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Showing posts from September, 2014

Contests and Learning

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A child growing up could be exposed quite early to competition. There are contests and pageants. In these activities, it is clear that comparisons between children are made. A child therefore inherently develops an objective, not to be seen as a loser, but as a winner. But contests are actually teaching a child one other thing. We may not be aware of it, but saying to a child, "You are smart", may in fact be no different from saying, "You are stupid". Both assume that academic achievement comes from an intrinsic talent or lack thereof. This obviously goes against what learning is all about.

At Mason Crest Elementary School in Annandale, where my children are enrolled, the specific mission is "to ensure high levels of learning for all." This mission becomes more obvious with the fact that the teachers in the school generally subscribe to a "mastery" achievement goal as opposed to a "performance" achievement goal. These two goals are usu…

Why Is Adequate Sleep Important?

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While I was growing up, there was one rule that could not be broken at home. That was bedtime. Even when my parents were working late, my grandmother who would be visiting from Paete, Laguna and babysitting us, would make sure that I was in bed at the right time. There were no excuses, even celebrating New Year's Eve or having guests in the house would not be acceptable. My parents knew without being aware of medical and educational research that sleep was very important. My father easily associated the mood and functioning of a child with the amount of sleep a child got during the previous night. I am indeed very fortunate that my parents had the wisdom of recognizing that sleep deprivation might lead to all sorts of problems like drug abuse, compromised physical health, and poor academic performance.

For children and adolescents, sleep is so much more than just resting. It may have been a superstitious belief on my mother's part that using a book as a pillow can help me lear…

Paete, Laguna: Festivities and Education

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Social well-being is part of growing up. It is, of course, part of basic education. In an ideal situation, extra-curricular activities can help foster friendships as well as a sense of belonging to one's school. Both can increase a student's engagement in school thereby supporting learning inside the classroom. As a child grows up, interests are formed and explored. Arts, clubs, advocacy groups offer avenues for the young to learn how to express themselves, find common interests, and learn how to become active participants in society.

Paete, Laguna, a small town in the Philippines has always been proud of its culture and arts. To celebrate its culture the town has been holding a week-long festival called Paet-Taka: (The photos shown here are copied from the Facebook page of Paete Taka Festival.)



Why Is Mother Tongue Education Important?

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Among immigrants in the United States, several studies have shown that children who have proficiency in both English and their mother tongue tend to be more successful in school compared to their ethnic peers. (See, for example, Social Capital and the Adaptation of the Second Generation: The Case of Vietnamese Youth in New Orleans. Min Zhou and Carl L. Bankston III. International Migration Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, Special Issue: The New Second Generation (Winter, 1994), pp. 821-845) This, perhaps, can be attributed in part to closer family ties and parental cultural maintenance that emphasizes beliefs and practices that are socially constructive. These two strongly correlate with a child's retention of his or her parents' native tongue since this language is expected to be the major means of communication between immigrants and their children.

Mother tongue education, however, goes far beyond just benefiting society. It is about preserving one's ethnic identity and culture.…

Learning in Steps

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There are clearly stages in human learning. Reading, for example, starts with recognizing letters followed by short and familiar words like "mom", "dad", "cat" and "dog". Short stories with pictures are, of course, favored by young children. Then, near the end of third grade, pupils are expected to jump from understanding stories to gathering information from text, a leap from fiction to nonfiction. The transition is quite dramatic such that it is quite common to see children stumble and fail at this stage. In Mathematics, the next challenging stage after learning about whole numbers is the fraction. Pause for a moment and imagine a child who has been told over and over again that 4 is always greater than 3. It is then easy to see that it may be quite shocking for this child to be told that the opposite is true for 1/4 and 1/3. Then, one can follow that by asking which one is bigger, 2/7 or 3/8?

Understanding fractions is a very important stage …

How Well Do We Read Online?

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Unlike a textbook, what we read online has not necessarily been examined or evaluated for accuracy. The web pages we visit are usually not directly assigned by an instructor. Oftentimes, we have to browse through the internet to find something. Thus, reading online requires at least two skills: the ability to locate the right pages and the ability to evaluate critically their content. Hence, in this respect, online reading is quite different from reading a textbook.

This blog is viewed quite often in the Philippines as shown in the following ClustrMap for this past week:


On Facebook, posts that point to some of the articles on this blog could receive as many as 1000 likes;


Since I have access to the records of this blog, I know that oftentimes the number of likes could easily outpace the times the article has been viewed, which of course leads to the question of whether people even bother to read the article. And we are not even asking if people had comprehended the article. That woul…

What Does Preschool Achieve?

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I did not go to preschool. In fact, I did not even go to kindergarten. I went straight to first grade but my education really started at home. My parents attended to a small store in Pasig where I watched my father add up all the sales during the day. Those were my first lessons in Math. There were likewise newspapers at home. Those were my first lessons in Reading.

