1. 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.


  2. Inattentive kids show worse grades in later life

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers 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.”


  3. Study suggests exclusion from school can trigger long-term psychiatric illness

    September 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Excluding children from school may lead to long- term psychiatric problems and psychological distress, a study of thousands of children has shown.

    Research by the University of Exeter, published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that a new onset mental disorder may be a consequence of exclusion from school.

    The study, also found that — separately — poor mental health can lead to exclusion from school.

    Professor Tamsin Ford, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Exeter’s Medical School, warned that excluded children can develop a range of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety as well as behavioural disturbance. The impact of excluding a child from school on their education and progress is often long term, and this work suggests that their mental health may also deteriorate.

    The study is the most rigorous study of the impact of exclusion from school among the general population so far and included a standardised assessment of children’s difficulties.

    Consistently poor behaviour in the classroom is the main reason for school exclusion, with many students, mainly of secondary school age, facing repeated dismissal from school. Relatively few pupils are expelled from school, but Professor Ford warned that even temporary exclusions can amplify psychological distress.

    Professor Ford, who practises as a child and adolescent psychiatrist as well as carrying out research, said identifying children who struggle in class could, if coupled with tailored support, prevent exclusion and improve their success at school, while exclusion might precipitate future mental disorder. These severe psychological difficulties are often persistent so could then require long-term clinical support by the NHS.

    Professor Ford said: “For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes then from an unbearable situation with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again. As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool as for these children it encourages the very behaviour that it intends to punish. By avoiding exclusion and finding other solutions to poor behaviour, schools can help children’s mental health in the future as well as their education.”

    Exclusion from school is commoner among boys, secondary school pupils, and those living in socio-economically deprived circumstances. Poor general health and learning disabilities, as well as having parents with mental illness, is also associated with exclusion.

    The analysis by a team led by Professor Ford of responses from over 5000 school-aged children, their parents and their teachers in the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys collected by the Office of National Statistics on behalf of the Department of Health found that children with learning difficulties and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum conditions were more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

    The research team found more children with mental disorder among those who had been excluded from school, when they followed up on their progress, than those who had not. The research team omitted children who had a previous mental disorder from this analysis.

    The researchers concluded there is a ‘bi-directional association’ between psychological distress and exclusion: children with psychological distress and mental-health problems are more likely to be excluded in the first place but exclusion predicted increased levels of psychological distress three years later.

    Claire Parker, a researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, who carried out doctoral research on the project said:

    “Although an exclusion from school may only last for a day or two, the impact and repercussions for the child and parents are much wider. Exclusion often marks a turning point during an ongoing difficult time for the child, parent and those trying to support the child in school.”

    Most research into the impact of exclusion has so far involved the study of individuals’ experience and narratives from much smaller groups of people chosen because of their experience, which may not be so representative.

    This study included an analysis of detailed questionnaires filled in by children parents and teachers as well as an assessment of disorder by child psychiatrists, drawing on data from over 5000 children in two linked surveys to allow the researchers to compare their responses with students who had been excluded. This sample from the general population included over 200 children who had experienced at least one exclusion.

    The report concluded: “Support for children whose behaviour challenges school systems is important. Timely intervention may prevent exclusion from school as well as future psychopathology. A number of vulnerable children may face exclusion from school that might be avoided with suitable interventions.”

    Professor Ford added: “Given the established link between children’s behaviour, classroom climate and teachers’ mental health, burn out and self-efficacy, greater availability of timely support for children whose behaviour is challenging might also improve teachers’ productivity and school effectiveness”.


  4. Life at home affects kids at school, some more than others

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) press release:

    Some children are more susceptible to changes than others. They carry the relationship with their parents to school with them. Genetics can help explain why.

    “When the situation changes at home for these children, the relationship with their teacher changes too,” says researcher and PhD candidate Beate W. Hygen at NTNU Social Research and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

    This means that when things are going well at home and in the parent-child relationship, the relationship between the child and the teacher is correspondingly good. However, the teacher-child relationship deteriorates when the child’s home life becomes more difficult.

    Genetic explanation

    “Some children seem to soak up environmental factors at home. This in turn affects the relationship with the teacher. For other children, the conditions at home don’t have much influence on their relationship with the teacher,” says Hygen.

