Category Archives: Research

Again: the power of forgetting

People who read my book or who saw a presentation probably know it already, but I’m a big fan of Ebbinghaus who described the forgetting curve in 1885. His influence on things such as spaced repetition – one of the most effective ways to remember stuff – is big. Spaced repetition already shows the power of forgetting, this announcement of a talk by Bjork, Robert A. that is, gives a good short overview:

Contextual clues play a role in what people are able to store and retrieve from their memory, says Robert A. Bjork, PhD, distinguished research professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. A change in context can cause forgetting, but it can also change–and enrich–how information is encoded and retrieved, which can enhance learning. Bjork defines forgetting as “a decrease in how readily accessible some information or procedure is at a given point in time.” For example, some items may be strongly imprinted in our memories (referred to as “strong storage strength”)–such as a childhood phone number–but may be difficult to retrieve quickly due to the length of time since that information has been accessed (“weak retrieval strength”).

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Just don’t be a helicopter parent

We’ve seen before that being a tiger mom is not a good idea. But being a helicopter parent isn’t a good idea neither. A new study suggests that children with overcontrolling parents may later struggle to adjust in school and social environments.

From the press release:

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study. “Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”

Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

“Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments,” said Perry. “Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset,” said Perry.

Abstract of the study:

We examined longitudinal associations across an 8-year time span between overcontrolling parenting during toddlerhood, self-regulation during early childhood, and social, emotional, and academic adjustment in preadolescence (N 422). Overcontrolling parenting, emotion regulation (ER), and inhibitory control (IC) were observed in the laboratory; preadolescent adjustment was teacher-reported and child self-reported. Results from path analysis indicated that overcontrolling parenting at age 2 was associated negatively with ER and IC at age 5, which, in turn, were associated with more child-reported emotional and school problems, fewer teacher-reported social skills, and less teacher-reported academic productivity at age 10. These effects held even when controlling for prior levels of adjustment at age 5, suggesting that ER and IC in early childhood may be associated with increases and decreases in social, emotional, and academic functioning from childhood to preadolescence. Finally, indirect effects from overcontrolling parenting at age 2 to preadolescent outcomes at age 10 were significant, both through IC and ER at age 5. These results support the notion that parenting during toddlerhood is associated with child adjustment into adolescence through its relation with early developing self-regulatory skills.

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What can parents do to stimulate the IQ of their children?

The saved-you-a-click answer: not that much, but do read on.

This week there was the news of the drop of the average IQ aka the reverse Flynn-effect. The big insight of this new study was that this isn’t probably due to genetics, but rather due to the environment. So, if the environment can affect this IQ – besides the obvious genetic element – what can we do as a parent? This new study tries to answer this question by looking at children that were adopted to control for genetic confounding, but the answer is sobering: parenting has a marginal and inconsistent influence on offspring IQ.

So if we combine the insights of both studies we learn:

  • the environment is important related to the Flynn-effect and
  • family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores.

Well, than we have to look further to education, media, …

Abstract of the study:

The association between family/parenting and offspring IQ remains the matter of debate because of threats related to genetic confounding. The current study is designed to shed some light on this association by examining the influence of parenting influences on adolescent and young adult IQ scores. To do so, a nationally representative sample of youth is analyzed along with a sample of adoptees. The sample of adoptees is able to more fully control for genetic confounding. The results of the study revealed that there is only a marginal and inconsistent influence of parenting on offspring IQ in adolescence and young adulthood. These weak associations were detected in both the nationally representative sample and the adoptee subsample. Sensitivity analyses that focused only on monozygotic twins also revealed no consistent associations between parenting/family measures and verbal intelligence. Taken together, the results of these statistical models indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores. The implications of this study are discussed in relation to research examining the effects of family/parenting on offspring IQ scores.

 

 

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Another study shows the bad influence of recorded lectures on learning and attendance

This morning Frederik Anseel (@fanseel) tweeted this study that is pretty much in line with previous research: when students can have recordings of the lectures, attendance substantially drops and there is not a positive effect on the grades to say the least.

Or in short

Or in words:

Given the importance that attendance is known to have on attainment, if the introduction of lecture capture has a negative impact on grades, this is highly likely to flow through and have a negative impact on attainment so our findings are of no surprise here given the drastic drop in attendance that we witness after lecture capture introduction.

