No Feedback, No Learning

3-Star learning experiences

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

feedback 1

Feedback is one of the most, if not the most important tools for supporting learning. Giving effective feedback has also been found to be one of the most powerful educational interventions to improve learning. According to Shank (2017) effective feedback positively affects learning outcomes and motivation to learn, and can help build accurate schema. John Hattie (2011) found that giving feedback has an extremely large effect on learning, with an effect size of 0,79 (2X the average of all other educational effects)…

feedback 2

…and the effect of formative feedback (i.e., feedback for learning) is 0,90! In his study on the difference between expert and experienced teachers (we have blogged about that topic here), Hattie found that one of the major things distinguishing experienced teachers from expert teachers, is that expert teachers not only monitor their students’ learning, but they also give them quality feedback…

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Hilarious, slightly profane but solid advice from The Onion: go read a f**king book for once

Sorry for the swear words, but this is too good advice not to share or to wait for a Funny on Sunday:

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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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Funny on Sunday: Plato versus Kant (the Graffiti-version)

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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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A small review of the new book by Andreas Schleicher: World Class

Andreas Schleicher has published a new book called World Class, with as subtitle “How to build a 21st-century school system” and you can download the book for free here.

I’ve been able to read most of the book already and for people who haven’t been following PISA and Schleicher there is a lot of information in the book. For people like me who have been following intensively the international survey and it’s boss, there is not much new stuff to discover.

I could repeat some of the elements from my open letter to Schleicher, although he does try to defend his answer to questions about the importance of memorization since the discussion he had at the Wise conference last year. Again, I’ve seen the charts he uses at page 233 and 234 before, but they don’t explain the chart from PISA 2015 I shared before.

But I want to focus on 2 details that worried me a bit:

  • There is this paragraph on the Flemish Educational system, one that I know very well because I’m living and working here. I do think a lot of Flemish politicians, teachers and researchers would look a bit puzzled when they read this:

The Flemish Community of Belgium benefits from many of the advantages of school choice, such as a wide variety of pedagogies, which offers real choice for parents, and a strong drive towards quality, through competition between schools. It also suffers from some of the disadvantages of school choice, such as a relatively high level of socio-economic segregation among schools and a strong relationship between family background and learning outcomes. But overall, the education system largely succeeds in limiting inequity and social segregation by implementing some steering and accountability mechanisms that apply to all schools.

Well, the first part in which Schleicher mentions the segregation, that has been at the center of our discussions for quite a while now, but the second part? Well, that will be news for a lot of people (and I don’t think they will agree).

  • Secondly there are a lot of sources missing in the book on what we do know about education. A key element of PISA is that we get at best a view of correlations between policy decisions and possible effects, although we do know that we need other kinds of research to establish causal relations. Schleicher sums up again his list of educational myths dispelled by PISA, forgetting that other studies often showed a more nuanced image to say the least (e.g. when discussing class size). Again Schleicher does mention that maybe other people have said something about it, but he forgets to mention who and what they said.

The book has a feeling of an end of era to me. I don’t know of Andreas Schleicher will be retiring soon, but as the book seems to have some elements of a professional memoir, it sure looks that way. I wished that in that case Schleicher would also have responded to some of the fierce criticisms PISA has received the past few years. Now some parts seem to be more of a self-written liber amicorum as someone mentioned earlier to me.

So, do you need to read this book? The advance praise does say so, and I do think it’s a good starting point to read, but while reading you should bear in mind that PISA can be used as a great source, but never should be the only or prime source.

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The most important element to be successful? Sheer luck.

This paper has been on my reading list for quite some time and sorry I made you wait as it is really interesting and relevant. While talent has been a focus in education for some time now, but is talent really the most important element to be successful? Well, based on their simulations the researchers conclude with a clear ‘no’:

An important result of the simulations is that the most successful agents are almost never the most talented ones, but those around the average of the Gaussian talent distribution – another stylized fact often reported in the literature. The model shows the importance, very frequently underestimated, of lucky events in determining the final level of individual success. Since rewards and resources are usually given to those that have already reached a high level of success, mistakenly considered as a measure of competence/talent, this result is even a more harmful disincentive, causing a lack of opportunities for the most talented ones.

So the researchers conclude with a warning:

Our results are a warning against the risks of what we call the ”naive meritocracy” which, underestimating the role of randomness among the determinants of success, often fail to give honors and rewards to the most competent people.

Abstract of the paper:

The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success. But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories. It is very well known that intelligence or talent exhibit a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth – considered a proxy of success – follows typically a power law (Pareto law). Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale, and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness. In particular, we show that, if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals. As to our knowledge, this counterintuitive result – although implicitly suggested between the lines in a vast literature – is quantified here for the first time. It sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others. With the help of this model, several policy hypotheses are also addressed and compared to show the most efficient strategies for public funding of research in order to improve meritocracy, diversity and innovation.

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Funny on Sunday: if it worked…

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The importance of language at an early age for academic success in other areas such as math, literacy,…

Lately there has been some discussion if the infamous word gap is as big as said in the original research. Still this new study shows the importance of language at an early age for other academic domains. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, still it will may well be for some.

In short:

  • Growth curve models revealed strong within-domain—but few cross-domain—predictions.
  • Language skills predicted academic outcomes the most broadly across domains.
  • In general, lower baseline skills at school entry predicted greater gains over time.
  • Higher kindergarten language predicted larger gains in reading from grades 1 to 3 and 3 to 5.
  • Examining multiple readiness domains together is critical for practical application.

The fourth element gives hope, at the same time it shouldn’t – again – be so surprising.

