Category Archives: Live Chat Transcript

Live Chat – Making Learning Difficult #2 – Wednesday 13th June

ModSu: Good evening everyone – welcome to tonight’s chat which will start at 8pm. Do feel free to introduce yourself – say a little bit about your particular interests in education and research 🙂 

ModSu: I used to be a primary school teacher, and am now researching the relationship between global and local processing (looking at the whole or focussing on a part) and maths and science performance in primary school children.

Abena: I’m an international school teacher about to start the EdD program at Bath Uni (UK). I’m particularly interested in the application of Positive Psychology concepts to student wellbeing. And also interested in metacognition.

ModSu: Do you have any prep you have to do before starting your course? Not long now – you must be excited 🙂

Abena: I’m SUPER excited. Moodle opens in 3 days. In the meantime, Coursera has been amazing for studying research methods and psychology.

Efrat: Good Evening, I used to be a neuro-cognitive scientist, studied human memory, then decided to become a teacher, and I’m working to bridge science of learning with teaching and learning, working with teachers and students.

Abena: Hello again Efrat. I’d love to do what you do but in reverse!

Efrat: I love it that there is a space to work in between research and education, and I’m so happy to see many people approaching it from different directions. It is essential. 

Abena:  Indeed! 

Helena: Hello all. I am a lecturer in Psychology and teach research methods and open science. At the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

 

Abena: Do you find that teachers are receptive to applying research findings, especially around desirable difficulties?

Efrat: I’m actually inspired from what I see that is happening in the UK! As for my own experience – I have found that teachers are receptive, but the transition to application is much much harder. I think that teachers need to help students to overcome difficulties (that are desirable), but in the same time they(we) require some support to overcome our own difficulties (that are also desirable)

ModSu: Do you think teachers make use of some of the ‘desirable difficulties’ strategies like retrieval practice and the generation effect, even if they don’t know the research behind it?

Efrat: Yes. often teachers tell me that they are happy to learn about the research, because this is something that they were doing for years, but feel more confident now. And I’m also happy for the current “buzz” as more and more teachers are buying in.

 

Abena: How would one implement the generation effect in (for example) an English classroom? Is the generation effect inherent in ‘discovery’ learning or am I confusing the concepts?

ModSu: In case you were unfamiliar with the term – the generation effect is when students create their own answers or learning equipment (eg creating flashcards, or filling in missing words).

Efrat: About creating flash cards – I’d make sure student invest more time in using them than in preparing them.

Efrat: I think asking a series of short questions at the beginning of the lesson is great – targeting last lesson material. Let the students “generate” the review, instead of doing it for them.

Abena: You mean students generate the questions for each other?

Efrat: No, answers. Generating questions is higher level – I’d consider this activity for homework from time to time. Mid-lesson quizzing should be a routine in my view…. 

 

Abena: I’m struggling to see the difference between retrieval practice and the generation effect…don’t they both involve quizzing?

Michelle: I think of it as retrieval practice being about a taking a test (could be one that is created by others or by the learner) and generation is about learners creating (or generating) materials to help their learning. So the overlap would be when a learner generates their own quiz … in some ways that includes both retrieval practice and generation (with the balance between the two depending on the structure of the question).

Abena: OK. I thought it was about responding to cues to produce their own materials, rather than being told explicitly i.e. that they ‘worked it out’ for themselves.

Efrat: So generating is more about the activity, and retrieval is more about the cognitive process.

Helena: Further to this, both of these can involve quizzes or other activities. Generation involves more metacognitive processes than retrieval and so allows for deeper learning of material.

Abena: Thanks for the distinctions. I’ll look into it more.

Carolina: Helena has provided a good explanation regarding the underlying processes and the role metacognition plays. Maybe I can add that I had my Level 3 students generate questions as preparation for the revision session at the end of the semester…and I was very surprised by the quality of the questions. In fact, a few students even guessed my exam questions.

Abena:  I always do this before exams, especially when boards change the specs and practice questions are thin on the ground. I think it really does have a positive impact.

 

Abena: What are other ways to introduce desirable difficulties?

Helena: Desirable difficulty is anything where the answer is not readily available. For instance, researching and synthesising information but having to find resources, working in a group where everyone has different tasks, having problem or case-based learning.

Abena: I talk to my students about ‘mental sweat’ (not my wording but it works for teens) in relation to desirable difficulties. I find they seem to get it; appreciate that struggle is part of learning (at least they appreciate it more than before). I think the more we make these ideas explicit to our learners, the more useful the concepts are. Just like the transfer from researcher to teacher, we need to make sure the connection is there for students too.

Helena: Challenging things always stay with us for longer, and failure is a very good teacher.

Abena: I find students are less concerned about struggling once they realise it’s a part of learning. They are less afraid to make mistakes and the best thing – they ask more clarifying questions.

Helena: I think the issue comes when learning and assessment is confounded. Assessment requires success, but learning is most effective with struggle.

Abena: Yes! Great way of putting it.

ModSu: Really interesting point Helena.

Carolina: In one meeting, a lecturer in Life Sciences said: The problem with students nowadays is that they are afraid to fail and therefore stop trying. I think there is some truth in this.

Abena: Totally agree. Which is why conversations around learning are essential.

Helena: Desirable difficulties is about putting struggle into the learning process, but making it achievable. Or at least, having resources that make it possible.

Carolina: Yes, agree! The task needs to be challenging, but not impossible.

 

Michelle: Is any of this trend [increased application of research in teaching/learning] related to the increase in the important of ‘impact’ for research grant funding? In other words are researchers sharing more as well as teachers being interested?

ModSu: Interesting question. Is demonstrating impact something you’re more aware of in your own research? How do you go about showing impact?

Michelle: Ahh, so there are currently government evaluations of the impact of university research. They want to know that our findings are making a tangible difference. There is a lot of debate about this. And, how to measure it is really difficult.

Abena: What are the implications of the evaluations? 

Michelle: The most typical thing that I see from people in psychology would be to have a day-long workshop for teachers during a grant where findings are shared. But, this only fosters one-way communication from researchers to teachers. Without going into too much of the boring details, every 8 years or so we go through a big research evaluation in the UK. How a department does on research is linked to the funding how much government funding they get in the next 8 years. Impact was introduced in the last review. The next review is in a couple of years.

Abena: Maybe a good motivator to produce programs like the Institute for Effective Education.

Michelle: Yes – a good motivator. But as above, most people only do the one-way stuff. It takes initiative and committment to foster two-way conversations. And – those two way conversations are the ones that are going to be most meaningful.

ModSu: Definitely 🙂

Abena: But they (with the Education Endowment Foundation) directly manage research in the classroom, don’t they? I find their database of findings really easy to navigate and understand.

Michelle: Yes, they do. But there is a lot of research about learning that isn’t under the ‘education’ umbrella per se. So there are a lot of folks in cognitive neuroscience or cognitive psychology that rarely talk to teachers about learning. The term ‘desirable difficulties’ comes out of cognitive psychology and is was originally based on studies of memory in psychology labs with undergraduate research participants.

 

Michella: Abena, what is the most surprising research finding that you’ve found on EEF’s database?

Abena: I’m not sure. I’d say I am surprised sometimes at how ideas in education that are thought of as ‘true’ are often thrown into question by these studies. Ideas that seem intuitively true, but don’t have the evidence to support them…at least not yet. But I also think that’s why it’s great that research is ‘coming out of the shadows’ for teachers, so we can see clearly what we need to reconsider.

Michelle: I think that it’s important to be critical of both sorts of findings. Both those where there is evidence and those where there is not, because sometimes the things we think of as ‘true’ from an educational point of view are really difficult to measure. But – once we start getting an accumulation of evidence saying something that we thought of as ‘true’ might not be, then we probably have to let it go (even if painful!).

Abena: Michelle, what about you? Any surprising findings? Any research – not just from EEF. Have any of your personal ideas been debunked?

Michelle: Ooh that’s an excellent question. This is the problem with hindsight … we think we were right all along … so let me think of a good one… I suppose one idea is related to executive functions (EF). Not sure if you’ve heard of them. They include things like working memory and ignoring distractors, and other things like keeping our attention on things. When I talk about EFs and I describe the everyday skills related to them, I almost always get a question about if there are differences between boys and girls. And our stereotypical behaviours of boys and girls would suggest that there should be, so every time I do an EF study, I check for gender differences. And more than 95% of the time they are really close (and not statistically significant). Most folks don’t report gender differences. And when I ask other researchers they say something similar to me.

Abena: Interesting! And yes – somewhat unexpected.

ModSu: Carolina and Helena, has any research surprised you, or challenged your prior understanding?

Helena: For me it is learning styles. When I first started pedagogical research this was all the rage. However, it is now clear that learning styles are more a myth. People do have different preferences, but they still learn with different styles.

Abena: I still see this coming up in Professional Development at times and it worries me how slowly these things are picked up on.

Carolina: For me it is a recent findings that handwritten notes are better for later performance than slide annotations. I wrote a blog post about his here: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2018/5/31-1 

ModSu: Yes, I found that research really interesting 🙂

Abena: Ah, I saw that earlier this week. I wasn’t so surprised, I guess because of personal experience.

Michelle: A very nice blog Carolina. I saw it a few days ago as well. 🙂

 

ModSu: Thanks so much for the discussion this evening. Enjoy the rest of your week, and hope to see you at the next live chat! 🙂

Abena: Thank you all so much. Very interesting as always.

 

Posted on June 14, 2018 modsu in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Making Learning Difficult #1 – Thursday 7th June

ModKathryn: Good evening! Welcome to tonight’s live chat on making learning difficult

Carolina: Hello @all! Looking forward to this.

Michelle: Hello 🙂

ModKathryn: Could you tell us a little bit about your research?

Michelle: Sure – I do research on thinking and reasoning skills and how that affect learning, especially science. Most of my work includes executive functions (broadly defined) or causal reasoning

Carolina: My research focuses on learning and memory effects – such as the distributed practice effect – that enhance memory performance and that can be applied to educational settings. I’m also interested in the effects of sleep on memory.

ModKathryn: @Michelle interesting! Could you define executive functions for us?

Michelle: Not everyone agrees on a definition of executive functions (EF), but I like to think of them as the higher-order thinking skills that help us complete tasks. They include things like inhibitory control (ignoring distractors), working memory (holding things in mind while you work with them) and cognitive flexibility (seeing things in multiple ways or being able to switch between tasks). Broader definitions include things like meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) or self-regulation (keeping oneself on task).

Michelle: I got interested in desirable difficulties through my work in cognitive flexibility, or more specifically task switching, which overlaps a lot with the idea of interleaving learning

ModKathryn: @Carolina great! Is the distributed practice effect similar to spaced learning?

Carolina: Yes, it’s the same, but I prefer to use distributed practice as term.

ModKathryn: @Carolina ahh I see! So what is the distributed practice effect?

Carolina: In research we use the term distributed practice when we don’t want to distinguish between spacing effect (comparing a massed learning schedule with a non-massed one) and lag effect (comparing between lags of different nonzero lengths). Spacing effect = Massed versus some kind of spacing; Lag effect = short lags versus long lags between sessions; distributed practice = general term for both

ModKathryn: @Efrat Welcome! What are you working on?

Efrat: I work with teachers and lecturers, on translating research finding and implementing learning and teaching strategies

ModKathryn: All sounds really interesting and has lots of application to learning and the topic this week

Abena: I’m really grateful to have learned about spacing from sites such as this bringing research to teachers. Love cerego app for that reason. Has really helped me learn psychology concepts. Are there any others that can calculate practice in that way?

Carolina: @Abena What is cerego?

Abena: https://cerego.com/ – it calculates the spaces between presenting you with questions in sets of 25.

Carolina: @Abena Interesting. Will check this out. Thanks.

Abena: Increases the spacing over time until you hit mastery, when you revisit annually. Know of any other such apps or tools? Or even advice about scheduling to do it manually?

Michelle: @Abena – wow, I hadn’t realised that something like that existed.

Carolina: Does it cost anything?

Efrat: there’s anki….do you know it? is it similar?

Abena: Not for the students; students can create their own sets.

Michelle: @Abena – what subjects have you used it for? (does it work for all subjects/topics or just some?)

Abena: But I think Anki is without timings, right?

Abena: It works for discrete items that you can question and have simple answers. It (mostly) presents multiple choice tho sometimes gap fill. I use it for psychology as the instructors on my course (via Saylor Academy) created the sets.

