"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, March 19, 2018

What We Thought About "Growth Mindset" Is Not Supported By Research

Praising a child's effort supposedly supports the idea of a "growth mindset" while saying that a child succeeds because he or she is smart only promotes a "fixed mindset" of intelligence. Further, a "growth mindset" is claimed to enhance learning. Well, a new paper scheduled to be publish in Psychological Science has just demonstrated that "growth mindset" poorly correlates with academic achievement. This paper looks at more than 200 studies on "growth mindset" which involve more than 360,000 paricipants, and finds that "Mindset interventions on academic achievement were nonsignificant for adolescents, typical students, and students facing situational challenges (transitioning to a new school, experiencing stereotype threat)." The paper in fact concludes with this sentence: "The evidence suggests that the “mindset revolution” might not be the best avenue to reshape our education system."

Browsing through one of the figures of this paper already provides doubts regarding some outrageous claims from the "growth mindset" movement.

Standardized mean differences (Cohen’s ds) in academic achievement between students receiving a growth-mind-set intervention and students in the comparison group. Cohen’s ds (squares) and 95% confidence intervals (error bars) are displayed for all effects entered into Meta-Analysis 2. The size of the square represents the effect size’s meta-analytic weight. The diamond on the bottom row represents the meta-analytically weighted mean Cohen’s d. For studies with multiple independent samples, the result for each sample (S1, S2, etc.) is reported separately. Similarly, for studies with multiple measures, the result for each measure (M1, M2, etc.) is reported separately. Multiple measures were adjusted for dependency. See the Supplemental Material available online for full details of all references.
To What Extent and Under Which Circumstances Are Growth Mind-Sets Important to Academic Achievement? Two Meta-Analyses. Victoria F. Sisk, Alexander P. Burgoyne, Jingze Sun, Jennifer L. Butler, Brooke N.Macnamara. Psychological Science. First Published March 5, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617739704

The effects are indeed all over the place. There are positive effects and there are negative effects. Overall, there is a positive but very small effect. For this reason, the authors conclude that it is probably not worthy to spend much effort on this intervention. What is probably more helpful is for teachers to remind themselves always that effort is necessary in teaching. Every student can succeed but it takes work and commitment. That commitment is education for all. We must ensure that students have all the resources they need to succeed in school. Yes, ability does count, but as important are opportunities and resources. We all strive in tasks we think we excel in and we do throw in the towel at things we do not do well. But a teacher can still make that difference in increasing our conscientiousness. In the end, that is probably what counts and not some psychological theory on mindset.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

What Happens in First Grade....

It is not easy to tell what we are going to be twelve years from now. Yet, what happens in the early years of basic education can strongly correlate with what happens in the later years. For students who are struggling in the first grade, promoting or retaining a student apparently has long term consequences. Students who repeated a grade in the elementary years are more than twice likely to leave school when they reach the high school years. This is the main finding of a 14-year prospective study of more than 700 at-risk students in Texas.

Above copied from
Hughes, J. N., West, S. G., Kim, H., & Bauer, S. S. (2017, November 9). Effect of Early Grade Retention on School Completion: A Prospective Study. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000243

What is especially interesting to note in this study is that school-leaving of these at-risk students mainly begin to occur in the later years of basic education, not in middle school nor in the later grades of elementary school. Unlike promoted students, retained students seem to drop out in a big wave at the beginning of high school or ninth grade. The authors of the study attribute this observation to the much higher academic demands of high school.

This blog already has several posts on this subject:

Since the students who are either promoted or retained have been equated by  using propensity scores, the difference one sees in the drop-out rates in this new study can be assigned almost exclusively to whether a student has been retained or promoted in spite of failing marks.

By removing other possible confounding factors, Hughes and coworkers are therefore the first to point out that retention itself indeed causes a greater likelihood of school-leaving. 