One could say ‘no shit, Sherlock’, still it’s true that a lot of universities invest a  lot of time, effort and money into something that even might hurt more specifically the students who need it the most. On the other side, I did have already also positive experiences with this kind of recordings e.g. for students who couldn’t attend because of illness.

Abstract of the study:

Lecture capture is widely used within higher education as a means of recording lecture material for online student viewing. However, there is some uncertainty around whether this is a uniformly positive development for students. The current study examines the impact of lecture capture introduction and usage in a compulsory second year research methods module in a undergraduate BSc degree. Data collected from a matched cohort before (N = 161) and after (N = 160) lecture capture introduction showed that attendance substantially dropped in three matched lectures after capture became available. Attendance, which predicts higher attainment (controlling for students’ previous grade and gender), mediates a negative relationship between lecture capture availability and attainment. Lecture capture viewing shows no significant relationship with attainment whilst factoring in lecture attendance; capture viewing also fails to compensate for the impact that low attendance has on attainment. Thus, the net effect of lecture capture introduction on the cohort is generally negative; the study serves as a useful example (that can be communicated students) of the pitfalls of an over-reliance on lecture capture as a replacement for lecture attendance.

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So glad this review is open access: “Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert”

I’m much in favor of open access and I’m so glad this new review by Anne Castles, Kathleen Rastle and Kate Nation is free to read for everybody out there. Why is this great news? Well, this review is a very nuanced overview of anything related to reading acquisition. In a field that has known several reading wars, this is no little thing to try to achieve. But will it end the reading wars? Looking at the history described at the beginning of the article I’m not so sure, but if so those wars will continue despite this article.

Do note, because of the big scope of this article, it’s a really long read. But well worth of your attention.

Abstract of this review:

There is intense public interest in questions surrounding how children learn to read and how they can best be taught. Research in psychological science has provided answers to many of these questions but, somewhat surprisingly, this research has been slow to make inroads into educational policy and practice. Instead, the field has been plagued by decades of “reading wars.” Even now, there remains a wide gap between the state of research knowledge about learning to read and the state of public understanding. The aim of this article is to fill this gap. We present a comprehensive tutorial review of the science of learning to read, spanning from children’s earliest alphabetic skills through to the fluent word recognition and skilled text comprehension characteristic of expert readers. We explain why phonics instruction is so central to learning in a writing system such as English. But we also move beyond phonics, reviewing research on what else children need to learn to become expert readers and considering how this might be translated into effective classroom practice. We call for an end to the reading wars and recommend an agenda for instruction and research in reading acquisition that is balanced, developmentally informed, and based on a deep understanding of how language and writing systems work.

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The indirect consequences of urban violence on learning

Be warned, this could be a depressing read as this new study suggests that children who attend school with many kids from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas. You read it correctly, even if those kids themselves aren’t living in these violent neighborhoods. But do be warned, I can sum several possible explanations for this correlation. And no, giving up on children is not, I repeat, not an option.

From the press release:

Children who attend school with many kids from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas, according to a new Johns Hopkins University study.

In schools where more kids have a high exposure to violence, the study found, their classmates score as much as 10 percent lower on annual standardized math and reading tests. The findings, which demonstrate how urban violence and school choice programs can work together to spread “collateral damage,” appear today in the journal Sociology of Education.

“Exposure to neighborhood violence has a much bigger impact that we think it does,” said the lead author, Johns Hopkins sociologist Julia Burdick-Will. “It seeps into places that you don’t expect. It can affect an entire school and how it’s able to function.”

Burdick-Will studied students who attended Chicago Public Schools from 2002 to 2010, analyzing administrative data from the school system, crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department and school surveys from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. She looked at five cohorts of students who were freshmen between the fall of 2002 and 2006, and followed each student for up to four years.

She found high school students in Chicago public schools experience, on average, about 70 violent crimes a year within a few blocks of their homes. Children with high levels of exposure to violence, however, often experienced double that.

The crimes included homicides, sexual assaults, aggregated and simple batteries, aggravated and simple assaults, and robberies.

