1. Study suggests bilingual preschoolers show stronger inhibitory control

    November 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Oregon press release:

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

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

    The study appeared in the journal Developmental Science.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  2. Study suggests babies can use context to look for things

    November 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    Just six months into the world, babies already have the capacity to learn, remember and use contextual cues in a scene to guide their search for objects of interest, such as faces, a new Brown University study shows.

    “It was pretty surprising to find that 6-month-olds were capable of this memory-guided attention,” said lead author Kristen Tummeltshammer, a postdoctoral scholar at Brown. “We didn’t expect them to be so successful so young.”

    In the experiment described in Developmental Science, babies showed steady improvement in finding faces in repeated scenes, but didn’t get any quicker or more accurate in finding faces in new scenes. Senior author Dima Amso, an associate professor in Brown’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, said the finding that infants can recognize and exploit patterns of context provides important new insights into typical and possibly atypical brain development.

    “What that means is that they are efficient in using the structure in their environment to maximize attentional resources on the one hand and to reduce uncertainty and distraction on the other,” Amso said. “A critical question in our lab has been whether infants at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism spectrum disorders, have differences in the way that they process visual information, and whether this would impact future learning and attention. These data lay the developmental groundwork for asking whether there are differences in using previously learned visual information to guide future learning and attention across various neurodevelopmental populations.”

    Find the face

    To make the findings, Tummeltshammer and Amso invited 46 healthy, full-term infants, either 6 or 10 months old, to their lab to play a little game of finding faces. Seated on a parent’s lap, the babies simply had to watch a screen as they were presented with a series of arrangements of four colored shapes. In each arrangement, the shapes would turn around with one revealing a face. An eye-tracking system would measure where the baby looked.

    Eventually the babies would always look at the face, especially because after two seconds, the face would become animate and say words like “peekaboo.” In all, each baby saw 48 arrangements over eight minutes, with little breaks to watch clips of Elmo from “Sesame Street.” That, Tummeltshammer said, was to help keep them (and maybe their parents) engaged and happy.

    The trick of the experiment is that while half the time the shape arrangements were randomly scrambled and the face could be revealed anywhere, the other half of the time the same arrangements were repeated, meaning a baby could learn from that context to predict where to look for the face. In this way, the babies beheld faces both in novel and repeated contexts. If babies could notice the repeated context pattern, remember it and put it to use, they should be quicker and more accurate in finding the face when it came up in that kind of scene again.

    By several measures reported in the study, the babies demonstrated that capacity clearly. For example, as they saw more scenes, babies consistently reduced the amount of time it took to find the face in repeated-context scenes, but not in new-context scenes. Also they became better at ignoring non-face shapes in repeated-context scenes as they went along, but didn’t show that same improvement in new-context scenes.

    Babies even learned to anticipate where the faces would be on the screen based on their experiences in the experiment.

    Tummeltshammer said there was little difference between the 6-month-olds and the 10-month-olds, suggesting that the skill is already developed at the younger age.

    In new research, Tummeltshammer said, she and Amso plan to experiment with more realistic scenes. After all, babies rarely need to look for faces among cleanly defined abstract shapes. A more real-world challenge for a baby, for instance, might be finding a parent’s familiar and comforting face across a holiday dinner table.

    But even from this simpler experimental setting, the ability is clearly established.

    “We think of babies as being quite reactive in how they spread their attention,” Tummeltshammer said. “This helps us recognize that they are actually quite proactive. They are able to use recent memory and to extract what’s common in an environment as a shortcut to be able to locate things quickly.”

    A James S. McDonnell Scholar Award and the National Institutes of Health (1-F32-MH108278-01) funded the research.


  3. Study suggests teens don’t just think about themselves

    by Ashley

    From the University of Leiden press release:

    Parents often see that when their sweet, socially-minded children become adolescents they change into selfish ‘hotel guests’ who think only of themselves. But adolescents become increasingly better at weighing up one another’s interests. This discovery has been made by development psychologist Rosa Meuwese. PhD defence 31 October.