The main explanation on why retention leads to greater drop-outs is the age factor combined with opportunity. Retained children will be at least a year older and by the time these students finish ninth grade, they will be sixteen years old. These children therefore can already work full-time according to existing laws in Texas. This opportunity to earn versus staying for three more years in high school drives these students to leave school. As the authors state,
"The well-documented impulsivity and poor decision making demonstrated by many adolescents is attributed, in part, to the protracted maturation of the prefrontal cortex and associated regions of the brain. One form of impulsivity common in adolescents is a tendency to exhibit impatience when given a choice between an immediate small reward versus a larger but delayed reward (Romer, Duckworth, Sznitman, & Park, 2010)."
The additional two years in basic education in the Philippines obviously can make it harder for struggling students to make the choice of staying in school. This is one area where the Department of Education in the Philippines has at least addressed the fact that retention should be minimized. However, the correct intervention will always be providing support where this is most needed. So I am going to repeat what I wrote in a previous post on this topic:

DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012 provides the steps that need to be taken when students fail. It is described in one short paragraph within the 125-page memo:
Here then is a short intellectual exercise. As demonstrated in this blog through numerous articles, poorer learning outcomes correlate strongly with poverty and shortages in resources. Thus, it is only expected that failing students are going to be more common in schools that are overcrowded, under-resourced, and poorly staffed. These schools are likewise employing multiple shifts and large pupil to teacher ratios because of lack of classrooms and teachers. Thus, it is in these schools that DepEd expects teachers to find extra time to help struggling students. It is in these schools where there are not enough classrooms that low achieving students are expected to undergo remediation after class hours. It is in these schools where teachers are overworked that teachers are required to spend extra time with poor students. It is in these schools where there are gross shortages in resources that students are required to take summer classes. This only shows how seriously DepEd considers learning outcomes in its new curriculum. DepEd is not serious at all. Teachers are smart enough to see what the memo really says. If the actions required with retention are impossible then the teachers are correct in interpreting the order as mass promotion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Boosting Learning and Interest in Science

Interest and Learning in a discipline can go hand in hand. With interest, there maybe a greater motivation to learn. The Education Development Center in the United States has recently published a report on What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning: A National Survey About Young Children and Science. This report highlights the finding that parents are indeed enthusiastic about helping their children learn science, but are not confident that they have the ability to teach science. Research shows that science activities outside school do enhance interest in the sciences but parents do have a reason to be reluctant because research also shows that the same activities negatively correlate with learning in the sciences. (See previous post, Raising Interest and Learning in the Sciences)

Above copied from the Education Development Center

According to the authors of the report, here are the five key findings:
  • Most parents say they are confident about their ability to teach their young children literacy, math, and social skills, but fewer parents are confident about teaching science.
  • Parents with less formal education are less likely to feel confident in helping their children learn than are parents with more education.
  • Nine out of 10 parents report doing learning activities with their children daily. About half of parents report doing science-related activities with their children daily.
  • Seven of 10 parents say that knowing what young children need to learn about science, and having ideas for doing science with everyday materials, would help them do a lot more science.
  • Many families say they use science media weekly or more—particularly videos or TV shows about science—but few parents think these media resources have helped their children learn a lot of science.
Unlike in literacy, arithmetic and social skills, misconceptions abound in the sciences. We can even see easily these misconceptions in our everyday language: "The sun rises, the sun sets." It should not be surprising then to see that it is difficult to teach children that the earth actually rotates such that we see the sun when our side of the earth faces the sun, and we do not see the sun once our side of the earth we are on faces the other direction. Even in the science of education, myths abound. Here is a list from a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology:

Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic).
Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain, right brain) can help explain individual differences amongst learners.
Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function.
Exercises that rehearse co-ordination of motor-perception skills can improve literacy skills.
Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children.
Children are less attentive after consuming sugary drinks, and/or snacks.
It has been scientifically proven that fatty acid supplements (omega-3 and omega-6) have a positive effect on academic achievement.
There are critical periods in childhood after which certain things can no longer be learned.
We only use 10% of our brain.
Regular drinking of caffeinated drinks reduces alertness.
Children must acquire their native language before a second language is learned. If they do not do so neither language will be fully acquired.
Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.
If pupils do not drink sufficient amounts of water (=6–8 glasses a day) their brains shrink.
Extended rehearsal of some mental processes can change the shape and structure of some parts of the brain.
Individual learners show preferences for the mode in which they receive information (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic).
Teachers, those who practice the profession of educating our children, are found to believe in the above myths. These are teachers and yet most of them believe in the above misconceptions on learning. One can just imagine how many myths there are that nonscientist parents hold when it comes to science. It is helpful if parents can nurture in their children an interest in the sciences. Curiosity needs to be encouraged, but parents are correct in recognizing their need to be informed adequately and properly with regard to how they can in fact help their children not just to enjoy science but more importantly, learn science.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

President Duterte, Acting On Good Faith Is Not Enough

Pia Ranada may be critical of President Duterte, but this is only apparent if the criticism favors people from the previous administration. Last December, Duterte's opinion on Dengvaxia was welcomed with open arms. When it comes to misdeeds of the Aquino administration, Duterte's favorable opinions are not questioned eventhough these are grossly mistaken. After all, Duterte saying that the purchase of Dengvaxia and its mass vaccination program were only "done in good faith" greatly helps the image of Rappler's idols. The problem is, "good faith" is not a good measure for public trust. It is always easy to claim that someone acts with good intention. And it is difficult to argue with that. For this reason, trust should not be solely based on "good faith". There are two more important elements: loyalty and due diligence. Loyalty can only be ascertained with no conflicts of interest and due diligence is based on evidence.

Above copied from Rappler

Although Dengvaxia costs several billions of pesos and affects hundreds of thousands of children, there is another program that came from the Aquino administration with similar if not much larger scope. It is the the current basic education program or DepEd's K to 12. In this case, it should be clear why "good intentions" are not enough. Conflicts of interest abound in this program if one simply goes through the members of the steering committee and other bodies responsible for drawing this new curriculum. At one point, I even witnessed a member of the steering committee, who currently holds an administrative position in a private university, offering to review what is proposed. That is several layers of conflicts. Yet, the program pushes through. The lack of evidence backing the design and implementation of the new curriculum is also largely evident. The fact that the government knows very well that it cannot support the new curriculum but still decides to continue is an excellent example of when due diligence is absent.

The mass media in the Philippines should do better if they want to play the role of improving governance in the Philippines. Otherwise, all they do is to lower expectations. An example is shown below:

Above copied from ABS-CBN

Apparently, eighty percent of companies, according to a survey, are not inclined to hire K-12 graduates. A headline like this may not be that bad, if mass media were not touting years ago that K-12 will allow graduates to gain employment easily. There headline should first say, "We lied: K-12 graduates are not readily employable."

Friday, March 9, 2018

How Can We Prevent Bullying in Schools

Bullying in schools is a continuing concern. In the Philippines, a video of one student slapping her classmate several times has become viral. Sadly, being harassed or hurt by classmates is not uncommon. It has been reported that about one out of three adolescents experiences bullying. The school involved in this incident is a Catholic school, Sacred Heart College in Lucena City. What causes bullying? Dr. Gail Gross answers this question in the Huffington Post with one sentence: "Children model what they see."

Above copied from PTV

Some children bully because they actually think it is the right thing to do. Oftentimes, it gives them power. And bullying makes them popular. Making the above video viral probably does not help in our quest to stop bullying in schools. Recent research shows that bullying often happens with opportunities. Victims of bullying are often socially isolated. Bullying also correlates with homophily - when "birds of a feather flock together". In the above video, one thing should be clear. The bully is not alone. There are other students present and all seem not to know what is right. Some are even supporting or encouraging the bullying behavior.

