Category Archives: Review

Automaticity and motivation’s effects on reading comprehension (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I picked this study:

As struggling readers get older and the words they read get longer, the effort it takes them to decode longer words interferes with their reading comprehension. Jessica Toste and colleagues conducted a study examining the effects of an intervention designed to develop multisyllabic word reading (MWR) automaticity via repeated exposure to multisyllabic words in isolation and in context. The goal of the intervention is for students to focus their attention on text meaning instead of decoding. Given that research shows motivation supports cognitive ability, researchers also wanted to examine the effects of this strategy with and without a motivational component.
Fifty-nine struggling third and fourth graders in two charter schools located in a large city in the southwestern U.S. were randomly assigned to one of three groups: MWR only (n=18), MWR with motivational beliefs (MB) training (n=19), or business as usual (22). No significant reading comprehension differences existed at pretest, as measured by subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson III, TOWRE, and WRAT, or among motivational beliefs as measured on the Reading Attribution Scale.
In groups of 2-3 students, the MWR and MWR + MB groups received tutoring sessions in reading for forty minutes a week, three times a week for eight weeks in addition to their regular reading instruction. The MWR + MB group also received five minutes of motivational instruction each session, while the MWR-only group practiced math facts for their final five minutes. The MWR lessons consisted of seven components, starting with repeated reading of vowel patterns and progressing to target words in paragraphs. The MB component added self-reflection, positive self-talk, and eliminating negative thoughts throughout the lesson.
Results showed that students in both MWR groups performed better than the control group at posttest on word fluency measures, and performed moderately better than the controls on TOWRE phonemic decoding and the WJ letter-word ID and word-attack subtests. The MWR + MB group had higher scores than the MWR group solely on sentence-level comprehension, but had higher scores than controls on the attributions for success subscale, meaning they were more likely to attribute success to internal causes like effort rather than external factors like luck. MWR + MB did not outperform MWR on motivational measures. The authors conclude that developing automaticity in multi-syllable word reading and motivation’s effect on reading comprehension are both promising interventions to develop MWR.

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A nuance to thinking about memory: why the ‘peculiar’ stands out

It’s a basic rule in education: combining new insights to prior knowledge is key. But… It’s this notion of ‘peculiarity’ that can help us understand what makes lasting memories. It’s not really a published study, but a press release about a talk in Cannes that triggered my attention. I do think it’s relevant!

From the press release:

It’s this notion of ‘peculiarity’ that can help us understand what makes lasting memories, according to Per Sederberg, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.

“You have to build a memory on the scaffolding of what you already know, but then you have to violate the expectations somewhat. It has to be a little bit weird,” Sederberg said.

Sederberg talked about the neuroscience of memory as an invited speaker at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in France on June 19. He spoke at the session “What are memories made of? Stirring emotions and last impressions” along with several advertising professionals and artists.

Sederberg has spent his career studying memory. In one of his most notable studies, he had college students wear a smartphone around their neck with an app that took random photos for a month. Later, the participants relived memories related to those photos in an fMRI scanner so that Sederberg and his colleagues could see where and how the brain stored the time and place of those memories.

From his own research and that of others, Sederberg has ideas on which memories stick with us and which ones fade over time.

The way to create a long-lasting memory is to form an association with other memories, he said.

“If we want to be able to retrieve a memory later, you want to build a rich web. It should connect to other memories in multiple ways, so there are many ways for our mind to get back to it.”

A memory of a lifetime is like a big city, with many roads that lead there. We forget memories that are desert towns, with only one road in. “You want to have a lot of different ways to get to any individual memory,” Sederberg said.

The difficulty is how to best navigate the push and pull between novelty and familiarity. Novelty tells us what is important to remember. On the other hand, familiarity tells us what we can ignore, but helps us retrieve information later, Sederberg said.

Too much novelty, and you have no way to place it in your cognitive map, but too much familiarity and the information is similarly lost.

What that means is that context and prediction play critical roles in shaping our perception and memory. The most memorable experiences are those that arise in a familiar and stable context, yet violate some aspect of what we predict would occur in that context, he said.

“Those peculiar experiences are the things that stand out, that make a more lasting memory.”

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New article by Paul Kirschner & me: The myths of the digital native and the multitasker

Paul Kirschner and yours truly just got a new article published in Teaching and Teacher Education on 2 common myths in education: the digital native and the multitasker. You can read it for free here (until Aug. 4)

The highlights:

  • Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.
  • Learners cannot multitask; they task switch which negatively impacts learning.
  • Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.

