"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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

When Should a Child Start Schooling?

There is evidence that shows benefits from quality preschool education. A good preschool program can decrease educational gaps between children from high- and low-income families. These gaps are often associated with the limited vocabulary and experiences children in poor homes have. There are, however, gaps observed in the early years of schooling that are not related to family income at all. Children also develop at different rates. There are obviously age differences since birth dates are distributed all throughout the year. Thus, in one kindergarten class where the school entry age is five years old, there are children who just turned five while there are children who would be six after only several weeks in school. A difference of about six months to a year in age can be substantial at a young age. Six months in five years is after all ten percent in terms of time. In terms of skills and knowledge already acquired, the differences can therefore easily be substantial.

Datar and Gottfried recently published a paper in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis:

Datar and Goddfried did find gaps between students due to kindergarten entry age. These gaps are obtained after correcting for various other factors (demographics, school, teacher and classroom characteristics). The differences are quite significant at the start of schooling - kindergarten. The advantage of older children remains substantial at first grade, but diminishes with later years. In fact, at eight grade these gaps no longer exist. The following are the results of a 9-year long longitudinal study which followed about a thousand kindergarteners back in 1998.

Above copied from
School Entry Age and Children’s Social-Behavioral Skills: Evidence From a National Longitudinal Study of U.S. Kindergartners, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
doi:10.3102/0162373714547268, first published on September 11, 2014
In both math and reading scores, children who entered kindergarten at age 6 (shown as red squares, KEA=6y) score several tens of percentiles higher than those who entered kindergarten at age 5. The differences actually persist even up till the end of elementary school. The two only converge at eight grade, right before high school.

Younger children are able to catch up. This study does not really answer when a child should start schooling. As time passes by, a year or a fraction of a year becomes less significant. What the above study clearly points out, however, is the inappropriateness of tracking, holding back, and diagnosing with learning difficulties at the early grades.

Friday, November 28, 2014

How Should Teachers Teach Math?

Seeing little children enjoy math through games and manipulatives does seem promising. Having the pupils engaged in what they are trying to learn seems the best way to go. The proof, however, still depends on whether students are indeed learning. For this reason, it is always important to gauge how much learning really occurs during these activities. Teachers are increasingly using child-centered activities, introducing calculators, and even utilizing music and movement to help students learn how to add and subtract numbers. The question that still needs to be answered, however, is whether these schemes actually work. Unfortunately, the answer from research is no. The following is an article published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis:

The findings in the above article are in fact no different from what British educators have found by observing classrooms in international math exams' high-scoring Shanghai as described in a previous article on this blog, How Should Teachers Teach. The work by Morgan, Farkas and Maczuga looks at students grouped according to various levels of having mathematical difficulties. Unfortunately, most classroom teachers gravitate towards student-centered activities and use of manipulatives when facing a classroom of pupils particularly challenged in math. This does not help as the above study demonstrates. Children experiencing difficulties in math need direct explicit instruction from teachers. This is a large study. It involves more than three thousand classrooms in the United States. Yet, the conclusion is the same to what was observed in Shanghai:

Above copied from the World Economic Forum

Improvements in education require paying attention to research. Oftentimes, what goes on inside classrooms is determined by what is fashionable or attractive on the surface, Education must be guided by evidence. In this case, it is quite clear: The old proven method by which we learned mathematics from our teachers decades ago, "chalk and talk", remains the most effective way.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Teachers in the US View the Common Core

Gallup has recently released the results of a survey that seeks reactions of teachers to the Common Core standards. I am not sure how familiar most teachers in the US are to the writings of Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg but the Gallup findings resonate soundly with what Pasi has to say, for example, in his article "Global Education Reform Is Here". The following are excerpts:
...the Finnish education system has remained quite uninfected to viruses of what is often called the global education reform movement or GERM...

...Since the 1980s, at least five globally common features of education policies and reform principles have been employed to try to improve the quality of education and fix the apparent problems in public education systems. 
First is standardization of education... 
A second common feature of GERM is focus on core subjects in school... 
The third characteristic that is easily identifiable in global education reforms is the search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals...

The fourth globally observable trend in educational reform is use of corporate management models as a main driver of improvement... 
The fifth global trend is adoption of test-based accountability policies for schools....
The following are some of the results of the survey:

There are several objections against the Common Core. The following are among the most common arguments against the new standards. First, when asked whether the Common Core undermines a teacher's autonomy - a significant majority agree:

A lot of teachers also expect the Common Core to be detrimental to other disciplines (arts and music, as well as decrease in recess time):

And as one gets closer to the topic of testing, the opposition becomes stronger. Asked whether the additional testing takes too much time away from teaching, more than three in four teachers agree:

And when students's scores are linked to teachers' evaluation, the response almost becomes unanimous. Teachers overwhelmingly believe that such practice is unfair:

Thus, the "common" in Common Core seems popular. The first characteristic of GERM seems attractive to most teachers. However, the other four seem not palatable....