"Children model what they see." We should really pause and reflect on that. Content is taught in schools but character is caught. Intervention methods that work with directly teaching children not to bully are now known to be not effective. But there is hope. Mark J. Van Ryzin from the Oregon Research Institute and Cary J. Roseth from Michigan State University find that Cooperative Learning is a promising means to reduce bullying inside schools. In a paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the authors describe a program in which students are encouraged to work in groups in an interdependent fashion. Their program attempts to (a) break down the process of homophily among bullies and (b) provide a mechanism by which isolated students can develop new friendships. The results show convincingly that for marginalized students, those who are more likely to be bullied, "lower levels of bullying, victimization, and perceived stress" have been reported. Of course, cooperative learning has the added bonus of improving academic outcomes as well since students working as groups provides an avenue for peer learning. However, what is worth noting is not so much the intervention program but what teachers actually do to make this program work. After all, as the authors have noted, "Simply putting students in groups, however, does not guarantee that positive social interactions will occur." Thus, this program requires the teachers to undergo training on the intervention program so that they become proficient in the following approach:

...cooperative learning can include reciprocal teaching, peer tutoring, collaborative reading, and other methods in which peers help each other learn in small groups under conditions of positive interdependence. Their approach also emphasizes individual accountability, explicit coaching in collaborative skills, a high degree of face-to-face interaction, and guided processing of group performance. Cooperative learning is viewed as a conceptual framework within which teachers can apply the principal of positive interdependence to design their own group-based activities using existing curricula.

The approach is actually a change in school culture and the teachers are obviously modeling cooperation for students to see and copy. It is not suprising that an effective bullying intervention requires no less. Character is caught. The Catholic school in the Philippines where the specific bullying incident mentioned at the beginning of this post has posted the following in response to the viral video.

Above copied from Sacred Heart College Facebook page

Bullying is unacceptable in all schools yet it still happens. Perhaps, it is simply because we, adults, in so many ways, act as bullies.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pearson and Ayala: Making Profit out of Education

No one that I know joined the teaching profession to become rich. A teacher's profit lies in what students learn. Yet, companies have long been affiliated with education as businesses often provide textbooks, infrastructure, software and other learning resources or materials. What requires critical thought is the recent push by for-profit enterprises to control fully what is happening inside a classroom. In an article I posted on this blog almost two years ago, this concern has been raised. "A public education system in decline, a government that is more than willing to lift restrictions just to entice privatization of education, and a globalized economy that now can easily dictate what wages should be and not ought to be can easily combine to form a destructive corporatization of basic education. Learning outcomes in basic education are closely tied to the quality of life of children both inside and outside schools. This is a fact strongly supported by research. No corporation therefore can claim any ability to turn around failing schools in poor communities or developing countries without improving first the lives of the children in these depressed neighborhoods."

This anxiety hits home as Pearson and Philippine-based Ayala group have joined to fill the huge gap for senior high school as introduced by the new K to 12 curriculum in the Philippines. Sadly, the Philippine government is simply dawdling in its response to the challenges of the new curriculum. There is a bill submitted in the House of Representatives that specifically addresses the Ayala-Pearson schools. It is H.R. 1719, filed by Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro. The move is basically asking for a congressional inquiry on why Ayala-Pearson has been exempted from standards imposed by the Department of Education regarding curricula, qualifications and workload of teachers and staff, school sites, and other requirements for laboratory, science, and other facilities. Exemptions from such supervision warrant our close attention since profit-driven companies are always looking to cut costs. In Riep C. & Machacek M. (2016): “SCHOOLING THE POOR PROFITABLY: The innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda”, the work of Pearson has been described as follows:

The quality of education the company does provide, relative to the country’s educational standards, is greatly compromised by the lengths it is willing to go in order to drive down its operating costs and achieve economies of scale for profit. Classrooms have been constructed poorly, untrained and underpaid teachers merely read off a curriculum that is designed by someone else, and the role of teacher-computers threatens the very teacher-pupil relationships that are conducive to learning and child development.