The abstract of our paper:

Current discussions about educational policy and practice are often embedded in a mind-set that considers students who were born in an age of omnipresent digital media to be fundamentally different from previous generations of students. These students have been labelled digital natives and have been ascribed the ability to cognitively process multiple sources of information simultaneously (i.e., they can multitask). As a result of this thinking, they are seen by teachers, educational administrators, politicians/policy makers, and the media to require an educational approach radically different from that of previous generations. This article presents scientific evidence showing that there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital. It then proceeds to present evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning. The article concludes by elaborating on possible implications of this for education/educational policy.

 

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Plug into that brain: improving creativity through brain stimulation?

Sending electricity through the brain to become more creative? I can already see some salesmen with dollar signs in their eyes scratching their head how to turn this research into a business model as Scientists have found a way to improve creativity through brain stimulation. And good news:  for this they sent a weak constant electrical current through saline-soaked electrodes positioned over target regions in the scalp, which means there is no need to open the skull :). And for those salesmen, do read the last paragraph of this press release:

They achieved this by temporarily suppressing a key part of the frontal brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is involved in most of our thinking and reasoning.

The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that participants who received the intervention showed an enhanced ability to ‘think outside the box’.

“We solve problems by applying rules we learn from experience, and the DLPFC plays a key role in automating this process,” commented Dr Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, first author from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences who conducted the research while previously working at Goldsmiths University of London, with Dr Michael Banissy and Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya.

“It works fine most of the time, but fails spectacularly when we encounter new problems which require a new style of thinking — our past experience can indeed block our creativity. To break this mental fixation, we need to loosen up our learned rules,” added Dr Luft.

The researchers used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which involved passing a weak constant electrical current through saline-soaked electrodes positioned over the scalp to modulate the excitability of the DLPFC. Depending on the direction of the current flow, DLPFC was temporarily suppressed or activated. The very low currents applied ensured that it would not cause any harm or unpleasant sensation.

Sixty participants were tested on their creative problem solving ability before and after receiving one of the following interventions: DLPFC being suppressed, DLPFC being activated, and DLPFC being unstimulated. The participants solved “matchstick problems,” some of which are hard, because to solve these problems, participants need to relax the learnt rules of arithmetic and algebra.

The participants whose DLPFC was temporarily suppressed by the electrical stimulation were more likely to solve hard problems than other participants whose DLPFC was activated or not stimulated. This demonstrates that suppressing DLPFC briefly can help breaking mental assumptions learned from experience and thinking outside the box.

But the researchers also observed that these participants got worse at solving problems with a higher working memory demand (where many items are needed to be held in mind at once). These problems require the participants to try a number of different moves until finding the solution, which means they have to keep track of their mental operations.

“These results are important because they show the potential of improving mental functions relevant for creativity by non-invasive brain stimulation methods,” commented Dr Luft.

“However, our results also suggest that potential applications of this technique will have to consider the target cognitive effects in more detail rather than just assuming tDCS can improve cognition as claimed by some companies which are starting to sell tDCS machines for home users,” she added.

I would say that we are not yet in a position to wear an electrical hat and start stimulating our brain hoping for a blanket cognitive gain.”

Abstract of the study:

We solve problems by applying previously learned rules. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) plays a pivotal role in automating this process of rule induction. Despite its usual efficiency, this process fails when we encounter new problems in which past experience leads to a mental rut. Learned rules could therefore act as constraints which need to be removed in order to change the problem representation for producing the solution. We investigated the possibility of suppressing the DLPFC by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to facilitate such representational change. Participants solved matchstick arithmetic problems before and after receiving cathodal, anodal or sham tDCS to the left DLPFC. Participants who received cathodal tDCS were more likely to solve the problems that require the maximal relaxation of previously learned constraints than the participants who received anodal or sham tDCS. We conclude that cathodal tDCS over the left DLPFC might facilitate the relaxation of learned constraints, leading to a successful representational change.

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Best Evidence in Brief: Children with ADHD more likely to have language problems

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and while I skipped the previous one because the mentioned research was less interesting to my personal taste, this time there is a lot to choose from.

I picked this one first:

Children with Attention-Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can have trouble with hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, and distractibility, all of which can affect language and communication and can lead to low academic performance and antisocial behavior.

A systematic review published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry seeks to establish the types of language problems children with ADHD experience in order to inform future research into how these language problems contribute to long-term outcomes for children with ADHD.

Hannah Korrel and colleagues examined the last 35 years of ADHD research and identified 21 studies using 17 language measures, which included more than 2,000 participants (ADHD children = 1,209; non-ADHD children =1,101) for inclusion in the systematic review.
The study found that children with ADHD had poorer performance than non-ADHD children on 11 of the 12 measures of overall language (effect size=1.09). Children with ADHD also had poorer performance on measures of expressive, receptive, and pragmatic language compared with non-ADHD children.