    ‘Adolescents don’t have a great reputation in terms of their social behaviour,’ Meuwese says. ‘You often hear parents say that their sweet, socially-minded children turn into selfish, lazy hotel guests who only think of me, myself & I. But out of sight of their parents, adolescents learn a lot about social behaviour from their peers.’ That may not be much of a consolation for their parents, but if they have a better understanding of the purpose of these social experiences in the development of the adolescent brain, it can help them to trust in the social journey of discovery that their adolescent children are undergoing.

    Carefully weighing up

    Meuwese looked at how the social brain of adolescents develops in their relations with their peers. She used four different methods to study the development of prosocial — socially desirable — behaviour in adolescents: she studied their behaviour, brain structure, brain function and the quality of their friendships. She had around a thousand school pupils in the Leiden area play a betting game on the computer. The participants could choose: one euro for yourself and one euro for someone else, or a distribution that was in some cases more social and in others less social. The experiment showed that young people’s choices are governed less by a set norm but that they weigh up the situation increasingly carefully. ‘Unlike what many parents see in their children, adolescents do consider the interests of others,’ Meuwese concludes.

    Winning for your friend

    Another thirty pupils played a betting game while being monitored in an MRI scanner. The participants could choose heads or tails and win or lose for themselves and a friend. ‘We first asked all the children who in their class they liked, and who they didn’t like. We also asked them who their best friend was.’ Meuwese expected to see more brain activity in the reward area of the brains of children who were popular with their classmates when they win money for a friend. ‘That appears to be a sign of being prosocial.’ Instead, she found a different connection: children who were not liked by so many of their classmates and who were sensitive to reward, showed greater activity in the reward centre when they won for themselves. ‘That’s a logical outcome, but we hadn’t expected it to be so strong.’

    Social brain development

    During their social development, adolescents become better at weighing up their own interests against those of someone else. Their social skills don’t decline, but are rather refined through interaction with their peers. Meuwese saw in adolescents with a lot of friends, or very good friends — she refers to that as a high friendship quality — that the social brain develops more rapidly. The social brain develops with increasing age. ‘But a favourable social environment, such as a good friendship, may have a positive effect.’ Meuwese believes that children and young people should receive much more training in social skills. ‘It would be useful to teach psychology at secondary school. It would give adolescents a better insight into the impact of their decisions on other people, which would have a positive effect on their friendships and consequently on their social development.’


  4. Study suggests babies are able to estimate how likely one event is compared to another

    November 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences press release:

    Our whole life we have to make decisions and weigh up probabilities of different events. By learning to estimate which event is more likely to happen, we become better at analysing risks and benefits to guide our actions. But when do we start to gain a sense of stochasticity? Are babies even able to determine likelihood?

    Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and the University of Uppsala, Sweden, have now discovered that even six-month-old babies can estimate probabilities. The babies already succeed in determining which colour makes up the majority of the balls and therefore which one is more likely to be drawn. “Six months seems to be the minimum age at which infants start to deal with probability information. One previous study showed that babies at just four months old were not able to perform this task and therefore seemed to not yet be sensitive to this information,” says Ezgi Kayhan, neuroscientist at MPI CBS and leader of the underlying study. “We suppose that from early on in life, our brains represent statistics of the environment. Within the first six months of life, babies are able to extract information about which events follow on from each other, or how likely one event is compared to another.”

    The neuroscientists investigated these relations by presenting animated film clips to 75 babies aged six, twelve and 18 months. These short movies featured a machine filled with balls, most were blue, some yellow, which in a second sequence ejected lots of the mainly available blue balls into one basket, and into another container mainly yellow balls. In this context it was 625 times less likely that the machine chose yellow balls instead of blue. Therefore, the basket being filled with mainly yellow balls was a very unlikely event.