If there is any doubt at all on how much profit drives the Pearson company, its recent actions are clear. EducationWeek reports:

To a for-profit company, children are not really important. Money-making is the only thing that counts.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Problem Solving Before Instruction

While there is no doubt that direct instruction is most effective in education, improving its effectiveness remains an important area for research. Another question in education is the usefulness of homework. Although this has already been settled in research in some cases, one still wonders how and why homework is useful in higher education. Learning, as opposed to teaching, does occur inside the mind of a student. Thus, work done individually by a student must still have an effect on learning. One promising avenue that tackles both areas involves "problem solving before instruction" or PSI. Loibl and coworkers have summarized research on PSI and have suggested a "productive failure" mechanism that includes prior knowledge activation, awareness of knowledge gaps, and recognition of deep features.

Doing a quantitative research on how well PSI works is of course extremely challenging. The topic or subject could easily be a factor. Obviously, the teacher is also important. Thus, at the moment, the best we can have are preliminary investigations that can probably provide a rough overview of whether such practice is beneficial or not. One such study is a recent work scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. In this work, a specific lesson on slopes is considered for more than 200 ninth-graders in Switzerland. The students are divided into five groups, one group is assigned to the traditional "Tell and Practice" in which instruction comes first before problem solving. The other four start with problem solving first and these differ from each other in terms of what is asked of the student: self-explain or invent, and the type of problems: grounded (specific) or idealized (general). To remove the effects of the teacher, the instruction involves a 5-minute period during which the student is asked to read the following:

Above copied from
Schalk, L., Schumacher, R., Barth, A., & Stern, E. (2017, December 21). When Problem-Solving Followed by Instruction Is Superior to the Traditional Tell-and-Practice Sequence. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000234

The researchers find that not all PSI are superior to "Tell and Practice", especially when it comes to a later test, four weeks after the instruction.

Above copied from
Schalk, L., Schumacher, R., Barth, A., & Stern, E. (2017, December 21). When Problem-Solving Followed by Instruction Is Superior to the Traditional Tell-and-Practice Sequence. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000234

First, the test results are not really that good overall. The highest mean score among the groups is roughly 65% correct. My students for instance in my General Chemistry are not going to be satisfied with such results. The reason why the test scores in this study are low is its difficulty given what is taught to the students. Below is an example of the questions in the test.
A straight line goes through the point (x, y). Is it right or wrong to say that the slope equals y/x? Give an explanation!
Second, the topic covered here is very important in basic education. In fact, my son who is currently in sixth grade already works on this. Nonetheless, due to the importance of slopes in math and the sciences, students are only bound to encounter this concept so many times during their schooling. And because of its importance, one can just imagine how easy it is to extend slopes to almost any problem. It may have been better if the study has picked a less general concept. Third, it uses reading as a substitute for direct instruction. This short instruction is static and therefore not capable of responding specifically to where the students are, as opposed to a teacher who has the capacity to tailor the instruction depending on the outcome of the initial problem solving. It is therefore amazing that even with these limitations, the researchers still manage to find some benefit in Problem Solving Before Instruction.

An academic textbook is different from a novel. Listening to a lecture is equally different from watching a movie. Therein lies the possible benefits of Problem Solving Before Instruction. Attempting to solve problems before reading a textbook or attending a lecture can give a student a much more engaging perspective. "Productive failure" corresponds to questions that need to be answered. A student can therefore end up searching and not just skimming. And in a lecture hall, a student may end up listening and not just hearing.

Friday, March 2, 2018

It Was a Windy Day

Schools in Fairfax and neighboring counties were closed today because of high winds. My son took the opportunity to work on his science project. His project was to measure what happens to the freezing point of water when substances are dissolved. Included in his study was a sample of crystals from WinterMelt. He wanted to check if adding these crytals would indeed lower the freezing point of water.

