1. Study suggests dual-language learners outperform monolingual students once they gain English proficiency

    November 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Iowa State University press release:

    Not all dual-language learners are at risk academically, but as a group, these students are often labeled as such, despite differences in their English skills.

    A new Iowa State University study examined how variation in dual language status among Head Start students related to development in cognitive and academic areas. The research team led by Ji-Young Choi, an assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies, found dual-language learners (DLLs) had significant growth, eventually outperforming students who only spoke English, once DLLs gained basic English proficiency. The results are published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

    Choi, Christine Lippard, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State; and Shinyoung Jeon, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, analyzed data measuring inhibitory control (the ability to pay attention and control natural, but unnecessary thoughts or behaviors) and math achievement for low-income students in Head Start through kindergarten. The data, collected through the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009, included 825 children — whose home language was English or Spanish — at 59 Head Start programs across the country.

    Instead of treating DLLs as a homogenous group, researchers created two categories — Spanish-English bilinguals, who can function in both languages; and DLLs with limited English skills — based on ability entering Head Start. They identified stark differences between the DLL groups and English-only students over the course of the study. Entering Head Start, bilingual students had higher inhibitory control, but lower math scores, than English-only students did. DLLs with limited English skills lagged behind both groups. However, over the course of 18 months, bilingual students outperformed English-only students with higher scores in math and inhibitory control, despite having lower baseline scores for math at the beginning of the study.

    DLLs with limited English skills — students considered at risk when they entered Head Start — also made significant progress, the study found. These students outpaced bilingual and English-only students in the rate of gains for inhibitory control skills. While their scores had not caught up with the other two groups by the midpoint of kindergarten (the final point of analysis for the study), Choi expects with more time DLLs with limited English skills would eventually match or even outperform English-only peers as they learn more English and become bilingual.

    “Recognizing that dual-language learners can do better than we expected has huge implications. When these students do not have age-appropriate English skills they are more at risk, but once they achieve those skills they actually excel,” Choi said. “This study also confirms that there is a cognitive benefit for bilingual students.”

    Importance of inhibitory control

    The researchers say that bilingual children’s faster growth rate in inhibitory control over time helped explain the significant difference in kindergarten math skills between bilingual children and English-only students. Based on the FACES data, they could not provide a definitive explanation for the faster growth rate in inhibitory control. However, Choi says the research results lend support to the theory that bilingual students develop stronger inhibitory control skills because of their daily practice toggling between languages to fit the conversation, and inhibiting one language while speaking another.

    Inhibitory control encompasses everything from a child’s ability to suppress the impulse to grab a toy away from a friend to inhibiting the impulse to pronounce a “t” sound at the beginning of the, Lippard said. It is an important foundational skill for academic growth as well as behavior.

    Supporting students’ home language

    Recognizing skill-level differences is important given that DLLs are in more than 70 percent of Head Start classrooms. Lippard says all early childhood educators need to understand the developmental strengths of DLLs, and recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach for teaching these students. The study makes the case for instructional support to help DLLs become proficient in English while learning or maintaining their home language. Lippard says one way to achieve that is by giving students the opportunity to engage with linguistically diverse teachers.

    “Preschool programs are so full of academic expectations that adding a Spanish lesson time may not be helpful or developmentally appropriate,” Lippard said. “Learning Spanish by interacting with a native Spanish speaker and experiencing typical preschool activities like singing songs or reading stories in Spanish holds potential benefits for all of the children in the classroom.”

    Choi would like to see instructional support for DLLs throughout their formal education. DLLs use their home language less and less as they are exposed to English in school and risk losing their home language, Choi said. While it is important for students to be proficient in English, she says DLLs would lose the potential bilingual benefits without support for their home language.


  2. Study links afterschool program environments to academic confidence and skills

    November 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Afterschool programs with positive, responsive, and organized environments can have academic benefits for students, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

    Young people growing up in urban, low-income communities spend significant time in publicly funded afterschool programs. Unlike schools, which grow increasingly segregated and involve more individual instruction as children grow older, afterschool programs are spaces where instructors, often similar to the students in age and background, can facilitate diverse, productive interactions that help youth reach social and academic goals.