    The explanation may be partly genetic. Hygen is the first author of a recent article that considers whether certain environmental factors affect children’s social development differently depending on what kind of genetic variants the child has.

    Hygen says the researchers are finding a link between children’s susceptibility to such factors and differences in a gene that regulates how individuals are affected by oxytocin. The differences found by the researchers were located in a variant of a receptor gene called OXTR, rs 53576. You can read more about this gene at https://www.snpedia.com/index.php/Rs53576

    Oxytocin is well known, even outside research circles. It is often called the “love hormone,” because it’s triggered when we’re together with someone we love, like a romantic love or our child. But oxytocin levels also increase when a relationship appears to be in danger, so the nickname isn’t totally accurate.

    Oxytocin release, the level of oxytocin in the brain and how oxytocin affects us play a significant role in our human relationships and how we interact and engage with others.

    Study looks at ambience

    Genetic differences in how we are affected by oxytocin can thus create differences in the way we relate to each other. Biology largely determines how we behave, but this study shows that this happens in conjunction with our surroundings.

    Previous surveys that have studied conditions at home versus in school have usually primarily looked at the parents’ situation. Social learning models, Hygen says, approach the issue from a starting point of “if there’s just yelling and negativity at home, some children can take these experiences into other relationships, such as with their teachers.”

    But the researchers in this survey start with the child itself and ask the question, “How vulnerable is the child to environmental factors?”

    “The most susceptible children will bring their home situation — both good and bad — into the school setting,” says Hygen.

    The Norwegian researchers examined 652 children in two age groups: 4-to-6 year olds and 6-to-8 year olds. This data is part of the long-term Tidlig Trygg i Trondheim study conducted by the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare (RKBU) of Central Norway. The survey goes into detail about the home ambience. The study aims to identify risk and protection factors for psychosocial development and development of mental health problems in children.

    The researchers also asked the children’s teachers to assess the relationships they had with the children. This last component might be a source of error in the study, the researchers said.

    Different result in the United States

    The Norwegian researchers collaborated with American researchers, who conducted the same analysis in the US. The American researchers included 559 children from different locations in the United States. They did not find the same connection between home and school relationships.

    Hygen believes she has an idea why the Norwegian and American researchers have gotten divergent results.

    “In the United States, the stability of the relationship between teacher and child is often not the same in this age group,” she says.

    Norwegian children in the 6-to-8-year age group often have the same teacher for several years. In the United States, teachers change more often, and a change in the child’s relationship with their teacher over time may therefore be due to a change of teacher, not necessarily an improvement or worsening of the relationship with the same teacher.

    So, according to Hygen, researchers are less sure whether they are able to accurately measure relationship improvement or deterioration in the US, and the more frequent teacher changes may explain why the study doesn’t capture the effect of changes in the parent-child relationship.

    The researchers also assume that the quality of teachers varies a lot more in the United States than in Norway, since the funding of the school system differs from state to state. Greater social inequalities in the United States, which can influence relationships between teachers and children, may also affect the US results.

    The study has been published in the professional journal Developmental Psychology.


  5. ‘Robin Hood effects’ on motivation in math

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Tübingen press release:

    Students from families with little interest in math benefit more from a school intervention program that aims at increasing math motivation than do students whose parents regard math as important. A study by researchers at the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology indicates the intervention program has a “Robin Hood effect” which reduces the “motivational gap” between students from different family backgrounds because new information about the importance of math is made accessible to underprivileged students. Something known as the “Matthew effect” did not take place in this study. The “Matthew effect” says that students who already have good foundations and are therefore more privileged, profit most from an intervention. The results of the study were recently published in Developmental Psychology.

    The Tübingen researchers first analyzed data on the attitudes towards math of roughly 1,900 German ninth-grade students and their parents. The students then took part in a teaching unit about the usefulness of math that was conducted by the researchers. In a presentation, they were given important information about the significance of mathematics for students’ future careers and their daily life. Afterwards they either wrote an essay about the usefulness of math or evaluated interview quotations about math’s relevance.

