Category Archives: Education

Guess what makes the biggest impact on early childhood outcomes? Intentional teaching

Having early childhood education just isn’t enough. It is what happens in early childhood education that can make a difference. This new review looks at several measures of the quality of early childhood education and based on their research, Margaret Burchinal suggests that the instructional practices of preschool teachers have the largest effect on young children’s academic and social skills. I don’t think this review paper will end the discussion, probably nothing ever will, but it does add to it.

From the press release:

A comprehensive review of research on several measures of the quality of early childhood education suggests that the instructional practices of preschool teachers have the largest impact on young children’s academic and social skills. The review helps untangle a complicated knot of factors that affect young children.

“High quality preschool is one of the most effective means of preparing all children to succeed in school,” said Margaret Burchinal, senior research scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG)at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “However, this review of research indicates the need to expand our definitions of quality.”

Burchinal said her review of the science suggests the field should continue to measure the quality of relationships of preschool teachers and children, especially the sensitivity and warmth of the teachers. In addition, the review suggests factors such as the levels of education of program directors and teachers and the teacher-child ratio also influence outcomes.

However, the areas with the strongest connection to beneficial results for young children involve what teachers teach and how they teach it.

“The largest effects on child outcomes involve curricula,” Burchinal explained. “Some of the biggest impacts on literacy, math, and other skills involved curricula focused on those specific skills with accompanying coaching or training for teachers.”

According to Burchinal, many of the most effective curricula incorporate planned, engaging activities for preschoolers, with a schedule of lessons and activities in a variety of learning settings. Effective learning opportunities often include some whole group instruction and more time in small groups, learning centers, and computer work.

Burchinal also said the research shows that the teaching practice of “scaffolding” brings big benefits. “Scaffolding occurs when the adult caregiver talks with and models a learning activity for the child, making the activity fun through conversation that builds on and extends the child’s interest and knowledge about the world.”

Some of the largest impacts on children’s outcomes have arisen from the strongest pre-kindergarten programs, Burchinal added. These programs show even larger impacts for dual-language learners and for children from low-income families.

“These prekindergarten impacts are larger than impacts from traditionally-measured dimensions of quality,” Burchinal said. “This is further evidence that more focus on scaffolding and intentional teaching is needed.”

Burchinal pointed to FPG’s Abecedarian Project as an example of a program that combined intentional teaching with warmth and sensitivity. The project used an intensive, language-driven approach that involved teacher scaffolding of activity-based learning to build children’s knowledge base and language skills. The center-based, birth-to-5 program for children from low-income homes famously contributed to better cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical health outcomes that have persisted for decades.

Burchinal’s new review of research includes several studies based in the United States and other countries. “Measuring Early Care and Education” appears in “Child Development Perspectives,” which the Society for Research in Child Development publishes.

“As we think about the components of high-quality early childhood education, our policies and practices can reflect what this research tells us,” she said. “Ideally, our new models of quality will encompass evidence-based curricula and intentional teaching within content areas, as well as professional development that focuses on the teaching practices that promote the skills young children need to succeed in school.”

Abstract of the review:

High-quality early care and education (ECE) programs are thought to increase opportunities for all children to succeed in school, but recent findings call into question whether these programs affect children as anticipated. In this article, I examine research relating the quality of ECE to children’s outcomes, finding somewhat inconsistent and modest associations with widely used measures of process and structural quality, and more consistent and stronger associations with other dimensions of ECE such as curricula and type of ECE program. I discuss why the associations between ECE quality and outcomes are so modest, including limited children’s outcomes, psychometric issues with quality measures, and a need to revise and expand measures of ECE quality. The evidence indicates that we need to focus on the content of instruction and teaching practices, as well as the extent to which teachers actively scaffold learning opportunities. We also need to continue to focus on the quality of interactions between teachers and children, and on children’s access to age-appropriate activities.


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Whatever Happened To MOOCs?

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

The splash began in 2012 when Massive Open Online Courses were touted as the coming revolution in higher education.

