Category Archives: At home

Inspiring: it’s storytime at the Laundromat

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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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Why do parents choose for free schools? Perceptions about the social mix

This is an American study, but I do recognize elements also that I saw in other countries.

From the press release:

Perceptions about the social mix and environment of local mainstream schools motivate parents to choose Free Schools for their children, a new study published in the Cambridge Journal of Education finds. A ‘traditional’ approach to education and smaller class sizes also make such schools more appealing to parents.

Dr. Rebecca Morris of the University of Warwick and Dr. Thomas Perry of the University of Birmingham surveyed 346 Free School and non-Free School parents of Year 7 children, then conducted 20 follow-up interviews with Free School parents. The data was collected in 2013-2014, three years after the introduction of the English Free Schools policy that allowed the establishment of new autonomous schools, funded by the state but proposed, developed and run by external sponsors.

The researchers found that academic quality and school performance were the central focus for both Free School and non-Free School parents in choosing their child’s school. However, as the newly-opened Free Schools had no ‘hard’ performance data or inspection reports available at the time, the study highlighted how parents used proxies – environment and ethos, curriculum, size and social mix – to assess potential academic quality and school suitability for their child.

‘Not liking other schools’ was an ‘important’ or ‘very important’ motivator for 80.1% of Free School parents, compared with 60.4% of non-Free School parents. While negative perceptions of other local state schools led some parents to choose a Free School, others drew positive comparisons with private or grammar schools, models that they perceived to be successful and desirable.

The avoidance of certain areas or groups of children was also important to some Free School parents. A muddied distinction between school performance and student composition emerged, with parents, in some cases, understanding the two issues synonymously.

Almost two thirds (61.0%) of Free School parents said that a traditional approach to schooling – the promotion of traditional values, an academic curriculum, a smart school uniform and strict discipline – was ‘very important’ to them, compared with just over one third (34.3%) of non-Free School parents. School size was also ‘very important’ to 61.0% of Free School parents but just 24.3% of non-Free School parents.

“Since the introduction of the Free Schools programme there have been concerns that the new schools are more likely to attract more advantaged parents and have the potential to contribute to further social segregation between schools,” the authors said.

“The preferences of many parents for features which make Free Schools socially distinctive or for having an advantaged social intake lend support to these concerns. There is a danger that such impressions of social distinction contribute to a less inclusive school environment and lead to increased clustering of certain groups of children within different schools.”

Abstract of the study:

This study examines parental choice preferences following the introduction of the Free Schools policy in England. It reports on two phases of data collection: first, the analysis of factors that Free School and non-Free School parents reported as important in informing their choices; and, second, findings from semi-structured interviews with parents of children attending a Free School. The findings show that Free School parents’ choices were mostly influenced by similar factors to those of parents elsewhere. There were, however, some notable exceptions, particularly in relation to school size, ethos and curriculum. The analyses also highlight how the lack of information available led parents to use proxies to assess potential academic quality and school suitability for their child. The tensions that exist for parents in exercising choice within this new context and the implications for school intakes and diversity within the system are discussed.

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How the effects of teenage motherhood can last during multiple generations

We have seen a drop of teenage pregnancies in a lot of countries, but it still happens. A new study examined the longitudinal effects over generations.

From the press release:

The grandchildren of adolescent mothers have lower school readiness scores than their peers, according to a study published February 6, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONEby Elizabeth Wall-Wieler of Stanford University, USA, and colleagues at the University of Manitoba.

Previous studies have established that children born to adolescent mothers are less ready for school and have poorer educational outcomes than children born to older mothers. Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain this association, including maternal education levels, social support and monetary resources.

To determine whether this effect extends to multiple generations, the authors used data from the Manitoba Population Research Data Repository to identify 11,326 children born in Manitoba, Canada, in 2000 through 2006 whose mothers were born in 1979 through 1997. Children born in these years took the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a 103 item questionnaire administered by kindergarten teachers to assess five areas of development. The researchers were able to link information from the data repository, EDI scores, and Canadian Census data. Results were adjusted to account for differences in birth year and location, income quintile, and child’s health at birth.