    At six weeks and at five months after the intervention, the students were again asked about their motivation towards math. The intervention showed several “Robin Hood effects” on the students’ utility and attainment values as well as on students’ effort: the motivation of students from families with little interest in math was more positively affected than the motivation of students from families with greater interest in the subject. Yet the differential effects were observed only five months after the teaching unit. Six weeks after the intervention no differential effects were apparent. “Our assumption was that there would be a delayed effect on the motivation of less privileged students, since it would take some time for them to reflect on and internalize the information they received during the teaching unit,” explains Isabelle Häfner. This so-called “sleeper-effect” grows stronger the more time passes, she adds.

    The study results also suggest that it is not the socioeconomic status of their families — education, income and occupation — that is central for students’ motivation to learn, but rather their parents’ interest in a subject. “If parents are interested in math for example, this might affect the way they spend their free time. They spend more time talking about a subject with their children, thereby passing on their interest in it,” says Häfner. Students from families with little interest in math, on the other hand, do not have access to this kind of information. When they receive it at school, they may profit more greatly because the novelty of the information encourages them to reflect on it. One of the two project leaders and director of the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, Ulrich Trautwein, stresses the importance of this finding: “Often children who are already privileged are those who end up benefitting from additional programs. Our results highlight the potential of classroom interventions to reduce motivational gaps between students from families with fewer and students from families with greater motivational resources.”


  6. Study suggests teachers should foster emotional intelligence in their students but not be graded on it

    July 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the RTI International press release:

    If emotional intelligence is a key — and possibly the most important — component to student success, how do we ensure schools foster it?

    Recent research shows emotional skills like grit, sense of belonging, and growth mindset positively influence student grades, test scores, and attendance. While we know social and emotional skills are important to education achievements, which skills are most important and how much can teachers influence them? Are education systems and institutions properly equipped to hold teachers accountable for them?

    RTI International and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) conducted a systemic review of research in this area and focus groups with three panels of NNSTOY teachers to learn about the reliability of measures of these skills and perceptions of teachers’ capacity to develop them. While educators can contribute to the growth of students’ social and emotional capabilities, they should not be formally assessed on these skills.

    “Recent research has found benefits of social and emotional skills,” said Elizabeth Glennie, report author and senior research education analyst at RTI. “However, we need to learn more about the role of educators in building these skills.”

    The report looks specifically at educators’ roles in developing student grit, growth mindset, and sense of belonging at school.

    Based on research and teacher focus groups, the report found:

    • Educators think it’s important that students have strong social and emotional skills, and they have a role to play in fostering them.
    • Many factors outside the school’s control influence students’ social and emotional learning, and it is not clear which interventions have the greatest impact on students. Thus, schools and teachers should not be penalized for factors outside their control.
    • Social and emotional learning supports need to be personalized to meet students’ different needs. A formulaic approach may not benefit all students.
    • Teachers reported that many educators do not have support or know how to allocate time to helping students develop these important skills
    • Professional development and resources for social and emotional learning should be available to educators who will be responsible for teaching these skills.

    “Data about social emotional learning can help teachers support their students,” Glennie said. “However, such data should used in a way that ensures that schools and teachers get the resources they need to do that.”


  7. Study suggests teacher burnout can be contagious

    July 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Burnout among young teachers appears to be contagious, indicates a new study led by Michigan State University education scholars.

    The study found a significant link between burnout among early-career teachers and exposure to both a school-wide culture of burnout and burnout among the young teachers’ closest circle of colleagues.

    Surprisingly, the link was stronger to the school-wide culture of burnout than it was to burnout among close colleagues.

    “If you are surrounded by people who are downcast or walking around under a pall of burnout, then it has a high chance of spilling over, even if you don’t have direct contact with these folks,” said Kenneth Frank, professor of measurement and quantitative methods in MSU’s College of Education.

    “This study,” Frank added, “is one of the first to provide evidence that the organizational culture in schools can make a notable difference for early-career teachers’ burnout levels.”

    Frank co-authored the study with Jihyun Kim, an MSU doctoral student, and Peter Youngs, a former MSU scholar who’s now an associate professor at the University of Virginia. Their findings appear in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education.

    The researchers analyzed the survey data on burnout of 171 teachers who were in their first four years in the profession and 289 experienced teachers who served as the young teachers’ mentors or close colleagues.