Wait, Larry, that was only five years ago, a mere blip in the life-cycle of an educational innovation.  Why are you including MOOCs when you have featured posts asking “whatever happened to” half-century old innovations such as Open Classrooms, Total Quality Management, and Behavioral Objectives?

With advances in digital technology and social media, the life cycle of a “disruptive innovation,” or a “revolutionary” program has so sped up that what used to take decades to stick  or slip away now occurs in the metaphorical blink of the eye. So whatever happened to MOOCs?

Where Did the Idea Originate?

One answer is that MOOCs are the next stage of what began as correspondence courses in the late 19th century for those Americans who wanted to expand their knowledge and found going to…

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A story about iPad-schools in the Netherlands

Quite often you can see hurray-news being spread virally when discussing technology in education, when things go wrong or turn out less successful than planned news suddenly seem to go much less viral although you will always be able to find people who like a dig at technology-driven reform. I do think that sharing stories about reform-attempts that didn’t go so well is important. Not to say ‘haha’ or ‘duh’, but to learn from those cases. Think of it as a kind of air crash investigation, maybe we should have make such a team.

This weekend Dutch newspaper Het Parool brought a reconstruction how a new school ‘De Ontplooiing’ in Amsterdam went horribly wrong. This school has become famous as one of the very first Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands, a school vision that heavily relied on the iPad. People from all over the world came to visit this flagship school and one of the people behind this O4NT-vision still sells this story around the globe.

But… this school is in bad shape. Het Parool describes a couple of things:

  • One element has nothing to do with the school in itself: some of the children who were brought to the school were children who were having trouble already in their original schools. This is difficult for any new school to handle.
  • There was strong vision on personalized learning, but… to much freedom, combined with floating hours, made it very difficult for children to learn. In the newspaper there are testimonies how children leaving this school who go back to ‘normal’ schools are way behind in math and reading as it was not that important.
  • Over the half of the other Steve Jobs schools in the Netherlands have left the original vision. Often not because they didn’t like the vision or because it didn’t work, but because it became to expensive to use the software and the vision of the organization.

When you look at the first element, this is something the school or the O4NT-vision couldn’t help, but the second and third element is something different. A air crash investigation team would mention probably how some of the school leaders involved were lacking experience. They would maybe also mention that the for profit-idea in education maybe didn’t help. “Lack of vision” wouldn’t be mentioned as there was truly a vision that was more than ‘use an iPad’. Some of the educational scientists in the team would point out that parts of this vision was doomed from the start, but this would probably remain a discussion, as it has been for over decades – long before the iPad was made. There are more school approaches with a lot of freedom, with strong defenders and as strong opponents.

The sad thing is – as Paul Kirschner pointed out on Twitter – that this has been experiment that went wrong for a lot of children. An experiment that never would have been possible if it were a real scientific experiment as it would never would have passed an ethical committee. Maybe the air crash investigation team could write up what not to do when trying new experiments like this. Not to make experimenting impossible, but just to make sure the changes for a next plain crashing (think Altschool, think Carpe Diem) would diminish.

(I’ve written quite a lot about these schools in the past, but most of it in Dutch. Check here and here. There is a translate button on the blog).

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Funny on Sunday: it’s in the syllabus!!!

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New study shows: ‘Fake news’ = incorrect, but hard to correct.

#Fakenews is nothing new, despite some president claiming he invented it. But also because of that certain president there is a present surge of attention for the topic of ‘fake news’. This study by De Keersmaecker and Roets published in Intelligence adds some interesting insights on how people with lower cognitive abilities react to fake news in contrast to people with higher cognitive abilities:

  • When people learn their attitudes are based on false information, they adjust them.
  • People low (vs high) in cognitive ability adjust attitudes to lesser extent.
  • Adjusted attitudes remained biased for people low in cognitive ability.

