Archive for ‘research’

February 22, 2016

Myths in Education, or How Bad Teaching Is Encouraged

“Opinions don’t affect facts.

But facts should affect opinions, and do, if you are rational.” (Ricky Gervais)

I thought I would not have to blog about these fads again but it seems they have the strange ability to be reborn every single year and surface in professional development courses as well as in tweets, blog posts, and conversations within the education community. The reasons are different, ranging from ignorance to vested interests, but the effect is the same: poorer teaching. And no, you are not a bad teacher because you used them but you are a less effective one. We need to learn to dissociate our practice (which can have flaws) from our beliefs formed in the background of consistent bad professional development provided by schools.

Let’s see these monsters in their entire splendor:

  1. The Cone of Learning / The Learning Pyramid
  2. Learning Styles
  3. Right-Left Brain
  4. Brain Gym
  5. Brain-Based Learning
  6. Multiple Intelligences

The Learning Pyramid – a complete bogus

Where does it originate? Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience (1946) was an exclusively theoretical model for audio-visual media, it did NOT include any percentages, and Dale himself insisted that the classifications should NOT be regarded as “any sort of hierarchy or rank order”.

Where did the percentages come from? Don’t laugh. They were first published by an employee of Mobil Oil Company in 1967, writing in the magazine Film and Audio-Visual Communications. This employee, D.G. Threichler, provided NO evidence for the figures but the education community accepted the percentages nonetheless.

PicMonkey Collage

References:

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August 15, 2014

Gender, Math, and Achievement Gap

Jo Boaler’s article was interesting (Britain’s Maths Policy Simply Doesn’t Add Up) and prompted me to blog.  She shows concern about girls’ math achievement in Britain:

 “But when I sat with the PISA team recently, I was horrified to see that of 64 countries assessed, Britain has the biggest gender gap in ‘maths mindset’. Simply put, the data showed that British boys believe they can do well in maths; girls don’t.”

I was curious whether the claim was true and I checked PISA reports, summaries and Excel tables. She was right. Boys not only outperform girls in math but also have higher confidence and are more likely to pursue math-related careers. 

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August 7, 2014

Play, Cognition, and Learning

It is difficult, if not impossible, to shed any bias when the word “play” in relation to children comes up. We played as children and that conjures some of our best childhood memories. We cannot fathom a world where children are not allowed to play. Nor should we.

However, the question raised these days on Twitter is not whether play is important to children, but to what extend it aids development and learning, and whether play-based pedagogies are justified in early years.

For that reason, I won’t discuss play through anthropological, historical or cultural lens. I am linking David Whitebread’s paper (The Importance of Play) and invite you to read it. Play is “ubiquitous among humans, both as children and as adults, and children’s play is consistently supported by adults in all societies and cultures. Cultural attitudes, transmitted to the children predominantly through the behavior of their parents, affect how much play is encouraged and supported, to what age individuals are regarded as children who are expected to play, and the extent to which adults play with children.”

I will focus on a review by Lillard et al that was published two years ago (2012) –The Impact of Pretend Play on Children’s Development: A Review of the Evidence. I chose this one because the findings are in dissonance with what most people believe(d). We all hear how play is “crucial” for the development of creativity, for instance. Well, according to the evidence, it is not.

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March 2, 2014

Hattie, Strawman Fallacy and Gurus in Education

“He was impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance.” (Graham Greene)

Nothing is more annoying, and in certain cases more dangerous, than a pseudo-intellectual. You know, one that skims a brief article here, reads a little bit there, and then makes a “compelling” case against something. Worse is, however, when his or her blog post gets re-tweeted over and over again so that it becomes a mantra in education.

To me, this ultimately boils down to ethics. I understand your desire to change the status quo or to advance a certain view (value, belief, theory, or whatever you have in mind), and for sure this revolutionary intent and constant war against the current state of things is part of what we call “passion”. What I do not understand is the misuse of information in order to promote this change.

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This week I came across this blog post (Three Shockers from the Guardian) in which its author criticizes three articles – one related to collaborative learning, the second to problem-solving, and last to Hirsch’s developing of the Core Knowledge Program.  What I find most ironic is that the blogger is definitely *not* aware (dare I say not well-read?) about each of the points he attacks. He uses random quotes from Hattie’s work Visible Learning and cherry picks from the effect-size list only what would serve his intention. Moreover, he shows lack of reading of Hirsch’s work and brings a straw-man argument to engage in the debate. I would like to analyze his post as I find that more and more educators slowly fall back into accepting gurus in education they most relate to and discard little by little the qualities that make us critical thinkers. For that, you need to read widely. Secondly, you have to learn more viewpoints, to be literate in terms of learning theories and pedagogy, and to analyze a lot of research – including those that create cognitive conflict and disprove some of the beliefs you hold. Thirdly, examine your own philosophy of education and see where your biases lie.

Let us then start with Hattie.

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February 20, 2014

Always Evidence-Based Practice. Or Not?

I wrote about research here (Research and rule)  and here (Lies, damned lies and statistics) and I would like to draw attention to an interesting yet less questioned aspect of educational research: what are the limitations of evidence-based practices?

Phil Wood tweeted several articles and links (by the way, if you do not follow him you should) and I was intrigued about two in particular: “Why What ‘Works’ in Education Won’t Work” by Gert Biesta (Educational Theory, Vol. 57, 2007) and Using a Living Theory Methodology by Jack Whitehead (Educational Journal, 2008).