To do this project, my son therefore went with me to work this morning. We had everything he needed in our laboratory at Georgetown. The following were the materials he used:

He would work with sodium chloride (NaCl), starch, sucrose and WinterMelt. To measure the freezing point, this was his setup:

He thought it was fancy to use a digital thermometer. He also learned what freezing point really meant. It was the temperature at which both solid and liquid could be present. The photo below was a sample that was partially frozen. Both metal stirrer and thermometer could be seen in this picture.

He also liked the fact that he was using a digital balance to measure what he was adding to water.

And he was actually pretty good in weighing a given amount. This was pretty close to what he wanted (1500 milligrams).

To add a known amount of water, he was using a pipet:

But the part he liked the most was using the Vortex Genie (which helped him mix the solution).

And the results he obtained were actually decent.

The ideal value for the slope on the first graph was actually -0.0063, equal to what he got. He also discovered something - WinterMelt was in fact NaCl.

At the end of the experiment, he told me that he actually enjoyed working in the laboratory. I guess it was a fun experience for him. And he said it was indeed a good thing to do indoors when the weather outside was horrible.

I guess kids do enjoy doing hands-on science experiments. And he was learning at the same time.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

How Much Should Parents Be Involved in Their Children's Education?

Placing blame is an exercise we never shy away from. When schools are failing, we may be quick to point our finger to teachers. And for some, we may hold the parents or the lack of good parenting accountable. It takes a village to raise a child so I guess we are all indeed responsible. In response to the recent school shooting in Florida, there is a Facebook post made by a schoolteacher that caught my attention. Amie Diprima Brown, a teacher in Cartersville Middle School, notices how much has changed in terms of how involved parents are in their children's growth and development. 

Amie Diprima BrownFebruary 22 at 8:50pmRome, GAWith all of the talk about guns in schools, why it’s happening, and how to solve the issue let me offer a little different perspective. I’ve been teaching since 2003. This marks my 15th year in the classroom. Everybody always talks about how schools have changed, and it’s true, they have. Yes, there’s the “crazy new math” and “bring your own device” changes. However, there are some other changes that I think the general population is not aware of.
Every year for 15 years I have sent home the same assignment on the first day of school. I send a letter home asking parents to tell me about their child in a million words or less. I go on to explain that I want to learn the child’s hopes, dreams, fears, challenges, etc and jokingly ask parents to limit it to less than a million words since we all know we could talk forever about our children. I go on to say I’m not grading these, not looking at handwriting or grammar and don’t care if they send them back with their child, email them, drop them off at the office, etc. These letters have been so beneficial to me as a teacher and getting to know my students on a personal level. I have learned about eating disorders, seizures, jealousy issues between twins, depression, adoption, abuse...just to name a few things. These letters give me a huge head start on getting to truly know my students. I often pull them out when a child has a sudden change in behavior or issue that comes up. Just this week I had 2 students lose their mother unexpectedly. Brother and sister, I taught one last year and one this year. As I have done before, i immediately went to my folders to pull the letters that mom sent for her children. It’s a beautiful gift that I feel I can give students to get a glimpse into how much a parent loved and adored them. As I was putting the folders back in the file cabinet I noticed something. I know that the percentage of parents that complete this assignment each year has gotten lower and lower, but looking at the size of the folders shocked me. That first year I had 98% of the parents send back some type of letter on their child. This year... 22%. That’s a lot of opportunities lost for me to get to know students. Sadly, more parents have access to an electronic device that makes this task even easier and less time consuming.
On another note, this year’s average for homework turned in is riding at 67%. I’m talking a twice monthly 5 sentence summary of what the student is reading in their own time. I remind students daily, I send text messages through Remind, it’s on my website. The only other thing I could do is do it for them. Parents continue to let their child rack up zero after zero. But then again, that average used to be around 98% as well. It was rare for more than 1-2 students to not have their homework 15 years ago. Now, it’s just frustrating.
With all of our other responsibilities in our profession, how are we supposed to get to know students so that we can identify the ones with the mentality and disposition to become a school shooter if parents are checking out of the academic process? How are we supposed to educate children when their parents don’t require, expect and demand their child complete their homework?
Don’t wait until your child is the school shooter to let us know your child is struggling mentally. Don’t wait until your child is ineligible for sports or the day before report cards to check grades and question the teacher on why your child is failing.
Be a parent. Be involved in your child’s life so that you can help them through the issues with friends, the possible suicidal thoughts, and problems academically. I promise you, if parents spent more time with their children and got involved in their lives, we would see drastic improvements in our schools and our society.
As parents, our job is to grow the most amazing humans possible. Its the most important job in the world. The education and emotional stability a parent provides is priceless.
Amie Diprima Brown also provides the following photo to illustrate vividly the dramatic change she has noticed:

