Best Evidence in Brief: The impact of more teachers and smaller classes in the early years

Yep, a study on class size in the new Best Evidence in Brief:

What difference do smaller class sizes, and more teachers, make in early childhood education (ECE)?
A meta-analysis by Jocelyn Bowne and colleagues, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, attempts to find some answers. The analysis included evaluations of ECE programs in the U.S. between 1960 and 2007. The evaluations were either experimental studies, used a high-quality quasi-experimental design, or showed baseline equivalence of treatment and control participants. In total, 38 studies were included, all of which looked at children ages 3 to 5 years old attending an ECE center for 10 hours a week or more for at least 4 months. Child-teacher ratios ranged from 5:1 to 15:1, and class sizes from 11 to 25.
The findings were as follows:
  • Above a child-teacher ratio of 7.5:1, changing the ratio had no effect on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. Below this, a reduction of the ratio by one child per teacher predicted an effect size of +0.22.
  • For class sizes greater than 15, increasing the size of the class had little effect on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. Below this, one child fewer in the class size predicted an effect size of +0.10.

The authors caution that these findings are correlational, rather than causal, so changing class sizes or ratios, certainly at scale, may not lead to these results. However, they conclude that “very small and/or well-staffed classrooms might confer some small benefits for children’s cognitive and academic learning.”


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New report on Cognitive Load Theory aimed at teachers

Filling the pail

I have been researching Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) for a couple of years now. During that time, I’ve blogged about CLT and I’ve often been asked if there is a teacher-friendly summary of the theory available.

Today, such a summary has been released by the New South Wales Centre for Education and Statistics (CESE with handle @nswcese on Twitter). It’s a pretty good take on CLT. John Sweller has read it and thinks they’ve managed to capture the essence of the theory pretty well.

The CESE paper looks at the principles of CLT and the main findings as they apply to teaching, including a brief description of the different ‘effects’ that have been noted. It also has a helpful section on criticisms and limitations (CLT is the subject of ongoing research). I strongly recommend the CESE paper to any teachers who are starting to dip their toes in the water.

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Good news: STEM can be contagious

There is a new report that examines how college students who thought their high school classmates were interested in science classes were more likely to intend to pursue STEM careers.

From the press release:

College students who thought their high school classmates were interested in science classes were more likely to intend to pursue STEM careers, a new study reports. The results of a cross-country survey suggest that motivating high school classroom environments may be “contagious” in positively influencing students’ STEM interests. Given the national push to increase the STEM talent pool in recent years – as a result of students opting out in favor of other preferences and under-representation in related professional fields – it is critical to understand the key features of educational environments that facilitate recruitment and retention. To better identify those attributes, Zahra Hazari and colleagues collected data from students in mandatory introductory English courses at 50 randomly-selected colleges and universities across the United States. They asked participants to report their likelihood of pursuing a STEM career, as well as how interested their peers were in their last high school biology, chemistry, and physics courses. The researchers also accounted for influences such as teaching quality, academic achievement, and family support for science and math. The survey showed that only 40% of students in high school classrooms with perceived low levels of interest showed STEM career intentions in college, compared to 65% of students in classrooms with perceived high levels of interest. What’s more, peer interest was linked to either improved or maintained grades in high school biology, chemistry and physics. The authors say that future research should further investigate the mechanisms by which interest is transmitted among peers, and how students engage in active learning.

Abstract of the study:

We report on a study of the effect of peers’ interest in high school biology, chemistry, and physics classes on students’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)–related career intentions and course achievement. We define an interest quorum as a science class where students perceive a high level of interest for the subject matter from their classmates. We hypothesized that students who experience such an interest quorum are more likely to choose STEM careers. Using data from a national survey study of students‘ experiences in high school science, we compared the effect of five levels of peer interest reported in biology, chemistry, and physics courses on students‘ STEM career intentions. The results support our hypothesis, showing a strong, positive effect of an interest quorum even after controlling for differences between students that pose competing hypotheses such as previous STEM career interest, academic achievement, family support for mathematics and science, and gender. Smaller positive effects of interest quorums were observed for course performance in some cases, with no detrimental effects observed across the study. Last, significant effects persisted even after controlling for differences in teaching quality. This work emphasizes the likely importance of interest quorums for creating classroom environments that increase students’ intentions toward STEM careers while enhancing or maintaining course performance.

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If It Ain’t There, It’s Broke!

3-Star learning experiences

Paul A. Kirschner*

* What you read here is a very concise representation of two theses performed in the context of an OU Master educational sciences. Kristel Vanhoyweghen and Tim Surma, mentored by Dr. Gino Camp and myself, carried out a part of the replication of a research I reported earlier (in Dutch) and which also appeared on my blog 3-Star Learning Experiences: An Evidence-Informed Blog for Learning Professionals (What Every New Teacher Needs to Know, May 2016, also in Dutch). So this blog has four authors.

Should our teachers (and future teachers) understand how their students learn? This question seems rhetorical, because if the task of teachers is to promote student learning, then the planning, execution and evaluation of their lessons will be more effective when teachers themselves know how and when their students learn best. More than a hundred years of cognitive research has…

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Good video on research and ethics: on being a scientist

I shared this video already on my Dutch blog, but it is too nice not to share it here too.


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Funny on Sunday: surveys on scientific work

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by | September 3, 2017 · 9:02 am

A short piece on mythbusting and possible misuse

Lately I’ve seen how mythbusting can be used as a tool to push your own opinion. I don’t like this, so let’s call it a myth. As co-author of a book in which Paul, Casper and myself try to debunk edumyths, I want to explain how we tried not to make this mistake.