This excerpt from the conclusion sums it up quite clearly:

In line with our expectations, results indicated that individuals with lower (versus higher) levels of cognitive ability were less responsive to this corrective new information, and the initial exposure to the incorrect information had a persevering influence on their attitudes. Specifically, when individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability learnt that their attitudes towards a target person were partly based on negative information that was incorrect, they did adjust their evaluation about the target person, but to a lesser degree than individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability. Importantly, the adjusted attitudes of individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability were still more negative compared to the evaluations of their counterparts who were never exposed to the incorrect negative information. Contrary, individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability made more appropriate attitude adjustments. In particular, after learning that the negative information was false, they adopted attitudes that were similar to those who had not received false information.

Noteworthy, these effects of cognitive ability on attitude adjustment were obtained regardless of whether or not we controlled for open mindedness (i.e., need for closure) and authoritarianism as potential confounding variables. This indicates that the obtained effects are genuine cognitive ability effects and that making appropriate adjustments of initial social impressions is indeed directly affected by cognitive ability.

Abstract of the study:

The present experiment (N = 390) examined how people adjust their judgment after they learn that crucial information on which their initial evaluation was based is incorrect. In line with our expectations, the results showed that people generally do adjust their attitudes, but the degree to which they correct their assessment depends on their cognitive ability. In particular, individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability adjusted their attitudes to a lesser extent than individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability. Moreover, for those with lower levels of cognitive ability, even after the explicit disconfirmation of the false information, adjusted attitudes remained biased and significantly different from the attitudes of the control group who was never exposed to the incorrect information. In contrast, the adjusted attitudes of those with higher levels of cognitive ability were similar to those of the control group. Controlling for need for closure and right-wing authoritarianism did not influence the relationship between cognitive ability and attitude adjustment. The present results indicate that, even in optimal circumstances, the initial influence of incorrect information cannot simply be undone by pointing out that this information was incorrect, especially in people with relatively lower cognitive ability.


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How to raise IQ? Education! (a new meta-analysis)

This morning Stuart Ritchie shared a preprint of a new meta-analysis he made together with Elliot Tucker-Drob and the theme is very relevant in many of the present discussions about education: the link between IQ and education. An important insight from the conclusion:

…the results support the hypothesis that education has a causal effect on intelligence test scores. The effect of one additional year of education—contingent on study design, inclusion of moderators, and publication bias correction—was estimated from approximately one to five points on the standard IQ scale.

And this is also important:

The results reported here indicate strong, consistent evidence for effects of education on intelligence. Although the effects—on the order of a few IQ points for a year of education— might be considered small, at the societal level they are potentially of great consequence. A crucial next step will be to uncover the mechanisms of these educational effects on intelligence, in order to inform educational policy and practice.

Still important questions remain. Ritchie and Tucker-Drob mention several, but I personally find this question very relevant for further research:

…are there individual differences in the magnitude of the educational effect? One possibility is the “Matthew Effect” (Stanovich, 1986), whereby children at greater initial cognitive (or socioeconomic) advantage benefit more from additional education than those at lower advantage. Another possibility is that education acts as an “equalizer”, such that those at lower levels of initial advantage benefit most (Downey, von Hippel, & Broh, 2004). Indeed, some evidence of an equalizing effect was reported in a single study by Hansen, Heckman, & Mullen (2004).

Read the abstract:

Intelligence test scores and educational duration are positively correlated. This correlation can be interpreted in two ways: students with greater propensity for intelligence go on to complete more education, or a longer education increases intelligence. We meta-analysed three categories of quasi-experimental studies of educational effects on intelligence: those estimating education-intelligence associations after controlling for earlier intelligence, those using compulsory schooling policy changes as instrumental variables, and those using regression-discontinuity designs on school-entry age cutoffs. Across 142 effect sizes from 42 datasets involving over 600,000 participants, we found consistent evidence for beneficial effects of education on cognitive abilities, of approximately 1 to 5 IQ points for an additional year of education. Moderator analyses indicated that the effects persisted across the lifespan, and were present on all broad categories of cognitive ability studied. Education appears to be the most consistent, robust, and durable method yet to be identified for raising intelligence.