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Interesting read: Adaptive practice, personalized learning, and what will “obviously” work in education.

Has been a while that I did a blog post like this, but this new post by Daniel Willingham is an interesting read – adding to this earlier post by Larry Cuban.

Daniel Willingham is discussing in his post this new Dutch study:

 

  • A double-blind field experiment for evaluating two practicing algorithms.
  • Adaptive practicing yields test scores similar to traditional static practicing.
  • High ability students perform slightly worse when practicing adaptively.
  • Effective personalization of education asks for a more comprehensive approach.

Does this mean that adaptive instruction doesn’t work? Willingham explains why there was not a positive effect of adaptive testing? (bold by me)

One possibility is low dosage. The intervention was only 15 minutes per week and although students could have practiced more, few did. At the same time, the intervention lasted an entire school year, the N was fairly large, and an effect was observed (in the unexpected direction) for the better prepared students.
Another possibility is that the program was effective in getting challenging problems to students, but ineffective in providing instruction. Students in the adaptive condition saw more difficult problems, but they got a lot of them wrong. Perhaps they needed more support and instruction at that point, so the potential benefit of stretching their knowledge and skills was not realized.
Another possibility is that the adaptive group would have shown a benefit on a different outcome measure. As the authors note, the summative test was more like the static practice than the adapative practice. Perhaps the adapative group would have shown a benefit in their readiness and ability to learn in the next unit.
​This result obviously does not show that adaptive practice is a bad idea, or cannot be made to work well. It simply adds to the list of ideas that sound like they are more or less foolproof that turn out not to be: think spiral curriculum, or electronic textbooks. Thinking and learning is simply too complicated for us to confidently predict how a change in one variable will affect the entire cognitive and conative systems.

 

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How do kids and parents worry about privacy with internet-connected toys

Your daughters’ Barbie can be hacked to spy on your children. So, got you worried? Researchers have now conducted a new study that explores the attitudes and concerns of both parents and children who play with internet-connected toys. Through a series of in-depth interviews and observations, the researchers found that kids didn’t know their toys were recording their conversations, and parents generally worried about their children’s privacy when they played with the toys.

From the press release:

University of Washington researchers have conducted a new study that explores the attitudes and concerns of both parents and children who play with internet-connected toys. Through a series of in-depth interviews and observations, the researchers found that kids didn’t know their toys were recording their conversations, and parents generally worried about their children’s privacy when they played with the toys.

“These toys that can record and transmit are coming into a place that’s historically legally very well-protected ? the home,” said co-lead author Emily McReynolds, associate director of the UW’s Tech Policy Lab. “People have different perspectives about their own privacy, but it’s crystalized when you give a toy to a child.”

The researchers presented their paper May 10 at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Though internet-connected toys have taken off commercially, their growth in the market has not been without security breaches and public scrutiny. VTech, a company that produces tablets for children, was storing personal data of more than 200,000 children when its database was hacked in 2015. Earlier this year, Germany banned the Cayla toy over fears that personal data could be stolen.

It’s within this landscape that the UW team sought to understand the privacy concerns and expectations kids and parents have for these types of toys.

The researchers conducted interviews with nine parent-child pairs, asking each of them questions ? ranging from whether a child liked the toy and would tell it a secret to whether a parent would buy the toy or share what their child said to it on social media.

They also observed the children, all aged 6 to 10, playing with Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino. These toys were chosen for the study because they are among the industry leaders for their stated privacy measures. Hello Barbie, for example, has an extensive permissions process for parents when setting up the toy, and it has been complimented for its strong encryption practices.

The resulting paper highlights a wide selection of comments from kids and parents, then makes recommendations for toy designers and policymakers.

Most of the children participating in the study did not know the toys were recording their conversations. Additionally, the toys’ lifelike exteriors probably fueled the perception that they are trustworthy, the researchers said, whereas kids might not have the tendency to share secrets and personal information when communicating with similar tools not intended as toys, such as Siri and Alexa.

“The toys are a social agent where you might feel compelled to disclose things that you wouldn’t otherwise to a computer or cell phone. A toy has that social exterior which might fool you into being less secure on what you tell it,” said co-lead author Maya Cakmak, an assistant professor at the Allen School. “We have this concern for adults, and with children, they’re even more vulnerable.”

Some kids were troubled by the idea of their conversations being recorded. When one parent explained how the child’s conversation with the doll could end up being shared widely on the computer, the child responded: “That’s pretty scary.”

At minimum, toy designers should create a way for the devices to notify children when they are recording, the researchers said. Designers could consider recording notifications that are more humanlike, such as having Hello Barbie say, “I’ll remember everything you say to me” instead of a red recording light that might not make sense to a child in that context.

