construction items that might help in the development of spatial reasoning skills.

From the press release:

It is well-established that, on average, men outperform women on a spatial reasoning task known as mental rotation — imagining multi-dimensional objects from different points of view. Men are not, however, born with this advantage, suggests a major meta-analysis by psychologists at Emory University. Instead, males gain a slight advantage in mental-rotation performance during the first years of formal schooling, and this advantage slowly grows with age, tripling in size by the end of adolescence.

The Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association, is publishing the findings.

“Some researchers have argued that there is an intrinsic gender difference in spatial reasoning — that boys are naturally better at it than girls,” says lead author Jillian Lauer, who is set to graduate from Emory in May with a PhD in psychology. “While our results don’t exclude any possibility that biological influences contribute to the gender gap, they suggest that other factors may be more important in driving the gender difference in spatial skills during childhood.”

Co-authors of the paper include Stella Lourenco, associate professor of psychology at Emory, whose lab specializes in the development of spatial and numerical cognition. Co-author Eukyung Yhang worked on the paper as an Emory undergraduate, funded by the university’s Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods. Yhang graduated in 2018 and is now at Yale University School of Medicine.

The meta-analysis included 128 studies of gender differences in spatial reasoning, combining statistics on more than 30,000 children and adolescents aged three to 18 years. The authors found no gender difference in mental-rotation skills among preschoolers, but a small male advantage emerged in children between the ages of six and eight.

While differences in verbal and mathematical abilities between men and women tend to be small or non-existent, twice as many men as women are top performers in mental rotation, making it one of the largest gender differences in cognition.

Mental rotation is considered one of the hallmarks of spatial reasoning. “If you’re packing your suitcase and trying to figure out how each item can fit within that space, or you’re building furniture based on a diagram, you’re likely engaged in mental rotation, imagining how different objects can rotate to fit together,” Lauer explains.

Prior research has also shown that superior spatial skills predict success in male-dominated science, technology engineering and math (STEM) fields, and that the gender difference in spatial reasoning may contribute to the gender disparity in these STEM fields.

“We’re interested in the origins of gender differences in spatial skills because of their potential role in the gender gap we see in math and science fields,” Lauer says. “By determining when the gender difference can first be detected in childhood and how it changes with age, we may be able to develop ways to make educational systems more equitable.”

It takes most of childhood and adolescence for the gender gap in spatial skills to reach the size of the difference seen in adulthood, Lauer says. She adds that the meta-analysis did not address causes for why the gender gap for mental rotation emerges and grows.

Lauer notes that previous research has shown that parents use more spatial language when they talk to preschool sons than daughters. Studies have also found that girls report more anxiety about having to perform spatial tasks than do boys by first grade, and that children are aware of gender stereotypes about spatial intelligence during elementary school.

“Now that we’ve characterized how gender differences in spatial reasoning skills develop in children over time we can start to hone in on the reasons for those differences,” Lauer says.

Meanwhile, she adds, parents may want to be aware to encourage both their daughters and sons to play with blocks and other construction items that might help in the development of spatial reasoning skills, since evidence shows that these skills can be improved with training.

“Giving both girls and boys more opportunities to develop their spatial skills is something that parents and educators have the power to do,” Lauer says.

Abstract of the meta-analysis:

Gender differences in spatial aptitude are well established by adulthood, particularly when measured by tasks that require the mental rotation of objects (Linn & Petersen, 1985; Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). Although the male advantage in mental rotation performance represents one of the most robust gender differences in adult cognition, the developmental trajectory of this male advantage remains a topic of considerable debate. To address this debate, we meta-analyzed 303 effect sizes pertaining to gender differences in mental rotation performance among 30,613 children and adolescents. We found significant developmental change in the magnitude of the gender difference: A small male advantage in mental rotation performance first emerged during childhood and then subsequently increased with age, reaching a moderate effect size during adolescence. Procedural factors, including task and stimulus characteristics, also accounted for variability in reported gender differences, even when controlling for the effect of age. These results demonstrate that both age and procedural characteristics moderate the magnitude of the gender difference in mental rotation throughout development.

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Three things that are not explicit teaching

Filling the pail


Explicit instruction has a large quantity of supporting evidence. This means that it is ripe for subversion by those who would like to lend its credibility to less effective practices. It is important to appropriately challenge such attempts when we encounter them.

Here are some things that are definitely not supported by the evidence base that supports explicit teaching.

1. A little just-in-time teaching

Explicit teaching is a whole system that is planned and sequenced, progressing through the stages of I-do, we-do and you-do. It can contain open ended tasks and the appropriate time in this sequence. The key defining feature is that new concepts are fully explained when students first meet them – we might even suggest they are ‘over-explained’ in order to prevent the formation of misconceptions.

Barak Rosenshine summarises this process well. I also like Blaise Joseph’s definition in his recent report for the Centre for Independent…

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Inspiring: it’s storytime at the Laundromat

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Funny on Sunday: we’re all the same

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by | April 7, 2019 · 6:59 am

What a difference reading to children make: a ‘million word gap’

We’ve known the importance of reading to your children for ages now, but this new study stresses again what the difference can be.