What fathers and mothers do at home with a young child contributes to learning. Parents can read books to their young children. Parents can teach their children to write their names. There is certainty that these activities help map a child's trajectory through formal schooling. It is therefore interesting to measure what preschool really does and how it relates to what parents do at home with a young child. There is a study that has attempted to answer these questions. "Do the Effects of Head Start Vary by Parental Preacademic Stimulation?", published in the journal Child Development, looks at thousands of c…

Making Our Schools Better Is Not Easy

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This blog is now on its third year. It has been viewed more than a million times by more than three hundred thousand visitors. Most are from the Philippines. One thing that should be obvious by now is that improving basic education is really no easy task. In fact, even under circumstances that seem highly favorable, good results may still not be forthcoming. Take, for example, a study made by Roland Fryer


Additional hours in school, the best teachers and administrators, private tutoring, data-informed instruction, and an environment that supports success - and yet, all of these combined results only in a modest increase in math scores, 0.15 to 0.18 standard deviations per year. And there is almost no effect on reading comprehension. Seriously, what else did Fryer miss?



An answer to this mystery is provided by Willingham on his blog:

...Thus, it may be that researchers saw puny effects because they had to skimp on the most important factor: sustained engagement with challenging acade…

Why Intervention in the Early Years Is More Important

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A great weakness in the new DepEd's K+12 curriculum of the Philippines is its focus on the later years of basic education. Intervention in the later years is extremely challenging and often unsuccessful. There are obvious reasons why inadequacies in the earlier grades of elementary school cannot be remedied by additional years in high school. One of these reasons is that young children are much more malleable than adolescents. This is supported by evidence from research as illustrated in a paper published in Child Development:


The study basically demonstrates that children who are falling behind their peers in language skills at age four are very likely to remain behind in their adolescent years. Of course, the study does not imply that a child, who is challenged in language between the ages 4 and 10, is hopeless. Children can improve and grow. What the study is emphasizing, however, is that addressing children falling behind is easier during the early years:






Instructional Continuity

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Truancy, when a student does not attend school for a good reason, is a serious problem in education, but there are certainly acceptable and mitigating circumstances behind absences like inclement weather. In fact, schools are often suspended for the safety of pupils, teachers and staff when weather conditions are considered hazardous. Take, for example, the current flooding of the National Capital Region in the Philippines:

School disruptions especially with climate change are likely to become more frequent. At Georgetown University, for example, faculty are encouraged to devise ways to minimize interruptions in instruction. There is in fact a web resource at the university devoted to this issue: Instructional Continuity


Of course, the tools and strategies provided above may not at all be possible in the Philippines. Much of the examples require a dependable and accessible internet, which is not necessarily present in all of the households in the country. But there are strategies that…

Can a Child Tell the Difference between a Good Teacher and a Bad One?

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There are various traits that define an effective teacher so perhaps, it is useful to focus on one trait. Can a child tell if a teacher is a reliable source of information? This question is specific enough that it could be addressed in an experiment. Researchers from Boston University have in fact performed a study to find out if children can discern credibility. The study published in the journal Child Development is entitled "“Why Does Rain Fall?”: Children Prefer to Learn From an Informant Who Uses Noncircular Explanations":


Children can indeed tell if someone is just pulling their leg. Whether this is simply a hunch is addressed by the above experiment. The study involves thirty three children, seventeen are 3-year olds and sixteen are 5-year olds. All have English as their native tongue and all come from either middle-class or upper middle-class households who visit the Boston Museum of Science. Given a phenomenon like rainfall, the children are provided with two explan…

Can We Really Teach "Right versus Wrong"?

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We all would like basic education to teach our children what is right and what is wrong. There are even specific subjects in schools on character education, proper manners and right conduct, and good citizenship. We look forward to schools that can help raise children who are more aware and caring for the environment. As moral beings, how we really choose between "right" and "wrong" is not well understood. A scientific experiment that addresses this question is extremely difficult to design but a simple question such as whether teaching morality makes a difference needs an answer. One challenge here is, oftentimes, we cannot even agree on what is right and what is wrong.

There is a new study published in Science that attempts for the first time to answer some of these important moral questions. The study is performed not in the laboratory, but in the real world, providing a a rare glimpse into the moral dynamics of a society. The study co-authored by Wilhelm Hofman…

A Curriculum Can Destroy Education

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The previous posts on this blog have been emphasizing the role of teachers and resources in student learning. These are the avenues through which learning in schools can be improved. The curriculum is viewed simply as a wish list. Without proper implementation, it simply remains a wish list. Although a curriculum can not be expected to solve problems in basic education, a badly designed curriculum can exacerbate problems.