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Do People Believe in "Learning Styles"?

It is a myth. Yet, even a professional organization of scientists, the American Chemical Society, has a webinar on this subject:

Above copied from the American Chemical Society

Distinguished professor of psychology, Harold Pashler, and coworkers have written an authoritative review, that should have settled this matter. The following is the summary of their paper published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest:


The term “learning styles” refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Proponents of learning-style assessment contend that optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals' learning style and tailoring instruction accordingly. Assessments of learning style typically ask people to evaluate what sort of information presentation they prefer (e.g., words versus pictures versus speech) and/or what kind of mental activity they find most engaging or congenial (e.g., analysis versus listening), although assessment instruments are extremely diverse. The most common—but not the only—hypothesis about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preferences of the learner (e.g., for a “visual learner,” emphasizing visual presentation of information). 

The learning-styles view has acquired great influence within the education field, and is frequently encountered at levels ranging from kindergarten to graduate school. There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many organizations offer professional development workshops for teachers and educators built around the concept of learning styles. 

The authors of the present review were charged with determining whether these practices are supported by scientific evidence. We concluded that any credible validation of learning-styles-based instruction requires robust documentation of a very particular type of experimental finding with several necessary criteria. First, students must be divided into groups on the basis of their learning styles, and then students from each group must be randomly assigned to receive one of multiple instructional methods. Next, students must then sit for a final test that is the same for all students. Finally, in order to demonstrate that optimal learning requires that students receive instruction tailored to their putative learning style, the experiment must reveal a specific type of interaction between learning style and instructional method: Students with one learning style achieve the best educational outcome when given an instructional method that differs from the instructional method producing the best outcome for students with a different learning style. In other words, the instructional method that proves most effective for students with one learning style is not the most effective method for students with a different learning style. 

Our review of the literature disclosed ample evidence that children and adults will, if asked, express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them. There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information. However, we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. 

We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such research needs to be performed appropriately.

There is no evidence yet the myth lingers. There are various reasons why the idea of "learning styles" has a strong grip. First, it is quite appealing. We have preferences and we like to justify our taste and choices. "Learning styles" fit our view that everyone is unique or special. Of course, it is true that every individual has value but we do not need "learning styles" to demonstrate the worth of each individual.

Among scientists, perhaps the reason why the myth of "learning styles" is likewise pervasive is a misunderstanding of where a student stands. It is correct to note that the learning of a pupil depends on his or her background knowledge. What a student already knows can influence learning on more advanced topics. Where a student stands is also composed of what abilities that individual already has. Furthermore, the engagement of a learner depends on motivation, which is mostly dictated by that person's current interests. "Learning styles" should not be confused with a student's current abilities, background knowledge, and interests. Effective teaching requires an instructor to consider where his or her pupils stand. This means taking note of what is appropriate for the students given their current abilities, knowledge and interests. Otherwise, only a poor connection can be established with the students. These are the pieces of information a teacher needs in order to draw a plan that will maximize learning inside the classroom. These are neither preferences nor personalities. Lastly, "learning styles" should not be confused with "learning disabilities". In the case of a learning disability, a specific diagnosis is required so that an appropriate intervention can be employed.

The medium or modality through which instruction is delivered should be dictated not by students' preferences but by the content of the lesson itself. Students need to learn through different styles. Shaping one's instruction based on what pupils prefer is a huge waste of time and effort especially when such approach has no backing from research. All students need to learn by listening, reading and doing. It is important that teachers pay more attention to where their students currently stand and not on what their students prefer....

Monday, November 24, 2014

How Should Teachers Teach?

It is amazing to hear scores in standardized exams being easily dismissed as unreliable measures of learning outcomes while pointing to the results of the same exams as signs that there is something currently wrong with schools. The reality is that these international tests, PISA and TIMSS, do inform us about the state of basic education. Therefore, it is useful to look at school systems that do well in these exams. There may just be a lesson or two to learn.

England has been looking closely at Shanghai's schools to find out why Chinese students perform so well in these standardized exams. Zhenzhen Miao and David Reynolds of the University of Southhamptom have found that the higher test scores of Chinese students are associated with a particular type of teaching. Surprisingly, the method of teaching the British researchers have found in Shanghai is not one of those trending in education conferences. It is the old "chalk and talk" approach:

Above copied from the World Economic Forum
Here are excerpts from Miao and Reynolds:
...lessons with a lot of “whole class interaction” were associated with higher test scores, while “individual/group work” was associated with lower scores. Unsurprisingly, classes where large numbers of pupils were reported as “on task” throughout the lesson were associated with higher scores.