    “Because of their unique position at the juncture of school, neighborhood, and home, afterschool programs may be particularly important for youth on a path toward school disengagement or risky behaviors,” said study author Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and director of NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change.

    Given the potential of afterschool programs to support youth in urban, low-income communities, the researchers examined the role that the afterschool classroom environment plays in terms of academic outcomes for youth with and without social and behavioral difficulties.

    The researchers used data gathered from five afterschool programs run by a single nonprofit. The 256 youth studied, ranging from third through eighth grade, were predominantly Latino and African-American.

    In both the fall and spring, the researchers collected three types of academic outcome measures from youth and staff, including reading skills, youth perceptions of their academic abilities, and academic engagement. They also conducted observations in the fall to measure the extent to which afterschool classrooms were positive, responsive, and organized, looking for factors such as supportive relationships between youth and adults, student engagement in activities, and chaos in the classroom.

    The researchers found that a positive afterschool environment – one with good social dynamics, responsive instruction, and behavior managementpredicted stronger academic skills and youth perceptions of their academic abilities across one year.

    The association between a positive environment and improvement in academic skills was magnified for students with social and behavioral difficulties, while students without these difficulties saw a greater boost in their perceptions of their own academic abilities. No significant link was found between the classroom environment in the fall and students’ academic engagement in the spring; however, in classrooms with more positive environments, youth with social and behavioral problems were more academically engaged.

    “Afterschool classrooms observed to be positive, responsive, and organized had youth with greater academic skill development over the school year. With youth in our study averaging an oral reading fluency below the 30th percentile in national norms, the potential boost may be critical,” Cappella said. “In terms of academic self-concept, one’s confidence as a learner and identity as a student grows increasingly important as children approach and enter early adolescence.”

    The researchers urge the education community to consider the role of afterschool classrooms and instructors in promoting supportive interactions and advancing academic outcomes for at-risk youth during this important transition to adolescence.


  3. Study suggests metacognition training can help boost exam scores

    October 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Utah press release:

    It’s a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you’ve got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

    Then you get your results: 60 percent. Your grade and your stomach both sink. What went wrong?

    Students, and people in general, can tend to overestimate their own abilities. But University of Utah research shows that students who overcome this tendency score better on final exams. The boost is strongest for students in the lower 25 percent of the class. By thinking about their thinking, a practice called metacognition, these students raised their final exam scores by 10 percent on average – a full letter grade.

    The study, published today in the Journal of Chemical Education, is authored by University of Utah doctoral student Brock Casselman and professor Charles Atwood.

    “The goal was to create a system that would help the student to better understand their ability,” says Casselman, “so that by the time they get to the test, they will be ready.”

    Errors in estimation

    General chemistry at the University of Utah is a rigorous course. In 2010 only two-thirds of the students who took the course passed it – and of those who didn’t, only a quarter ever retook and passed the class.

    “We’re trying to stop that,” Atwood says. “We always want our students to do better, particularly on more difficult, higher-level cognitive tasks, and we want them to be successful and competitive with any other school in the country.”

    Part of the problem may lie in how students view their own abilities. When asked to predict their scores on a midterm pretest near the beginning of the school year, students of all performance levels overestimated their scores by an average of 11 percent over the whole class. The students in the lower 25 percent of class scores, also called the “bottom quartile,” overestimated by around 22 percent.

    This phenomenon isn’t unknown – in 1999 psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger published a paper stating that people who perform poorly at a task tend to overestimate their performance ability, while those who excel at the task may slightly underestimate their competence. This beginning-of-year survey showed that general chemistry students are not exempt.

    “They convince themselves that they know what they’re doing when in fact they really don’t,” Atwood says.

    The antidote to such a tendency is engagement in metacognition, or thinking about and recognizing one’s own strengths and limitations. Atwood says that scientists employ metacognition skills to evaluate the course of their research.

    “Once they have got some chunk figured out and realize ‘I don’t understand this as well as I thought I did,’ they will adjust their learning pattern,” he says. After reviewing previous research on metacognition in education, Atwood and Casselman set out to design a system to help chemistry students accurately estimate their performance and make adjustments as necessary.

