Education Research Highlights
Education research continues to remind us of the significant influence that instructors have on children’s development. This influence is predominantly positive; the research we mention here indicates specific ways in which instructors can or already do assist kids to experience a feeling of belonging in school while also making progress in their academics and other areas of development.
However, there is room for improvement. For example, researchers have discovered that the disparity in suspension and expulsion rates between black and white boys has more to do with adult opinions of those children than with their actual conduct.
New research has also helped us to better grasp a variety of popular concepts, from learning styles to growth mindsets and the marshmallow test, among others.
However, if there is a common thread running through most of this research, it is this: focusing solely on academics is not enough to improve student learning. We should also consider how well students—as well as teachers—are guided and supported.
SIMPLE YET EFFECTIVE IDEAS
Small modifications in the classroom can have a surprising impact on student achievement. In a study conducted this year, it was discovered that welcoming pupils at the classroom door provided both psychological and academic benefits, as follows: School-wide engagement increased by 20 percentage points, while disruptive behavior fell by 9 percentage points, essentially extending the school day by an additional hour of learning time for students.
Another study discovered that overly ornamented walls can overwhelm students, limiting their ability to pay attention and retain information. A combination of learning tools, motivational posters, and student work can help to make classrooms feel alive and welcoming to students.
PEEKING INTO THE BRAIN OF A STUDENT
We have achieved enormous advances in our understanding of the science of learning, largely as a result of technological advances that allow us to see what is happening in a child’s brain as they learn in real-time.
Research has shown, for example, that children who have the strongest reading skills also have greater interactivity between different regions of the brain, indicating that reading is a whole-brain activity and that growth in reading skills may benefit from a multisensory approach, such as reading aloud or being read to while looking at the words on the page.
A separate group of researchers, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), investigated the brain networks involved in processing narratives in preschool-age children while adults read them illustrated stories and stories without pictures, as well as while they watched animated videos of stories. Their findings confirmed the previous findings. When adults read the children’s illustrated stories, the brain networks associated with language, visual imagery, and learning were more engaged; stories without pictures were too demanding, and the animated videos were too overpowering. Picture books have earned a victory.
POPULAR IDEAS, REVISITED
A new study published this year called into doubt previous findings in three important areas of study: learning styles, growth mindset, and the tests conducted by Mischel to determine self-control (better known as the marshmallow test).
Researchers discovered that matching a student’s perceived learning style—such as visual or linguistic—to the methods in which a concept might be taught had no benefit. This may be the final nail in the coffin for learning styles when a concept is learned. Instead, teachers should rely on tried-and-true tactics such as integrating text with pictures, which is superior to presenting either one alone, rather than experimenting with new approaches.
Using data from more than 150 research, a large-scale meta-analysis called into question Carol Dweck’s theory that a student’s attitudes about intelligence—whether they have a fixed or growth mindset—can influence their academic success. It was discovered in the meta-analysis that growth mindset interventions have “modest” benefits on student success, while low-income and academically at-risk kids showed improvements, indicating that a growth mindset may end up benefitting those who need it the most.
It was Walter Mischel’s work on self-control that helped us appreciate the value of noncognitive skills for decades. In one experiment, a young child’s ability to resist a marshmallow indicated their future success as an adult. New research, however, has revealed an important flaw in the original experiment: the majority of participating children came from wealthy families, and they were more likely to resist the marshmallow not because they possessed self-control but because they were accustomed to living in a home where marshmallows were readily available in the pantry. This means that teachers can assist all youngsters in developing self-control and other essential executive function abilities because the benefits of these skills aren’t permanently locked in until the age of 5.
DISPARITIES IN DISCIPLINE FOR BLACK BOYS
Researchers discovered this year that 40 percent of black boys born between 1998 and 2000 who attended schools in large U.S. cities had been suspended or expelled by the age of nine (third grade), compared to only 8 percent of boys who were non-Hispanic white or of other races at the same age as they. The variance was less due to changes in student behavior than it was due to disparities in school discipline rules and how teachers perceive misbehavior, which resulted in drastically different consequences for students who engaged in identical behaviors.
Researchers discovered this year that this is largely due to unconscious bias: misbehavior committed by black boys is generally seen as more hostile than misbehavior committed by white boys, according to the findings. Earlier this year, we discussed some strategies for dealing with implicit bias.
HOW MISTAKES HELP STUDENTS LEARN
According to a new study, attempting to guess an answer and receiving feedback on how near the answer is to the correct one results in higher memory rates than merely memorizing facts. Participants in the study were able to recall slightly more than half of the words they were asked to learn when they were asked to do so. However, if they took a trial-and-error technique and guessed what the words were before getting feedback on their estimate, they were able to recall approximately eight out of every ten terms.
We covered this study earlier this year in the context of encouraging students to engage in productive struggle, which improves their knowledge of course content.
INSIGHTS INTO TEACHER WELL-BEING
Teacher health and job satisfaction have suffered as a result of decades of poor pay and overcrowding in the classroom: According to the findings of a new survey, 93 percent of primary school teachers are stressed out to a significant degree. Teachers report feeling “emotional exhaustion” in addition to working long hours and carrying a heavy workload, which they attribute to a combination of trying to meet the emotional needs of their students while also feeling pressure to improve student outcomes despite not having the resources to do so.
Teachers in several states went on strike this year, mobilizing to demand better working conditions for their students. Data from several recent studies also assisted in determining why: The wages of teachers have declined by 2.3 percent (adjusted for inflation) during the last 20 years, while the earnings of other college graduates have climbed by 10.2 percent, resulting in a record salary difference. Despite the decreased salary, the average teacher spent $479 of their own money on classroom supplies in the last school year. And, while slightly less than half of the teachers are content with their pay, one in every five still feels the need to work a second job, which increases their income by an average of $5,100 per year, according to the survey.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FOCUSING ON BEHAVIOR
According to a large-scale study including 574,000 ninth graders, a student’s behavior is a considerably more accurate predictor of future achievement than test scores are. Teaching students to improve their behavior (as assessed by things like attendance and suspensions) was found to be ten times more effective in improving their students’ graduation rates and grade point averages than teaching students to improve only their academic performance on tests.