Efrat: it has timing, depending on correctness, or you can decide

Abena: Maybe the reason I rejected Anki was the self-authoring necessary at the time. May use in the future.

Efrat: duolingo also works similarly for languages, and the details of the algorithm is indeed interesting. there is also @Smartick to teach kids math

Abena: Has anyone any practical steps / guides when it comes to implementing spaced practice or other memory-related approaches? Would love to hear more about task-switching e.g. time frames

Carolina: I think the most important step for implementing spaced practice is to do planning beforehand. To plan when you are going to revisit previously learned material. I think using an expanding learning schedule is a good idea for long-term maintenance of knowledge.

Abena: @Carolina Is there a recommended time structure for this?

Michelle: @Carolina – what role do you think the planning plays?

Carolina: Expanding schedule meaning that you start with shorter lags between study sessions and increase them over time. I have my students take out their calendars and determine when they are going to revisit material taught in lectures. To make sure they revisit material continuously and not wait until the last week before the exam. Plus, I try to use spaced retrieval by adding questions during a lecture that covers older material and have them make connections between the current lecture and one taught 3 weeks ago.

ModKathryn: Teachers – what do you find works best in your classroom?

Abena: I’ve seen a rise in popularity of ‘knowledge organisers’. MCS Brent school which is achieving amazing things academically uses them as the core of homework for self-quizzing.

Efrat: Another way is to give a short quiz at the begining of the lesson – with question going back e.g. last lesson, last week, last month etc… then decide when to re-test according to responses

Abena: Some helpful teachers have started compiling them for different subjects here: https://knowledgeorganisers.com

Carolina: That’s a great idea too. What is this exactly, @abena?

Efrat: I think that they teach students to quiz themselves using the knowledge organizers..?

Abena: KOs are (usually) 1-page summaries of the key concepts for a topic. The idea is teachers create them to distill the absolute core of a unit of study. That is what ss should remember long-term. MCS revisits the content between different years from Y7 right up to GCSE and beyond.

Carolina: Oh, just to say something about today’s topic \”making learning difficult\”: this can be misleading. You want to avoid making learning too difficult actually because this would undermine that students learn at all. What you want is to hit the sweet spot when it comes to difficulty..making the learning challenging, but not impossible.

Abena: @Carolina Isn’t it just another way of talking about the ZPD – challenge but not impossible?

Carolina: Yes, that’s a good connection actually, abena

Efrat: Yes, I think it is a similar idea in different terms

Abena: In terms of the spaced practice, I’ve come round to the idea of multiple-choice quizzes now. As results can be quantified, it makes tracking what students are remembering/forgetting much easier. The challenge is creating good MCQs. I think that’s where collaboration is really helpful.

Michelle: @Abena – are short answer questions any good in this regard?

Abena: @Michelle Absolutely. But looking at the AP exam (that uses MCQs) it is possible to have longer ones too.

Carolina: Good MCQs are those that require the student to retrieve additional information in order to select the correct answer.

Abena: @Carolina What do you mean by ‘additional info’ please?

Carolina: Meaning that the student is required to retrieve why the alternatives are wrong and why the correct answer is the right one

Abena: @Carolina So the need for good (plausible) distractors you mean?

Carolina: @Abena Exactly!

Abena: @Carolina Good tip! 🙂

Helena: Hello all, joined a bit late.

Helena: About the MCQ’s. Yes, writing good ones is very hard. However, I often use this as an exercise for students. During study, get them to generate the questions and answers. Also feedback. This needs a number of metacognitive skills. So revisiting them

Abena: @Helena I think getting ss to produce their own mats as often as possible is desirable. I can see how knowing WHY an answer is correct would be powerful.

Abena: @Helena Do you find their MCQs are good quality? It’s such a difficult task even for teachers…

Helena: The point is not the quality, but the process of having to research the different answers. However, students can vote for good questions, you could get them to work together to make the questions better. The best ones then make it to the next year’s class.

Abena: @Helena Love that idea. Can’t wait to try this all out when back in the classroom. And good point about ‘the point’.  A fantastic ever-growing resource. With focus on students working for themselves, rather than teacher. A real gift for lifelong learning.

Helena: Exactly, and also co-created so students feel part of the process and take control of their own learning

Abena: @Helena You sound like my dream co-teacher. Any jobs going at your place!? What is your background by the way?

Helena: Well the not learning does not happen, the activity of creating learning materials for other students is a great leveller. As teachers we are often the experts, but expertise is not easy to impart. It takes practice. With peers is better than without

Abena: Like anything, introducing concepts like spaced practice or interleaving are probably most effective when done schoolwide. Teachers are so overwhelmed. Having colleagues to work with on might improve likelihood of the practice becoming part of the school culture. I think that’s why MCS Brent have had such surprising success given their location and intake. A whole school approach.

Mededtutor83: Hi all, I come from a higher education background, and teach students who are early in their transition into university learning

Abena: @mededtutor83 – hi! Is your role to help them with the transition?

Mededtutor83: One of the challenges I’m finding is getting students to buy into changing their study habits

Abena: @mededtutor83 Yep. Cramming feels more ‘satisfying’ somehow than the slow plod of spaced learning.

Efrat: There are very good reasons why cramming feels better (it is easy, rewarding and it is working – short term). I think that in order to support students we must start application in the classroom

Mededtutor83: Yes and they’ve got into uni in part, for many, by having crammed for their a levels and it’s paid off and got them the results to get into the degree

Abena: @mededtutor83 My biggest regret was I ‘learned’ nothing til after uni cos of cramming tho passed everything.

Mededtutor83: But that doesn’t now work as well for their uni exams…and they re failing

Carolina: Cramming can be very effective indeed – in the short term

Abena: @mededtutor83 I admit this to my ss and they take it on board when they see my genuine regret & hear how hard I had to work to compensate.

Medtutor83: And not surprisingly it’s not sticking….so it has repercussions for each subsequent exam that always revisits earlier stuff

Abena: @mededtutor83 Issue with modular exams though…

Medtutor83: They don’t have modular exams, they have main exams, one at the end of a semester that’s integrated covering all topics/units they have learnt and these are revisited again a year later

Abena: @mededtutor83 good structure – unfortunately not like that in all depts / unis. And maybe not their experience from the old GCSEs / A Levels

Abena: @mededtutor83 Tough wake-up call when they find it doesn’t work. Isn’t that when they accept the ideas you’re trying to impart?

Medtutor83: @Abena you’d hope so, but for too many it still doesn’t dawn on them! I restructured my entire unit, so it was delivered to encourage Retrieval practice, interleaving, spacing by the way I introduced, reintroduced and spaced cover the course..and I talked to them explicitly about why I was doing that and how I wanted

Abena: @mededtutor83 I guess they learn the hard way (or don’t as the case may be!)

Medtutor83: Absolutely!

Abena: @Carolina What about sleep? Anything that’s not intuitive that teachers could make use of?

Carolina: Yes. there is evidence that sleep slows down forgetting after you have learned new information. This is particularly true for fragile knowledge that was just acquired

Abena: @Carolina Does it matter when the sleep happens? e.g. learn just before sleep or just make sure you get enough?

Carolina: During sleep newly acquired memories are consolidated leading to a strengthening in the memory. It works best if sleep comes right after learning

Abena: @Carolina Good to know. Thanks!

Abena: @Michelle What is ‘causal reasoning’?

Michelle: @Abena – great question. Not quite related to today’s topic. Basically there is a big area in psychology that looks at how we make sense of causes and effects. And, at some level what questions we ask to figure out causes. There is a lot of data to suggest that we have some really good skills in this area (even from a young age) but that some things are hard for us to do. One example of the hard one is that it is difficult for us to link a cause and effect if they take place far apart in time.

Abena: @Michelle Interesting. Sounds like it could get quite philosophical!

Michelle: @Abena – yes there is a big overlap between causal reasoning research in psychology and scholarship in philosophy

Helena: We also have a bias toward seeing causal connections when there are none, this can be problematic in learning new skills when the task is underspecified. For instance it if feedback on what a person did well is not clear, they try to reason this out to try again. For this reason it is as equally important to give feedback on what went well and what can be improved

Janet: I’m interested in how you can do spaced learning, causal learning, higher performance learning etc in a class of very different abilities – has anyone got any good software/ideas to use

Abena: @Janet Helena’s idea of getting them to produce their own revision materials would be good for mixed ability. Or doing collaboratively in m.a. groupings?

Janet: The problem is if someone needs to check the accuracy of the work or if more scaffolding/less scaffolding is needed. Making links is difficult for some students without a lot more help.

Abena: @Janet If they are in m.a. groups, the checking should be built in. But you can always keep an eye if using tech e.g. Google Docs – check in anytime and even as they work.

Helena: Group work and problem or case based learning can work well. For mixed ability classes. Having tasks that need multiple people to contribute gives the opportunity to share out tasks according to ability

Abena: @Janet And if you can encourage a culture of question-asking, it makes struggling students difficulties a resource for the team to identify what gaps others might have too. I mean that when ‘weaker’ students ask questions, those are obviously key ones to include in any revision material. You could also ask ss to write all the questions they don’t know answers to and then portion them out to pairs / teams to create quizzes (for example).

Janet: Great ideas, thanks. Any ideas of how can you build long term recall and consolidation into this?

Abena: @Janet Google Docs would be a great way to (anonymously) capture these questions. Or lo-tech, slips of paper in a box. Use the quizzes regularly as starters or fillers. Mix it up through the year. Or be more systematic about what gets reviewed when, depending on needs of students. Plus you never have to set homework again – revision is their homework.

ModKathryn: Thank you all for an interesting conversation! I’ve learned a lot!

Janet: Thanks for the chat

Abena: Thank you everyone. Great ideas shared and I look forward to putting them into practice.

Michelle: Thanks everyone. I’ve really enjoyed this session tonight. One more next week 🙂

Carolina: thanks to all.. this was great!

Helena: Thanks all. Good questions!

Posted on June 8, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live chat #2 – Mental health – Tuesday 22nd May

ModSu: Welcome everyone to tonight’s live chat. I’m Su, and I’m moderating this session. I’m a PhD student looking at global and local processing (whether people prefer looking at the whole or at details) and maths and science in primary school children.

ModAnnie: Just popping in to say hello! I’m another moderator, and my research investigates science and maths, so I don’t know much about mental health but am interested to find out more!

 

markoulideso17: I wonder if there are any studies about the impact of effective form tutors or community cohesion on managing stress?

ModSu: Great question – on managing stress of teachers or pupils, or both?

markoulideso17: Mainly managing stress of pupils.

Christina: I’m not aware of any studies specifically looking at form tutors or similar roles, but there is a lot of work supporting the importance of peer support and community cohesion in terms of management of stress and anxiety in students. And there’s work showing correlations between – for example – self-reported feelings of belonging to a group and peer inclusivity on overall well being

ModSu: I found this which might be an interesting read – https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/the-effective-form-tutor/

Christina: Thanks for the article! I think this is particularly poignant – “The role of the form tutor […] covers such topics as handling individuals, making and maintaining personal contact, monitoring progress”

markoulideso17: The role at my school next year includes having an overview of mental well being for students.

 

markoulideso17: I am wondering what practical things we can do in school to support the students. Of course, offering ‘mindfulness’ and ‘yoga’ sessions have come up from various teachers but I am not sure if that is the most effective thing to do.

Christina: Hm, that’s a broad one – particularly as I’m not a teacher myself.

markoulideso17: I had the idea of spending form times at the beginning of the year doing team building activities and also just fun games to try to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere within the form in the hope that this would then be the foundation of good relationships and cohesion between students and also between students and teachers. But I suppose I was wondering if there is any evidence that doing things like that actually help? At the moment it is just my thoughts and I am not sure I can justify to staff and SLT that we should play games unless it might actually work.

ModAnnie: Also, do you have any specific suggestions for how best to make students feel included? It seems like that is the kind of thing that happens naturally (or not) so I wonder how you can foster that.

Christina: I think that one important thing is to engage everyone equally, which might in turn help foster not only your relationship with the students but also may encourage stronger relationships among students. On that note – not my area of expertise at all – but I know that there is some research looking at the impact of drama therapy in managing stress and anxiety. Perhaps there might be a way to apply similar strategies in school settings. I’ll have a look for some papers now…

ModSu: My husband has been a form tutor and a head of year, and at his school they have trained some staff as ‘mental health first aiders’.

markoulides017: That sounds really interesting!! I’d love to know a bit more about how that works.