Above photo copied from Amie Diprima Brown
These are letters from parents of her students in 2017 compared against letters she received in 2003

Brown ends her post with "The education and emotional stability a parent provides is priceless." This statement is in fact supported strongly by research. In a recent study that includes more than 500 third grade children in HongKong, the correlation between parental involvement and a child's academic and emotional learning is clear:

Above copied from
Wong, R.S.M., Ho, F.K.W., Wong, W.H.S. et al. J Child Fam Stud (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-017-1011-2

Parental involvement correlates positively with language and mathematics outcomes. As important, children with parents involved in their education demonstrate less emotional and conduct problems. The authors explain the home-based parental involvement score as follows:
The Home-Based Involvement Scale includes four items which assess the extent to which parents spend time with children in educational activities outside of school (e.g. “During the current school year, how often did you or your spouse encourage your child to do homework independently?” and “How often did you or your spouse discuss with your child on materials learned in class each week?”). Items within this home-based scale were rated by parents on a 4-point scale, ranging from 0 = never to 3 = five times or above each week.
The score therefore measures just the number of times a parent gets involved in a child's education. I am sure that the quality of this involvement is also important but, in a study, is perhaps more difficult to measure. Nonetheless, one thing that is obvious in the above graphs is that there is a plateau when it comes to academic outcomes. It appears at around 2, which is still quite close to five times a week (or everyday). So when addressing the title of this blog post;  "How Much Should Parents Be Involved in Their Children's Education?". The answer is "almost on a daily basis".

Parental involvement is indeed important. However, one thing the study also covers is the relationship between these outcomes and a child's engagement in school. And here, the correlation is stronger. In this study, how a child's engagement in school is measured is described as follows:
The scale has total ten items, with four items measuring
children’s effort and participation in school and six items
assessing children’s attitudes and enjoyment at school. All
the items were rated by child participants on a 5-point scale
ranging from 0 = never to 4 = always.
So, I guess we are all correct, parental involvement does count, but we also should not lose sight of the fact that how a child experiences school is likewise important.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

It Is Okay To Be Anxious But Not Worried

Being anxious before an exam is a factor that can certainly influence a child's performance. Five years ago, I posted on this blog a piece about test anxiety.

Test Anxieties: A Barrier to Learning Assessment

Back in Chicago, when I was a teaching assistant in General Chemistry, the professor used the word "party" whenever referring to an exam inside the classroom. With every exam, the professor also added humorous cartoons on the first page. The purpose is to somehow relieve test anxiety which significantly impairs a student's academic performance. Taking an exam seriously and preparing for it is good. However, worrying about an exam needlessly with particular emphasis on scores as measures of success or failure is harmful. This is test anxiety. With education reforms, tests serve as measures of learning outcomes. Test scores are sought to gauge whether a given educational reform is working or not. With higher stakes, greater attention is given to scores in these tests. When tests are used not just to assess a student's learning, but also the future of an educational program, the pressure becomes higher. Grades, which are partly, if not dominantly determined by scores in these exams, can affect a student's future. Admissions to special programs in high schools, admission to an elite university, offer of employment from a good firm can depend on grades. Thus, society places a lot of premium on these tests. Being concerned with exams is healthy. These are necessary tools for assessment. However, when a student becomes more afraid of failure instead of seeing the exam as a challenge, a possibility to shine, then a debilitating test anxiety comes into play.
Test anxiety, as pointed out by the principals in my children's elementary school, is of prime concern, as it appears to debilitate students. I found a set of recommendations provided by the US Department of Education to help students overcome test anxiety and these are likewise provided in this blog.