A greater percentage (36%) of children whose grandmothers had been adolescent mothers were not ready for school than children whose grandmothers were 20 or older at the birth of their first child (31%). The relationship persisted even when a child’s own mother was not an adolescent mother. Compared with children whose mothers and grandmothers were both at least 20 at the birth of their first child, those with grandmothers who were adolescent mothers but older mothers had 39% greater odds of not being ready for school (95%CI: 1.22-1.60). These children lagged behind in physical well-being, social competence, language and cognitive development.

The educational attainment and marital status of mothers and grandmothers was not available in the data, nor was individual income. The mechanisms underlying this multigenerational effect are unclear but the results have policy implications for school readiness interventions as well as calculating the costs and consequences of adolescent motherhood. Interventions to improve outcomes of children born to adolescent mothers should also extend to grandchildren of adolescent mothers, the authors say.

The authors add: “Adolescent childbearing has significant implications for early childhood development – not just for the child of that mother, but also for the grandchild of that mother.”

Abstract of the study:

Background
Children born to adolescent mothers generally perform more poorly on school readiness assessments than their peers born to adult mothers. It is unknown, however, whether this relationship extends to the grandchildren of these adolescent mothers. This paper examines the multi-generational outcomes associated with adolescent motherhood by testing whether the grandchildren of adolescent mothers also have lower school readiness scores than their peers; we further assessed if this relationship was moderated by whether the child’s mother was an adolescent mother.

Methods
We used population-based data to conduct the retrospective cohort study of children born in Manitoba, Canada, 2000–2009, whose mothers were born 1979–1997 (n = 11,326). Overall school readiness and readiness on five domains of development were analyzed using logistic regression models.

Results
Compared with children whose mothers and grandmothers were both ≥ 20 at the birth of their first child, those born to grandmothers who were < 20 and mothers who were ≥ 20 years old at the birth of their first child had 39% greater odds of being not ready for school (95% CI: 1.22–1.60). Children whose grandmothers were ≥ 20 and mothers were < 20 at the birth of their first child had 25% greater odds of being not ready for school (95% CI: 1.11–1.41), and children born to grandmothers and mothers who were both <20 at the birth of their first child had 35% greater odds of being not ready for school (95% CI: 1.18–1.54).

Conclusions
These findings suggest a multigenerational effect of adolescent motherhood on school readiness.

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The effect of a World Cup on students’ effort and achievement

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this study will make a lot of people smile because they will recognize this:

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics examines how leisure time can impact students’ effort and educational achievement by looking at the overlap of major soccer tournaments (the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship) with GCSE exams in England (GCSEs are high-stakes exams taken in the UK).
Using seven years of subject data on students in England, taken from the National Pupil Database, Robert Metcalfe and colleagues estimated the overall effect of a tournament by comparing within-student variation in performance during the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.
Overall, they found a negative average effect of the tournament on exam performance, as measured by whether students achieved a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE. In tournament years, the odds of achieving the benchmark of a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects fell by 12%. For students who are likely to be very interested in soccer (defined as likely to be white, male, disadvantaged students), the impact is greater, with the odds of achieving the benchmark reduced by 28%. This result is important, as this group is already the lowest performing, with only 21.3% achieving a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE in non-tournament years.
An earlier study reported in a previous issueof Best Evidence in Brief also found that some students perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international soccer tournament taking place.

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This post may cause stress for many parents, do be warned

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you but a new study shows that the time parents spend with children can be key to academic success. But wait… it can be more complicated than that because they found a quite distinct way to measure this: the researchers analyzed data on children in Israel who lost a parent through death or divorce and looked at the remaining parent (quotes from the press release):

They found that when it came to one measure of a child’s academic success, the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left the home.

And the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.

The study is quite large, to say the least, as it involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce. But what do we learn from this?

“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens,” he (Gould, one of the main authors) said.

“These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”

In other words, Gould said, parenting matters.

“Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids,” he said.

Study results rejected the argument that the parents’ income is really what helps the children of the highly educated succeed academically.

And now it gets really interesting:

If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.

“That’s not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study,” Weinberg said.