    Kim, lead author on the paper, said she was interested in investigating teacher burnout based on her experiences as an early-career teacher in her native Korea, where she worked long days and weekends.

    Early-career teachers are particularly vulnerable to stress and burnout as they adjust to working full-time and respond to school and district expectations, she said. Further, schools often fail to provide teachers with enough resources, including the appropriate teaching materials, assistant teachers, professional development and preparation time.

    “These resources are critical not only for reducing teacher burnout, but also for closing gaps in students’ learning,” said Kim, who will begin work in the fall as an assistant professor of education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

    Frank said teacher burnout is also tied to the current education policy environment. Controversial policies such as evaluating teachers based primarily on student test scores, merit pay for teachers and lack of voice in assignment of students to teachers can bring added pressure.

    “We know that early career teachers are susceptible to burnout because of the significant demands placed on them. It is also clear that the introduction of new reforms in K-12 education on a frequent basis adds to the pressures they experience,” Frank said.

    “If school administrators and policymakers are serious about promoting retention and reducing burnout among novice teachers, they should be aware not just of the curriculum they are advocating, or their rules and policies for teachers. They should also attend to how the organizational culture in their schools can have direct effects on burnout levels of their faculty.”


  8. Academic motivation suffers when economic mobility seems out of reach

    July 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    New studies from Northwestern University show that high school and college students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds are much less motivated to overcome academic hardships when they have doubts about the likelihood of people from their backgrounds achieving upward mobility.

    The new studies extend previous research demonstrating that low-SES students who see education as a viable path to upward mobility are more inclined to succeed in their educational pursuits despite the numerous academic barriers facing students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    “Prior research has shown that students from low-SES backgrounds are motivated to persist during difficult academic experiences when they feel school can concretely contribute to future socioeconomic success,” said Alexander Browman, lead author of the studies and a recent Ph.D. graduate in psychology from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. “Our new studies extend this work by showing that this motivational pathway can be affected by whether or not they feel that that goal of achieving socioeconomic mobility is ultimately possible in the society in which they live.”

    In three studies, the researchers either measured students’ beliefs about how attainable mobility was in their society or presented them with information that suggested that mobility was more or less likely to occur in their society. They found that students from lower-SES backgrounds who had or were led to hold doubts about the likelihood of mobility were less inclined to persist when they faced academic difficulty.

    The authors highlight that these findings suggest new potential intervention strategies for motivating students to persist when they experience difficulty at school.

    At the same time, they emphasize that their results do not imply that low-SES students who underperform do so simply because they hold misguided beliefs about mobility that can be casually corrected.

    “The belief among some low-SES youth and young adults that mobility is unrealistic in their society is likely deep-seated, resulting from a lifetime of concrete experiences that cast doubt upon the plausibility that people from their background can experience mobility in that society,” Browman said. “What this implies is that in order to promote meaningful sustained academic effort, researchers, educators and policymakers should consider what sorts of systemic changes to the educational environment might provide these students with concrete routes to mobility that are viable for students from their backgrounds.”


  9. Children play key role in making early education successful

    July 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    The way children engage with their teachers, peers and tasks is vital to the success of early-childhood education but greatly underestimated, according to new Northwestern University research.

    Contrary to conventional wisdom, emotionally supportive, well-organized and stimulating pre-kindergarten classrooms may not be enough — especially for low-income children, according to the study.

    “Children bring a lot to the table,” said Terri Sabol, an assistant professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy, who led the research. “It’s important to look beyond overall classroom quality and capture children’s individual experiences in classroom settings.”

    Children’s individual engagement was related to their developmental gains, even after accounting for emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support at the classroom level.

    Positive engagement with teachers was related to improved literacy skills, and positive engagement with peers was related to improved language and self-regulatory skills. In addition, positive engagement with tasks was related to closer relationships with teachers.

    Children who were negatively engaged in the classroom — those who got into conflicts with teachers or peers — were at a comparative disadvantage in terms of their school readiness, the study found. Children with higher levels of negative engagement performed at lower levels across nearly all of the academic, language, and social outcomes measured, including lower language, literacy and self-regulatory skills.