It does not help to tell the child to relax, to think about something else, or stop worrying. But there are ways to reduce test anxiety. Encourage your child to do these things:
  • Space studying over days or weeks. (Real learning occurs through studying that takes place over a period of time.) Understand the information and relate it to what is already known. Review it more than once. (By doing this, the student should feel prepared at exam time.)
  • Don't "cram" the night before--cramming increases anxiety which interferes with clear thinking. Get a good night's sleep. Rest, exercise, and eating well are as important to test-taking as they are to other schoolwork.
  • Read the directions carefully when the teacher hands out the test. If you don't understand them, ask the teacher to explain.
  • Look quickly at the entire examination to see what types of questions are included (multiple choice, matching, true/ false, essay) and, if possible, the number of points for each. This will help you pace yourself.
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, skip it and go on. Don't waste time worrying about it. Mark it so you can identify it as unanswered. If you have time at the end of the exam, return to the unanswered question(s).

Recent research does show that the first sentence in the above recommendations is correct: "It does not help to tell the child to relax, to think about something else, or stop worrying." Relaxing does not correlate with better performance. Shannon Brady and coworkers at Stanford University write:

Students’ desire to do well on tests can lead them to experience anxiety (Beilock & Ramirez, 2011). Unfortunately, the default interpretation of anxiety is that it is harmful (Johns, Inzlicht, & Schmader, 2008). Thus, folk wisdom holds that people should manage anxiety by “calming down” to enhance their performance on test day (Brooks, 2014). Indeed, this is even the advice offered by one of the largest testing organizations in the United States (ACT, 2012).Unfortunately, there are two problems with this approach.

First, suppressing negative emotions is often difficult, requiring attention and effort (Gross, 2014). Second, the recommendation to calm down relies on an overly simplified model of how anxiety affects performance. Although people often think of test anxiety as a unitary emotional experience, previous research has identified two components of test anxiety, emotionality and worry, and has determined that these components affect performance in different, even opposing, ways (Cassady & Johnson, 2002; Liebert & Morris, 1967; Schwarzer, 1984).
Being anxious is not necessarily detrimental. In fact, the emotionality component is now known to enhance student performance. It is alright to be excited about an exam. From research, it is now known that simply telling students that arousal or being excited (the emotional component of test anxiety) can in fact improve performance. This is called "reappraising stress arousal". And it could be as simple as telling the students before the exam the following:
We know that taking an exam can be a stressful experience, and so before reminding you of exam details, we wanted to provide a note of research-based encouragement: People think that feeling anxious while taking a test will make them do poorly on the test. However, recent research suggests that arousal doesn’t generally hurt performance
on tests and can even help performance. People who feel
anxious during a test might actually do better. This means that you shouldn’t feel concerned if you do feel anxious while studying for or taking tomorrow’s exam. If you find yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your arousal could be helping you do well.
If the emotional component can enhance performance, what is the reason then behind the negative correlation between test anxiety and performance? It is the "worrying" part. Worrying requires mental effort and therefore adds to the cognitive load of a student. The student then has less of his or her brain to work on the exam.

The following graphs summarize the results found by Brady et al.

Above figures copied from
Reappraising Test Anxiety Increases Academic Performance of First-Year College Students.
Brady, Shannon T.,Hard, Bridgette Martin,Gross, James J.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Dec 21 , 2017, Published ahead of print.

The first graph informs us when intervention is most effective. For college students, the reappraisal only works for first year students. For upper-year students, their perception is no longer malleable. With age, test anxiety (both emotionality and worry) becomes fixed and appears to be no longer responsive to intervention. The second graph shows the impact of "reappraising stress arousal". It is very significant and is almost the difference between two letter grades.