Christina: Mental health first aiders is a great idea! and definitely overlooked in many educational settings.

ModSu: I will try to find out, but I know a group of them completed the course, and then in a ‘train the trainers’ type of thing, they then pass on the learning to other staff members. This article might be of interest – https://www.tes.com/news/teachers-be-trained-mental-health-first-aiders .  It looks like there might be some funding available to cover the costs of training too? Possibly? https://www.gov.uk/government/news/secondary-school-staff-get-mental-health-first-aid-training

Christina: “Earlier this year, the prime minister announced that every secondary school in the country would be offered the training”. I certainly hope that’s true!!

ModSu: Yes – I don’t think it said how to go about organising the training, or reclaiming costs? But fingers crossed it is available to all… I wonder what equivalent there might be for primary schools?

markoulides017: …or for sixth form colleges… we only have A level students so we probably would not qualify.

ModSu: My husband’s school did a course through Mind. https://westkentmind.org.uk/training/mhfa

markoulides017: Brilliant thanks! 

 

Christina: I’ve just come across an (albeit relatively old) paper which is a bit off-topic but uses term “mental hygiene” to describe the importance of drama and play in education, which I quite like 🙂  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08929092.1995.10012469?journalCode=uytj20

ModSu: Have you used drama to support mental wellbeing?

Christina: I was involved in a project with the organisation Cardboard Citizens which used theatre as a way to teach students about the adolescent brain as well as to provide skills for what we call ‘metacognition’ – basically, the ability to ‘think about our thoughts’.

ModSu: Ooh interesting 🙂 Did you get much feedback about how the theatre may have changed the students’ understanding or way of thinking?

Christina: We collected some questionnaire measures in the schools where the play was performed – before and after they participated – to see whether engaging with the theatre program provided any new skills for regulating their thoughts/emotions. But unfortunately I think the data are still being analysed! So I can’t provide any hard facts just yet 🙂 I will say anecdotally that the students generally seemed really enthusiastic about participating. We got a ton of positive feedback from students themselves as well as from teachers who said that the students’ attitudes towards recognising emotions were improved.

markoulides017: That’s really interesting about drama, and actually quite relevant to our students – many of them do combinations such as biology, chemistry, maths so have no link to the performing arts. This means that they don’t have the opporutnity to develop public speaking etc and also the team building which comes with performing arts. And by the sounds of what you are saying there are loads of other benefits too.

Christina: Yes! A link I think is definitely lacking in many places! 

ModAnnie: I was also involved in the theatre project and wrote a short summary here https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/users/20788-annie-brookman-byrne/posts/12621-science-and-art-come-together-to-create-an-exciting-learning-experience-for-teenagers – I agree with Christina that students generally really enjoyed it, and hopefully the results of the evaluation will show that they understood more about the way their brains work.

Christina: Certainly – and for what it’s worth, because the play that was performed included a lot of ‘facts’ and science about the developing brain, we had a fair few students come up to us at the end asking about opportunities for further education in the sciences.

markoulides017: Did the students participate in the play or did they watch it?

ModAnnie: The exciting thing was that students watched it and then participated – they could take the place of a character to try to change how the scene played out.

 

markoulideso17: On a slightly different subject – I read something about ‘writing out’ in the mental health section of the website. I wondered if you have any articles or guidance on how to implement this effectively?

Christina: Hm, I’m not familiar with that – do you have a link to where you read about it?

markoulideso17: https://learning.imascientist.org.uk/mental-health/ It says: One intervention tool that requires no extra resources or costly training is the practice of ‘Writing out’. Drawing from research in clinical psychology, students (or teachers) spend ten or so minutes writing about their worries about a given subject or event (including examinations). Research suggests that for those who are highly anxious, this process might allow some reappraisal of the worry, and reduces anxiety. A short period of writing before examinations has been reported to be associated with increased performance for those who were highly anxious (but has no discernible effect for those who were not).

Christina: Interesting! I’m not familiar with that work, but it sounds like a lot of the strategies go hand in hand with things like mindfulness and cognitive reappraisal which have also been shown to be effective for emotion regulation. Basically, any engagement which gets people to acknowledge what’s stressing/bothering them and thinking about how to shift any negative thoughts surrounding that.

ModSu: This may have some further information – http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4276/030802213X13651610908452

ModAnnie: That page was written by Alice who is one of the featured scientists this week, so I’d recommend sending a direct question to Alice through the ‘Ask’ section of the website.

markoulideso17: Thanks for the link to the article! And thanks for pointing me in the direction of Alice. I will look into those things further. Sounds like it might be quite a powerful tool.

Christina: Obviously not in younger students, but here’s a paper looking at the effects of mindfulness strategies on coping with exam stress in medical students – I would imagine with the right guidance, similar effects might be seen in younger groups? https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1018700829825

markoulides017: Thanks, I will definitely have a read. In general is ‘cognitive reappraisal’ something I should look into for other ideas to help students manage the pressures of exams/school etc?

Christina: I think so! It’s a technique commonly used in clinical psychology practice and a central feature of things like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).

markoulides017: I have made myself a huge reading list from all your ideas! 🙂 Should keep me busy for a while!

ModSu: Hope the reading is all useful 🙂

markoulides017: I’m sure it will be! Thank you all very much for your help and ideas!

 

ModSu: We’re almost coming to the end of our chat tonight. It’s been really interesting – thank you everyone 🙂 If you have any further questions, do feel free to use the ‘ask’ part of the website.

Posted on May 23, 2018 modsu in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat Transcript – Mental Health #1 – Thursday 17th May

ModKathryn: Welcome to this weeks live chat on Mental Health. My name is Kathryn, I am a moderator for the learning zone and a first year PhD student :). Feel free to say hi and introduce yourself when you get here!

ModKathryn: Hi @Alice JB @Christina – what are you both working on at the moment?

Alice: I’m working with schools to think about mental health and challenging behaviour. I work with a couple of SEMH schools on their behaviour strategies.

Christina: I just started a post doc fellowship at UCL – looking at biological+environmental factors that influence resilience in adolescence

ModKathryn: @Alice JB sounds interesting! What is a SEMH school?

Alice: I’ve also just finished a project with Mind looking at the outcomes of a school-based, peer-led intervention on resilience/mental health promotion called Mindkit.

ModKathryn: @Christina great congratulations! how do you measure biological and environmental factors?

Alice: SEMH is the newest term for what used to be Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties – it’s now Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties/needs. A sensible enough change.

Christina: I’m currently working with a dataset that was collected in the States that has measures of brain imaging, genetics, clinical assessments and questionnaire measures completed by young people and carers

Alice: Sounds interesting @christina – what sort of questions are you asking?

ModKathryn: @Alice JB that sounds great – what did you find? did you find the students were receptive and benefited from it?

ModKathryn: @Christina ah great so you have lots of data to work with!

Christina: lots of data indeed 🙂 at the moment we’re looking at how exposure to stress interacts with biological (genes+brain) predisposition to influence the onset of mental health problems

Alice: Yes, the fact that other young people with their own experience of mental health challenges were talking candidly really captured attention. I think it was far more powerful than a teacher or other MH professional giving the same information. Some of the feedback we got was really important though – students saying that they were relieved to find that other people felt like them – they thought that they were the only ones. There were also really important benefits for the young people who were trained to provide the school sessions. All round – a cost effective, but important addition to the MH information resource base for schools.

ModKathryn: @Alice JB sounds like it was very valuable initiative – and potentially one that could be rolled out on a larger scale?

Alice: Yes – with funding (relatively modest) I think it could easily be rolled out.

ModKathryn: @Christina is that delving into the realm of epigenetics?

Christina: a bit! though were more looking at how stress can interact with pre-existing factors – e.g. gene x environment correlations (as opposed to how it can actually impact gene expression). But both approaches are valuable!

Catherine W: Hi – I’m interested in links between brain and mental health – what are the structural/functional brain changes you might expect to see with mental health issues?

Christina: good question! it really depends on the specific question you’re looking at – for example, there’s evidence to suggest that childhood maltreatment or presence of developmental disorders like autism or ADHD may result in abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex, the front-most part of our brains that is important for goal-directed behaviour (and lots of other functions!)

ModKathryn: @all it also is difficult to work out the causal relationship as well right? do the abnormalities arise from mental health issues or do the mental health issues arise from abnormalities – very difficult question to answer in research. However I imagine @Christina your work on predispositions is aiming to investigate those questions

Christina: yes, absolutely – it’s a very tough question to answer

Alice: @Catherine W It’s likely that mental health issues will also impact on the way that children are able to manage work in the classroom. There is some work on maltreatment and hippocampus size for example, and this might impact on abilities relating to memory.

Catherine W: Yes I guess not a straightforward question to answer. Fit to Study, where I work, is looking at whether mental health might mediate relationships between physical activity and academic attainment. (Or whether cognitive function mediates that relationship)

Christina: I think the best tools we have to look at that right now are longitudinal studies, where a group of people are followed from a young age (ideally birth) through development

Alice: There are interesting relationships between physical activity and cognitive functions, so it makes sense to explore that

ModKathryn: @Catherine W could you tell us a bit more about Fit to Study?

Catherine W: Yes! It is a randomised controlled trial that is investigating the impact of physical activity during secondary school PE on academic attainment. We are also looking at whether cognitive function and/or mental health mediate that relationship. Obviously lots of other things to take into account like gender, socio-economic status – in 100 schools.

Alice: Sounds brilliant – does it increase the amount of activity done in a day? (during school hours?)

Christina: 100 schools – wow!

ModKathryn: @Catherine W thats awesome! what stage are you at in the trial?

Catherine W: We are mid-intervention and trying to keep control schools blind to the intervention so I have strict instructions not to disclose what we are actually doing! Hopefully protocol published shortly so all will be revealed… The intervention ends at the end of the school year

ModKathryn: So exciting! best of luck with the rest of the trial. Will look out for the findings!

Christina: looking forward to seeing the outcome!

ModKathryn: @all whats the most interesting thing you found out this week?

Alice: This week, I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of greenspace – not only for mental health, but also cognitive function

Christina: interesting, what is there out there about cognitive function?

Alice: This is quite a nice paper: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/26/7937.full

ModKathryn: @Alice JB thats so funny as I also have… I saw some research on ecological therapy which seems to be based around outdoor activities. I was organising a mental health themed meeting for PhD students – we ended up going for a walk around regents park in our lunch break :).

Alice: Gregory Bratman at Stanford also does some interesting work on this. I think it’s really important – and the putative link with air pollution interests me.

ModKathryn: @Alice JB thanks will look into it! I guess that kind of thing would have quite important implications for inner city schools… we may have to start facilitating more green space trips

Christina: Really interesting – and I imagine especially important in urban cities like London

Alice: Kathryn – sounds great. Forest Schools for PhD students? 😉

ModKathryn: @Alice JB I would LOVE that! PhD students need sunlight too!

Alice: haha. I remember mine – there wasn’t much daylight in my sad little office.

Christina: definitely too true for too many!

ModKathryn: Its been great to chat to you all 🙂 thanks for telling us more about your research

Christina: Thanks for the lovely chat! good luck with your research!

Alice: Thanks Kathryn – nice to meet you both

ModKathryn: Great to meet you too! Look forward to seeing you in the next live chat

Posted on May 18, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Mindsets and metacognition #2 – Tuesday 8th May

ModSu: Good evening everyone – I hope you all had a very enjoyable, sunny, bank holiday weekend 🙂 We will start our live chat shortly – as you join the chat, do feel free to introduce yourself. I’m Su, and I’m currently studying for a PhD at UCL IoE, looking at global and local processing (looking at the whole or the details) and their relationships with science and maths in primary age children.

ehjcanford: Hi! I’m Ed Johnson and I teach Biology

isabel garcia barrera: Hello, I’m Isabel, a Science teacher.

nuno-nuno: Hi, I’m a psychologist.

 

ehjcanford: Regarding this evening’s chat I am most interested in the concept of teaching metacognition: Is this even possible, what are the best ways…?

David: Hi, Ed. Yes, teaching metacognition is eminently possible at all ages and there is a considerable body of research at secondary school level. The EEF has just brought out a set of guidance as to how to teach it.