    High-quality early childhood education has long been hailed as a promising approach to narrowing the achievement gap. But assessment of early-childhood education programs has emphasized teachers, often missing the central role that children play in their own development, according to the study of low-income, ethnically diverse students.

    Conducted by researchers at Northwestern, Montana State University Billings and the University of Virginia, the study was published in the journal Child Development.

    The study looked at 211 low-income, racially and ethnically diverse 4-year-olds in 49 classrooms in state and federally funded preschool programs. Researchers measured the children’s engagement in the classroom by observing their positive and negative interactions with teachers, peers and tasks.

    “We have to think about children as active participants in their own education when we are devising interventions,” said Sabol, who also is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern and leads the University’s Development, Early Education and Policy Lab.

    The lab produces innovative and functional scholarship aimed at improving the lives of low-income children.

    A former first grade teacher, Sabol personally observed these patterns in her classroom at Lavizzo Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side, where she taught first graders with Teach For America before enrolling in graduate school.

    The student body at Lavizzo is 96 percent low income, according to the 2015-16 Illinois Report Card.

    “After teaching 35 low-income first graders, I took a step back and tried to understand why is it that by the time the kids are in first grade, they’re already behind before they even started,” Sabol said. “This study takes some of the emphasis off of teachers and really unpacks the positive and negative effects of children’s engagement on their own learning.”


  10. Strategic studying limits the costs of divided attention

    July 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Multitasking while studying may impair overall memory for the study material, but your ability to strategically identify and remember the most important information may stay intact, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “Dividing attention wasn’t necessarily a good thing for learning and recall, but we found that distracted participants were just as likely to recall the most important information as were participants who were able to give the presented information their full attention,” explains psychology researcher Catherine D. Middlebrooks of the University of California, Los Angeles. “The ability to prioritize high-value information during study was consistently immune to the effects of divided attention, regardless of the extent of the distractions that participants faced.”

    Previous research has shown that learners are able to compensate for the limitations of memory by prioritizing certain information and essentially sacrificing other information as they study. That is, they strategically compensate for factors that are beyond their control — but deploying this strategic approach to studying itself requires cognitive resources. Middlebrooks and UCLA co-authors Tyson K. Kerr and Alan D. Castel wanted to know whether learners have sufficient cognitive resources to overcome the potential costs incurred by studying strategically.

    In one experiment, the researchers asked 192 undergraduate student participants to view a series of word lists and remember as many words as possible. Importantly, each word had a numerical value, from 1 to 10, and participants were instructed to maximize the total value of the words they recalled.

    Students randomly assigned to the divided attention group studied the word lists as digits were also being read aloud — they were instructed to press a key every time they heard three odd digits in a row. Other students studied the lists while lyrical music, with which they were familiar or unfamiliar, played in the background. Another group of students studied with no additional distractions.

    As expected, those students who were forced to divide their attention between the word list and the digits recalled fewer words compared with the students in the other groups. The data showed that the background music had no discernible effect on students’ overall recall.

    Importantly, students really did seem to pay attention to the value of the words — their odds of recalling a 10-point word were almost five times greater than their odds of recalling a 1-point word. The link between value and recall held for students in all of the groups, regardless of whether they studied with or without distraction.

    The findings suggest that the students adjusted their studying to compensate for their study conditions, paying particular attention to the most important study items.

    A second experiment, in which students had to divide their attention between studying word lists and completing tone-monitoring tasks that varied in difficulty, showed a similar pattern of results. Participants performed worse when their attention was divided, but they were still able to selectively remember the high-value words.

    In both experiments, participants were better able to remember the words as they gained more experience with the task, suggesting that their ability to study selectively improved with practice.

    “Situations in which we can actually give something our full, truly undivided attention are often few and far between — at any given moment, you’re likely to be distracted to some extent by a number of factors,” says Middlebrooks. “Our findings don’t suggest that multi-tasking or being distracted will never affect how well we might prioritize important information, but they do suggest that distraction does not automatically doom our efforts and that we seem to consider their costs when deciding how best to allocate our limited resources.”

    In future research, Middlebrooks and colleagues hope to explore how various real-world factors — such as having to choose which material to study and how — might affect strategic studying.