“Effective teachers spent longer time on interacting with the whole class rather than with individuals/groups or leaving pupils to independent seatwork,...
“Their teaching in the whole class was two-way communications rather than one-way lecturing. They were capable of keeping more pupils on task. They demonstrated strong skills in questioning pupils and responding to their answers.” 
These findings are in line with decades of research which had concluded that whole class interactive teaching, with the teacher exploring pupils’ knowledge through questioning and demonstration, was more effective than “seat work”, where children worked through exercises themselves.
Related to the above, a report recently published by the Sutton Trust, Durham University, and the Center for Evaluation and Monitoring finds that research in education over the past decades provides strong evidence only for the following aspects of teaching:
1. (Pedagogical) content knowledge
The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning. As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.  
2. Quality of instruction
Includes elements such as effective questioning and use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also elements of high quality instruction.
Examining closely the above traits of effective teaching, it then becomes understandable why the "chalk and talk" approach can stand out as the most effective method. It is the method that hinges so much on a teacher's mastery of the subject and understanding of where his or her learners currently stand. 

The Sutton report, however, does not stop simply at identifying effective teaching practices. Although negative in tone, it is important to mention likewise ineffective teaching practices. Evidence from research is also clear on what does not work inside the classroom. In spite of the evidence, some of these ideas unfortunately linger. Here is their list:
  • Use praise lavishly:  Praise for students may be seen as affirming and positive, but a number of studies suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can be very harmful to learning. 
  • Allow learners to discover key ideas for themselves:  Enthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction. 
  • Group learners by ability:  Evidence on the effects of grouping by ability, either by allocating students to different classes, or to within-class groups, suggests that it makes very little difference to learning outcomes. 
  • Encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas: Testing yourself, trying to generate answers, and deliberately creating intervals between study to allow forgetting, are all more effective approaches. 
  • Address issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach content:  In fact the poor motivation of low attainers is a logical response to repeated failure. Start getting them to succeed and their motivation and confidence should increase.
  • Present information to learners in their preferred learning style:  Psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style.  
  • Ensure learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to remember: These have no empirical basis and are pure fiction.
A lot of the myths enumerated here are quite popular. A lot of people actually believe that these are true. The fact is that research does not support any of these. What research supports is presented in bold and is colored. We could only hope that this helps....

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I Had a Good Teacher

In the small town of Paete in the Philippines, local folks affectionately refer to their school principals as "apples". Although the apple has been associated with the downfall of man in Genesis, the fruit has certainly overcome this image by becoming part of one of the most important rooms in our lives, the classroom. Binkovitz in the Smithsonian writes in "Why Do Students Give Teachers Apples and More from the Fruit’s Juicy Past":
...Shaking its association with hard cider and reckless imbibing, the apple found a place in one of the most faultless places of American society: the schoolhouse.
Held up as the paragon of moral fastidiousness, teachers, particularly on the frontier, frequently received sustenance from their pupils. “Families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding frontier teachers,” according to a PBS special, titled “Frontier House, Frontier Life.” An apple could show appreciation for a teacher sometimes in charge of more than 50 students....
Apples have certainly become synonymous with our beloved teachers.

Teachers do touch our lives in so many ways. And if we were fortunate to finish high school, we likely had come across scores of teachers. In elementary school, where oftentimes one teacher is assigned to handle most of the subjects, the impact of one teacher can be quite significant. One good teacher is usually enough to change the future of a child.

When I was in grade school, I had the fortune of having the same teacher in both grades 5 and 6. I still could remember her last name and I actually had to remember two because she got married midway between those two years. She thought I was a genius in math when I was 11 years old since I could figure out the number of miles light would travel in one year. She cultivated in me an appreciation of math and the sciences. She was in fact instrumental in directing me to enroll in a science high school. She also knew my weaknesses but she showed leniency, patience and tolerance. I was quite aware that she knew that I was still growing up, but at the same time, she was hopeful and confident that I would rise to the occasion someday.  

Certainly, there are also individuals in my teachers' list whom I may consider as bad apples.

Above image copied from
Can One Great Piece of Content Save An Entire Website?
It is difficult to sort out how my teachers have contributed to who I am right now. It is therefore amazing to see that several workers at the National Bureau of Research (NBER) have attempted to quantify the impact of teachers on our lives. For instance, in "The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood", one finds the following figure:

The graphs above map the mean test scores of students across several years with the midpoint marking either the entry or exit of either a high or low value-added teacher. Certainly, at first glance, one is led to believe that the entry of a high value-added teacher improves test scores (This is graph a in the above figure). The exit of a high value-added teacher, on the other hand, as depicted in graph b, coincides with a drop in scores in the years to follow. This, however, is not as crystal clear. In all of these graphs, scores of students not taught by the teacher considered are also shown. These scores are shown as dashed lines. And except for the first graph, these dashed lines are not flat. In fact, in b the dashed line is clearly heading downward. There are so many factors that can affect students' scores in exams. One may even suggest that the school depicted in b is already facing challenges and this may actually be the reason why a high value-added teacher has decided to leave. One must also keep in mind that the points above are mean scores. Plotting all the scores individually on such graphs would probably make it extremely difficult to discern the trend suggested by simply using mean scores. 