    Accurate estimation

    In collaboration with Madra Learning, an online homework and learning assessment platform, Casselman and Atwood put together practice materials that would present a realistic test, and asked students to predict their scores on the practice test before taking it. They also implemented a feedback system that would identify the topics the students were struggling with so they could make a personal study plan.

    After a few years of tweaking the feedback system, they added the element of weekly quizzes into the experimental metacognition training to provide students more frequent feedback. By the first midterm exam of the 2016 class, Casselman and Atwood could see that the experimental course section’s scores were significantly higher than a control section’s that did not receive metacognition training. “I was ecstatic!” Casselman says.

    By the final exam, students’ predictions of their scores were about right on, or a little underpredicted. Overall, the researchers report, students who learned metacognition skills scored around 4 percent higher on the final exam than their peers in the control section. But the strongest improvement was in the bottom quartile of students, who scored a full 10 percent better, on average, than the bottom quartile of the control section.

    “This will take D and F students and turn them into C students,” Atwood says. “We also see it taking higher-end C students and making them into B students. Higher-end B students become A students.”

    Atwood adds that the students took a nationally standardized test as their final exam. That means that the researchers can compare the U students’ performance to other students nationwide. The bottom quartile of students at the U who received metacognition training scored in the 54th percentile. “So, our bottom students are now performing better than the national average,” Atwood says.

    “They’re not going to be overpredicting their ability,” Casselman says. “They’re going to go in knowing exactly how well they’re going to do and they will have prepared in the areas they knew they were weakest.”

    A cumulative effect

    This study covered students in the first semester of general chemistry. Casselman has now expanded the study into the second semester, meaning some students have had no semesters of metacognition training, some have had one and some have had two. Preliminary analysis suggests that the training may have a cumulative effect across semesters.

    “The students who are successful will ask themselves — what is this question asking me to do?” Atwood says. “How does that relate to what we’re doing in class? Why are they giving me this question? If there’s an equation, why does this equation work? That’s the metacognitive part. If they will kick that in, they will see their grades go straight through the roof.”

    Both Atwood and Casselman say this principle is not limited to chemistry and could be applied throughout campus. It’s a principle universally applicable to learning, and has been hinted at for centuries, including in a Confucian proverb:

    “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”


  4. Study suggests school year ‘relative age’ may cause bias in ADHD diagnosis

    October 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Nottingham press release:

    Younger primary school children are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than their older peers within the same school year, new research has shown.

    The study, led by a child psychiatrist at The University of Nottingham with researchers at the University of Turku in Finland, suggests that adults involved in raising concerns over a child’s behaviour — such as parents and teachers — may be misattributing signs of relative immaturity as symptoms of the disorder.

    In their research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the experts suggest that greater flexibility in school starting dates should be offered for those children who may be less mature than their same school-year peers.

    Kapil Sayal, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University’s School of Medicine and the Centre for ADHD and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Across the Lifespan at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham, was the lead author on the study.

    He said: “The findings of this research have a range of implications for teachers, parents and clinicians. With an age variation of up to 12 months in the same class, teachers and parents may misattribute a child’s immaturity. This might lead to younger children in the class being more likely to be referred for an assessment for ADHD.

    “Parents and teachers as well as clinicians who are undertaking ADHD assessments should keep in mind the child’s relative age. From an education perspective, there should be flexibility with an individualised approach to best meets the child’s needs.”

    Evidence suggests that worldwide, the incidence of ADHD among school age children is, at around five per cent, fairly uniform. However, there are large differences internationally in the rates of clinical diagnosis and treatment.

    Although this may partially reflect the availability of and access to services, the perceptions of parents and teachers also play an important role in recognising children who may be affected by ADHD, as information they provide is used as part of the clinical assessment.

    The study centred on whether the so-called ‘relative age effect’ — the perceived differences in abilities and development between the youngest and oldest children in the same year group — could affect the incidence of diagnosis of ADHD.

    Adults may be benchmarking the development and abilities of younger children against their older peers in the same year group and inadvertently misinterpreting immaturity for more serious problems.

    Previous studies have suggested that this effect plays an important role in diagnosis in countries where higher numbers of children are diagnosed and treated for ADHD, leading to concerns that clinicians may be over-diagnosing the disorder.