First of all we use 3 categories to discuss the different items in our book:

  1. Myth
    The statement is untrue or almost completely untrue or there is no proof.
  2. Nuanced
    The theme is still a subject of discussion and science has not yet provided conclusive evidence.
  3. Unproven
    We and we emphasize “we” found no scientific evidence during the writing of this book

A second thing we did is that we checked each others texts for possible biases. The three of us have opinions of our own, but our book is not about us. E.g. we have a famous scientist in our team who co-wrote a very important article about discovery learning. Still, we labelled it nuanced as this is still a discussion in educational sciences.

To me this is very important. Some of the myths we debunked actually did hurt for myself, but Urban Myths is not about me or us.

At first I didn’t want to write this post, because I know Christian Bokhove will discuss this also at length in his ResearchED-talk next week. Still I did because I saw the mythbusting-technique being used once to often to try to convince other people of their own idea. I do recommend you attend ResearchED and more specific Christian’s talk.

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Dreamer… but wait: inattentive kids show worse grades in later life

This new study is maybe a nightmare for parents of kids who have trouble paying attention in class: for young kids inattentiveness is linked to worse grades up to 10 years later, regardless of intellectual ability or the diagnosis of ADHD.

From the press release:

Researchers studied children with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and found that inattentiveness was linked to worse academic performance up to 10 years later, regardless of ADHD, even when they accounted for the children’s intellectual ability.

Although grades aren’t everything, academic achievement is clearly an important factor in later career success and financial stability. Helping children to maximize their academic potential and overcome obstacles to academic success is important. One factor in academic performance is intellectual ability, and unsurprisingly, numerous studies have found that higher intellectual ability is linked with higher academic performance.

Another factor that can affect academic performance is attentiveness. Aside from making it difficult to focus in school and on homework, inattentiveness can be associated with other problems, such as mood disorders and difficulties interacting with other children. Helping children to overcome inattentiveness could pay dividends in later life.

Astri Lundervold, a researcher at the University of Bergen, is interested in the short- and long-term consequences of inattention in childhood. “A high number of children are challenged by problems related to inattention. A cluster of these problems is defined as hallmark symptoms of ADHD, but inattentiveness is not restricted to children with a specific diagnosis,” explains Lundervold. Are problems related to inattention something that parents and teachers should address in any child?

This question inspired Lundervold to investigate the link between inattentiveness and academic performance in a sample containing mostly healthy children in Bergen, Norway. To make the sample more culturally diverse and inclusive of a larger spectrum of mental health disorders, she collaborated with researchers in America (Stephen Hinshaw and Jocelyn Meza). Together, they expanded the study, which was recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, to include a sample of girls from another long-term study in Berkeley, California, where a large subgroup had been diagnosed with ADHD.

The children were aged from 6-¬12 when the researchers recruited them and began the study. They assessed the children’s IQ and asked their parents to rate their inattentiveness. Finally, 10 years later, the researchers followed-up with the children to see how they had performed in school.

Unsurprisingly, children with higher IQ scores tended to perform better academically. Also, as expected, the children with ADHD showed higher inattentiveness compared with those without, and also performed worse in school. However, the negative effects of inattention on academic performance were not restricted to children with ADHD. “We found a surprisingly similar effect of early inattention on high school academic achievement across the two samples, an effect that remained even when we adjusted for intellectual ability,” explains Lundervold.

The results highlight the long-term effects that childhood inattention can have on academic performance. These findings suggest that inattention could have significant adverse effects on the academic performance of a variety of children, potentially including those with a high intellectual ability and no ADHD. So, how can parents help their children to achieve their academic potential, regardless of their IQ or mental health?

“Parents of primary school children showing signs of inattention should ask for help for the child. Remedial strategies and training programs for these children should be available at school, and not just for children with a specific diagnosis,” says Lundervold. “Parents and teachers could also benefit from training to help address the needs of inattentive children.”

Abstract of the study:

Objective: To investigate parent reports of childhood symptoms of inattention as a predictor of adolescent academic achievement, taking into account the impact of the child’s intellectual functioning, in two diagnostically and culturally diverse samples.

Method: Samples: (a) an all-female sample in the U.S. predominated by youth with ADHD (Berkeley Girls with ADHD Longitudinal Study [BGALS], N = 202), and (b) a mixed-sex sample recruited from a Norwegian population-based sample (the Bergen Child Study [BCS], N = 93). Inattention and intellectual function were assessed via the same measures in the two samples; academic achievement scores during and beyond high school and demographic covariates were country-specific.

Results: Childhood inattention predicted subsequent academic achievement in both samples, with a somewhat stronger effect in the BGALS sample, which included a large subgroup of children with ADHD. Intellectual function was another strong predictor, but the effect of early inattention remained statistically significant in both samples when intellectual function was covaried.

Conclusion: The effect of early indicators of inattention on future academic success was robust across the two samples. These results support the use of remediation procedures broadly applied. Future longitudinal multicenter studies with pre-planned common inclusion criteria should be performed to increase our understanding of the importance of inattention in primary school children for concurrent and prospective functioning.


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Nice and relevant presentation by Dirk Van Damme (OECD) on research and educational policy

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On gender and math: there are more gender similarities than there are gender differences

Good little video (H/T Paul Kirschner) on something we also discuss in our book:

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