Biesta takes a critical look at the evidence-based practice rhetoric by analyzing the epistemology behind it, its role in shaping education policies and the relationships it creates within a democratic system.

“(…) evidence-based education seems to favor a technocratic model in which it is assumed that the only relevant research questions are questions about the effectiveness of educational means and techniques, forgetting, among other things, that
what counts as ‘‘effective’’ crucially depends on judgments about what is educationally desirable.”

Thus, “effectiveness” alone becomes the sole criterion for implementing a specific teaching method or strategy. Although apparently neutral (who would contest the need to use most effective strategies?), evidence-based practice does bear an implied assumption that teaching is, in fact, a simple cause-effect chain of teaching-learning experiences, and that the teacher’s work is simply to apply a particular intervention.

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February 9, 2014

Spelling Dosen’t Matter?

It is very likely that spelling wars will continue as they have for decades. That spelling matters… is a matter of perspective (and isn’t spelling such a nice way to play with language?…). Some claim spelling has become irrelevant. I much doubt that given the proliferation of social media platforms where writing is the main way of communication, but who am I to say? I am just a teacher and I still like my students to spell well. For a myriad of reasons.

Several approaches to teaching spelling were taken and if you wonder which one you should use I hope you will read about them all and make up your own mind. For far too long teacher autonomy and expertise have been undermined, and selection of practices has become a persuasion tactic or, worse, a war over what is “best”.

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Spelling is NOT arbitrary.

If the spelling of English words was based on a random variation then we would depend on rote and visual memorization alone – which is obviously not the case. It would take us perhaps a lifetime to memorize thousands of words – the sheer number of words in English language is paralyzing for anyone even dreaming of memorizing it. Patterns and connections can be found within any language system no matter how arbitrary it might seem on the surface (those who studied Linguistics like I did might have a good memory of Chomsky’s generative grammar or Halle’s generative phonology and their complex deep structures).

Researchers have estimated that the spellings of nearly 50% of the English words are predictable based on sound-letter correspondences that can be taught, and another 34% are predictable except for one sound.

“If other information such as word origin and word meaning are considered, only 4 percent of English words are truly irregular.” (Paul R. Hanna, Jean S. Hanna, Richard E. Hodges, and Edwin H. Rudolf, Jr., Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement, 1966).

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February 1, 2014

Engagement, Teaching and Bias

The cure for cynicism is simply to engage honestly. “ (Jeremy Paxman)

It is interesting how a single tweet can spark such controversy over a single word: “engagement”. Soon after I tweeted

“That is why I am suspicious of people who dismiss “engagement” in relation to school. That is part of your responsibility as a teacher. Students won’t learn just *because* you are an expert in your subject. Period. “

Tweet engagement

an avalanche of tweets, replies and threads of discussion – from my original point (“engagement”) to further related concepts (“expertise”) followed. People taking sides and soon being labeled as “traditional” or “progressive”, misapprehension of the word itself in relation to the school setting and gut-reactions based on personal experiences.

Two clarifications before I embark on the debate – they will come back in my post. I dislike intellectual laziness, and generalizations based on anecdotal evidence or teacher beliefs should be subject to scrutiny at all times, whatever the label you were given on social media.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     A. Causation is NOT correlation.

Not a single element in the teaching domain *causes* learning per se in disjunction with others.

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January 26, 2014

In Search of Good Research (2)

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” (Benjamin Disraeli or not, sic!)

       In his introduction to Reading Educational Research – How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered, Gerald W. Bracey states, “Misleading statistics abound. “ His entire book is an illustration of this claim, starting from the very chapter (Data, Their Uses and Their Abuses) to the final part (Testing: A Major Source of Data – and Maybe Child Abuse).

*As a side note, I loved reading in the Foreword about his struggle to expose statistics abuse for years as he demystified the politics behind many U.S. educational programs, institutions and policies (No Child Left Behind, NAEP – National Assessment for Educational Progress and more).  At the time of writing this book he was losing a part-time job at George Mason University because, as Jay Mathew remarked, “The school couldn’t take the heat that often follows Bracey in his scholarly travels.” – in other words, he was too direct in his approach to truth.

The book is full of examples that support the 32 Principles of Data Interpretation and guides the reader to a deeper understanding of how data is collected, presented and used. I will only selectively refer to some of them as I cannot obviously make a summary in a single blog post.

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Principle 1: Do the arithmetic

Failure in doing the math occurs mostly in examples that track changes in data over time.

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January 24, 2014

In Search of Good Research (part 1)

WARNING: I am a fan of slow reading so if you are looking for a brief inspiring blog post this is not it.

Research and rule.

Paraphrasing Caesar’s Divide et impera,  I would say that research has been perhaps one of the most powerful tools in shaping education systems and policies. As such, we owe it to ourselves to understand the research process better so as to go beyond the biased views we all hold and to question at all times everything we read under the category of “research” and/or “study”.

I happen to have finished three books on research (Research Methods in Education, Louis Cohen et al; Reading Educational Research, Gerald W. Bracey; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Methodology, Kerry E. Howell) and, more than 1,000 pages later, I am still left with one question. You will see it at the end of this post.

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