But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.

The study didn’t find any differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died, versus those who did not. That may be because mothers’ education levels generally had more impact on their children’s success than that of fathers because of the more time moms spend with their kids.

Results also showed that mothers’ education was more closely linked to children’s academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.

Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.

Similar results were also found with children whose parents had divorced. The educational level of the mother – whom the child typically lived with – had a larger effect on academic success than did the education of the other parent, Weinberg said.

“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” Weinberg said.

“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”

And… the importance of mothers.

Abstract of the study by Gould et al.:

This paper examines the transmission of human capital from parents to children using variation in parental influence due to parental death, divorce, and the increasing specialization of parental roles in larger families. All three sources of variation yield strikingly similar patterns which show that the strong parent-child correlation in human capital is largely causal. In each case, the parent-child correlation in education is stronger with the parent that spends more time with the child, and weaker with the parent that spends relatively less time parenting. These findings help us understand why educated parents spend more time with their children.

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Interesting: babies who hear two languages at home develop advantages in attention

There has been a lot of debate about the benefits of being raised bilingual, this new study shows a possible positive effect on attention as this new study shows that infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language.

From the press release:

The advantages of growing up in a bilingual home can start as early as six months of age, according to new research led by York University’s Faculty of Health. In the study, infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language. This means that exposure to bilingual environments should be considered a significant factor in the early development of attention in infancy, the researchers say, and could set the stage for lifelong cognitive benefits.

The research was conducted by Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Walter Gordon Research Chair of Lifespan Cognitive Development at York University and Scott Adler, associate professor in York’s Department of Psychology and the Centre for Vision Research, along with lead author Kyle J. Comishen, a former Master’s student in their lab. It will be published January 30, 2019 in Developmental Science.

The researchers conducted two separate studies in which infants’ eye movements were measured to assess attention and learning. Half of the infants who were studied were being raised in monolingual environments while others were being raised in environments in which they heard two languages spoken approximately half of the time each. The infants were shown images as they lay in a crib equipped with a camera and screen, and their eye movements were tracked and recorded as they watched pictures appear above them, in different areas of the screen. The tracking was conducted 60 times for each infant.

“By studying infants – a population that does not yet speak any language – we discovered that the real difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals later in life is not in the language itself, but rather, in the attention system used to focus on language,” says Bialystok, co-senior author of the study. “This study tells us that from the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment. Why is that important? It’s because attention is the basis for all cognition.”

In the first study, the infants saw one of two images in the centre of the screen followed by another image appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. The babies learned to expect that if, for example, a pink and white image appears in the centre of the screen, it would be followed by an attractive target image on the left; If a blue and yellow image appeared in the centre, then the target would appear on the right. All the infants could learn these rules.

In the second study, which began in the same way, researchers switched the rule halfway through the experiment. When they tracked the babies’ eye movements, they found that infants who were exposed to a bilingual environment were better at learning the new rule and at anticipating where the target image would appear. This is difficult because they needed to learn a new association and replace a successful response with a new contrasting one.

“Infants only know which way to look if they can discriminate between the two pictures that appear in the centre,” said Adler, co-senior author of the study. “They will eventually anticipate the picture appearing on the right, for example, by making an eye movement even before that picture appears on the right. What we found was that the infants who were raised in bilingual environments were able to do this better after the rule is switched than those raised in a monolingual environment.”

Anything that comes through the brain’s processing system interacts with this attentional mechanism, says Adler. Therefore, language as well as visual information can influence the development of the attentional system.

Researchers say the experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

In previous research, bilingual children and adults outperformed monolinguals on some cognitive tasks that require them to switch responses or deal with conflict. The reason for those differences were thought to follow from the ongoing need for bilinguals to select which language to speak. This new study pushes back the explanation to a time before individuals are actively using languages and switching between them.

“What is so ground-breaking about these results, is that they look at infants who are not bilingual yet and who are only hearing the bilingual environment. This is what’s having the impact on cognitive performance,” says Adler.