ModSu: Here is a link you may find useful – https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning There’s a pictorial summary of the document on Twitter, but I can’t quickly find a direct link. If you’re on Twitter, have a look at the EEF feed, as they have shared it there.

David: Thanks, Su, you beat me to it – I was just looking this up. I worked on the advisory panel that drew this up and you will find a very full bibliography of useful references.

ehjcanford: Hi, yes, I have read that. I haven’t had a chance to look up the references yet, but I certainly will.

ModSu: Did you find it useful?

ehjcanford: Yes I did!

 

ehjcanford:  Is there anything you can recommend to read or look at regarding teaching metacognition?

David: You might also be interested to read Charlotte Dignath’s review of interventions designed to teach metacognition at primary and secondary level. It’s now 10 years out of date but still covers the main points, I think. Here is the link: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Charlotte_Dignath/publication/225530007_Components_of_fostering_self-regulated_learning_among_students_A_meta-analysis_on_intervention_studies_at_primary_and_secondary_school_level/links/57f60e3808ae886b8980f485/Components-of-fostering-self-regulated-learning-among-students-A-meta-analysis-on-intervention-studies-at-primary-and-secondary-school-level.pdf  

ehjcanford: Great, thanks David.

ModSu: I don’t know if this might be a useful read? http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/3/30-1 

ehjcanford: I like the blog: thanks!

ModSu: And I spotted this blog the other day from one of the research schools – https://durrington.researchschool.org.uk/2017/10/30/thinking-about-metacognition/ 

 

ModSu: From a classroom perspective, what do you find most challenging when encouraging students to think about thinking?

ehjcanford: 1. that here is already a massive range so some students already do this very well and can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t right down to other students who are very poor at this. 2. the some students have very ingrained ideas already about how they think they learn best….and their own “ability” “attainment” “potential” or whatever you would like to call it.

David: Well, it is important to create the right atmosphere in the class. Often, by the time they reach secondary school, children have been socialised to expect that there is a ‘right’ answer and their job is to find it by following the instructions given to them by the teacher, who knows the answer. To foster metacognition, you have to engage children in more open ended enquiries and focus more on the processes and straegies they use rather than whether they get the right answer. This is especially true in maths and science, which tend to be taught in a very closed way.

ehjcanford: I think maybe I have been trying to be too explicit at times when discussing ideas abut metacognition rather than trying to integrate it more subtly.

David: Yes, this problem gets worse the further through the education system thay have gone. This is why I focus most of my own research on early childhood education, when it is easier to set children off on the right track. However, there are impressive interventions at secondary school level.

 

ModSu: David, do you know of any specific intervention examples at secondary level?

David: Secondary education is not my area, I’m afraid, so could not recommend any specific interventions. However, the EEF report is quite secondary orientated, so you will find a lot of useful guidance there. I understasnd that, on the advice of the advisory panel, EEF are planning to provide follow up training opportunities. You should all definitely sign up for these.

ehjcanford: How do you sign up?

David: You can contact EEF via their website: here is the link : https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/about/contact/ 

 

ModSu: David, when you work with younger age groups, how do you foster metacognition – particularly in science and maths?

David: Thanks. I have written a huge amount on this – see my bibliography at: http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/people/staff/whitebread/ I would particularly recommend Whitebread, D. & Coltman, P. (2017). Developing young children as self-regulated learners. In J. Moyles, J. Georgeson & J. Payler (Eds) Beginning Teaching: Beginning Learning: In Early Years and Primary Education, 5th Ed. London: Open University Press/McGraw Hill. Whitebread, D. (Ed.) (2016). Self-regulation. Early Education Journal, 80 (Autumn) is also well worth a look for specific intervention with young children

 

ModSu: Out of interest, those who work in schools, is there much of a school-level focus on ‘growth mindsets’, and what does that mean in practice for teaching and learning?

ehjcanford: It is certainly very “on trend” at our school. We have talked about the concept at INSET, and there have been a couple of assemblies about it. Some teachers have embraced it, however in practical terms for actal teaching practise I’m not sure much has changed.

ModSu: Thanks – my husband’s school also an INSET presentation, and having been a primary school teacher, I was just curious about different schools’ approach / interest 🙂

 

ModSu: nuno-nuno, what sort of psychology are you involved with? Are you studying, researching, or something completely different?

nuno-nuno: Psychology of education – researching.

ModSu: Definitely an interesting subject!

David: Yes, and crucially important if we want children to develop so-called 21st century skills – problem-solving, creativity, team-working etc.

 

ModSu: Thank you all for joining in the live chat tonight. If there are any questions you would like to ask more generally to any of the scientists on the learning zone, you can use the ‘ask’ tab at any time. The next live chat will be next Thursday – hope you have a lovely week! Thanks.

 

Posted on May 9, 2018 modsu in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Mindsets and metacognition #1 – Thursday 3rd May

ModKathryn: Hello everyone! Welcome to tonight’s live chat on mindset and metacognition. We’re due to start at 8pm, feel free to say hello and introduce yourself once you arrive :). My name is Kathryn, I am a PhD student at UCL Institute of Education and I am a moderator for the Learning Zone

Liana: Hi, my name is Liana.  I’m a secondary science teacher in New City, NY, USA

ModKathryn: Welcome Liana! Great for you to join us

Abena: Evening all. Abena (Eng teacher, psych student) joining from Northern Ireland.

ModKathryn: Hi Abena! Welcome

Abena: Thanks @modkathryn – what’s your PhD focused on?

ModKathryn: I am looking at the development of mental imagery – also known as seeing with the minds eye. Looking at the way children create mental images, how they use them and how that relates to other cognitive skills like attention

Anna: Hello, I’m Anna, a PhD student at the University of Surrey.

Abena: @modkathryn Interesting! Hi Anna – what’s your PhD about?

Anna: I’m looking into the precursors of creativity – specifically whether a certain attention type is linked to creativity in children as it (very strongly) is in adults

Patricia: Hi Patricia here. Principal at Fetlar Primary its an island school in Shetland in the UK. I am interested in the impact of learning outdoors on the neural pathways

ModKathryn: @Anna that sounds really interesting – what kind of creativity measures do you use? And which attention type are you looking into?

Abena: Wow. The Shetlands. Must be beautiful and with a very different learning culture from the mainland.

Abena: @Anna – maybe off topic, but have you any links to that? (creativity linked to attention types in adults)

Anna: @Abena This is probably a good start to the topic https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-handbook-of-the-neuroscience-of-creativity/attention-and-creativity/BEF1429FEE646E1C5C60A1EFB2FB65F2

David: This all looks very interesting. My name is David and I did my PhD a very long time ago looking at the skills and dispositions that support problem solving in 5-10 year olds. Metacognition turned out to be the strongest predictor!

Anna: @modkathryn – haha! To be honest that was what I was initially supposed to be working on as there just aren’t any terribly good ones for children – but then I got completely hooked on attention and perception and there just isn’t enough time to cover both. However, for now I’m going to use a short form of the Inventory of Creative Activities and Achievements as a measure of creative achievement, and the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking as a measure of Divergent Thinking (not the greatest, I know)

Patricia: Sorry bear with me as a practitioner at the coal face so to speak I’m unfamiliar with the term attention type can you help?

Patricia: I’m very willing to find out how to maximise childrens enjoyment of learning (thereby increasing capacity for learning) by understanding their brain workings

Anna: If you’ll forgive a very broad brush approach – we tend to divide attention up into early and late attention. So late attention tends to be the one you learn to control by developing strong executive function skills

Patricia: So executive function skills are?

Yvonne: Executive function skills are skills which help us to manage ourselves and our time, e.g. being able to pay attention and ignore distractions

Gertzerl17: How universal is having the ability to create mental images?  I have only met one person who said she was unable to form them (an English teacher who hated reading for that reason, oddly)

ModKathryn: @gertzerl17 Great question! The ability to create mental images is actually really hard to measure because it is unobservable and private in nature. There is variability in how often people rely on mental images in their strategies – some use visual imagery more than others to solve problems. There is actually a group of individuals recently termed aphantasics that claim to not be able to create mental images – sounds like your friend may come into this category!

Gertzel17: Do aphantasics dream?

ModKathryn: @gertzel17 thats a very interesting point… I dont actually know. I am assuming they dream but its based on language-like thought rather than visual thought. But I will look into it and send you an email!

*** I have since looked into this and a recent study found that most individuals who report not being able to create mental images, for example when reading a book, still experience involuntary imagery occasionally in dreams and wakefulness, usually in the form of flashes. So it seems that there may be a distinction between voluntary imagery, that you might conjure up when reading a book or planning a route, and involuntary imagery that might appear when you’re asleep or daydreaming. Here is the link to the paper: https://ac-els-cdn-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/S0010945215001781/1-s2.0-S0010945215001781-main.pdf?_tid=3523263a-fa8d-4ae8-a2bb-e26da1675674&acdnat=1525425289_e63aa20e730b2a529980f97498ec728f

Gertzerl17: @modkathryn Thank you!

Anna: @modkathryn I have to say I was retreating into mental imagery in the dentist’s chair today! It stopped me panicking

David: Creativity is still a very nebulous concept in the literature. Personally, I like the work of Ronald Finke et al on Creative Cognition. They say a lot about mental imagery. In their book Creatrive Cognition (1992) – now quite old but as yet unsurpassed, I think- they look at creative visualisation, invention, and so on and provide a very useful framework

Patricia: One thing that has always flummoxed me ate the children who have ideas but absolutely get stuck at the transferring of those ideas into words on paper when writing. What happens in this case with this apparent disconnect?

Yvonne: Skills in writing are really different to speaking skills. When you are in a conversation, you have the facial expressions, questions etc of the partner to help you to understand if you are making sense. However, when you write you need to internalise all these processes, which can be a challenge for novice writers

Gertzel17: patricia1961 I find that many students are very concerned about “sounding right” more than being right. They get the rhythm right, but write nonsensically.

David: I believe there is some evidence that children with autism may use visual memory more than verbal, which is seen in typically developing populations

Anna: Early attention is often pre-conscious and not under our control. I’m looking at what some people call ‘leaky’ early attention. One way this shows itself is that whereas most people would have automatically learnt to ignore something irrelevant, there are other people who don’t shut it out but continue to pay attention to it

Gertzel17: I’ve been trying to use xkcd’s Simple Writer https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/ to make students focus on the science, not the language.

Paula: I have a child who has fantastic ability to see things in his head and will make complicated working models but when asked to describe the idea struggles and when asked to put it on paper completely fails.

Patricia: @gertzerl17 thanks now i think about it most of these children are slightly nervous and a little withdrawn in general. They invariably contribute minimally to classroom discussion possibly being fearful of ‘risk-taking’

Anna: @paula One idea might be to get him to ‘think aloud’ as he works – so he starts to think a bit more verbally about what he is doing during the process itself

Paula: Yes, makes sense. specific teaching to unpack his thought process, could be a challenge!

Anna: @patricia1961 He may also need some more examples of how to express visual thought – he sounds as though he is very advanced in this respect but it may not be obvious to him how to link the two together

Patricia: @paula that sounds like the kids I’m talking about. They are usually engaged and enthused when ‘doing’ the practical but cant seem to relate that enthusiasm to any conventional recording which they cannot avoid in the end.

Patricia: @Anna thanks this makes sense.

Gertzerl17: Thank you everyone, I have to go. I look forward to reading the transcript!

Patricia: @Anna are there some strategies you could recommend for this?

David: Thanks, Yvonne for raising the executive function aspect of all this. In the classic Miyake et al (2000) paper, a now well established model of the early key mental processes that form the basis of all mental processing was set out – inhibitory control (being able to stop yourself doing the obvious or so-called prepotent thing, and deliberately doing something else) mental set shifting ( being able to shift you attention) and working memory ( or keeping track of where you are up to with any mental task). Working memory problems are most commonly associated with early difficulties with school type tasks, including reading and writing. Researchers such as Susan Gathercole have written a lot on how to support children with various difficulties in these areas.

David: Children who struggle with representing their ideas in drawing or writing can also be helped by working in a pair with a child who perhaps doesn’t have such brilliant ideas, but who is a very competent speaker and writer. In my experience, children can often help other children in this way much more effectively than any adult. A whole range of studies have shown the power of collaborative group working to help children develop their verbal communication and writing skills. Neil Mercer’s work on the value of stimulating ‘exploratory talk’ between children is well worth looking at

Paula: That’s where we have been David but not working out too well- too much frustration about not being understood. I have a look at the reading recommended.