    While the babies watched the movies the scientists observed them using the so-called eyetracking method to see which of the two baskets they looked at for longer — the likely or the unlikely option. “We noticed that the infants stared longer at the unlikely option independently from the tested age group to which they belonged — presumably because they were surprised that it was just made up of the rare yellow balls and that it was therefore a very improbable event,” explains the Turkish-born scientist. To make sure that the babies were not just more attracted by the colour yellow in some of the trials, the researchers also used green and red balls.

    “In fact, several studies have already investigated whether infants can assess probabilities, but we’ve been the first to research whether the difficulty level of the likelihood information makes a difference,” Kayhan states. Accordingly, Kayhan and her team wanted to test the limits of these estimations: Are babies still sensitive to this information when the likely and unlikely sample are difficult to distinguish?

    Indeed, the babies’ looking preferences changed depending on the ratio of blue and yellow balls. When it was only nine times more likely that the machine would pick the blue ball instead of a yellow one, the babies preferred to look at the likely blue-dominated sample for longer. “This outcome was especially surprising. One explanation could be that with decreasing ratio between the two colours, the complexity of the information increased and therefore infants preferred to focus their attention on the subset that looked more familiar. From previous studies it is known that babies prefer to look at familiar objects if they still need to encode information. In the difficult case, the information was more complex, thus the processing load was heavier within this time period,” Kayhan adds. Regardless of a possible explanation the study made clear that the infants’ ability to estimate probabilities strongly depends on how difficult it is to differentiate between the likely and the unlikely sample.


  5. Study suggests children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Deliberate practice is essential for improving a wide range of skills important for everyday life, from tying shoelaces to reading and writing. Yet despite its importance for developing basic skills, academic success, and expertise, we know little about the development of deliberate practice. A new study from Australia found that children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future starting at the age of 6. The study, from researchers at the University of Queensland, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our study contributes to our understanding of how young children start to regulate their own learning to achieve their long-term goals, as well as the development of the cognitive processes that allow people to acquire a range of general skills and highly specialized expertise throughout life,” explains Melissa Brinums, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland who led the study. “It is one of only a small number of studies documenting age-related differences in children’s future-oriented behavior beyond the preschool period.”

    To learn more about young children’s understanding of practice and the age at which they start to practice without being prompted, researchers tested 120 children ages 4 to 7 years. Most were from European-Australian, middle- to upper-middle-class families — and the authors caution that more study is needed to examine the influence of social factors (including socioeconomic status) and individual differences on children’s understanding of and engagement in deliberate practice.

    In the study, children in one room were shown three games involving motor skills and told they would be tested on one of them (a target game) later, winning stickers based on their performance. Children were then brought to a different room with replicas of the games they had seen in the first room and told they had five minutes to play before returning to the first room for the test. The researchers anticipated that children who understood that practice could help their future performance would spend more time playing the target game than the other two games. After playing, children were asked which game they played the longest and why, what they could do to improve on the games, and if they could explain what practice is.

    Most 6- and 7-year-olds explained what practice is and knew that it helped improve their skills, and most played the target game longer than the other games and said they did so to practice for the test. Most 5-year-olds showed an understanding of practice and spent slightly longer playing the target game; however, when asked why they had chosen to play that game, the 5-year-olds said they did so for reasons other than practice. Most 4-year-olds did not understand the concept of practice and did not spend more time playing the target game.

    Overall, these findings reveal clear improvements in children’s deliberate practice from ages 4 to 7. These increases in understanding of and engagement in deliberate practice may be due to age-related improvements in cognitive capacities such as episodic foresight, metacognition, and executive functions, the researchers suggest. Episodic foresight, the capacity to envision the future, allows children to foresee the future utility of a skill. Metacognition, the capacity to reflect on and monitor mental states, and executive functions, the cognitive processes that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, play important roles in allowing children to monitor and control their own learning.

    “By providing insight into children’s understanding of practice and the age at which they start to practice for the future with and without prompting, our study may help caregivers and teachers structure age-appropriate learning activities for children,” notes Kana Imuta, a psychology researcher at the University of Queensland, who coauthored the study. “For example, out findings suggest that it may be beneficial to start having conversations with children as young as 6 about their future goals, and encourage them to think about and work toward those goals. A focus on the future may help kids understand why practicing is so important.”