Scores in exams, college graduation, future employment and salaries, or even teen-age pregnancy may be justified measures of success or failure, but one cannot deny that these outcomes are not only multivariate but are also incomplete. The teacher factor is certainly significant in learning outcomes but it is not the only one. 

There are good and not so good teachers. And oftentimes, just one good teacher can make the difference. I know I had one....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Identifying Learners

In medicine, Brody and Waters stated it quite clearly in the title of an article they published in the Journal of Family Practice: Diagnosis Is Treatment. Effective teaching is perhaps similar. Being able to identify the needs of a learner should equip a teacher with a starting point. Where a learner currently stands should likewise inform the teacher what is necessary thereby allowing for the appropriate and correct strategy or intervention to be drawn. Initial assessment is important to assign adequate resources and design appropriate teaching plans.

One area of recent interest involves identifying language learners. If a child has difficulty in the language that is used as medium of instruction, learning can be severely compromised inside a classroom. For this reason, elementary schools in the United States screen students as early as kindergarten. In fact, Federal law mandates that states have a means of identifying English-language learners. The means, however, is not specified. Most states simply employ a "home language survey", which in some cases, involves the following question:

“Is a language other than English spoken in your home?”

If the answer is "yes" to the above question, an English proficiency exam is often administered. There is not one exam used and schools can choose from a wide set of tests. How the performance in such an exam is translated to proficiency in English is likewise oftentimes up to the school or district. Thus, there is an apparent wide variation in how English-language learners are assessed across the country. 

Some parents are worried about having their child labeled as "English language learner". The following is a recent article from the Associated Press:

The 32-year old mother who went through school being labeled as an "English learner" does not want the same thing to happen to her daughter. 
"...Parents like Garcia fear that by acknowledging the truth, their kids will be siphoned off from native English speakers or stigmatized, and could miss out on learning opportunities...."
The consequences of the label can likewise, as one can imagine, vary from school to school, and from state to state.

As a student progresses, he or she can be reclassified. A student who now demonstrates proficiency in English loses the "English-language learner" label. In California, a longitudinal study is available that relates education outcomes to language learner classification. In the following figure copied from this study, RFEP corresponds to Reclassified Fluent English Proficient. The modal time for this reclassification is at 4th grade so "target" includes students who have been considered proficient in English right at 4th grade, while "pre" corresponds to students who have been reclassified quite early (2nd grade - 3rd grade), and "post" are those who have been reclassified after fourth grade. IFEP are children who said "yes" to the initial survey question (“Is a language other than English spoken in your home?”), but are deemed English-proficient at the beginning of school after testing. EL are those students who have never been reclassified while EO are students who said "no" to the initial survey question.

The above figure, of course, can be interpreted in so many ways. And one interpretation does strike fear in a parent's mind when his or her child is labeled "English language learner" at the beginning of school....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Is Grit?

In a previous article on this blog the question of when should we start developing grit was addressed. I guess before we tackle that question it is necessary that we fully understand first what grit is. The definition provided by Duckworth and coworkers, "perseverance and passion for long term goals", may help us grasp what grit entails. However, this may not be specific enough. There is a "grit scale" developed by these scientists to help measure grit in children. Perhaps by seeing this scale, what grit really is may become clearer. In this scale, a child who exhibits all of the following is deemed extremely gritty:
  • Difficult to distract
  • Not easily discouraged
  • Do not have short term obsessions
  • Hard-working
  • Stays on course for a goal
  • Able to focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete
  • Finishes whatever has been started
  • Diligent 
Actually, the list above really makes grit no different from perseverance except for the second one (not easily discouraged). Grit is usually a response to an adversity.

In the highly publicized paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Duckworth and coworkers also provide the following example to illustrate how grit manifests in children:
As an example, consider two children learning to play the piano. Assume that both children are equally talented in music and, therefore, improve in skill at the same rate per unit effort. Assume further that these children are matched in the intensity of effort they expend toward musical training. Intensity in this case is described by the extent to which attention is fully engaged during practice time. Duration and direction of effort, on the other hand, are described by the number of accumulated hours devoted to musical study and, crucially, the decision to deepen expertise in piano rather than to explore alternative instruments. Our findings suggest that children matched on talent and capacity for hard work may nevertheless differ in grit. Thus, a prodigy who practices intensively yet moves from piano to the saxophone to voice will likely be surpassed by an equally gifted but grittier child.
Seeing this example makes me think about my own son. For over a year now, he has been spending time on the piano. Playing the piano admittedly does not rank high in my son's list of preferred activities. It is nowhere near playing Minecraft, Angry Birds, or Injustice. It is way below playing soccer. His interest in practicing on the piano is about the same as the motivation he has for his teacher's recommended daily activity, reading for thirty minutes every evening. With enough push from both his parents, he is forced to spend fifteen to twenty minutes every night on the piano, in addition to his weekly thirty-minute sessions at the music school. And this past weekend, my son played the piano in front of a live audience:

Grit is indeed a trait that is worth developing. But we need to acknowledge that grit by itself is not necessarily the answer to all a child needs. Perseverance and passion are important. No one succeeds without trying. We can grow and develop. This may be the most important thing about grit.