Patricia: @David thank you. These children worry me a lot when i come across them. My methods tend to have been gentle encouragement and helping them recap their understanding of the task verbally but even then it requires a lot of time and hand holding.

Yvonne: Paula and Patricia, do you usually have the students working in pairs or small groups?

Paula: No not usually, but some of the time yes. And Anna yes, that fear of being wrong stops very capable children of speaking out and means that they can’t ask the questions they need to.

Anna: @patricia1961 Fear of failure or being wrong, or looking silly can be so crippling for some children that it can be completely incapacitating. It’s obviously very difficult in a classroom situation where you are bound to have children with such varying experiences and different levels of self esteem. But I think the best things you can do are maybe to instigate sessions which are ‘creative’ or ‘play’ where you make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers, and that the aim is to experiment and eg find some ways that DON’T work? If you are in an environment where there is often only one ‘right’ answer it’s asking quite a lot of a not very confident child to risk being ‘wrong’ if that makes sense?

Anna: @patricia1961 Here’s a link to the study https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263286614_Classroom_contexts_for_creativity

Yvonne: I agree Anna, it is important to create a climate where children feel like they can safely make mistakes. I met a teacher in the USA once who called herself the ‘oops queen’ and she drew attention to mistakes that children had made and focussed on the ‘good’ thinking behind them to explain the mistake. She thought this really helped students to see that mistakes were part of learning and created a climate where children could fail happily. I am not sure this would work in all classrooms, but even modelling making and correcting mistakes yourself can be helpful

David: Yes, of course, Paula and Patricia, a lot of patience is required when working with such children, but over the course of a school year, usually progress cam be made and once a child starts to gain confidence then it may well take off

David: Absolutely Anna and Yvonne, totally agree about the value of the teacher making mistakes and sharing them with the children; I used to do this a lot when I taught; it made the children laugh and clearly improved their willingness to take risks – so important!

Patricia: @Yvonne I have used talk partners for years but more recently in the last 5 years started to use near ability pairings with at least one child who can articulate the pairs joint ideas.

Yvonne: Pairs can be useful, as children who struggle with expressing themselves can get ‘lost’ in larger groups

Patricia: @Anna thanks for help with the link. I now work in an island school with 4 pupils I have the time to spend feeling my way round each child’s individual learning styles and needs. It feels so good to be this free

Yvonne: Patricia that sounds great, you must really be able to work closely with the students and their needs and preferences

Anna: @Yvonne @paula It’s obviously difficult because there is so much that has to be covered in school where there really has to be a right or wrong answer – but I think you are absolutely right that it’s very important how ‘wrong’ answers are handled.

Anna: @patricia1961 Lucky them! How wonderful!

Patricia: @Yvonne absolutely and they dont get frustrated waiting for me to get back to them when they need help because they know they dont have to wait for long

Paula: sounds amazing

Abena: @David You have SO many interesting articles! And the LEGO project sounds very interesting too. Lots to delve into there

David: Sounds wonderful, Patricia! On the pair working point, I have carried out a number of studies with 5-10 year olds working in mixed ability groups of 3, and it has worked well where the task is open-ended and playful, with no ‘right’ answer. There is some useful work on Positioning Theory which looks at the roles individuals take in a group, and the most successful collaborative groups are those within which the roles vary depending on the task i.e. are the most democratic.

Patricia: @Anna they’re also much more tolerant of different strategies being used within the class because they know each of them have differing ways of ‘tapping in’

Patricia: @David yes i try to vary role types so they get a range of skill experiences and don’t just develop.more in their naturally favoured skill area.

Anna: @patricia1961 That’s great – as it then becomes much more about them learning about how they learn best, rather than someone feeling they are the one who needs extra support…

Yvonne: That’s interesting David. We have done some work as well, where pairs of boys and pairs of girls worked on science tasks over a week. We found that working together improved boys’ science knowledge but not girls’. When we went back to use the videos to investigate this, we found it was because the girls had very positive conversations where they agreed with each other. In contrast, boys disagreed a lot and we think these disagreements are what helped their learning.

Paula: That’s interesting Yvonne- I can relate to that. What about boy girl pairings?

Yvonne: Paula, we did not have boy/girl pairs as we only used single gender ones. Though I think there is some work suggesting that boys tend to be more assertive than girls in their interaction styles.

David: Interesting point about disagreements leading to learning. You might like to look up Christine Howe’s work on the importance of disagreements in secondary science learning, and of the teacher not telling the class the correct answer. Her results suggest that when a problem or question is not resolved in the class, the children’s learning and understanding is enhanced.

Patricia: Thanks everyone. How do I get a copy of the transcript?

ModKathryn: @patricia1961 the transcript is posted on the website the next day under the “Chat” tab 🙂

David: Thanks, Abena, happy reading! You might be particularly on work we have done recently on the role of play in supporting children as writers. We used collaborative, mixed ability groups of three for that project. If you go onto the PEDAL Research Centre website you will find a couple of videos on this.

Abena: @David Great – will follow up!

ModKathryn: Thank you all for a really interesting discussion! Theres still 5 minutes left, but if you have any other questions please feel free to ask via the “Ask” on the website, at any time with a question on any topic 🙂

Patricia: @Anna thanks good food for thought and links! Night all

Yvonne: And here is the link to our paper https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/files/25305875/CD_Gender_and_Science_Final_Accepted.pdf

Paula: Thank you all

Yvonne: Thanks for the discussion!

David: Thanks, everyone, this has been a very interesting and enjoyable hour!

Anna: It’s been a pleasure talking to you all. Looking forward to next week and many thanks to everyone for all the new ideas!

Abena: Thanks everyone. Interesting discussion with lots to follow up on. Good evening.

David: Yes, next week we should meet in the Shetlands!

Anna: @David If only…

ModKathryn: Hopefully see you all in the next chat!

Posted on May 4, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Factors Affecting Learning #2 – Tuesday 24th April

ModKathryn: Hello everyone! Welcome to this evenings live chat on Factors Affecting Learning. My name is Kathryn and I am a moderator on the Learning Zone. Researchers and teachers – do say hello when you log on.

ModKathryn: While we wait for others to join, @Jessica and @Anne could you tell us a bit about your research? @Abena would you also like to introduce yourself and tell us what you’re interested in?

Jessica: Sure. My research is all about how children learn to remember what words mean. I use both storybooks and toys to explore how things like repetition, clutter, sleep, etc. influence learning.

Abena: I’m a secondary teacher (mostly international schools) and starting an MSc conversion course in Psychology in September. Fascinated by learning and memory.

Anne: I am examining the effects of physical activity on children’s academic achievement. We also look at changes in their brain to see whether we can explain possible improvements in academic achievement.

Abena: @Jessica – how far into your research are you? Any findings yet?

Jessica: @Abena: yes, several findings but the kids I test are much younger than secondary school. A few of my studies have shown that reading the same stories multiple times really helps in learning words.

Anne: Sounds very interesting Jessica, I’m curious about the results! How old are the children that participate in your studies?

Jessica: Thanks, @Anne. Most of my studies are with kids in the EYFS, mainly 3-4. Especially for kids in that range reading before sleep/bedtime is helpful, repeating stories is helpful, having less in their visual field when they hear new words too.

ModKathryn: Fascinating! @Jessica – is that because children are less distracted with less in the visual field when learning new words?

Victoria: Hi Abena, great to hear about your course! Which aspects of learning and memory are of particular interest to you?

Abena: @Victoria-everything! I’m particularly interested in long-term retention methods, and the use of techniques such as loci and mnemonics.

ModKathryn: Thats interesting @Anne – do you measure changes in brain activity pre and post exercise?

Anne: We have some preliminary findings suggesting that increasing the amount of physical education classes is especially beneficial for students with the lowest academic achievement, but I am still very busy with analysis

Abena: @Anne – you mean ‘beneficial’ in terms of academic performance?

Anne: Yes sorry, we mainly find positive effects on academic achievement of those students

Jessica: @Anne I think I remember seeing a blog post in the last year or two of some classroom where kids had special pedals or things under their tables so they could keep moving, which was suposed to help them concentrate. I’m not sure it is works like that.

Jessica: @modkathryn, yes. Kids (at least little ones!) struggle with not paying attention to things they don’t need to know. They take everything in! Sometimes that’s not the best strategy. So, having less to get distracted by really helps.

Anne: @Jessica Does it also help when children see the pictures that go with the stories that they’re being read? Or is that distracting too?

Jessica: @Anne, pictures are helpful. They can be distracting if there are too many though. My lab published a study last year showing that just getting one illustration at a time helps (like the early ORT books). I didn’t know about the ORT books when I started. I discovered those as we were running the study when my son started reception! I’m sure that’s part of why those early ORT books are so good. And phonics, but that’s not my precise area.

Louise: Hi It’s Louise here – I’m hoping people out there have questions about nutrition and cognition especially whether breakfast is good for performance

Jessica: @Louise: is breakfast good for performance? Really? (I usually skip it myself 🙁 )

Abena: @Jessica-I remember a school I worked at in Liverpool arranging GCSE exam breakfasts cos they were sure it had an impact.

Victoria: @Louise, I was really pleased to see this piece of work by the Education Endowment Foundation on breakfast! https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/magic-breakfast

Louise: Yes I think that the evidence that performance is better after having breakfast than skipping breakfast for cognitive function is pretty strong. It’s hard to prescribe the “”best”” breakfast though so I would always say that something is better than nothing.

Abena: @Victoria. Interesting report. I wonder about the element of community-building that breakfasts would have and whether that is another explanation.

Victoria: @Abena, yes I read a study a little while ago that suggested exactly that, let me see if I can find it…

Jessica: @Louise, that’s helpful. I wonder if there are aging effects (beyond the point of this discussion), but I know several adults who claim to not be hungry in the morning.

Louise: In older adults, appetite may decrease  – but we are talking very old  – most people in the UK are now overweight – which at extremes is also not good for cognitive performance. I’m worried that the poor glucose regulation of pverwight and obese kids is also bad for their performance because although glucose is the main fuel for the brain, it is carefully regulated

ModKathryn: @louise what kind of measures do you use to measure nutrition and cognition?

Louise: Most studies use objective measures (paper and pencil or computer based tests) of learning and memory and are lab or classroom based.

Louise: We have published quite a few systematic reviews of the effects of breakfast on performance and the one which is most relevant here examined both academic outcomes and behaviour in the classroom. This can be downloaded here http://www.frontiersin.org/Human_Neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425/full#h1. But most of the studies have been done on younger kids – very few on adolescents and these are the ones most likelt to skip BF

Anne: @Louise What explanations are given for the impact of eating breakfast on cognitive function?

Abena: I’d be very interested to see some investigations into effects of different types of foods too, maybe even across different age groups.

ModKathryn: Do studies include health measures too? I was just thinking in terms of Abena’s question about community, maybe there are some studies that can distinguish between the health effects that are influencing academic achievement and the community effects influencing achievement… although I imagine that would be difficult to carry out!

Louise: The other problem is that studies are usually short term/acute and we have to rely on surveys to show an association between BF consumption and academic outcomes. One problem with this is called “”residual confounding”” and this is exactly what Kathryn’s comment brings up

Louise: In some of the studies we have done in poorer areas, kids were not eating BF because there was no one at home when they left for school in the morning and therefore unlikely to be there checking homework etc

Abena: There must be so many confounders. Arguably, ‘breakfasted’ kids likely come from calmer, more organised homes?

Jessica: @Abena, Yes! My colleague has done work showing it’s not really that kids who eat evening meals with parents are benefitting from that, but that homes that can do that are less chaotic to begin with.

Louise: I think you are right to a degree Abena – we also found that higher IQ is protective against the effects of missing BF. I think this can also relate to regular sleep patterns and general discipline (self or encouraged by parents)

ModKathryn: Very difficult to tease apart all the different factors – which is very common in developmental research!

Abena: In terms of sleep and memory, I read it’s good to review learning just before sleeping. Does that ring true to the researchers here?

Anne: @Abena Sleep is very important for consolidation of newly learned facts, but I’m not sure whether it works best to study just before going to bed. I can also imagine that tiredness comes into play then

Victoria: There is some evidence that learning a short time before bed means that the beneficial effects of sleep are greater, but we’ve recently been struggling to replicate it

Jessica: @Abena, yes. There have been several studies with older kids and adults where things learnt before bedtime were remembered and/or consolidated much better than things learned at other times. I think in our last chat (you can check transcript below) there was alot of discussion on this

Jessica: @Victoria, oh, that’s interesting. I was thinking of some York studies in my last comment.