From the press release (with the awkward concept of “kindergarten readiness” included):

Research shows that the more skills children bring with them to kindergarten – in basic math, reading, even friendship and cooperation – the more likely they will succeed in those same areas in school. Hence, “kindergarten readiness” is the goal of many preschool programs, and a motivator for many parents.

Now it’s time to add language to that mix of skills, says a new University of Washington-led study. Not only does a child’s use of vocabulary and grammar predict future proficiency with the spoken and written word, but it also affects performance in other subject areas.

Language, in other words, supports academic and social success, says Amy Pace, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

“A lot of other research focuses on math, science and literacy, and they don’t even consider that language could be playing a role,” she said. “But really, it emerges as a strong predictor across subject areas. Why do kids succeed in math, for example? Part of it could be having a strong math vocabulary.”

The study was the first to look at a comprehensive set of school readiness skills and to try to determine which, of all of them, is the most solid predictor of a child’s later success. Language — the ability to fluidly learn words and to string them together into sentences — was the hands-down winner, said co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University.

For this study, published online April 30 in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Pace and her colleagues from Temple University, the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina examined longitudinal data from more than 1,200 children in the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That study used several measures of academic and social skills at specific ages and grade levels, including evaluations upon entry to kindergarten and in grades 1, 3 and 5.

While there is considerable research on how children develop specific skills over time, much of that research is focused on patterns of learning within a single subject area, like math or reading. Researchers in the UW study wanted to determine whether there are relationships between skills when considered in combination, and to think about how these combined abilities might predict gains, or growth, above what might be expected based on the skills the child demonstrates when they first enter a kindergarten classroom. The team analyzed academic and behavioral assessments, assigned standardized scores and looked at how scores correlated in grades 1, 3, and 5. Growth curve modeling allowed the team to look at children’s levels of performance across time and investigate rates of change at specific times in elementary school.

Researchers found that of the skills and milestones evaluated – social/emotional, attention, health, reading, math and language – only language skills, when a child entered school, predicted his or her performance both within that subject area and most others (math, reading and social skills) from first through fifth grade. Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time.

People often confuse language with literacy, Pace said. Reading skills include the ability to decode letter and sound combinations to pronounce words, and to comprehend word meanings and contexts. Language is the ability to deploy those words and use complex syntax and grammar to communicate in speech and writing. And that’s why it has such potential to affect other areas of development, Pace said. At a time when so much focus is on math and science education, it is language that deserves attention, too.

“It provides a foundation for social interaction. If you’re stronger in language, you will be able to communicate with peers and teachers,” she said. “Language also relates to executive functioning, the ability to understand and follow through on the four-step directions from the teacher. And it helps solve problems in math and science, because understanding terminology and abstract concepts relies on a knowledge of language.”

For example, language ability at school entry not only predicted language proficiency through fifth grade as expected, but it also predicted growth in literacy between grades 1 and 3, and a similar amount of growth between grades 3 and 5. In effect, language gave children a boost to help them learn more than researchers might have predicted based on the children’s performance at school entry.

Measuring the impact of one skill on another, in addition to measuring growth in the same skill, provides more of a “whole child” perspective, Pace said. A child who enters school with little exposure to number sense or spatial concepts but with strong social skills may benefit from that emotional buffer. “If we look at just a very narrow slice of a child’s ability, it may be predictive of ability in that area, but it’s not necessarily a good prognosticator of what’s to come overall for that child,” she said.

Researchers expected to find that the effects of kindergarten readiness would wear off by third grade, the time when elementary school curriculum transitions from introducing foundational skills to helping students apply those skills as they delve deeper into content areas. But according to the study, children’s performance in kindergarten continues to predict their performance in grades three through five. This was consistent for multiple skill areas, including language, math and reading, and suggests that bolstering children’s development in those first five years is essential for long-term academic success.

A few findings merit further study, Pace added, especially as they relate to educational policy. For example, children who entered kindergarten with higher levels of skills appeared to make fewer developmental and academic gains than those children who started at lower levels. That is consistent with other research, but, Pace said, it’s worth examining how to better serve high-performing students.

The study also represents an opportunity to rethink what skills are considered measures of kindergarten-readiness, she said.

“Language ability at school entry consistently emerges as an important predictor of student outcomes. This may be why the first three to five years are so critical for future academic and social development,” Pace said. “It is the child’s earliest, high-quality interactions with parents, teachers and caregivers that promote a strong communication foundation – and this foundation goes on to serve as the bedrock for future language and learning.”

Abstract of the study:

Children’s skill levels in language, mathematics, literacy, self-regulation, and social–emotional adjustment at kindergarten entry are believed to play an important role in determining school success through their long-term association with academic and social skills in primary and secondary education. Hence, children’s school readiness is a national priority. To date, there is some evidence that specific individual school readiness skills relate to specific outcomes, but much of that research has not addressed concerns regarding generalization due to the high levels of correlations among the school readiness skills. The interrelationships among school readiness domains and patterns of skill acquisition – during the first three years of primary education in which basic skills are the focus and in the later years of primary or secondary education when higher-order skills are the focus – have not been explored adequately. Using the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development dataset (n = 1364), this research conducted growth curve analyses to examine a comprehensive set of readiness indicators in kindergarten and identify which domains were stronger predictors of academic and social trajectories through grade 3 and from grades 3 to 5. Results highlight the importance of examining multiple school readiness domains simultaneously rather than separately, and moving beyond outcomes (skill levels) at a particular grade to consider which kindergarten skills predict gains over time (skill acquisition) both within- and across-domains. Empirical and methodological implications are considered for educational research, policy, and practice.

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