This past Sunday's gospel, Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents, talks about the importance of producing something from whatever is given. The priest giving the homily in our church was quick to point out that talents are our blessings and we must share and spread these to others. Grit without a worthy cause or goal is likewise meaningless. In addition, a tunnel vision may be equated to a sign of determination but it prevents us from seeing what is on the periphery. Being distracted can sometimes be a good thing.

Alfie Kohn has also raised a list of concerns regarding being so preoccupied with grit:
  • The idea is hardly new. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
  • It’s a deeply conservative notion, part of a larger focus on self-control. 
  • Whether persistence is desirable depends on your goal. Not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods. It’s the choice of goal that ought to come first and count more.
  • Grit can actually be counterproductive. Often it just doesn’t make sense to continue with a problem that resists solution or persist at a task that no longer provides satisfaction. 
  • Grit can be unhealthy. 
  • What matters isn’t just how long one persists, but why one does so. 
  • Some of the research cited to support grit is remarkably unenlightening when you think about it. 
  • Other grit research raises questions about the outcome variables that have been chosen. 
  • Ultimately, the case for grit doesn’t rely on research at all but on a (very debatable) set of priorities and values. It’s justified almost exclusively as a way to boost academic achievement. 
  • Grit isn’t just philosophically conservative in its premises but also politically conservative in its consequences. The more we focus on whether people have or lack persistence (or self-discipline more generally), the less likely we’ll be to question larger policies and institutions. 
Grit is just one of the many ingredients for success. It helps us see that growth and development are possible for any individual. Only in this manner is grit truly worth cultivating in a child. Going further than this, grit may actually be bad....

Monday, November 17, 2014

When Should We Begin Developing Grit?

How a person becomes successful is now widely attributed to a sustained passion to practice and learn. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania has examined this psychological trait called grit. It is indeed comforting to find out that success is not so much about genes but more on deliberate practice. Still, it is very unlikely that I would become a world champion in tennis at this point even with endless hours and days of practice on the court. There is such a thing as "too late". After all, development does occur in stages. Each stage takes time and there is no shortcut from beginner to expert. Talent may be overrated but an individual's current skills should not be dismissed. What we are today often offers a good glimpse on what we would be tomorrow. Our achievements in the early years therefore have predictive power. And proficiency in mathematics is no exception.

Watts and coworkers have recently demonstrated how mathematical skills at 54 months are correlated with mathematics achievement in high school (age 15) in a paper published in Educational Researcher. The article, "What’s Past Is Prologue: Relations Between Early Mathematics Knowledge and High School Achievement", relates the results of a longitudinal study involving more than 1000 children. These children were assessed at age 4 and a half years (54 months) on simple counting tasks and addition and subtraction. In addition, skills in reading, working memory, vocabulary, attention, and impulsivity were also measured at this time. These tests were also administered when these children were at first grade. At third and fifth grade, and at age 15, the children took grade-level standardized tests in mathematics. The results are summarized in the following figure:

Above figure copied from Educational Researcher
The solid bars shown above provide the correlation between a child's skills at 54 months and the scores in a standardized high school-level math exam at age 15. Clearly, how a child does at 54 months is strongly correlated with math achievement at age 15. Reading is likewise correlated. The above has already been corrected to remove other factors such as family background and home environment. The correlation becomes stronger if one looks at how much a child has improved upon starting school. The association between a child's math performance at age 15 with how much a child has improved in math upon entering first grade is now almost twice as strong. The other skills such as attention and impulsivity are not at all correlated with how well a child performs in math ten years later.

Proficiency in mathematics may not be decided at birth but it is clear that good preschool mathematics can predict future performance in math. This study offers strong support for providing quality math education in the early years. Grit works but it has prerequisites. What happens in the early years is important....

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Multicultural Night at an Elementary School

In addition to priding itself as a professional learning community, Mason Crest Elementary School is also home to an international mix of children.

Mason Crest Elementary School webpage with my son on the cover

These students are not just children of immigrants. These children were born in other countries. Flags representing the countries of origin of students at Mason Crest can decorate its entire gym.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Teachers' Sit-Down Strike in the Philippines?