    The latest study aimed to look at whether the effect also plays a significant role in the diagnosis of children in countries where the prescribing rates for ADHD are relatively low.

    It used nationwide population data from all children in Finland born between 1991 and 2004 who were diagnosed with ADHD from the age of seven years — school starting age — onwards. In Finland, children start school during the calendar year they turn 7 years of age, with the school year starting in mid-August. Therefore, the eldest in a school year are born in January (aged 7 years and 7 months) and the youngest in December (6 years and 7 months).

    The results showed that younger children were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older same-year peers — boys by 26 per cent and girls by 31 per cent.

    For children under the age of 10 years, this association got stronger over time — in the more recent years 2004-2011, children born in May to August were 37 per cent more likely to be diagnosed and those born in September to December 64 per cent, compared to the oldest children born in January to April

    The study found that this ‘relative age affect’ could not be explained by other behavioural or developmental disorders which may also have been affecting the children with an ADHD diagnosis.

    However, the experts warn, the study did have some important limitations — the data did not reveal whether any of the young children were held back a year for educational reasons and potentially misclassified as the oldest in their year group when in fact they were the youngest of their original peers.

    The flexibility in school starting date could explain why the rate of ADHD in December-born children (the relatively youngest) were slightly lower than those for children born in October and November.

    And while the records of publicly-funded specialised services which are free at the point of access will capture most children who have received a diagnosis of ADHD, it will miss those who were diagnosed in private practice.


  5. Study suggests earlier school start times may increase risk of adolescent depression and anxiety

    October 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Rochester Medical Center press release:

    Teenagers who start high school before 8:30 a.m. are at higher risk of depression and anxiety, even if they’re doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep, a recent study out of Rochester, N.Y., suggests.

    Led by University of Rochester Medical Center clinical assistant professor in Psychiatry Jack Peltz, Ph.D., the study, recently published in Sleep Health, not only reinforces the theorized link between sleep and adolescent mental health, but is among the first to demonstrate that school start times may have a critical impact on adolescent sleep and daily functioning. The findings provide additional evidence in the national debate over how school start times impact adolescent health.

    “Our study is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health,” says Peltz, who is also on the faculty of Daemon College in Amherst, N.Y. “But ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep. While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.”

    Peltz is one of many investigators now exploring ways to address what has become a nationwide sleep epidemic among adolescents. About 90% of high-school-aged adolescents get insufficient sleep on school nights, or barely meet the required amount of sleep (8-10 hours) needed for healthy functioning. School start times, among other interventions (ie. limiting electronic use before bedtime), have become a critical point of interest. The research to date, however, has primarily focused on the academic benefits of delaying school start times for adolescents, rather than examining how earlier start times may disrupt sleep-related processes and affect mental health outcomes, says Peltz.

    “Looking at school start times as a larger contextual variable that may moderate sleep hygiene, sleep quality and adolescent functioning, fills an important gap in the literature,” he says.

    With the help of a grant from the National Sleep Foundation, Peltz’ and his co-authors used an online tool to collect data from 197 students across the country between the ages of 14 and 17. All children and parents completed a baseline survey that included questions about the child’s level of sleep hygiene, family socioeconomic status, their circadian chronotype (roughly, whether you are a “morning person” or “night person”), and their school start times. They were separated into two groups: those who started school before 8:30 a.m. and those who started after 8:30 a.m. (which is currently the recommended start time for high schoolers by the American Academy of Pediatricians).

    Over a period of seven days, the students were instructed to keep a sleep diary, in which they reported specifically on their daily sleep hygiene, levels of sleep quality and duration, and their depressive/anxiety symptoms.

    The results showed that good baseline sleep hygiene was directly associated with lower average daily depressive/anxiety symptoms across all students, and the levels were even lower in students with school start times after 8:30. However, students with good baseline sleep hygiene and earlier school start times had higher average daily depressive/anxiety symptoms.

    “Our results suggest that good sleep hygiene practices are advantageous to students no matter when they go to school,” says Peltz. “Maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning off the TV, cell phone and video games before bed… these efforts will all benefit their quality of sleep and mental health. However, the fact that school start times showed a moderating effect on mental health symptoms, suggests that better sleep hygiene combined with later school start times would yield better outcomes.”