  6. Study suggests warmth, not lavish praise, helps children develop self-esteem

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Amsterdam press release:

    How do children construct views of themselves and their place in the world? Children’s social relationships turn out to be critical. For example, children develop higher self-esteem when their parents treat them warmly. But they develop lower self-esteem when their parents lavish them with inflated praise. These and other findings are included in a special section edited by Eddie Brummelman (University of Amsterdam) and Sander Thomaes (Utrecht University) and soon-to-be published in the journal Child Development. In a series of articles, now available online in ‘early view’,’ the researchers share the results of research on the origins of the self-concept in children.

    Who am I and what is my place in the world? Children are born without an answer to these pressing questions. As they grow up, though, they start to formulate answers seemingly effortlessly. Within a few years, they recognise themselves in the mirror, refer to themselves by their own name, evaluate themselves through the eyes of others and understand their standing in a social group.

    Research by Christina Starmans from the University of Toronto shows that even toddlers have an idea of what it means to have a ‘self’. Young children see the self as something that is unique to a person, separate from the body, stable over time, and located within the head, behind the eyes. Research by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and his colleagues shows that even toddlers have the cognitive ability to form self-worth (i.e., how satisfied they are with themselves as individuals).

    Social relationships

    Over time, pronounced individual differences arise in children’s self-concept. Some children like themselves, whereas others feel negatively about themselves. Some children see themselves as superior and deserving special treatment, whereas others consider themselves to be on an equal plane with others. Some children believe they can grow and build their abilities, whereas others believe their abilities are fixed and unchangeable. Where do these individual differences come from? What leads children to see themselves the way they do? ‘Surprisingly little is known about the origins of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman. ‘It is important that we shed more light on this important subject. With this collection of articles, our aim is to showcase emerging research on this subject.’

    ‘What these articles reveal is that children form their self-concept, at least in part, based on their social relationships‘, Brummelman continues. For example, research by Michelle Harris (University of California) and her team shows that children develop higher self-esteem when they receive warmth from their parents. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities and share joy with them, which makes children feel noticed and valued. Brummelman’s own research shows that children may develop lower self-esteem and sometimes even narcissism when their parents give them lots of extremely positive, inflated praise, such as ‘Wow, you did incredibly well! Such inflated praise may give children a sense of grandiosity but at the same time also make them worry about falling short of the standards set for them.

    Encouragement

    Previous research has shown the importance of having a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop your skills through effort and education. Children with a growth mindset are eager to take on challenges, persist when the going gets tough, and see failure as opportunities for growth. In a theoretical article, Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck (Stanford University) describe how parents can foster a growth mindset by praising children for effort instead of ability (for example, ‘You worked so hard!’) and by teaching children that failure isn’t harmful but actually benefits learning and growth. Parents can encourage children to ask themselves: why did I get such a low grade, and what can I do differently in future?

    All 10 articles in the special section study various dimensions of children’s self-concept, including self-esteem, self-compassion, mindsets and self-perceived ability. ‘What these articles show is that children construct their self-concept based on the social relationships they have, the feedback they receive, the social comparisons they make, and the cultural values they endorse. This underlines the deeply social nature of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman.


  7. Study suggests babies can learn that hard work pays off

    October 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology press release:

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

    A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different tasks before succeeding tried harder at their own difficult task, compared to babies who saw an adult succeed effortlessly.

    The study suggests that infants can learn the value of effort after seeing just a couple of examples of adults trying hard, although the researchers have not studied how long the effect lasts. Although the study took place in a laboratory setting, the findings may offer some guidance for parents who hope to instill the value of effort in their children, the researchers say.

    “There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” says Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT. “There’s nothing you can learn from a laboratory study that directly applies to parenting, but this does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”

    Schulz is the senior author of the study, which appears in the Sept. 21 online edition of Science. Julia Leonard, an MIT graduate student, is the first author of the paper, and MIT undergraduate Yuna Lee is also an author.