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Bilingual children and inhibitory control, a match?

This is one of those ongoing debates in research: are there benefits of bilingualism? If I’m not mistaking, there is actually a conference right now about this theme in the Netherlands. This study is an interesting new longitudinal study and the answer of the researchers is ‘yes’, as their data shows that for children in preschool, speaking two languages may be better than one, especially for developing inhibitory control.

From the press release:

For students in preschool, speaking two languages may be better than one, especially for developing inhibitory control — the ability to stop a hasty reflexive response and instead select a more adaptive response.

That idea isn’t new, but a University of Oregon study took a longitudinal approach to examine the bilingual advantage hypothesis, which suggests that the demands associated with managing two languages confer cognitive advantages that extend beyond the language domain.

The study appeared in the journal Developmental Science.

Researchers looked at a national sample of 1,146 Head Start children who were assessed for their inhibitory control at age 4, and then followed over an 18-month period. The children were divided into three groups based on their language proficiency: Those who spoke only English; those who spoke both Spanish and English; and those who spoke only Spanish at the start of the study but were fluent in both English and Spanish at the follow up assessment.

“At the beginning of the study, the group that entered as already bilingual scored higher on a test of inhibitory control compared to the other two groups,” said the study’s lead author Jimena Santillán, a UO doctoral student in psychology at the time of the study.

Follow-up assessments came at six and 18 months. Inhibitory control was assessed using a common pencil-tapping task, in which the participant is instructed to tap a pencil on a desk twice when the experimenter taps once, and vice-versa, requiring the student to inhibit the impulse to imitate what the experimenter does and but do the opposite instead.

Over the follow-up period, both the bilingual group and the monolingual-to-bilingual transition group showed more rapid inhibitory control development than the group of English-only speakers.

“Inhibitory control and executive function are important skills for academic success and positive health outcomes and well-being later in life,” said study co-author, Atika Khurana, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services and scientist at the UO’s Prevention Science Institute.

“The development of inhibitory control occurs rapidly during the preschool years,” she said. “Children with strong inhibitory control are better able to pay attention, follow instructions and take turns. This study shows one way in which environmental influences can impact the development of inhibitory control during younger years.”

Students in this study came from low socioeconomic status families, as is typical of Head start samples. Such children are in a group known to be at-risk for poorer outcomes related to executive function skills. This population allowed the researchers to compare students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds but who had different language experiences.

Researchers also were able to control for other variables that could be associated with inhibitory control development, such as a child’s age and parenting practices. The study’s design allowed researchers to focus on the effects of bilingual experience on inhibitory-control development during preschool years.

Previous studies have examined the effects of bilingualism on inhibitory control, but have done so with a focus on one point in time or development and have focused on smaller samples from mostly middle class backgrounds, said Santillán, who now is a senior research manager at Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child.

“Many studies have addressed the bilingual advantage hypothesis,” she said. “However, the findings have been inconsistent. Part of the reason is the difficulty of randomly assigning participants to be bilingual or monolingual, which would be the ideal research design.”

The longitudinal approach allowed researchers to see how inhibitory control changed over time for children who were developing bilingualism during the same time period, as well as for those who were already bilingual with those who remained monolingual.

“This allowed us to get closer to capturing the dynamic nature of the development of bilingualism and inhibitory control, both of which change over time, and rule out other potential explanations for the differences observed between groups,” she said.

It was important, she said, to focus on a sample of children who tend to be at risk for not developing inhibitory abilities at the same rate as their peers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds because of the motivation to find factors that could help buffer such children from these negative outcomes.

“We were able to obtain evidence that bilingualism can be a protective factor that helps children develop these cognitive abilities,” Santillán said. “Provided that more research studies support our results, the findings we’ve obtained could have implications for policies related to bilingual education and could help encourage families to raise their children as bilingual.”