Victoria: I suspect that there’s a balance between sleep being more beneficial when you learn before bed and your brain being more attentive earlier in the day. The best option is to do both- there’s some interesting work on the positive effects of spaced learning- that is engaging in multiple learning sessions over the day.

Abena: @Victoria @Jessica – interesting. My personal experience is it does help, but I’d be reluctant to advise kids to study just before bed.

Abena: @Victoria – isn’t the spaced learning effect very well-proven by now?

Victoria: @Abena, yes, but it hasn’t really been looked at in relation to the effects of sleep on consolidation

Jessica: I’ve also seen some studies about how blocked (massed) learning is more beneficial that people sometimes give it credit for.

Jessica: @Victoria, this paper of mine, hints at a benefit for massed learning and sleep, but it’s complicated. It would be fun to go into more depth with you sometime. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00184/full

Abena: @Victora – do you know about the Cerego app? It has changed my study habits dramatically. I think it’s the best thing since flashcards.

Victoria: @Abena, no I don’t- what’s the effect?

Anne: @Abena Sounds good, how does it work?

Abena: @Anne-it uses a sophisticated algorithm to put ‘fading’ memories in front of you regularly throughout the day. It calculates the best time for the next review, getting ever longer between sessions.

Jessica: [I’m making a note to look into Cerego app for my own students….]

Abena: @Anne – it’s based on spaced retrieval and I am amazed at the amount I’m retaining through it.

Victoria: @Abena, sounds fascinating- i’d love to know how the algorithm works!

Abena: @Jessica – do! I’m using it for the Noba Psychology course. I imagine setting up the questions takes a team a fair bit of time but what a worthwhile resource it then is.

ModKathryn: @abena – that is super interesting! Do you have to do lots of little tests so that it can keep updating which things to remind you of?

Abena: @modkathryn – it’s usually between 3-6 minutes to review anything from 15-50 concepts. It will prompt me a couple of times a day but I’m so addicted, I do it far more. It does discourage cramming though.

ModShane: Evening all. I hope you don’t mind me asking a question. When reviewing the Topic Guide – https://learning.imascientist.org.uk/factors-affecting-learning/ – I noticed some information about Artificial Food Colouring and E numbers. Why do we research food colouring so much more than other E numbers and food additives? What is it about the colours that affect the brain?

Louise: I’m not an expert on E numbers – some are natural ingredients and the evidence is very mixed as is the quality of the studies

Shane: @Louise Do you know why they might affect brain function? What is it about them? It’s just a bit of colour surely…

Abena: @ModShane-I’m interested too. Especially as some are ‘natural’ no? (Thinking of crushed beetles here…)

Louise: I think that some are hypothesised to alert neurotransmitter availability, or promote hyperactivity but this isnt something I know a lot about. It’s actually posible with normal dietary intake to modulate neurotransmitters but not something that you can do without a lot of effort. The classic one is the chocolate craving idea – and the (incorrect) belief tha this will affect serotonin – actually there’s too much protein for this to happen.

ModShane: @Louise TY. Maybe we can find an answer elsewhere…

Catherine W: Hi coming late to the chat – my work is similar to Anne’s – looking at the impact of physical activity on brain, cognition and academic achievement – but in secondary schools. We are investigating the impact of increasing physical activity during school PE on brain/cognition/mental heath/maths.  Base line tests showed a depressingly low level of physical activity in everyday life  – less than 25% of the 9,000+ students we surveyed did the recommended 60 mins of activity per day

Jessica: @Catherine W what age were they? Sadly I can imagine that. I don’t think I did 60min by that age (and that was before iPads, etc)

ModKathryn: @Catherine W that is a sad statistic. Can I ask where they lived? I.e. in rural or urban areas? I imagine children who live by the sea for example, are more likely to exercise everyday. And maybe children who live inner city are less likely?

Catherine W: @Anne what have you found so far?

Anne: @Catherine W What aspects of mental health are you examining?

Louise: @catherine – do you think that levels of PA have declined? are you looking at adolescents?

Catherine W: We are looking at adolescents – and yes the figures have declined in recent years, although not sure iPads are to blame as those sedentary types might have been reading instead of starting at screens in previous years.

Anne: @Catherine W I know that the same pattern is present in younger children, they’re less involved in PA as well

Catherine W: It’s a range of urban/rural participants, but the study has aimed for low socioeconomic status. Although there is evidence that the proportion of adolescents reaching that 60 min target has risen in Scotland over the past couple of years.  Maybe the Daily Mile has something todo with it?

Jessica: @Catherine W. It’s good to know technology isn’t the only thing that could be causing it. But that would have been easier to “fix”

Catherine W: @Jessica – ah yes the screen ban! I think it’s quite a complex mix of factors – environment, social norms, concern about looking incompetent in from of one’s peers

ModKathryn: @Catherine W What is the Daily Mile?

Catherine W: The Daily Mile has been described as a “”no-brainer”” of an intervention – pupils get to run around the playground for a mile (or thereabouts) every day – teachers report improved concentration and of course it’s good for health and wellbeing

Louise: @Catherine W do you think there is also a gender difference in PA willingness? it’s certainly true that girls skip BF for different reasons and more frequently than boys

Catherine W: @Louise yes certainly boys are more active than girls for complex reasons.

Louise: @Catherine W the other factor with both PA and BF is general health – if someone is healthy, in terms of weight, then their blood glucose regulation will be better, their transport of glucose to the brain better regulated  – i think it is very worrying that

Victoria: @Louise, that’s really worrying! Do you think the key to tackling the issue lies with parents or children?

Louise: i think it’s bigger than that – it’s our environment, advertising to kids, easy access to high calorie processed foods, lack of PA etc. If it was something simple we would have dealt with it by now and I dont think that the sugar tax will be enough to curb the rise in obesity in children

Abena: @Victoria – I might suggest it lies in being aware of what’s in our food. So much hidden sugar & lack of awareness of impact.

Jessica: @Abena, I agree. I’ve been trying to eat healthier in 2018 and it’s just plain hard: so many foods in the shops are just loaded with sugar…

Louise: Yes but we also cook less, eat fewer meals together as a family, and have less awareness of where our food comes from. A few years ago we thought it was a high fat diet which made you fat now we are focussed on sugar but we dont eat just one macronutrient we eat whole foods.

Abena: @Louise – have any foods been identified that can increase beneficial neurotransmitters for learning? Is there a ‘learning’ diet?

Louise: @abena — in terms of breakfast we have shown that breakfast which is lower GI and gives a sustained blood glucose level are better for cognitive performance during the late morning compared to breakfasts which produce a big spike like energy drinks that

@Abena: @Louise. Thanks. Good to know as a parent too!

Victoria: @Louise, that’s really helpful- it’s great to have a relatively simple rule of thumb to follow!

Abena: Researchers – if you had one key piece of advice for teachers or parents when it comes to this topic, what would be your ultimate takeaway?

Jessica: Encourage children (and parents) to embrace the desired to re-read the same books over and over again.

Louise: I agree with @Jessica that the desire to read is critical for learning. From a nutritional point of view it would be always have breakfast and everything in moderation but nothing to excess

Anne: I would advice to stimulate children to move. This can be only short bouts, but don’t let them sit all day. @Louise I think that’s a great advice for adults as well

Victoria: Make time to sleep properly. Our lives are so full of goals and activities and technology that it’s easy to make time by squeezing out sleep. Turn off your screen an hour before bed at least a few times a week.

Catherine W: I’d encourage more physical activity in school – during PE or between lessons – no evidence to show it harms academic achievement and plenty to suggest it is good for cognitive function and mental/physical health

Louise: It is really important to create good habits in childhood so that we hopefully maintain these positive behaviours as adults whether that’s reading, walking, sport or food related

Abena: Thank you all. @Anne – is there a max sitting time before you should move? I used to do brain breaks where we’d do a Just Dance routine from Youtube (of their choice) but sometimes I worried I was interrupting their ‘flow’. This is if they were sitting hunched over desks for more than about 15-20 mins at a time (rather than discussing or moving around on a task).

Catherine W: @Abena I hear a lot of teachers express this concern, and also worries about it encouraging disruptive behaviour.  I guess this can happen but if managed properly then ‘brain breaks’ can be constructive for sure

Anne: @Abena I think there is some advice on that circling around, but I’m not sure whether it is really based on hard evidence

Abena: @Catherine W I found they immediately got back to focusing on the task, rather than chatting or daydreaming so I did it fairly consistently. @Anne Yes – hard evidence would be good!

Anne: @Abena short PA breaks have been shown to have positive effects on children’s attention and concentration, so that makes perfectly sense

ModKathryn: @abena what age did you find it worked with?

Abena: All secondary. Surprisingly even older students welcomed the breaks though we had them far less often than the younger students.

Catherine W: @Abena that’s so interesting!  There is evidence showing that ‘acute’ bouts of physical activity can improve inhibitory control (ie the ability to focus) and also working memory but a with a lot of these studies they need to be replicated more consistently

Abena: It’s like they were glad to get up and move, but equally grateful for the ensuing rest (as the routines can be quite demanding)

ModKathryn: Thank you for a great discussion this evening everyone – I’ve really learned a lot!

Jessica: @modkathryn, thank you!

Catherine W: @modkathryn thank you from me too

Anne: I found it really interesting as well, thanks!

Victoria: Thanks @modkathryn. Great questions @Abena. I hope the rest of your MSc goes very well!

Abena: Thank you! Thanks to everyone for the very clear and practical advice.

ModKathryn: The chat transcript will be posted online later this evening – so you can check back on any comments or resources if you want to. Hope to see you all in the next chat! Remember you can ask questions at any time on the site using the “Ask” tab.

Posted on April 24, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Factors Affecting Learning #1 – 19th April 2018

ModAnnie: Welcome to the first chat for Factors Affecting Learning! While we wait for the first questions, how about everyone briefly introduces themselves and their expertise?

Victoria: I’m a post-doc at York where I work on language development and the role that sleep plays in the consolidation of new language.

Jessica: Hi everyone! I’m a faculty member at Sussex. My research focuses on how children figure out what words mean and what we can do to help them remember them. I use a lot of illustrated storybooks in my research. @Victoria sleep is SOOOO important. I was able to include it as a factor in a study once. So interesting so see how it has such big effects on what children learn.

Catherine: Hi everyone, I’m a post-doc in Cambridge and study physical activity interventions among adolescents.

Annie: @Jessica Did you manipulate sleep or measure the amount of sleep children were already getting? What did you find?

Jessica: @modannie We read stories to 3yr children before they took naps (or stayed awake), then tested them on how many of the key words in the stories they could remember. We found that those who napped afterwords remembered significantly more even when we made. This was the case even when we checked on their memory 1 week later. But we didn’t manipulate their sleep per se.

ModAnnie: @Jessica That is very impressive!

Teensleep: Hi Everyone, we are post-docs at the University of Oxford working on sleep in adolescents and how improving sleep can improve academic achievement, health and well-being. We have just finished piloting our teacher-led sleep education programme.

Jessica: @Teensleep Team That sounds like a really exciting pilot!

Teensleep: Thanks Jessica. Its A LOT of data but we have some great objective and subjective measures of sleep!

Victoria: @Teensleep Could you tell us about your measures?

Teensleep: @Victoria Sure. All students completed the programme (modified CBTi) and completed a survey pre/post with the Kidscreen 27, Sleep Condition Indicator, Adolescent Sleep Hygiene Scale, Cleveland Adolescent Sleepiness Questionnaire, and Munich Chronotype. A subset of 15/20 students per school wore an actiwatch and completed a sleep diary for 2 weeks pre and post.

ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team Can you tell us a bit about what the programme involves?

Teensleep: @modannie its a teacher led, ten lesson (30min) sleep education package for year 10s. Theres a half day training session, teacher and student work books, parent leaflets, and powerpoints. Its 3 lessons on the science of sleep, 4 on sleep hygiene (behaviours conducive to good sleep) practices, and 3 lessons on relaxation tools and making a bedtime routine

Victoria: @Teensleep, I’m really interested in the extent to which educational research can ethically intervene in things that happen at home, like sleep quality. Do you have thoughts on this?