Abstract of the study:

Bilingualism has been observed to influence cognitive processing across the lifespan but whether bilingual environments have an effect on selective attention and attention strategies in infancy remains an unresolved question. In Study 1, infants exposed to monolingual or bilingual environments participated in an eye‐tracking cueing task in which they saw centrally presented stimuli followed by a target appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. Halfway through the trials, the central stimuli reliably predicted targets’ locations. In Study 2, the first half of the trials consisted of centrally presented cues that predicted targets’ locations; in the second half, the cue–target location relation switched. All infants performed similarly in Study 1, but in Study 2 infants raised in bilingual, but not monolingual, environments were able to successfully update their expectations by making more correct anticipatory eye movements to the target and expressing faster reactive eye latencies toward the target in the post‐switch condition. The experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

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How do children draw themselves? Well, it depends on who’s looking (study)

Past week Andreas Schleicher (OECD) referred to children’s drawings of the future in one of the talks related to the new Trends Shaping Education report. Thinking and using children’s drawings is nothing new, e.g. in a therapeutic setting. A new study does shed an interesting light on what happens when children are asked to draw themselves: children vary how they draw themselves depending on the profession of the audience, and whether or not they are familiar to the child.

This doesn’t mean that these kind of drawings are unusable, but it helps finetuning how they should be interpreted.

From the press release:

It’s the archetypal child’s drawing – family, pet, maybe a house and garden, and the child themselves. Yet how do children represent themselves in their drawings, and does this representation alter according to who will look at the picture?

A research team led by academics from the University of Chichester has examined this issue and found that children’s expressive drawings of themselves vary according to the authority of and familiarity with the adult who will view the picture. The study is published today, 25th January 2019, in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

The results of the study are significant, because it is important to understand children’s drawings for different audiences. Drawings are often used in clinical, forensic, educational and therapeutic situations to garner information about how a child feels and to supplement verbal communication.

The research team worked with 175 children aged eight and nine, 85 boys and 90 girls. The children were arranged in seven groups – one where no audience was specified and six audience groups varying by audience type. These groups represented professionals (policeman, teacher) and men with whom the children were familiar, and those with whom they were not.

The children were invited to draw three pictures of themselves – one as a baseline, one happy and one sad.

The results of the study show that children’s drawings of themselves are more expressive if the audience for those drawings is familiar to the child. Girls drew themselves more expressively than boys.

Some anomalies appeared in the results. For example, boys and girls performed differently in happy and sad drawings for the familiar and unfamiliar policeman groups. Girls showed more expressivity than boys in their happy drawings when the audience was a policeman they knew, whereas boys’ sad drawings showed more expressivity than girls’ in the unfamiliar policeman group. While the authors of the study suggest reasons for this, they see merit in further study.

They also suggest that this current study could be used as the basis for future studies investigating other professional and personal interactions, such as between a doctor and their patient.

The study was led by Dr Esther Burkitt, Reader in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chichester. She commented: “This current study builds on the findings of previous studies carried out by our team. Its findings have implications for the use of children’s drawings by professionals as a means to supplement and improve verbal communication. Being aware that children may draw emotions differently for different professional groups may help practitioners to better understand what a child feels about the topics being drawn. This awareness could provide the basis of a discussion with the child about why they drew certain information for certain people. Our findings indicate that it matters for which profession children think they are drawing themselves, and whether they are familiar with a member of that profession.”

Abstract of the study:

This study investigated whether children’s expressive drawings of themselves vary as a function of audience authority and familiarity. One hundred and seventy‐five children, 85 boys and 90 girls, aged between 8 years 1 months and 9 years 2 months (= 8 years 5 months) were allocated into seven groups: a reference group (= 25), where no audience was specified, and six audience groups (= 25 per group) varying by audience type (policeman vs. teacher vs. man) and familiarity (familiar vs. unfamiliar). They drew baseline then happy and sad drawings of themselves, rated affect towards drawings type, and rated perceived audience authority. Audience familiarity and authority impacted expressive drawing strategy use and this varied by gender. There was higher overall expressive strategy use for happy drawings and for girls, and influences of affect type, familiarity, and authority were found. The implications of children’s perceptions of audience type on their expressive drawings are discussed.