Was there a strike? Perusing the cover pages of the major newspapers in the Philippines seems to convey that there was no strike yesterday. The following are the cover pages for this Saturday, November 15, 2014:

Manila Bulletin

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Teachers' Sit-Down Strike

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines has scheduled a sit-down strike this coming Friday, November 14, 2014. The International League of People's Struggle (ILPS) has likewise issued a press release calling for support for the teachers' demands:
Teachers led by Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) announce to stage a one-day sit down strike on November 14
in protest of PNOY’s negligence of their demands. Image by ACT
"...Teachers and education employees are demanding an increase of their monthly basic pay from P18,549 to P25,000 and from P9,000 to P15,000 respectively. They have started this campaign since last year. The demand seeks to pursue the living wage needed to cope with the unprecedented monthly rise in prices of food and other basic commodities... 
...Instead of granting the teachers’ salary demand, the government even took away previous benefits from the teachers. The previous P10,000 Performance Enhancement Incentive (PEI) was slashed to P5,000 and the P2,000 Performance Incentive Bonus (PEB) is set to end this year. 
Teachers in public elementary and high schools in the National Capital Region are expected to participate in the strike. Public sector workers are seeking for decent pay increase but budgetary allocations by the national government are largely siphoned off by corruption of pork barrel funds such as the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP) assiduously defended by Malacanang Palace...."
The question of whether teachers should go on strike had been discussed in a previous post on this blog, "Should Teachers in the Philippines Go On Mass Leave?":
Teachers' strikes are not purely driven by the interests of the teachers. When teachers are overworked and underpaid, such conditions will take a great toll on students' learning outcomes. Poor working conditions can adversely affect student learning in the classrooms. Teachers go on strike to raise awareness and alert the public of something seriously wrong about public school education. Strikes always happen when there are problems already in school. For this reason, it is quite difficult to address the question of whether teachers' strikes harm learning. Furthermore, when strikes do help teachers get their demands met, these may be solutions to the schools' problems and can therefore affect the students in a positive way. Nevertheless, there are studies that tried to answer the question. From these studies, the conclusion is that there is really no hard evidence that teachers' strikes harm students.
Strikes come in different flavors. What ACT is planning to do this time is a sit-down strike for a day. On the Facebook page of ACT, the following post can be found:

ACT president, Benjie Valbuena, is asking teachers to join the sit-down strike. One comment is shown here. Elza Vargas apparently is interested in joining the protest, but is not aware of what a sit-down strike is. Here is what Wikipedia says:

It means teachers are expected to show up in their classrooms, but they are not going to teach. Here is a photograph from the 1965 sit-down strike of teachers in Michigan:

Above photo copied from Wayne State University
What will happen inside the classrooms during the strike depends on whether parents would send their children to school on that day. If pupils go to school, there would be no instruction from teachers participating in the strike and one may just witness a scenario similar to the one described below: 1500 pupils gazing perplexedly at their teacher from their classroom seats:

Above copied from Miami News
Or pupils may just do what they normally do when they cut classes, go to the mall....

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Undying Myth of Learning Styles

In 2012, Dekker and coworkers compiled a list of neuromyths in education. The most prevalent myth found among teachers in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands is:
Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditoryvisual,kinesthetic).
The teachers included in this survey are among those who show interest in scientific studies about the brain and learning. In spite of such interest, these teachers are in fact embracing and propagating a myth. This specific misinformation is so pervasive that even the Philippines DepEd K+12 framework contains the unfounded idea of learning styles:

One must not confuse learning styles with learning disabilities. There are indeed children who perform better with a particular mode of learning. Some children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can process instruction more efficiently when information is written down instead of being announced. In these cases, the style is required by necessity. Learning styles, on the other hand, are more like preferences. Some prefer reading a novel while some enjoy watching a movie based on a novel. Addressing preferences of course may lead to greater satisfaction. Learning better, however, does not automatically follow. In fact, there are now several studies that prove that "Individuals DO NOT  learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style". The following, from the Journal of Educational Psychology, is an example:

Just to reiterate, "Results failed to show a statistically significant relationship between learning style preference and learning aptitude." One interesting result from the study is that those who prefer visual instruction perform better in both listening and reading comprehension than those who prefer auditory instruction. The above study includes only college educated adults who have well developed listening and reading comprehension skills.

It is important not to confuse learning styles with disabilities. Based on the above evidence and others, conforming to what learners prefer does not really lead to greater learning. In fact, catering to what learners prefer may actually prevent them from learning and developing the skills that they need.

Rogowsky and coworkers conclude with the following:

Closely examining DepEd's K+12 will certainly reveal additional myths. That is why there is still a lot of work to be done in order to transform Philippine basic education into something that is based on evidence. At this point, DepEd is simply guided by ill-informed beliefs...

Monday, November 10, 2014

We Learn from Answers

A teacher can state a fact and it usually takes effort to remember what the teacher has said. On the other hand, when a teacher asks a question, the lecture becomes a bit more participatory. A question often engages the audience and when the question is further explored, the answer at the end becomes a bit easier to remember. In my high school physics class, I still remember the time my teacher asked a question similar to the one described below:

Above copied from The Education Scientist
And I cannot delete from my memory the answer my teacher provided: When the ice melts, the water will overflow. It is the wrong answer yet it manages to stay in my mind.