    Peltz says one possible explanation for the difference may be that “earlier starting students” have more pressure on them to get high quality sleep, or there may be other aspects of the school environment that vary by start time that may trigger their depression/anxiety symptoms. Peltz says there may be other lifestyle changes that coincide with earlier start times as well (for example, morning nutrition or exercise) that require closer scrutiny.

    “More studies are definitely needed, but our results help clarify the somewhat mixed findings with other sleep hygiene-focused interventions, by suggesting that school start times may be a very important contextual factor,” he says.

    Peltz hopes the evolving evidence in this area will help propel more concrete national sleep hygiene recommendations for children and teens, similar to what the American Dental Association recommends for oral health.

    “If we don’t sleep, eventually we will die…our brains will cease to function,” he says. “At the end of the day, sleep is fundamental to our survival. But if you have to cram for a test or have an important paper due, it’s one of the first things to go by the wayside, although that shouldn’t be.”


  6. Study looks at how disliked classes affect incidence of college student cheating

    by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    One of the tactics that discourages student cheating may not work as well in courses that college students particularly dislike, a new study has found.

    Previous research suggests instructors who emphasize mastering the content in their classes encounter less student cheating than those who push students to get good grades.

    But this new study found emphasizing mastery isn’t related as strongly to lower rates of cheating in classes that students list as their most disliked. Students in disliked classes were equally as likely to cheat, regardless of whether the instructors emphasized mastery or good grades.

    The factor that best predicted whether a student would cheat in a disliked class was a personality trait: a high need for sensation, said Eric Anderman, co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University.

    People with a high need for sensation are risk-takers, Anderman said.

    “If you enjoy taking risks, and you don’t like the class, you may think ‘why not cheat.’ You don’t feel you have as much to lose,” he said.

    Anderman conducted the study with Sungjun Won, a graduate student in educational psychology at Ohio State. It appears online in the journal Ethics & Behavior and will be published in a future print edition.

    The study is the first to look at how academic misconduct might differ in classes that students particularly dislike.

    “You could understand why students might be less motivated in classes they don’t like and that could affect whether they were willing to cheat,” Anderman said.

    The researchers surveyed 409 students from two large research universities in different parts of the country.

    The students were asked to answer questions about the class in college that they liked the least.

    Participants were asked if they took part in any of 22 cheating behaviors in that class, including plagiarism and copying test answers from another student. The survey also asked students their beliefs about the ethics of cheating, their perceptions of how much the instructor emphasized mastery and test scores, and a variety of demographic questions, as well as a measure of sensation-seeking.

    A majority of the students (57 percent) reported a math or science course as their most disliked. Large classes were not popular: Nearly half (45 percent) said their least favorite class had more than 50 students enrolled, while two-thirds (65 percent) said the course they disliked was required for their major.

    The most interesting finding was that an emphasis on mastery or on test scores did not predict cheating in disliked classes, Anderman said.

    In 20 years of research on cheating, Anderman said he and his colleagues have consistently found that students cheated less — and believed cheating was less acceptable — in classes where the goals were intrinsic: learning and mastering the content. They were more likely to cheat in classes where they felt the emphasis was on extrinsic goals, such as successful test-taking and getting good grades.

    This study was different, Anderman said.

    In classes that emphasized mastery, some students still believed cheating was wrong, even in their most-disliked class. But when classes are disliked, the new findings suggest a focus on mastery no longer directly protects against cheating behaviors. Nevertheless, there is still a positive relation between actual cheating and the belief that cheating is morally acceptable in those classes.

    “When you have students who are risk-takers in classes that they dislike, the benefits of a class that emphasizes learning over grades seems to disappear,” he said.

    But Anderman noted that this study reinforced results from earlier studies that refute many of the common beliefs about student cheating.

    “All of the things that people think are linked to cheating don’t really matter,” he said.

    “We examined gender, age, the size of classes, whether it was a required class, whether it was graded on a curve — and none of those were related to cheating once you took into account the need for sensation in this study,” he said. “And in other studies, the classroom goals were also important.”