From the press release:

Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to, a new study found.

This “million word gap” could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development, said Jessica Logan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of educational studies at The Ohio State University.

Even kids who are read only one book a day will hear about 290,000 more words by age 5 than those who don’t regularly read books with a parent or caregiver.

“Kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school,” said Logan, a member of Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy.

“They are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.”

The study appears online in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and will be published in a future print edition.

Logan said the idea for this research came from one of her earlier studies, which found that about one-fourth of children in a national sample were never read to and another fourth were seldom read to (once or twice weekly).

“The fact that we had so many parents who said they never or seldom read to their kids was pretty shocking to us. We wanted to figure out what that might mean for their kids,” Logan said.

The researchers collaborated with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, which identified the 100 most circulated books for both board books (targeting infants and toddlers) and picture books (targeting preschoolers).

Logan and her colleagues randomly selected 30 books from both lists and counted how many words were in each book. They found that board books contained an average of 140 words, while picture books contained an average of 228 words.

With that information, the researchers calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through his or her 5th birthday at different levels of reading. They assumed that kids would be read board books through their 3rd birthday and picture books the next two years, and that every reading session (except for one category) would include one book.

They also assumed that parents who reported never reading to their kids actually read one book to their children every other month.

Based on these calculations, here’s how many words kids would have heard by the time they were 5 years old: Never read to, 4,662 words; 1-2 times per week, 63,570 words; 3-5 times per week, 169,520 words; daily, 296,660 words; and five books a day, 1,483,300 words.

“The word gap of more than 1 million words between children raised in a literacy-rich environment and those who were never read to is striking,” Logan said.

The word gap examined in this research isn’t the only type kids may face.

A controversial 1992 study suggested that children growing up in poverty hear about 30 million fewer words in conversation by age 3 than those from more privileged backgrounds. Other studies since then suggest this 30 million word gap may be much smaller or even non-existent, Logan said.

The vocabulary word gap in this study is different from the conversational word gap and may have different implications for children, she said.

“This isn’t about everyday communication. The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex, difficult words than they hear just talking to their parents and others in the home,” she said.

For instance, a children’s book may be about penguins in Antarctica – introducing words and concepts that are unlikely to come up in everyday conversation.

“The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,” she said.

Logan said the million word gap found in this study is likely to be conservative. Parents will often talk about the book they’re reading with their children or add elements if they have read the story many times.

This “extra-textual” talk will reinforce new vocabulary words that kids are hearing and may introduce even more words.

The results of this study highlight the importance of reading to children.

“Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids. Parents can get access to books that are appropriate for their children at the local library,” Logan said.

Abstract of the study:

Objective: In the United States, there are numerous ongoing efforts to remedy the Word Gap: massive differences in heardvocabulary for poor versus advantaged children during the first 5 years of life. One potentially important resource for vocabulary exposure is children’s book reading sessions, which are more lexically diverse than standard caregiver-child conversations and have demonstrated significant correlational and causal influences on children’s vocabulary development. Yet, nationally representative data suggest that around 25% of caregivers never read with their children.
Method: This study uses data from 60 commonly read children’s books to estimate the number of words that children are exposed to during book reading sessions. We estimated the total cumulative word exposure for children who are read to at varying frequencies corresponding to nationally representative benchmarks across the first 5 years of life.
Results: Parents who read 1 picture book with their children every day provide their children with exposure to an estimated 78,000 words each a year. Cumulatively, over the 5 years before kindergarten entry, we estimate that children from literacy-rich homes hear a cumulative 1.4 million more words during storybook reading than children who are never read to.
Conclusion: Home-based shared book reading represents an important resource for closing the Word Gap.

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Understanding math anxiety (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with this time many interesting studies, such as this one:

While mathematics is often considered a hard subject, not all difficulties with the subject result from cognitive difficulties. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted by a math problem. Research conducted by the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge examined the math performance of more than 2,700 primary and secondary students in the UK and Italy who were screened for math anxiety and general anxiety. Researchers then worked one-to-one with the children in order to gain deeper understanding of their cognitive abilities and feelings towards math using a series of cognitive tasks, questionnaires, and interviews.
Emma Carey and colleagues found that a general feeling that math was more difficult than other subjects often contributed to feelings of anxiety about the subject, and that teachers and parents may inadvertently play a role. Girls in both primary and secondary school were found to have higher levels of both math anxiety and general anxiety.
Students indicated poor test results, or negative comparisons to peers or siblings, as reasons for feeling anxious. Secondary school students also indicated that the transition from primary to secondary school was a cause of math anxiety, as the work seemed harder and there was greater pressure on tests and increased homework.
The report sets out a series of recommendations, including:
  • Teachers should be aware that math anxiety can affect students’ math performance.
  • Teachers and parents need to be aware that their own math anxiety might influence students’ math anxiety.
  • Teachers and parents also need to be aware that gendered stereotypes about math ability might contribute to the gender gap in math performance.
  • Reducing classroom pressure and using methods like free writing about emotions before a test could help to alleviate math anxiety.

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Funny on Sunday: what group project taught me…

Found this summary here.

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