About half of the students studied were African American and about a third were Hispanic. Schools with students who experienced high levels of neighborhood violence, however, were more than 94 percent African American.

Because Chicago offers students the option of attending school anywhere in the city, students often commute to schools across town. Students from nearly every neighborhood attend nearly every school. This means that the experience of violence that Chicago students face where they live does not necessarily remain in their neighborhood, but is taken with them all over the city where they attend school.

Previous research shows that children living in violent neighborhoods experience trauma that makes them more difficult to teach and is related to an increased likelihood of high school dropout and low test scores as well as depression, attention problems, and discipline issues, says Burdick-Will. What hasn’t been studied in the past is that students who are in the same classes as these children also don’t learn as well, scoring as much as 10 percent lower on annual tests, she found.

It’s possible these effects build over time, she says.

“This is just one year — we don’t know what the cumulative effects are,” Burdick-Will said. “If you score 10 percent lower in just one year, you’re that much less prepared for the next year. Ten percent less growth in a year is a pretty big deal.”

Chicago’s crime rates are comparable to those in Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami, and it is possible that schools in those cities have similar issues, Burdick-Will says.

“Dealing with urban violence has ripple effects we’re only starting to understand,” she said. “We can’t think about violence as something happening to kids in an isolated part of the city where I don’t live. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. High crime rates may be concentrated in specific areas, but their effects can be felt in schools all over the city.”

Abstract of the study:

Research shows that exposure to local neighborhood violence is associated with students’ behavior and engagement in the classroom. Given the social nature of schooling, these symptoms not only affect individual students but have the potential to spill over and influence their classmates’ learning, as well. In this study, I use detailed administrative data from five complete cohorts of students in the Chicago Public Schools (2002 to 2010), crime data from the Chicago Police Department, and school-level surveys conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research to assess the strength of this peer effect. The estimated negative relationship between peer exposure to neighborhood violent crime and individual achievement is substantial and remains after adjusting for other peer characteristics and student fixed effects. Surveys suggest these results are related to trust, discipline, and safety concerns in cohorts with larger proportions of students from violent neighborhoods.

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Sleep disturbances in girls associated with more difficulties staying awake in and out of school

We’ve known for some time now that we all sleep less than a decade ago and that our children often nowadays don’t sleep enough. This new study describes that there are maybedifferences related to gender. I wasn’t able to read the study because it’s something that was presented at a conference last week.

From the press release:

Preliminary results of a recent study show that teen girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities than boys.

The study examined whether teen boys and girls report similar negative impact of sleep disturbances on their daytime functioning.

“What was most surprising is the fact that teenage girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness than teenage boys on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities,” said co-author Pascale Gaudreault, who is completing her doctoral degree in clinical neuropsychology under the supervision of principal investigator Dr. Geneviève Forest at the Université du Québec en Outaouais in Gatineau, Québec, Canada. “For example, teenage girls have reported missing school significantly more often than teenage boys due to tiredness, as well as reported having lower motivation in school due to a poor sleep quality.”

731 adolescents (311 boys; 420 girls; ages 13 to 17.5 years; grades 9-11) completed a questionnaire about sleep and daytime functioning. Questions were answered on a seven-point Likert scale (1=never; 7=often). Gender differences were assessed using t-tests.

Study results show that teenage girls reported more difficulties staying awake during class in the morning, during class in the afternoon, and during homework hours than boys. They also reported feeling too tired to do activities with their friends, missing school because of being too tired, feeling less motivated in school because of their poor sleep, and taking naps during weekends more often than boys. However, there was no gender difference when it came to using coffee or energy drinks to compensate for daytime sleepiness or for falling asleep in class.

“These results suggest that teenage girls may be more vulnerable than teenage boys when it comes to the negative impacts of adolescence’s sleep changes,” said Gaudreault.

The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented Tuesday, June 5, in Baltimore at SLEEP 2018, the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS), which is a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

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The child’s ability to self-regulate is a critical element in childhood language and literacy development

Yes, it’s a good idea to read bedtime stories to your children, but for the development of language and literacy, it’s not enough. The question for me remains: is it something you can help your children with as this longitudinal study is showing a correlation rather than showing a clear causal relation:

 

  • Self-regulation development was associated with language and literacy skills.
  • Earlier self-regulation was associated with higher skills and earlier development.