    The good news is that the factors that cause cheating are controllable in some measure, Anderman said. Classes can be designed to emphasize mastery and interventions could be developed to help risk-taking students.

    “We can find ways to help minimize cheating,” he said.


  7. Study suggests doing homework is associated with change in students’ personality

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Tübingen press release:

    Homework may have a positive influence on students’ conscientiousness. As results of a study conducted by University of Tübingen researchers suggest, students who do more homework than their peers show positive changes in conscientiousness. Thus, schools may be doing more than contributing to students’ learning, but they may also be effecting changes of their students’ personality. The study results were published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

    Previous research finds that homework effort is consistently related to student achievement. Also, conscientiousness appears to be the most important personality trait for predicting homework effort. With this connection in mind, proponents of homework have argued that the effort which students invest in their homework may have positive effects on students by influencing their conscientiousness. In their study, the Tübingen scientists investigated whether this claim holds true.

    They analyzed data from a longitudinal study with 2,760 students from two different school tracks in the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Saxony. Students were initially assessed right after their transition from primary to secondary school in Grade 5. For the next three years, students were assessed annually between six and eight weeks after the start of each school year. They answered questions such as how many of their last 10 homework assignments in mathematics and German they did as well as possible. Also, they were asked how conscientious they thought they were including whether they would describe themselves as tidy or rather as messy and negligent. In addition to students’ self-reports, parents were asked to assess their children’s conscientiousness as well.

    Results show that those students who invested a lot of effort in their homework between Grades 5 and 8 also profited in terms of their conscientiousness. Previous research has shown that conscientiousness tends to undergo a temporary dip in late childhood and early adolescence. As the results found by the Tübingen scientists suggest, doing your homework thoroughly and meticulously appeared to counterbalance this dip. Indeed, researchers found a substantial decrease in conscientiousness for students who reported that they had not made an effort with their homework. Those results were also backed by parents, whose reports matched those of their children.

    “Our results show that homework is not only relevant for school performance, but also for personality development — provided that students put a lot of effort into their assignments,” says Richard Göllner, first author of the study. “The question whether doing your homework can also influence the development of conscientiousness has been mostly neglected in previous discussions of the role of homework,” criticizes Ulrich Trautwein, director of the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology. “We need to define more precisely what expectations we have of the potential of homework and how those expectations can be fulfilled.”


  8. Study shows damaging affects of multiple forms of victimization on school climate

    October 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    School officials focused exclusively on bullying prevention efforts might want to consider the findings of a new study showing the highly damaging effects of multiple forms of victimization on school climate.

    The study, published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, measured the impact of polyvictimization — exposure to multiple forms of victimization — on school climate at the middle and high school levels. Results show that bullying, cyberbullying and harassment were significantly associated with decreases in perceptions of school safety, connection, and equity.

    Overall, 43.1 percent of students experienced at least one form of victimization during the 2015-2016 schoolyear. Just over 32 percent of students reported being bullied, 21 percent were victims of cyberbullying and 16.4 percent experienced harassment — defined as “experiencing negative actions from one or more persons because of his or her skin, religion, where they are from (what country), sex, sexual identity or disability.”

    Based on data from the 2015 Vermont Middle and High School Pilot Climate Survey, the findings highlight the need for comprehensive policies that address all forms of victimization to offset further erosion to safe and equitable school environments, which is tied to educational outcomes.

    “For each form of victimization, school climate measures go down precipitously, so if we only center the conversation about kids who are being bullied that limits it to ‘that’s not my kid,'” says study author Bernice Garnett, associate professor in the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont. “But if we change the conversation to bullying can actually damage the entire school climate, then that motivates and galvanizes the overall will of the school community to do something about it.”

    Polyvictimization highest among students who identify as female and transgender

    Prior research shows that students from vulnerable populations are most frequently victimized. Garnett’s study found that students experiencing polyvictimization were most likely to identify as female and transgender. Students who identified as “multiracial” or “other” also experienced higher levels of polyvictimization than their peers. Additionally, students experiencing polyvictimization were more likely to report doing “worse” academically.