Abstract of the study:

Children from lower socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds tend to be at-risk for executive function (EF) impairments by the time they are in preschool, placing them at an early disadvantage for academic success. The present study examined the potentially protective role of bilingual experience on the development of inhibitory control (IC) in 1146 Head Start preschoolers who were followed for an 18-month period during the transition to kindergarten as part of the longitudinal Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009 study. Using three waves of data, we predicted individual variation in developmental trajectories of IC for three groups that differed in bilingual experience—English monolinguals, Spanish-English bilinguals, and a group of children who transitioned from being Spanish monolingual to Spanish-English bilinguals during the course of the study. Compared to their English monolingual peers, bilingual children from Spanish-speaking homes showed higher IC performance at Head Start entry, as well as steeper IC growth over time. Children who were Spanish monolingual at the beginning of Head Start showed the lowest IC performance at baseline. However, their rate of IC growth exceeded that of children who remained English monolingual and did not differ from that of their peers who entered Head Start being bilingual. These results suggest that acquiring bilingualism and continued bilingual experience are associated with more rapid IC development during the transition from preschool to kindergarten in children from lower SES backgrounds.

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An interesting pilot-study on the pedagogical knowledge of teachers

I’m often reluctant to share a pilot-study, but I share this working paper as it something very interesting to follow up. The OECD wants to monitor the pedagogical knowledge of teachers in the near future and therefor performed a pilot-study in 5 countries. The results are therefor probably not really representative.

Let’s have a closer look:

What is the nature of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge? The Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning Teacher Knowledge Survey (ITEL TKS) set out to answer this question in a pilot study that ran in five countries: Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Israel and the Slovak Republic. Using convenience samples, the pilot assessed the pedagogical knowledge base of teachers, teacher candidates and teacher educators. Pedagogical knowledge was broken down into the domains of assessment, instructional processes and learning processes. The link between teachers’ knowledge and characteristics of teacher education systems, opportunities to learn and motivational characteristics was also examined.

The ITEL TKS pilot demonstrated the feasibility of researching teachers’ pedagogical knowledge profiles across countries, and validated an innovative instrument for assessing general pedagogical knowledge in an internationally comparative way. It also allowed for reflection on potential adaptations to strengthen the design of future work. The results serve as a template for a larger-scale study to explore teacher knowledge and competences in nationally representative samples.

I’m a bit confused by what pedagogical knowledge seems to mean in this study, but I’ve discussed before why this is. Dirk Van Damme shared this tweet with the most important result of this – again pilot – study:

I suggested two things based on this tweet:


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Tips and Tricks for Spaced Learning

3-Star learning experiences

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

Repeatedly retrieving knowledge from long term memory strengthens memory traces so that we learn more effectively. The question is, how can you best (help to) spread learning to facilitate this?

 Note 1: In this blog, the tips and tricks are described mostly from an ‘instructor’s or teacher’s perspective. However, keep in mind that you can apply these to your own learning just as well.

This is what it comes down to: Tackling learning in various short sessions works better than learning that same thing in one long session. You can help learners plan their learning (and this applies to anything such as facts they need to remember, concepts they need to understand and apply, skills they need to acquire and practice, or whatever else they need to learn) by using assignments judiciously and, as teacher / instructor, should also spread practice tests…

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Good read: Silicon Valley Tried to Reinvent Schools. Now It’s Rebooting

Found this non-surprising Bloomberg-article via Tom Bennett. Why am I not surprised, well because I’ve written about this before: the technology often overlooks the old roots of what they are saying. Many of the ideas have been tried before… But also because of what Morozov has coined as solutionism, the naive idea that there are easy – often technological – solutions for complex problems.

But read the article for yourself, this is an excerpt:

The education system is one of the few industries that has resisted technological reinvention. It’s not for a lack of capital. Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Netflix Inc.’s Reed Hastings, Inc.’s Marc Benioff and many others have poured money into reform efforts, with mixed results. Zuckerberg backed a program similar to AltSchool at Summit Public Schools, a U.S. charter school network that uses Facebook technology.

I’m suddenly wondering, is education that last one small village in Armorica that isn’t under control of the Roman Facebook Empire?

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