 

From the press release:

Research from Michigan State University found that a child’s ability to self-regulate is a critical element in childhood language and literacy development, and that the earlier they can hone these skills, the faster language and literacy skills develop leading to better skills in the long run.

“Self-regulation is an umbrella term to define children’s abilities to keep information in their working memories, pay attention to tasks and even to inhibit behaviors that might prevent them from accomplishing tasks,” said Lori Skibbe, associate professor in the human development and family studies department and lead author of the study.

Through her research, Skibbe found that children who could self-regulate earlier had higher language and learning skills through at least second grade.

“We’ve known that there is a relationship between self-regulation and language and literacy, but our work shows that there is a lasting impact. The early advantage of self-regulation means children are learning these critical language and literacy skills earlier and faster, which sets the stage for developing additional skills earlier as well,” Skibbe said.

Skibbe and her research team assessed 351 children twice a year from preschool to second grade, on both self-regulation and on language and literacy.

When assessing self-regulation, the children were asked to play a game that required them to follow prompts from the researchers.

“We asked them to touch their heads, shoulders, knees and toes, similar to the childhood ‘Simon Says’ game,” Skibbe said. “Then, we reversed or mixed the commands to see who could follow based on the instructions they retained.”

When assessing academic development, Skibbe looked at four language and literacy skills: comprehension; vocabulary; early decoding, or the ability to identify letters of the alphabet and read short words; and phonological awareness, or understanding the sound structure of language.

Some children are biologically predisposed to develop self-regulation skills earlier, Skibbe said, but there are things parents can do to help them in their development.

“By nature, humans are not effective multitaskers, and children need time where they focus on only one thing,” she said.

“Parents need to be aware of how their children can regulate their own behavior based on what’s going on around them. Parents can structure their home environment and routines in ways that support children,” Skibbe said. A full night of sleep, playing games with children and having time without distractions in the background are things you might not think help language and literacy development, but they do.”

Abstract of the study:

Previous research has established that higher levels of behavioral self-regulation are associated with higher levels of language and literacy. In this study, we take a more developmental perspective by considering how trajectories of self-regulation development (early, intermediate, late) predict the way literacy and language skills develop from preschool through second grade. Children (n = 351) were assessed twice per year for up to four years on indicators of decoding, reading comprehension, phonological awareness, and vocabulary. Using non-linear growth curve models, we found that children who demonstrated self-regulation earlier had higher language and literacy skills throughout preschool to second grade. More specifically, earlier self-regulation trajectories were associated with both higher levels and earlier development of both decoding and reading comprehension, but not faster development. Children with early self-regulation trajectories developed phonological awareness earlier than those with late self-regulation trajectories. Finally, children with early self-regulation trajectories had higher levels of vocabulary than children with intermediate trajectories, but did not differ on the rate or timing of vocabulary development. Findings point to the enduring and interconnected nature of self-regulation and children’s language and literacy development.

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Teachers don’t have to test everything they want their students to remember

My students have their final exams this weeks and even yesterday I received another mail with the question if a specific thing we discusses would be on the test. A new study by the University of British Columbia shows that teachers don’t have to test everything they want their students to remember – as long as the knowledge they want to convey fits together well, and the test questions are well-chosen. Still, I do think it’s important that your test is a fair representation of everything that has been discussed in class. More important: this study again shows the importance of the testing effect but with extra nuances.

From the press release (bold by me):

The finding, based on an experiment with UBC pharmacy students, builds on a proven phenomenon known as “retrieval-enhanced learning” – that the very act of recalling something reinforces it in a person’s memory. But that phenomenon also has stoked fears, demonstrated in a few recent studies, of “retrieval-induced forgetting” – that items not included on a test can be purged from students’ memories.

The UBC study, published May 26 in Advances in Health Sciences Education, suggests a way to strengthen students’ memories of new knowledge without causing “assessment fatigue.”

Researchers asked more than 150 second-year pharmacy students to study a 67-slide PowerPoint file about gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease – a subject relevant to their studies but not yet covered in the curriculum. Each slide contained “bullet points” typical of slides used for university lectures.