Obviously, questions asked and then answered describe what a graded exam entails. We can learn from a test. An exam that allows a student to find out what he or she does not know is a formative assessment. We can learn from mistakes. And as in my experience, I can remember the answer of my teacher. It is therefore disconcerting to see exams that are both written and graded poorly. The following are photos of exam questions posted by Joy Rizal on Facebook:

Looking at the above, a student cannot really tell which is grammatically correct: "Which set of numbers" or "Which set of number". This maybe nitpicky, but the other examples shown below are not as harmless:

Joy kindly provided a translation of the above question:
I must do the following to prepare for school. 
A. pray
B. wear our uniform
C. bathe and eat
D. put away / make the bed
And as shown in the above photo of a graded exam, the answer is A. Another example is shown below:

Apparently, the answer to the above question according to DepEd is "B". The correct answer is "A" so the student actually got this right.
Above copied from Explain That Stuff
Joy Rizal adds:
We have no books, can not get photocopies of material, and instructors simply say they are following the DepEd curriculum but do not elaborate. And no one has time to give us any information. We are basically left with no information regarding to what our children are being taught under our current DepEd administration.
It is truly disconcerting to see exams that are both written and graded poorly. This is the height of miseducation....

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Save Our Schools

November is the National Reading Month in the Philippines. This is the month that the government tries to put an image of supporting the education of young minds by promoting a love for reading. That does sound good. Children need to learn to read so that they will read to learn in the future. Unfortunately, simply encouraging the public to donate books to schools and storytelling inside classrooms are just the first steps. Providing textbooks of good quality is an equally if not more important task so that children may actually move beyond reading fairy tales.

It is truly infuriating to see that what the Philippine government does for education is often only for show. Take, for instance, DepEd touting the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction in the early years of education. On the surface, it may seem that DepEd is indeed taking a step in the right direction by keeping something inside classrooms that the children have learned at home. With a language of instruction that is more familiar with young pupils, the mother tongue is supposed to keep these young children in schools. These are all nice ideas but reality on the ground speaks of a different predicament. The following are excerpts from Karapatan's press release on November 5, 2014:

...Karapatan scored the continuing attacks against schools and children's rights violations, especially with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) guidelines 25 and the Department of Education Memorandum 221. Both issuances legitimize the attacks against children by allowing the use of schools/educational institutions for military purposes.

Just this year, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao reported the AFP’s take-over of at least five schools in Southern Mindanao alone:
• Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center Inc. (STTILCI) in Talaingod and Compostela Valley;
• Monkayo Vocational School in Compostela Valley where the 25th IB parked its armored personnel carrier (APC) in the school compound;
• Tugbok Elementary and High School in Tugbok District, Davao City where the 84th IB usually park its 6-by-6 truck in the school gym;
• Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato where 10th Special Forces and 57th IB troops, in full uniform and carrying firearms, freely went in and out of the school, some even played basketball, and used the school’s Internet;
• Kalasagan Elementary School in San Isidro, Lupon, Davao Oriental which is occupied by the 28th IB and 2nd Scout Rangers unit, they also occupied the barangay hall, health center, chapel, basketball courts, and some residences.
“We want to reiterate that these schools are initiated by people’s organizations with the support of church and other advocacy groups as a response to the government’s inability to provide basic education to children in remote places,” Palabay said....
There is a Facebook Page called "Save Our Schools Network". A photo shared in this page, copied from the Inquirer, tells in one image what is really going on:

A group of students from the Manobo tribe are currently in Manila to bring awareness to their current condition:

Unfortunately, their cries are probably not heard since the circus inside the Senate is much louder....

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Preparing for 21st Century Jobs

The title is really catchy. No, I do not mean the title of this article, but the title used by Alan Singer in his blog on Huffington Post: Preparing Students for 21st Century Jobs at McDonald's:

Singer's article talks about the lowering of academic standards in New York schools by introducing an alternative pathway to a high school diploma, specifically by taking special "Career Readiness" courses. Assessment on one of these special tracks can be taken in place of one of the regents' exams on social studies, science, or math. Singer then examines an example for an assessment. This one is used for the specific field of "Food and Beverage". It is taken from NOCTI, an organization that provides "industry-based credentials and partner industry certifications for career and technical education (CTE) programs across the nation".

And here are the sample questions:

The following is what Alan Singer has to say after seeing the above questions:
"This is not a test for a year long vocational program that prepares students for future careers. It barely qualifies as a quiz at the end of a one-hour on-line prep session. Personally, I think every high school graduate needs to know the difference between a latté and an espresso or how else can they work at Starbucks, but I have lived a long time and I am still not sure what a café mocha is. On a serious level, the only "career" this program and exam prepares high school students for are dead-in food service jobs at fast-food restaurants."
The DepEd K+12 curriculum in the Philippines has something similar. For high school, students can choose the following:

And the following are among the learning competencies prescribed by the curriculum on Food and Beverages:

And I can easily modify Singer's statement so that this time it addresses the DepEd K+12 curriculum:
"This is not a curriculum for a year long vocational program that prepares students for future careers. It barely qualifies as a high school subject. Personally, I think every kindergartener needs to know that they need to wash their hands after using the bathroom or how else can they work at Jolibee. On a serious level, the only "career" this program and exam prepares high school students for are dead-in food service jobs at fast-food restaurants." (Printed in bold are my words)
DepEd K+12 does tout itself as a curriculum that will prepare students for 21st Century Jobs - 21st Century jobs in fast-food restaurants....