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A study I forgot to blog about: the 8 hour sleep challenge

Sleep is key for learning. Nothing new there. But how can we get students to sleep more? Bring in the 8 hour sleep challenge. It worked, but there is more to it (and the study had a relatively small test group).

From the press release:

Students given extra points if they met “The 8-hour Challenge” — averaging eight hours of sleep for five nights during final exams week — did better than those who snubbed (or flubbed) the incentive, according to Baylor University research.

“Better sleep helped rather than harmed final exam performance, which is contrary to most college students’ perceptions that they have to sacrifice either studying or sleeping. And you don’t have to be an ‘A’ student or have detailed education on sleep for this to work,” said Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

While students who successfully met the sleep challenge received extra points, the “mini-incentive” was not included in the analysis of how well they performed on the finals, stressed Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

“They didn’t just perform well because they received extra points,” she said. “Students know that sacrificing sleep to complete school work is not a healthy choice, but they assume they don’t have a choice, often remarking that there aren’t enough hours in the day for coursework, extracurriculars, jobs, etc. This removes that excuse.”

Research participants included undergraduate interior design students and students in upper-level psychology and neuroscience classes. While the psychology classes emphasized education about sleep, the interior design students did not receive any formal training in sleep. Those who opted to take the challenge wore wristband sleep-monitoring devices for five days to ensure accurate study results.

“The students didn’t need the extra credit to perform better, and they weren’t really better students from the get-go,” Scullin said. “If you statistically correct for whether a student was an A, B, C, or D student before their final exam, sleeping 8 hours was associated with a four-point grade boost — even prior to applying extra credit.”

The collaborative interior design study — “The 8-Hour Challenge: Incentivizing Sleep During End-of-Term Assessments — was published in the Journal of Interior Design. Scullin’s study of psychology students — “The 8-Hour Sleep Challenge During Final Exams Week” — was published in Teaching of Psychology.

Poor sleep is common during finals as students cut back on sleep, deal with more stress, use more caffeine and are exposed to more bright light, all of which may disrupt sleep. Fewer than 10 percent of undergraduates maintain the recommended average of 8 hours a night or even the recommended minimum of 7 hours, previous research shows.

But with incentives, “we can potentially completely reverse the proportion of students meeting minimum sleep recommendations — 7 hours a night — from fewer than 15 percent up to 90 percent,” Scullin said. “Half of students can even meet optimal sleep recommendations of 8 to 9 hours.”

* PSYCHOLOGY STUDENTS

In the study of psychology students, 34 students in two undergraduate courses could earn extra credit if they averaged 8 hours of sleep during final exams week or at least improved upon their sleep from earlier in the semester.

The 24 who opted to take the challenge averaged 8.5 hours of sleep, with 17 meeting the goal. On the final exam, students who slept more than 8 hours nightly performed better than those who opted out or slept less than 7.9 hours. (The incentive was 8 points — the equivalent of 1 percent of a student’s overall class grade.)

“It’s worth noting that one student who had a D-plus grade before the final but slept more than 8 hours a week during finals week, remarked that it was the ‘first time my brain worked while taking an exam,'” Scullin said.

* INTERIOR DESIGN STUDENTS

In the interior design study challenge, students earned credit (10 points on a 200-point project) if they averaged 8 or more hours a night but received no grade change if they averaged 7 to 7.9 hours a night.

Of the 27 students enrolled in the program, 22 attempted the challenge. Compared with a group of 22 students who did not try for the extra points, very few (9 percent) averaged 8 hours or even 7 hours (14 percent).

The 8 hour challenge increased the percentage of 8 and 7 hour sleepers to 59 percent and 86 percent respectively. Students who took part in the challenge slept an average of 98 minutes more per night compared to students who were not offered the incentive but were monitored.

“Critically, the additional sleep did not come at a cost to project performance,” King said. “Students who showed more consistent sleep performed better than those who had less consistent sleep. And students who achieved the challenge performed as well or better than those who did not take the challenge.”

In a study of sleep and creativity done in 2017, King and Scullin found that interior design students with highly variable sleep habits — cycling between “all-nighters” and “catch-up” nights — had decreased cognition in attention and creativity, especially with major projects. Design students customarily complete finals projects rather than final exams.