TeenSleep: @Victoria That’s a great question. The body of literature on the relationship between learning/cognitive function and exercise/physical activity is quite young. Ethically we are providing advice to parents on what might help sleep and knowledge to the students about sleep. I think in this case its about recognising all we can do re the home environment as sleep researchers is simply give advice.

Catherine: @Victoria I just did a quick pubmed search and it doesn’t look like there are enough high quality studies published for us to conclude if there’s a dose-response relationship yet. In terms of type of activity – there’s a hypothesis that activities which promote mindfulness and concentration (e.g., martial arts, yoga) might demonstrate stronger associations with learning/cognitive function. But there isn’t enough evidence to confirm/refute that hypothesis yet.

Victoria: @Jessica, do you have any thoughts on time of day effects for children’s learning? Some studies seem to suggest that learning closer to bed time means sleep can boost learning more effectively, but I’m sure most teachers would say their children are more attentive in the morning.

Jessica: @Victoria Yes, I’ve seen that too. There is some evidence that learning before bed can be good/more effective and my own work on learning daytime naps (and there is some adult work before naps). I guess for kids a bit before bedtime is good, but they do need to wind down. I don’t know much about that as a researcher (just as a parent).

TeenSleep: @Jessica We agree with a wind down! We advise a wind down of 60-90 minutes before sleep!

Jessica: @Teensleep Team Oh wow, even up to 90? I think of 60, but feel like it’s not enough. So that’s usefl to hear.

Victoria: @Jessica, we’ve really struggled to replicate these time of day effects, but I wonder if they’re stronger in your samples with younger children?

Jessica: @Victoria They could be. Perhaps a meta analysis on that could shed some light on things? I know there was a recent meta analysis by Anna Weighall and her collaborators, but they only included their studies (it was in a box as part of a larger review).

ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team What kind of activities count as winding down?

TeenSleep: @modannie, winding down activities would include reading (so long as it’s not too gory), music (so long as it’s not too rocking) and conversation, but nothing that involves a screen or caffeine!

ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team @Victoria Those are the things I aim to do before bed, but I have a terrible habit of eating right before bed which I’m guessing is not a good thing!

TeenSleep: @modannie @victoria we also including a breathing/imagery/muscle relaxation activities.We got our students to create their own schedule around their own sleep timings, we did stipulate a phone to silent activity! Eating is a tricky one. You shouldn’t go to bed hungry yet digestion can keep us awake. We advise light snacks if needed that include a protein and low GI carbohydrate (peanut butter on oatcakes)

ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team Do you think that students are interested and taking the messages on board? My understanding is that you originally wanted to change school times to help students get more sleep that way, but this way means you need to persuade the student

TeenSleep: @modannie the students in our focus groups were very interested and engaged with the lessons (we did revise the lessons with students in a feasibility). We are still under embargo but do have some evidence that Teensleep might be helpful. We do still want to look at countering the biological delay in adolescents in a different way to delaying the school start time (which we found to be unfeasible in the UK as an RCT)

ModAnnie: @Teensleep Team Good to hear that they were interested in the information. In what other way could you counter the biological delay?

Victoria: @modannie, I think this is a really tricky one because actually the biggest impacts on learning that educational neuroscience studies see tend to be things like sleep, diet, stress, things that are about whether children turn up to school ready to learn.

ModAnnie: @Victoria Yes, and I’m fascinated by this study in the US where they’re giving families money as an intervention.

Victoria: @ModAnnie but by focusing on changing those things we’re taking changes to educational practice out of the classroom and into the home. In terms of stress, I read about a US school district that installed washing machines so kid (teens?) could wash their clothes at school and that really boosted attendance.

ModAnnie: @Victoria I guess that makes sense if those are the things that will have the biggest impact

TeenSleep: @modannie predominantly using light as a sleep tool.  However, there is very little evidence out there about how much light is needed and the timing of light in this population

ModAnnie: @Catherine What are the key findings from your research on physical activity in teens? Does it seem to improve attainment?

Catherine: @modannie We’ve just finished some feasibility and pilot work trialling an active lessons intervention in secondary school students. It was beyond the scope of this feasibility and pilot work to test effectiveness on learning, however, previous studies show active lessons improve academic achievement among primary school children.

ModAnnie:@Catherine  What’s the next step in your research?

Catherine: @modannie The feasibility and pilot work helped us identify aspects of the active lessons teacher training programme which require review. In general we demonstrated feasibility and acceptability of the intervention, but there are some components which require further pilot testing before progressing to a full trial.

ModAnnie: It sounds promising!

Jessica: @Pete I’m not familiar with your work (yet). But I have a 6yo who does love screens (in moderation). What are your big take aways?

Victoria: Ah, hi @Pete, I wrote some neuro-hit or neuro-myth articles for the Centre for Educational Neuroscience website and the effects of video games was something that I knew nothing about going in and was really interested by all the research in your area.

Pete: @Jessica I think you’ve already said it – everything in moderation. To be honest, there isn’t much in the way of good scientific work in the area at the moment. Just lots of scaremongering in the media.

Jessica: @Pete There definitely is a lot of that! I have included a couple studies about skype and eBooks in my lectures, but there isn’t a lot yet. That’s exciting though, because that means you can have a lot of influence on your niche.

ModAnnie: @all Does anyone have any take-away messages for teachers? They will be able to read the transcript online at a later date, so would be great to get any tips in. I suppose most of your research focuses on things that teachers might be able to tell student

Victoria: My take away for teachers reading this would be that what you’re doing is brilliant; all of the factors that affect learning that we’re talking about happen through you and with you!

TeenSleep: Although our programme is only for research at the moment we did work with Oxford Sparks (public engagement and science outreach). Oxford Sparks has a section called “”What makes you tick”” which includes videos and lesson plans for a range of ages around sleep

Catherine: My takeaway would be that there’s a growing body of research supporting the use of ‘active lessons’ among primary school students for improving academic achievement, lesson enjoyment and physical activity. Active lessons are when activity is used to support the delivery of academic material (instead of kids spending all of lesson sat down). Free resources for active lesson ideas can be found here: https://tagtiv8.com/super-movers-playing-big-boys-girls/

ModAnnie: Thanks everyone. I think the great thing about this area of research is that even if there is little impact on learning, having healthy sleep / diet / exercise etc is good for you

Jessica: Great link

Victoria: That’s a really useful resource, thank you

ModAnnie: Thanks @all very much for coming along to the chat, and engaging in conversation. It’s been really interesting and I’m sure teachers will be interested to read up on what happened (when the sun has gone in).

Posted on April 23, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Individual Differences #2 – 27th March 2018

Modsu: Good evening everyone. We’ll start in about 5 minutes, but meanwhile, perhaps we could introduce ourselves and share what sort of work we’re involved in? 🙂

aglover: Hi my name is Andrea. I am training as a specialist dyslexia teacher.

Modsu: That sounds interesting – are you doing a course alongside teaching? How are you finding the training so far?

aglover: It’s quite demanding but really interesting. I love finding out about current research in particular. I am supply teaching and tutoring alongside.

Camilla: Hi, I look at what factors influence the development of mathematical skills in children and adults. 

Modsu: What sort of factors in particular that you have found to influence mathematical development? And do they influence all types of maths equally?

Camilla: There are a really wide range of factors that influence mathematical development including general thinking skills (such as memory, attention), language and attitudes to mathematics. 

Abena: Good evening. I’m Abena, a secondary teacher starting a psychology conversion course in September. Self study at the moment through Coursera and Saylor (research methods and psychology).

Emma: Possibly not for here, but I teach the undergrad research methods course at Birkbeck.

Abena: I wanted to do that course! (But unfortunately can only do distance so it wasn’t an option for me.)

Kathryn: I hope you are looking forward to your conversion programme. I did one at Royal Holloway and it led me directly to individual differences research and behavioural genetics. I loved it and hope you will too.

Jacob: Hi, I study how individual differences in basic sensory and cognitive capacities account for between learning behaviours, with a particular focus on number/numeracy.

Modsu: That sounds very interesting. What sort of sensory and cognitive capacities are you particularly interested in?

Jacob: Sensitivity to simple perceptual groupings, and understanding how that relates to our sense of “sets” in terms of understanding numbers.

Emma: Research wise, I’m interested in how we differ genetically, and what impact this has on development (particularly educationally relevant traits)

 

Abena:  I’m learning about the role of memory in learning so if anyone has interesting points on that, I’d love to hear them. Do you have any info on how memory differs between individuals? Without brain damage, is there huge variance in potential?

Camilla: Yes there is great variation in working memory capacity. Although this develops as children progress through school some estimates suggest that within a typical class there can be the equivalent of a 6 year range in working memory capacity.

Abena: Is this difference more genetic or environmental? And can the gap be closed with the right kind of memory ‘training’?

Camilla: Good questions! I don’t think we have a clear picture at the moment where this difference comes from. But it is most likely to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. At the moment there isn’t good evidence that working memory training leads to impact on academic skills. Training may help children to get better at doing working memory tests but this doesn’t seem to transfer to achievement in the classroom.

Abena: Wow, that’s totally surprising. I thought with deliberate practice there’d be a definite change. What’s the good news?

Camilla: Yes it is surprising. Some of the early promise of working memory training hasn’t held up in later, larger more rigorous studies. 

Abena: But that doesn’t negate guiding students in memory techniques like mnemonics and loci…or does it?

Camilla: A better approach might be to be aware of the working memory demands of different activities and to try and manage these. This might help all children and not just those with smaller working memory (WM) capacity.

Abena: Yes, I’ve been reading a lot about that on Didau’s blog and trying to visualise what that looks like in practice.

Camilla: These type of memory techniques can help, as can providing external memory aids, breaking down multi-step tasks into smaller chunks. It might be particularly important to manage WM demands while introducing new material for example.

Abena: OK. Thanks for that. Have you any other resources for memory that would be of use in the classroom?

Camilla: There’s some great examples and advice from Sue Gathercole here: http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/WM-classroom-guide.pdf  

Abena: Thank you so much!

 

aglover: I have been researching on reading comprehension development and was wondering how much of this ability comes from genetics. I read that it is decoding skills that have a greater basis in genetics?

Emma: Individual differences in reading comprehension are (partly) due to genetic differences. Here is a good and recent paper by Steve Petril’s group: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113807 

Kathryn: I don’t know the reading comprehension research that well so Emma will probably have a better answer but decoding (as in the phonics check) is one of the most heritable of all educational skills. (In fact I see Emma is already on the case).

 

aglover: With the TEDS study, do you think this leads to a path where we have greater ‘individual difference’ rather than distinct learning disabilities? I read in Koras et al (2007) that ‘abnormal is normal’ – I am just wondering if this means that the distinctions between learning disabilities will become so blurred they will become too hard to define

Kathryn: It depends on the disability you are talking about. So, for reading, maths etc TEDS (and other studies) find that the same genetic and environmental factors influence all abilities. This suggests that a struggling reader or mathematician has a difficulty rather than a disability. However, there are also genetically distinct learning disabilities e.g. Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Williams Syndrome etc.

Emma: Yes the evidence suggests that the lower end is not genetically distinct from the rest of the distribution. But as Kathyrn points, there are severe (and rarer) disorders that have distinct genetic causes. Robert Plomin’s 2009 paper is an excellent summary if you want to learn a bit more about this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19859063  

Kathryn: This is a tricky issue. Saying the abnormal is normal just means that the same genetic and environmental factors can affect, say, both fluent and struggling readers. However, we don’t diagnose difficulties with reading, speech, language etc using genetic tests – we diagnose on the basis of a child’s observed behaviour and there is currently no reason for our understanding of the roots of the problem to change this.

aglover: Thanks. Do you think in the future this will still be the case, or will reading difficulties be picked up before children even learn to read?

Kathryn: I think that observing a child’s behaviour will always be the very best way to identify their strengths and difficulties. Family history can also tell us something useful about risk for learning difficulties. However, I do think that in the future we will also have genetic risk indicators (genomewide polygenic scores) and these may eventually play a role in identifying children (maybe even babies) with a higher probability of learning difficulties than others and could be used as one tool for allocating early intervention.

Modsu: Did you see this blog that was published this week – you might find it of interest – https://bold.expert/precision-education/ 

Emma: Oh, I will also have a read of that.

aglover: Thank you! Kathryn – I just realised that you did the TES podcast!