Some students were asked to study the slides for 30 minutes in anticipation of being tested on it two weeks later. Other students were asked to study the slides for 20 minutes, with the remaining 10 minutes devoted to a 10-question quiz about the material.

Two weeks later, both groups took a larger test that included the original 10 questions, plus 30 more: 10 that were about the slides, 10 about other medical conditions not covered by the slides, and 10 more general questions about basic physiology and drug characteristics (also not covered by the slides). Most questions were multiple choice, with a couple of true/false items.

As expected, the group that took the preliminary quiz a couple of weeks before did better – 22 per cent better – on the questions that were repeated in the larger test. But that group also performed 19 per cent better on other questions based on the slides even though they were not included on the preliminary quiz.

On the other questions that were not specifically about reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease, there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups’ performance.

From those results, the researchers conclude that knowledge – whether it’s about health, law, history or anything else – doesn’t have to be tested to be remembered, if it’s closely intertwined with knowledge that is being tested.

“The accumulated evidence of retrieval-enhanced learning has led some educators to assert that comprehensive testing is the best way to get students to remember knowledge,” said lead author Kevin Eva, a Professor in the Department of Medicine and Associate Director of UBC’s Centre for Health Education Scholarship. “But that could lead to valuable class time being eaten up by assessments, creating undue stress and strain for students.”

To maximize the effectiveness of testing, Dr. Eva says, course material needs to be well-integrated – each piece should be presented as part of a larger whole, not as a collection of disconnected details. In addition, test questions should be representative of the entirety of the material that instructors want students to retain.

“Students are more likely to forget untested items in a curriculum of disassociated facts,” Dr. Eva says. “So teachers need to do their homework, and make sure that what they teach comes together into a bigger, comprehensible whole.”

Abstract of the study:

Information is generally more memorable after it is studied and tested than when it is only studied. One must be cautious to use this phenomenon strategically, however, due to uncertainty about whether testing improves memorability for only tested material, facilitates learning of related non-tested content, or inhibits memory of non-tested material. 52 second-year Pharmacy students were asked to study therapeutic aspects of gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease. One group was given 30 min to study. Another was given 20 min to study and 10 min to complete a 10-item test. Two weeks later a 40-item test was delivered to both groups that contained (a) the 10 learning phase questions, (b) 10 new questions drawn from the studied material, (c) 10 new questions about therapeutics in different disease states, and (d) 10 new questions drawn from more general pharmaceutical knowledge (e.g., basic physiology and drug characteristics). Moderate to large retrieval-enhanced learning effects were observed for both questions about material that was tested (22.9% difference in scores, p < 0.05, d = 0.60) and questions about material that was studied without being tested (18.9% difference, p < 0.05, d = 0.75). Such effects were not observed for questions that were not part of the study material: therapeutic questions that addressed different disease states (1.8% difference, p > 0.7, d = 0.08) or generic pharmaceutical questions (7.4% difference, p > 0.2, d = 0.32). Being tested made it more likely that students would report reviewing the material after the initial learning session, but such reports were not associated with better test performance. The benefit of mentally retrieving information from studied material appears to facilitate the retrieval of information that was studied without being tested. Such generalization of the benefit of testing can increase the flexibility of test-based pedagogic interventions.

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The academic benefits of student-teacher familiarity aka having the same teacher 2 year in a row (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I’m picking this study from their overview:

A study published in the journal Economics of Education Review suggests that assigning students to the same teacher two years in a row may improve academic performance because teachers get to know their students and are able to adjust and target their teaching styles accordingly.
Andrew J. Hill and Daniel B. Jones used administrative data from North Carolina to observe the importance of student-teacher familiarity on academic performance in elementary school. They found that “looping,” in which an entire class moves to the next year with the same teacher, results in a small but statistically significant increase in student achievement. Students who spent a second year with the same teacher scored higher on end-of-year tests (on average 0.123 of a standard deviation) than those who weren’t matched. These benefits were greatest for minority students and lower-performing teachers (as measured by value-added).
This study is interesting, although I would love to have some other kind of research backing this up. That it benefits minority students is an important reason enough to look further into this.

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