The study found that most parents were concerned about their child’s privacy when playing with the toys. They universally wanted parental controls such as the ability to disconnect Barbie from the internet or control the types of questions to which the toys will respond. The researchers recommend toy designers delete recordings after a week’s time, or give parents the ability to delete conversations permanently.

A recent UW study demonstrated that video recordings that are filtered to preserve privacy can still allow a tele-operated robot to perform useful tasks, such as organize objects on a table. This study also revealed that people are much less concerned about privacy ? even for sensitive items that could reveal financial or medical information ? when such filters are in place. Speech recordings on connected toys could similarly be filtered to remove identity information and encode the content of speech in less human-interpretable formats to preserve privacy, while still allowing the toy to respond intelligibly.

The researchers hope this initial look into the privacy concerns of parents and kids will continue to inform both privacy laws and toy designers, given that such devices will only continue to fill the market and home.

“It’s inevitable that kids’ toys, as with everything else in society, will have computers in them, so it’s important to design them with security measures in mind,” said co-lead author Franziska Roesner, a UW assistant professor at the Allen School. “I hope the security research community continues to study these specific user groups, like children, that we don’t necessarily study in-depth.”

Abstract of the study:

Hello Barbie, CogniToys Dino, and Amazon Echo are part of a new wave of connected toys and gadgets for the home that listen. Unlike the smartphone, these devices are always on, blending into the background until needed. We conducted interviews with parent-child pairs in which they interacted with Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino, shedding light on children’s expectations of the toys’ “intelligence” and parents’ privacy concerns and expectations for parental controls. We find that children were often unaware that others might be able to hear what was said to the toy, and that some parents draw connections between the toys and similar tools not intended as toys (e.g., Siri, Alexa) with which their children already interact. Our findings illuminate people’s mental models and experiences with these emerging technologies and will help inform the future designs of interactive, connected toys and gadgets. We conclude with recommendations for designers and policy makers.

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What does the research say about arts education?

I picked a second study from Best Evidence in Brief but this is too interesting not to share, although e.g. an earlier OECD-report on the same theme was a bit more nuanced on the last element mentioned.

Child Trends has released a new research brief that identifies “five ways the arts are good for kids.” The author, David Murphey, presents existing research on the topic from several sources such as the University of Pennsylvania, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several published articles. The conclusions are as follows:
  • Arts participation is associated with numerous positive academic and personal outcomes. According to the brief, these outcomes include higher grades and test scores, enrollment in post-secondary education, attainment of a bachelor’s degree, and higher levels of literacy and civic engagement.
  • The benefits of arts participation may be greatest for children who are economically disadvantaged. For example, the research shows that young people from poor communities tend to benefit from having one or more projects that strengthen their sense of self and connect them with peers who share their interests.
  • Arts organizations can positively influence children’s neighborhoods. According to the brief, there is some evidence that the presence of arts organizations (including performance facilities, galleries, and artists’ workspaces) helps reduce a neighborhood’s concentrated poverty and attract other creative and high-tech enterprises.
  • Children’s arts participation varies by age, gender, and educational status. For example, the research shows that students are more likely to participate in school arts activities if their parents have attained higher degrees, and if they plan to attend a 4-year college themselves.
  • Music, in particular, may give children a brain boost. According to the brief, young people who have had music training demonstrate higher cognitive skills across disciplines

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Best Evidence in Brief: a systematic review on mindfulness in school

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time it includes a review study that will spur some attention and/or discussion. I’ve noticed that a lot of people will call mindfulness a fad, others will argue that there is proven effect. So…

This Campbell systematic review examines the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) implemented in school settings on cognition, behavior, socioemotional outcomes, and academic achievement. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” and is often combined with yoga, cognitive-behavioral strategies, or relaxation-skills training.
A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomized or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis, with a total of 6,207 student participants. Most of the studies were carried out in schools in the U.S. (74%), with some in Asia (5%), Europe (16%), and Canada (5%). The interventions ranged in duration (4-28 weeks), number of sessions (6-125 sessions), and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week).
The findings show that MBIs in schools had a small positive effect on cognitive outcomes and socioemotional outcomes, but did not improve behavior or academic achievement. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, apart from behavioral outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socioemotional, and academic outcomes, despite the interventions being quite diverse. Overall, Brandy Maynard and colleagues found a lack of support at post-test to indicate that the positive effects on cognitive and socioemotional outcomes then translate into positive outcomes on behavior and academic achievement.
Will this close the debate? For sure not, I’m afraid. Still, a good overview what to expect when you try mindfulness at school.

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Jordan Peterson puts it quite bluntly: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences Is Rubbish!

Well, maybe you’ll be surprised, but than you haven’t read this (or our book). H/t Carl Hendrick

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