    The finding related to students who identify as female and transgender would not have been possible without the addition of a question by the Vermont Agency of Education to the Vermont School Climate Survey that gives students the opportunity to identify as transgender. The finding is unique, according to Garnett, due to the fact that most states, as well as the National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, asks about sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

    “We asked both to align with how Vermont policy is written and because Vermont schools protect both gender identity and sexual orientation,” says Garnett, who is a member of the committee that designed the Vermont survey. “I wasn’t surprised by the results, because transgender youth experience worse things across the board, but it was surprising to find that this is a reality in Vermont, particularly given all the work that’s been done here.”

    Crafting an effective policy response

    The National Center for Educational Statistics tracks a number of ways students are victimized ranging from serious physcial attacks to verbal-based assaults. Garnett points out that bullying is motivated by another students real or claimed identity, and if that’s a protected identity, its actually discrimination.

    “That’s an important distinction, because current bullying prevention programs focused on teaching students to be nicer or more empathetic would look very different,” seh says. “If a student is targeting someone either implicitly or explicitly because of an identity they were culturally taught not to like, then it changes the conversation to ‘wait, why I am I thinking these thoughts? Why do I hold them? What am I learning from home and the media, and how can I check-in with my assumptions?”

    Such prevention efforts would be difficult, if not impossible, to develop without data showing which students are being targeted. A recent study from Columbia University, for example, showed that queer youth living in states where schools enumerate homophobic bullying, experience less victimization. Data differs regionally, however, making it difficult to protect students in places where “people are using identities to target for power,” says Garnett.

    “Policies can actually shape the experiences of students in schools,” says Garnett. “This study is trying to show that we need to be thinking about the structural forces that make bullying prevalent among certain groups of kids, which is not a coincidence. The reason why queer youth, English Language Learners, kids with disabilities and overweight kids are targeted is because those are socially acceptable identities to target depending on where you live.”


  9. Physical abuse and punishment impact children’s academic performance

    October 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    A Penn State researcher and her collaborator found that physical abuse was associated with decreases in children’s cognitive performance, while non-abusive forms of physical punishment were independently associated with reduced school engagement and increased peer isolation.

    Sarah Font, assistant professor of sociology and co-funded faculty member of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, and Jamie Cage, assistant professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work, found that children’s performances and engagement in the classroom are significantly influenced by their exposure to mild, harsh and abusive physical punishment in the home. Their study was recently published in Child Abuse and Neglect.

    While corporal punishment and physical abuse have been linked with reduced cognitive development and academic achievement in children previously, Font’s study is one of the few that simultaneously examines abusive and non-abusive physical punishment as reported by both children and caregivers.

    Even if physical punishment does not result in serious physical injury, children may experience fear and distress, and this stress has been found to negatively impact brain structure, development and overall well-being.

    “This punishment style is meant to inflict minor pain so the child will change their behavior to avoid future punishment, but it does not give children the opportunity to learn how to behave appropriately through explanation and reasoning,” stated Font.

    In this study, over 650 children and their caregivers were examined in three areas of physical punishment: mild corporal punishment, harsh corporal punishment, and physical abuse. The groups reported their use or experience with physical punishment and researchers then measured cognitive outcomes, school engagement, and peer isolation in the children. The data was analyzed to determine trajectories between cognitive and academic performance and how initial and varying exposure to physical punishment and abuse influences them.

    “We found that while all forms of physical punishment and abuse are associated with declines in school engagement, only initial exposure to physical abuse has a significant negative influence on cognitive performance, and only harsh corporal punishment notably increases peer isolation in children and was observed in both child and caregiver reports. This suggests that preventing physical abuse could promote children’s cognitive performance, but it may not be enough to get children to be involved and well-adjusted in school,” said Font.

    Considering that mild physical punishment can develop into physical abuse and that even these mild punishments have consequences on children’s cognitive and social school functioning, parent education on alternative forms of punishment may be one solution to prevent physical abuse.

    Programs that reach parents during services that they regularly use may be one way to give them alternative punishment technique education. This could be a medical professional informing parents during a child’s health visit or staff members of an Early Head Start program providing parent education during the child’s enrollment. “Further research and efforts in these types of interventions needs to continue so we can learn more,” Font said.

    This research was made possible support from the Population Research Institute, part of the Social Science Research Institute.