    Putting in the effort

    Many recent studies have explored the value of hard work. Some have found that children’s persistence, or “grit,” can predict success above and beyond what IQ predicts. Other studies have found that children’s beliefs regarding effort also matter: Those who think putting in effort leads to better outcomes do better in school than those who believe success depends on a fixed level of intelligence.

    Leonard and Schulz were interested in studying how children might learn, at a very early age, how to decide when to try hard and when it’s not worth the effort. Schulz’ previous work has shown that babies can learn causal relationships from just a few examples.

    “We were wondering if they can do similar fast learning from a little bit of data about when effort is really worth it,” Leonard says.

    To do that, they designed an experiment in which 15-month-old babies first watched an adult perform two tasks: removing a toy frog from a container and removing a key chain from a carabiner. Half of the babies saw the adult quickly succeed at the task three times within 30 seconds, while the other half saw her struggle for 30 seconds before succeeding.

    The experimenter then showed the baby a musical toy. This toy had a button that looked like it should turn the toy on but actually did not work; there was also a concealed, functional button on the bottom. Out of the baby’s sight, the researcher turned the toy on, to demonstrate that it played music, then turned it off and gave it to the baby.

    Each baby was given two minutes to play with the toy, and the researchers recorded how many times the babies tried to press the button that seemed like it should turn the toy on. They found that babies who had seen the experimenter struggle before succeeding pressed the button nearly twice as many times overall as those who saw the adult easily succeed. They also pressed it nearly twice as many times before first asking for help or tossing the toy.

    “There wasn’t any difference in how long they played with the toy or in how many times they tossed it to their parent,” Leonard says. “The real difference was in the number of times they pressed the button before they asked for help and in total.”

    The researchers also found that direct interactions with the babies made a difference. When the experimenter said the infants’ names, made eye contact with them, and talked directly to them, the babies tried harder than when the experimenter did not directly engage with the babies.

    “What we found, consistent with many other studies, is that using those pedagogical cues is an amplifier. The effect doesn’t vanish, but it becomes much weaker without those cues,” Schulz says.

    A limited resource

    A key takeaway from the study is that people appear to be able to learn, from an early age, how to make decisions regarding effort allocation, the researchers say.

    “We’re a somewhat puritanical culture, especially here in Boston. We value effort and hard work,” Schulz says. “But really the point of the study is you don’t actually want to put in a lot of effort across the board. Effort is a limited resource. Where do you deploy it, and where do you not?”

    The researchers hope to investigate how long this effect might last after the initial experiment. Another possible avenue of research is whether the effect would be as strong with different kinds of tasks — for example, if it was less clear to the babies what the adult was trying to achieve, or if the babies were given toys that were meant for older children.


  8. Students’ self-concepts of ability in math, reading predict later math, reading attainment

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Educational and developmental psychologists have tried to understand how skills and motivation are linked to academic achievement. While research supports ties between individuals’ concepts of their abilities and their achievement, we lack a complete picture of how these relations develop from childhood to adolescence. A new longitudinal study looked at how youths’ self-concepts are linked to their actual academic achievement in math and reading from middle childhood to adolescence. The study found that students’ self-concepts of their abilities in these two academic domains play an important role in motivating their achievements over time and across levels of achievement.

    The findings come from researchers at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and the University of Michigan. They appear in the journal Child Development.

    “Our study shows that youths’ perceptions of their abilities in middle childhood are important in promoting their later achievement in math and reading,” explains Maria Ines Susperreguy, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, who led the study. “This relation is not limited to students who perform at the top levels, but extends to students with different levels of achievement in math and reading. Even the lowest-performing students who had a more positive view of their math and reading abilities had higher levels of achievement in math and reading.”

    The researchers looked at three data sets of children ages 5 to 18 — the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (13,901 British children), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (1,354 American children), and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics-Child Development Supplement (237 American children). Each data set included measures of self-concept and standardized assessments of early and later academic achievement.