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Does Your Child Have ADHD?

A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not possible in one office visit to a pediatrician. Instead, symptoms of ADHD must be observed in a child regularly for about six months. The following is a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
To make a diagnosis of ADHD, the primary care clinician should determine that Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria have been met (including documentation of impairment in more than 1 major setting); information should be obtained primarily from reports from parents or guardians, teachers, and other school and mental health clinicians involved in the child's care. The primary care clinician should also rule out any alternative cause (quality of evidence B/strong recommendation).

A child with ADHD may exhibit the following (from webMD.com):
  • Are in constant motion
  • Squirm and fidget
  • Make careless mistakes
  • Often lose things
  • Do not seem to listen
  • Are easily distracted
  • Do not finish tasks
After the diagnosis, the next important thing to address is what to do next. First, it should be clear that the behavioral symptoms enumerated above can easily get in the way of learning inside a classroom. For this reason, it is necessary for a school and the child's guardians or parents to provide interventions or services that would meet the needs of a student with ADHD. There are two laws for K-12 students in public school that may offer supports and services for a child with ADHD: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Either one provides an individualized education plan (IEP). The National Center for Learning Disabilities describes an IEP via the following:
Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.
This may sound great. It means that as long as a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the school must provide an IEP. There still remains a huge challenge, however. The question of what interventions should be included in the IEP of a child with ADHD needs to be addressed. And the following paper recently published in School Mental Health raises a serious concern:
This is a survey of high school students. While it is comforting to read that half of students with ADHD are receiving services, it is disconcerting to find that only one out of four interventions commonly implemented are evidence-based. If doctors are prescribing medication or treatment where only one of four is backed by clinical trials, it is a clear reason to worry. Apparently, in schools across the United States, this is the case for students with ADHD. The following is the list of interventions reported for students with ADHD:

Table 2 (copied fromSchool Mental HealthDOI 10.1007/s12310-014-9128-6)
Number and type of accommodations and supports reported for students with ADHD
% of those with an IEP/504 plan
(n = 170)
% of those without an IEP/504 plan
(n = 163)
Academic accommodation/support (M = 3.15, SD = 2.45)
 Extended time on tests
 Test read to student
 Modified tests
 Alternative tests or assignments
 Modified grading standards
 Slower-paced instruction
 Additional time to complete assignments
 Shorter or different assignments
 More frequent feedback
 Reader or interpreter
 Teacher aide, instructional assistant, or personal aide
 Peer tutors
 Tutoring by adult
Behavioral Support/Learning Strategy (M = 0.68, SD = 0.77)
 Behavior management program
 Learning strategies/study skills assistance
 Self-advocacy training
Learning Aids (M = 0.75, SD = 1.0)
 Physical adaptations (e.g., special desk)
 Large print or Braille books or large print computer
 Books on tape
 Use of calculator (when not permitted by others)
 Communication aids (e.g., touch talker)
 Use of computer when not allowed for others
 Computer software for students with disabilities
 Computer software adapted for student’s unique needs
 Use of tape recorder when not allowed by others
 Student progress monitored by special education staff
In the table above, supports that have been proven in research are listed in bold. Of the twenty six interventions, only five (shorter assignments, frequent feedback, behavior management, learning strategies, and self-advocacy) are backed by research. 88% gets extended time, but there is no indication from research that this actually works. Raggi and Chronis have reviewed the literature on ADHD interventions and have offered the following list of supports or accommodations that have demonstrated benefits in academic outcomes:
  1. classwide peer tutoring and parent tutoring which employ one-to-one instruction, immediate and frequent feedback, and require active responding;
  2. instructional and task modifications, which may include allowing students to choose assignments from among several pertinent alternatives, presenting material orally and requiring oral responses in addition to presenting material visually, adding structure or using explicit instructions, employing computer-assisted instruction, and using color or texture to increase stimulation within tasks; 
  3. classroom functional assessment procedures; 
  4. self-monitoring and reinforcement, particularly for older children and adolescents; 
  5. strategy training, including note-taking, study skills and organizational skills interventions; and 
  6. homework-focused interventions which incorporate goal setting, parent structuring of the homework process, and parent–teacher consultation approaches.
A child with ADHD needs an advocate. And this advocate is usually the parent so it is important that the parent is aware of what works. The above list is not long, certainly a lot shorter than the list of programs schools are now currently implementing.