  10. Study suggests social dynamics of work group affect academic performance

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    It has become an almost essential element of academic life, from college lecture halls to elementary classrooms: the group assignment.

    Dreaded by some, loved by others, group projects typically aim to build teamwork and accountability while students learn about a topic. But depending on the assignment and the structure of the groups, a project can turn out to be a source of great frustration — for instructor and students alike — or the highlight of the school year.

    Now a University of Washington-led study of college students has found that the social dynamics of a group, such as whether one person dominates the conversation or whether students work with a friend, affect academic performance. Put simply, the more comfortable students are, the better they do, which yields benefits beyond the classroom.

    “They learn more,” explained Elli Theobald, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology and the lead author on the study, published July 20 in PLOS ONE. “Employers are rating group work as the most important attribute in new recruits and new hires. If students are able to demonstrate that they have worked successfully in groups, it would seem that they should be more likely to land the job.”

    Theobald is part of the UW’s Biology Education Research Group lab, formed by several faculty members in the Department of Biology about a decade ago to research how to most effectively teach biology to undergraduates.

    A separate study by the BERG lab on group work, published in the July issue of Active Learning in Higher Education, finds that college students, when given a choice of whom to sit and work with in a large classroom setting, gravitate toward those who appear most like them — whether by gender, race and ethnicity, or academic skills.

    Over the years, research spanning K-12 through post-secondary education has pointed to the value of group work in fostering collaborative skills and in cementing learning through interaction. In the sciences, labs are a common, though not the only, form of group work, Theobald said. As with many disciplines, STEM fields lend themselves to readings, worksheets and other activities that can be completed by multiple people working together.

    For this study, researchers compared survey responses and test scores stemming from two different project styles — single-group and “jigsaw” — with three assignments each during two sections of an introductory biology class at the UW. Each of the 770 students enrolled in one of the two sections of the course experienced each project style at least once. In a single-group activity, student groups completed a worksheet together, relying on their notes and textbooks. In a jigsaw, student groups were assigned specific sections of the worksheet; students then were shuffled to new groups in which each person in the group had completed a different section of the worksheet and could teach their new groupmates what they had learned. Students took an eight-question test after each assignment.

    The study found that students who reported a “dominator” in the group fared worse on the tests than those who didn’t express that concern. It also found that students who said they were comfortable in their group performed better than those who said they were less comfortable.

    The jigsaw activity appeared to result in more collaboration: Students were 67 percent less likely to report a dominator in jigsaws than in single-group activities. “This suggests that jigsaw activities with intentional structure more effectively promote equity than group activities with less intentional structure,” researchers wrote.

    The nearly 770 students who completed all the assignments, tests and surveys had formed two- and three-person groups with those who sat near them in class. (Jigsaw assignments later shuffled initial groups.) Two-thirds of participants were female; people of color, including students who identify as Asian, Under-Represented Minority, and International, made up more than half of respondents.

    While the gender and racial and ethnic makeup of the participants informed the study, Theobald said, researchers don’t have details on who worked with whom so as to extrapolate from the composition of groups. For instance, were the experiences of women who worked with men different from those of women who worked in all-female groups? If a group contained only one person of color, what was that person’s experience compared to the rest of the group? That kind of information is ripe for further research, Theobald said.

    However, one noticeable data point emerged: International and Asian American students were six times as likely to report a dominator than white American students. “Not all students experience group work the same way,” researchers wrote in the study. “If one student dominates a conversation, it can be particularly jarring to students from cultural backgrounds that place more emphasis on introspection and thinking on one’s own as opposed to a direct relationship between talking as a way to work through ideas.”

    Though the data was collected from college students, the findings translate to other settings, Theobald said. She pointed to a study Google conducted to determine what made groups successful — establishing group routines and expectations (“norms”) and adding a brief window at the beginning of work time for casual talk. Such findings, along with those of the UW study, can inform employers as well as K-12 teachers about productive group work, she said.

    The younger the students, the more structure a teacher is likely to have to establish, Theobald added. But when teachers make an assignment sufficiently interesting and complex, and manage student behavior, there is a potential for students to work together happily and productively.

    “If we can get our groups to be more comfortable, students should learn better and work better,” Theobald said.