A long standing debate in education is content versus skills. This dichotomy is actually untrue for deep learning involves acquisition of both content and skills. An editorial in the Journal of Research in Science Teachingrecently revisited what defines "meaningful learning". It starts by presenting the following figure (originally from Ege, Coppola, & Lawton, Journal of Chemical Education, 74, 74–83):

Content and skills are not opposite sides of a pole. These are two orthogonal axes of learning. Students with low content but high skills have very limit…

Innovation and Reform in Education, Applied to My Child?

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I am always tempted to ask those who have ideas on how to teach children or run schools whether they would apply the same to their own children and the schools their children attend. Neither the current secretary of DepEd nor the president of the Philippines would be able to answer that question. Still, perhaps we could ask whether it would apply to their nephews or nieces, if they have any. In the US, for example, where there is much talk about massive online open courses (MOOC), it would be interesting to find out if any of the advocates of this program actually send their children to a MOOC and not to a traditional college or university. I often wonder what the responses may be.

Last week, an interesting article that tackles a similar question was published in the New York Times:


And it is not just the late Steve Jobs who strictly limited technology use at home. There are other chief executives who share a similar parenting style. Below is an excerpt:
Chris Anderson, the former edit…

Copying from Educational Systems Abroad

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"A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing." That is why scientific work requires identification and control of every variable that may affect the outcomes being measured or observed. Establishing causation requires much more than just discovering a correlation. Ignoring these rules can easily lead to conclusions being drawn without the proper basis. It is very tempting to find a "smoking gun" that explains what is sought. The intentions are often good, to copy what seems to be working. Not covering all bases, however, only leads to failure especially when important points are missed. Some countries are doing much better in international exams on mathematics so it is only reasonable to look at these countries, learn from them, and transfer the good things about their system to ours. An example of such thinking is illustrated by a piece published several months ago in the New York Times. It is an article by Elizabeth Green, "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

Celebrating Teachers' Month (September 5 to October 5)

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In the Philippines, an entire month (September 5 to October 5) is dedicated to recognizing teachers by virtue of a proclamation made by the current president in 2011. The month ends on October 5, which coincides with the world's celebration of Teachers' Day. This year, the post office of the Philippines has issued a special stamp expressing gratitude to teachers in the Philippines:

The representative of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Antonio Tinio, in the Philippine Congress speaks about how the Philippine government is urging its citizens to show appreciation of teachers:
"“To express sincere gratitude for teachers,” DepEd has advised its regional and division offices and students to give “thank you” cards, free makeover and spa treatments, discounts, or freebies to teachers, also to hang streamers and hold contests to honor teachers, from September 5 to October 5." Post by Act Teachers Party-List.

It is disheartening to watch the video and see how many seats in …

Martial Arts as an Intervention Tool in Basic Education

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In search for innovations in education, we frequently look at new tools or technology. There is no doubt that computers, for example, can aid in education. However, there is a distinct possibility that some methods we have inherited from past generations can do the same. After all, basic education has been a human endeavor for so long.

One key determinant in learning is the executive function of the brain. The executive function includes self-control, staying focused, discipline, and flexibility. Without these capabilities, learning can become a very difficult task. It is one reason why classroom management in the early years is particularly important. Of course, in the old days, discipline was strictly enforced in each classroom. Nowadays, independence combined with a sense of responsibility is preferred. This new way obviously demands a lot more from a child's executive function. It is clear that children vary from each other in the way they develop executive function. Some demo…

Trends in US Teaching Force

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Ingersoll, Merrill and Stuckey from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania have looked closely at data on teachers in the United States to explore what changes have occurred within the teaching force during the past 25 years. In their report, Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force, they pointed out the following: Teachers in 2012 compared to teachers in 1987 are larger in numbers, younger, less experienced, more female, more diverse by ethnicity, similar in academic abilities, and are less likely to stay teaching. Here are some of the graphs that support the above trends (copied from the original report):

The number of teachers has grown faster than students. The higher increase in the number of teachers can be attributed to a variety of reasons such as reduction in classroom sizes, special education, english language learners, and preschool education.



The above graph actually captures critical turning points in time. The average ag…

Efficiency and Effectiveness of a School System

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The school system can be viewed as a production line that has both input and output. The starting materials are the resources while the education outcomes comprise the result. Considering the output and comparing this with what went in can provide a rough measure for efficiency. An efficient system is one that achieves so much even with quite limited resources. A recent report attempts to assess the efficiency of school systems worldwide by taking into account teacher salaries and pupil to teacher ratio as indicators of input and test scores in an international standardized test score as a gauge for the output:

The results of the study are summarized in the following ranking:


According the above ranking, countries have also been divided into the following five groups:
GROUP 1 Elite Performers : There is always room for improvement despite the fact that these countries score well in both the efficiency and quality stakes.  1 Finland | 2 Japan | 3 Korea GROUP 2 Efficient and Effective :