    Students’ self-concept was defined as their perceptions of their capabilities to succeed on academic tasks. The study considered children’s earlier achievement as well as their characteristics and backgrounds, including birth weight, race/ethnicity, gender, age, and their mother’s education.

    The study found that children’s beliefs about their math and reading abilities explain some of the variance in their later math and reading achievement, after controlling for demographics and children’s characteristics, as well as prior academic achievement. The study also revealed that children’s self-concept of their ability in math predicted later math achievement, and that their self-concept of their ability in reading predicted later reading achievement, but not vice versa. This finding suggests that the links between self-concept of ability and later achievement are specific to domains; that is, there is a link from students’ self-concept about reading to reading achievement, and from students’ self-concept about math to match achievement. The findings apply to students of all levels of achievement.

    “When trying to understand the issues of low academic performance, we often examine what additional skills children need to succeed in school,” says Pamela Davis-Kean, professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, who coauthored the study. “Our findings, replicated across three data sets, show that it is important to understand the relation between children’s perceptions of their abilities and later achievement.”


  9. Study suggest tablets can teach kids to solve physical puzzles

    September 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Researchers confirm that when 4-6 year old children learn how to solve a puzzle using a touchscreen tablet, they can then apply this learning to the same puzzle in the physical world. This contradicts most previous research and suggests that different screen learning media could have different effects on skill transfer.

    As tablet computers become more popular, children are using them as early as their first year of life. Companies market a huge array of interactive educational apps for kids, but are they effective and can they teach real-world skills?

    Guidelines published by some government bodies suggest that while children can learn skills from screen-based media, such as videos or touchscreens, they can struggle to apply these skills elsewhere. This conventional thinking is backed by the majority of previous research.

    However, some studies have shown that children can in fact translate screen-based learning to real-world skills. These contradictory findings have inspired researchers to further explore this phenomenon. One such researcher is Joanne Tarasuik, of the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.

    In a previous study, Tarasuik and colleagues found that children in Australia could learn how to solve a puzzle on a touchscreen device, and then successfully transfer these skills to completing the same puzzle in the physical world. As this is contradictory to most previous research, the team repeated the study in different children, with a different language and culture, to make sure that the findings were correct and robust.

    In this new replication study, recently published in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, the Australian team collaborated with researchers in Croatia to repeat their original study with Croatian children. The study used the ‘Tower of Hanoi’ puzzle, which involves moving discs between pegs so that they line up in order on a different peg, using the smallest possible number of moves.

    The children practiced the puzzle on a touchscreen app, or with a physical version using wooden pegs and discs, and the researchers measured how many moves they took to complete it, and how long they spent. Some of the children practiced the puzzle several times on the tablet before trying it on the wooden version. This allowed the researchers to see if the kids’ virtual practice could improve their skills in the physical world.

    The children all needed a similar number of moves to complete the wooden puzzle, regardless of whether they had practiced using the virtual puzzle, the physical puzzle, or a combination of the two. From the first to final attempt at the puzzle, all the children also improved their speed.

    “We successfully replicated our previous findings that 4-6 year old children can apply knowledge of this puzzle from practice using a touchscreen device, to the physical version of the puzzle,” says Tarasuik.

    The researchers hypothesize that unlike some passive forms of screen learning like a simple video demonstration, the interactive virtual puzzle significantly engaged the children and enhanced their learning, so that they could successfully apply those same skills to the wooden puzzle.

    The findings contrast with most previous research in this area, and suggest that different screen learning media, such as video presentations or interactive apps, could have different effects on whether children can transfer learned skills to the physical world.

    “These results demonstrate that ‘screen time’ is not a useful umbrella phrase, as what children can obtain from different types of screen media will vary, and numerous factors can impact their learning outcomes,” says Tarasuik.

    “We would like these results to guide future research into how and what children of different developmental stages can learn via touch screen technology, and then apply in the physical world.”