“Whether or not they ‘pull an all-nighter,’ when students cut their sleep, the effects are obvious,” King said. “They have trouble paying attention during class, and they aren’t as productive during studio time.”

She noted that there is a cultural acceptability — at least in design professions — related to sleep deprivation, thanks in part to the notion of the “tortured artist” who finds inspiration in the wee hours.

“Some fields might find it unprofessional, but for many years, in design, sacrificing sleep was viewed as a rite of passage. That’s something we’re trying to change,” King said. “Even during stressful deadline weeks, students can maintain healthy sleep habits.”

“To be successful at the challenge, students need to manage their time better during the day. Getting more sleep at night then allows them to be more efficient the next day,” Scullin said. “By training students in their first year of college, if not earlier, that they can sleep well during finals week without sacrificing performance, we may help to resolve the ‘global sleep epidemic’ that plagues students in America and abroad.”

Abstract of the study:

Many students and educators know that sleep is important to learning, yet there exists a gap between their knowledge and behavior. For example, fewer than 10% of students sleep 8 hr before final exams. In the context of two undergraduate courses on sleep (N = 34), students could earn extra credit if they averaged ≥8.0 hr of sleep during final exams week. Sleep/wake patterns were monitored objectively using actigraphy. The 24 students who opted in to the challenge averaged 8.5 hr of sleep (n = 17 succeeded). Short sleep (≤6.9 hr) occurred on only 11% of nights, significantly less than early-semester baseline (51%) and comparison group (65%) data. On the final exam, students who slept ≥8.0 hr performed better than students who opted out or slept ≤7.9 hr, even after controlling for prefinal grades. The 8-hr sleep challenge provides proof of principle that many students can maintain optimal sleep while studying, without sacrificing test performance.

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Socioeconomic status and the brain

This new study is a new argument pro helping parents and kids in low socioeconomic statuses when the kids are as young as possible as the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and brain anatomy seems to be mostly stable from childhood to early adulthood. So help those families and kids before they turn 5.

From the press release:

Cassidy McDermott, Armin Raznahan, and colleagues analyzed brain scans of the same individuals collected over time between five and 25 years of age. Comparing this data to parental education and occupation and each participants’ intelligence quotient (IQ) allowed the researchers to demonstrate positive associations between SES and the size and surface area of brain regions involved in cognitive functions such as learning, language, and emotions. In particular, this is the first study to associate greater childhood SES with larger volumes of two subcortical regions — the thalamus and striatum — thereby extending previous SES research that has focused on its relationship to the cortex.

Finally, the researchers identify brain regions underlying the relationship between SES and IQ. A better understanding of these relationships could clarify the processes by which SES becomes associated with a range of life outcomes, and ultimately inform efforts to minimize SES-related variation in health and achievement.

Abstract of the study:

Childhood socioeconomic status (SES) impacts cognitive development and mental health, but its association with human structural brain development is not yet well-characterized. Here, we analyzed 1243 longitudinally-acquired structural MRI scans from 623 youth (299 female/324 male) to investigate the relation between SES and cortical and subcortical morphology between ages 5 and 25 years. We found positive associations between SES and total volumes of the brain, cortical sheetnd four separate subcortical structures. These associations were stable between ages 5 and 25. Surface-based shape analysis revealed that higher SES is associated with areal expansion of (i) lateral prefrontalnterior cingulate, lateral temporalnd superior parietal cortices and (ii) ventrolateral thalamicnd medial amygdalo-hippocampal sub-regions. Meta-analyses of functional imaging data indicate that cortical correlates of SES are centered on brain systems subserving sensorimotor functions, language, memorynd emotional processing. We further show that anatomical variation within a subset of these cortical regions partially mediates the positive association between SES and IQ. Finally, we identify neuroanatomical correlates of SES that exist above and beyond accompanying variation in IQ. While SES is clearly a complex construct which likely relates to development through diverse, non-deterministic processes, our findings elucidate potential neuroanatomical mediators of the association between SES and cognitive outcomes.

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