  10. How reading and writing with your child boost more than just literacy

    September 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Children who read and write at home — whether for assignments or just for fun — are building long-term study and executive function skills, according to a paper from the University of Washington.

    And while home literacy activities have already been associated with higher test scores, the new study shows these activities also provide students with tools for lifetime success.

    “People who are good students tend to become good employees by being on time and putting forward their best work. All of the things that make you a good student also make you a good employee,” said Nicole Alston-Abel, a Federal Way Public Schools psychologist who conducted the study while pursuing her doctorate at the UW. “If you make sure your child is academically engaged at home through third grade, kids go on autopilot — they know how to ‘do’ school after that.

    Alston-Abel analyzed data collected by co-author Virginia Berninger, UW emeritus professor of education, who conducted a five-year longitudinal study of academic performance in grades one through seven. As part of that study, Berninger sent home questionnaires asking parents if, and how, they helped their children with reading and writing; Alston-Abel, a former primary teacher, then compared the responses with students’ academic performance.

    The study published online in May in the Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation.

    To collect a range of ages and school experiences, the study followed two groups of students in public elementary schools near the UW campus — one cohort of students from first to fifth grade, the other from third to seventh grade. In all, 241 families participated over five years, completing annual questionnaires about how their child felt about reading and writing, what kinds of activities they engaged in at home, and what kind of help parents provided.

    The demographics of both cohorts reflected neighborhoods around the university: About 85 percent of students were white or Asian American, and nearly three-fourths of parents had a bachelor’s or advanced degree. A more diverse pool, Alston-Abel said, would be illuminating from a research perspective, but the basic message would remain the same: “The takeaway is still the importance of having a parent involved in developing the habits and models a child needs to be successful. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status you come from.”

    Among the study’s findings:

    • Students spent significantly more time at home reading than writing.
    • Without a specific assignment, children were more likely to choose reading as an activity than writing.
    • Parents provided more help with writing than with reading.
    • Starting at the intermediate grades (four and up), writing assignments increased, while parent help for writing declined more gradually than for reading.
    • About three-fourths of the fifth- and seventh-grade students used a computer for writing assignments.
    • Parents of those older students described their children as “fluent” in using a computer for writing homework for 19 percent of the fifth-graders, and 53 percent of the seventh-graders.
    • Parent ratings of their student’s “self-regulation,” or ability to stay on task and exhibit other study skills, were associated with academic performance, especially in reading comprehension and written expression.

    The authors point out that there is no direct causal link between the responses on the questionnaires and student achievement, but that some patterns do exist. For example, among students whose parents described their lack of focus or unwillingness to help set modest goals, academic achievement was generally lower than among students who stayed on task or learned to prioritize.

    The study speaks to the need for a collaborative effort between parents and teachers, Alston-Abel said, especially among marginalized populations, and at a time when kindergarteners, according to Common Core State Standards, are expected to demonstrate basic reading and writing skills.

    “Some kids come to kindergarten reading basic ‘sight words,’ and others don’t know their letters. Add up the disadvantages and the demands of the curriculum, and it becomes very apparent that if you don’t have a collaborative effort, for these same kids, that gap is always going to be there,” Alston-Abel said.

    Teachers can start by asking parents about how they support their child’s learning at home — like with the kinds of questionnaires used in the study. The responses to open-ended questions about what kinds of reading and writing a child does at home, why, and for how long each week, can then inform instruction. Meanwhile, parents who work with their children, Alston-Abel added, are introducing study skills like time management and impulse control.

    The paper provides other tips for parents and teachers on how to work together to develop literacy and study skills. One way is to engage a child in writing at home through journals, a story to a family member, even an email or thank-you note. Another is to look for specific skills to help develop, such as spelling or reading comprehension, but pull back when the child appears able to accomplish more independently. And encourage any opportunity to read or write for fun.

    “Academic success is an all-hands-on-deck enterprise,” Alston-Abel said. “Teacher, parent and student all have a part to play. Fostering home-school partnerships that enhance and extend the experience of the learner can lead to life-long habits that foster success.”

    The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.