Kathryn: Ah, did you find it interesting?

aglover: Thanks again! It’s amazing that I can ask all these questions. Yes, it was extremely interesting and thought-provoking. It did make me think about Gattaca though. I think the role you have with education for the educators about genetics is so important as there are obviously huge implications.

Abena: I agree that it’s completely AMAZING to be able to have access to the scientists like this. REALLY grateful for your time and knowledge.

Kathryn: It is lovely to have the opportunity to talk with teachers in this way. I completely agree about the importance of education for the educators. I have a student who is working on understanding teachers’ perceptions and knowledge in this area with a view to designing some CPD that would be welcomed by the profession. All ideas are welcome!

 

Abena: Do you know of any such research (into genes) currently happening? Such as implications for records that follow a child through life!

Emma: One of the things genetic researchers are thinking about is the accessibilty of personalised genetic testing.

Abena: You mean accessibility to testing, or results? Also, whether “one of the things genetic researchers are thinking about” is concerned with who accesses, or who can be tested (e.g. costs)

Emma: We are moving towards a scenario where individuals will be able to get a ‘polygenic’ score that has some predictive power at the level of the individual.

[Polygenic score uses genetic information to create a score for a particular characteristic, which can indicate risk or potential for that trait – https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/whats-your-polygenic-score/].

Kathryn: It is an important question. There will be equality and social justice issues to deal with here.

Emma: Yes, exactly! Would this be something that is rolled out at birth (much like we test for severe genetic disorders already with the heel prick test)? And if so, who is gatekeeper to this info, and who would use it? It is also increasingly possible for individuals to generate their own genetic data, which might increase inequality. Lots of important questions to think carefully about.

Kathryn: I agree – we need to tread very carefully here and understand the ethical, legal and psychological implications in full – putting safeguarding in place where necessary. Research is sorely needed.

aglover: Couldn’t early predictions of difficulty have a negative effect though? 

Abena: That’s what I wondered, especially if environment plays a (near) equal role.

Kathryn: Definitely. Especially as GPS can only ever suggest a probability of risk i.e. it can’t predict low ability with any certainty because of genotype environment interplay etc. We need to worry about this now and do what is possible to ensure that this sort of information is used to benefit individuals and society rather than to cause harm.

Modsu: What does GPS stand for? 🙂

Kathryn: Sorry – GPS is genomewide polygenic score. We now know that the heritable part of behaviour is explained by many, many genetic variants each of miniscule effect. A GPS combines lots of these variants found to be associated with a behaviour in a single predictor.

Emma: To my mind, early markers/genetic predictors for risk might not necessitate interventions but rather lead to more regular screening to identify any problems as they arise/early. 

aglover: In this way, genetic info would become an environmental factor?

Kathryn: Access to the information could be considered a potential environmental influence I guess – as could the responses of others (e.g. parents or teachers) to that information.  

aglover: Is this now inevitable? 

Kathryn: Progress in this area has been much faster than I anticipated. Just 2 or 3 years ago we were at a stage where Genomewide Association Studies (GWAS) were beginning to detect these genetic variants of small effect. However, work by the Social Sciences and Genetics Association Studies (SSAGC) has moved along insanely quickly and I think GPSs will be available reasonably soon. Who will want them and how they will be used remains unknown but we will see them.

aglover: Thanks- yes that’s really fast. Seems ironic that as schools get bigger and are run more like businesses, the need for personalised learning and knowledge of individuals becomes even greater!

Kathryn: And we see exactly the same patter in medicine.  

 

Abena: Jacob, can you share some of your main findings / research areas and the implications for the classroom? I’m not a math teacher, but I have 3 kids – 3, 8 and 11.

Modsu: Do your children enjoy maths?

Abena: The eldest 2 are fine with it. Not sure I would say ‘enjoy’ but they are competent and get great pleasure from correct answers.

Jacob: Certainly! I think the most relevant finding for classroom learning from my research has been to show the remarkable range of strategies children use to solve simple arithmetic problems within the same grade.

Abena: With some being more effective than others?

Jacob: We found some children in the youngest grade (kindergarten/preparatory) using more sophisticated problem-solving strategies then children in the oldest grade (Year 3), and vice versa. The most effective problem solving strategy for an individual child poses a difficult question.

Abena: Strategies they’d worked out themselves?

Jacob: Yes, mostly spontaneous – but we’re finding that the amount of in class strategy instruction differs worldwide.

Abena: And nationally too? (I know it does in the English classroom for example.)

Jacob: I’m sure this differs from school-to-school, unless strategy instruction is specified in the national curriculum. 

Modsu: I think several schools use ‘Rucksack’ to help children think about their approach to problem-solving – have you come across this before? Just trying to remember what it all stands for now! 😉

Jacob: Just looked it up now: Read, Understand, Choose, Solve, Answer and Check.

Modsu: That’s it!! Been a while since I’ve been in a primary school classroom! 😉

Jacob: I hadn’t come across this version before but I’m familiar with similar “meta” problem-solving techniques. While these techniques are likely to be very helpful to learners already capable of coordinating information into a problem-solving approach, I worry that having to remember a higher level of sequences might confound some children?

Modsu: Very likely. I guess it was designed to break a problem into a series of steps which could be followed – so helping them impose a structure and signpost what they need to do.

Jacob: Yes, that seems quite reasonable. Any learning mnemonic that children can take away with them and apply without needing directed instruction is likely to be helpful.

Modsu: Do you have any suggestion as to why problem-solving strategies were less sophisticated in (some of) the older age group?

Jacob: Yes, we found that differences in working memory capacity and ability to coordinate information explained these differences, regardless of age.

Modsu: I see – that makes sense. 

 

Abena: If you had to recommend one book (or other resource) for research methods, which would it be please?

Emma: A good book that will see you through your undergraduate studies is Andy Field’s ‘Discovering Statistics Using SPSS’, which includes instructions how to run analyses using SPSS and how to interpret the output. 

Modsu: Excellent book – I have used it A LOT!!

Emma: He has a new book out – ‘An Adventure in Statistics: The Reality Enigma’ that I imagine is also suitable (I’ve not read it. but a colleague thought it was v.good!). If you don’t like his style (I’m not super keen tbh), then ‘Starting out in Methods and Statistics for Psychology’ by Victoria Bourne and ‘Statistics in a Nutshell’ by Sarah Boslaugh are both good.

Abena: Does it matter which edition of Field as huge price difference between (e.g.) 2nd and 5th?

Modsu: I think there are some additional topics in the later versions, but if there is something specific you need and it’s in an earlier version, perhaps that would be ok? I think I have version 4.

Emma: The main difference is with SPSS – SPSS updates regularly, so the instructions may differ on older versions of the text.

Abena: Ah, I see. That would make a big difference then (as a main purpose for getting the book). Thanks.

 

Modsu: We’re coming towards the end of our live chat. I hope you found it interesting and useful. We’ll have a break from live chats over Easter, but questions can still be posted on the website.

Abena: Very interesting and great to have such a range of participants. Thank you all.

Emma: Thank you for the awesome questions!

aglover: Thankyou so much – this has been really helpful!

Camilla: Thanks for the interesting questions and discussion.

Jacob: Thanks for your questions and detailed responses everyone!

Kathryn: Lovely to talk to you all. Happy Easter!

 

Posted on March 28, 2018 modsu in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment

Live Chat – Individual Differences #1 – Thursday 22nd March

ModShane: Good evening. The chat is due to start at 8.30 this evening, but do log in and say hello if you’re early.

ModShane: Can I sneak in with a question before everyone arrives? The first point in our topic guide: https://learning.imascientist.org.uk/individual-differences/ talks about genes being responsible for 30% of the variation in intelligence in young people but 76% in older people. So what’s the responsible for the other 70% in young people and what are the sorts of things that make the change to 76% in older people?

Emma: Okay, so this is a question about heritability – right? Studies tend to find (overall) that heritability increases as we age, so that it is maximal in adulthood.

ModShane: That’s what I understand to be true, but it is counter-intuitive to a lay person like me

Emma: What we suspect is happening is that people are seeking out environments that best support and foster their genetic propensities (gene-environment correlation).

ModShane: @Emma Like what?

Emma: I think I should take a step back to state what heritability is (and isn’t).It’s a population based statistic that estimates how much variance [in the outcome you are interested in – such as intelligence, or academic achievement] can be accounted for by genetic factors. Genetic influences can reduce (or disappear entirely) if aspects of the environment are changed (e.g., classroom, school, broader educational system and society, etc). For example, heritability estimates tend to be a bit lower in countries that don’t have standardised educational systems/more variable learning environments. This is a good paper – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2889158/

ModShane: @Emma So it means that teachers and other factors have a bigger impact than genes in young people? But over time that effect will wear off and genetics will play a larger part?

Emma: I don’t think it’s really a ‘wearing off’ – those effects will still be important, but it is just that they don’t explain differences between people. Heritability depends on the range of typical environments in the population that is studied. If the environment of the population is fairly uniform, then heritability may be high, but if the range of environmental differences is very large, then heritability may be low. For example, if heritability estimates for reading ability were 100%, it is entirely plausible that a new intensive ‘environmental intervention’ of reading training would improve everyone’s performance (all children do better on the test, and rank order does not change). It is just that those differences that exist/remain between individuals will largely be present for genetic reasons [i.e., high heritability doesn’t mean the environment can’t have an impact].

Lorna: @emma so school environments becoming more similar as children get older (standardised curriculum etc) could be one factor underlying increasing heritability of educational attainment with age?

Emma: @Lorna – yes, exactly!

ModShane: @Emma and what does that mean for our educational system? Is it good to have high heritability or to have variation in teaching to find the best for each child?

Emma: The interesting bit (for me, at least) is that individual differences related to academic outcomes are under a genetic influence (to a moderate to large extent).

Emma: @ModShane – you have good questions! Yes, you can argue that high heritability indicates educational and social equality/uniformity of educational environments. it indicates that all basic learning needs are being met in modern educational settings.

ModShane: And so if heritability is around 30% for young people is it accepted that is a sign that our education system is not meeting needs? You say some countries show lower rates. What are the rates in countries that are considered to be doing well?

Emma: @ModShane I *think* from memory, countries with standardised systems get higher heritability estimates than those that don’t (UK vs US for example).

Emma: What heritability *doesn’t* tell you, is where these genes are and what they do. Thats is where molecular genetic research comes in. Once you identify the specific genes, you can start to ask more specific questions about the environment

ModShane: @Emma Understood. But I imagine therein also lie some risks.

Emma: @ModShane Yes, we need to be mindful and think carefully about how genetic information is used. The reality is that these traits are extremely polygenic, with thousands of DNA variants contributing to heritability.

Nthomas: to what extent can we cater for individual differences when preparing pupils for a standardised exam? i.e. do you feel process more important than outcome?

Coutenay: @nthomas it depends on what you are wanting to measure – if you want to know what a child knows about science, but that child has difficulties reading, then presenting the exam in a different modality, would be a very important thing to do.

Nthomas: @Courtenay but GCSE and A level exams are standardised so no flexibility. We already cater for particular needs, but does research show other approaches to individualise, eg for subject knowledge or skills

Courtenay: @nthomas that is unfortunate – if a child passes such a test, you can be reasonably sure that he/she has the skills/knowledge of interest. But one can fail a test for many reasons.

Abena: @Courtenay – I would say it really depends how you define ‘knowledge’. If it’s the ability to memorise some ‘stuff’ for an exam then yes; if not, no.

Jacob: @Courtenay @nthomas very true. Errors, and more importantly learning from error feedback, is one way to begin to individualise test preparation

Nthomas: @Courtenay trouble is vast majority of UK teenage students take gcses – we’d love to individualise if evidence of benefit

Courtenay: @Abena I’m not sure what you are getting at – can you give me an example?

Abena: @Courtenay – I mean being reasonably sure of anything in a student’s learning must be difficult to ascertain from performance on a test. Is an exam grade a true sign for learning / knowledge or a proxy?

Courtenay: @Abena oh, I see, you mean it just tells you an outcome, not how they got there…

Abena: @Courtenay – yes, it can give us a snapshot in time but doesn’t tell us much more than that.

Abena: For the disorders listed on tonight’s topic page, is there any neurophysical / neurochemical evidence of them, or are they generally diagnosed by behaviours?

ModKathryn: Just to help there – the disorders listed are ADHD, autism, dyscalculia and dyslexia

Courtenay: @Abena the disorders listed are diagnosed by behaviours alone – we do not have robust physical tests (sometimes called biomarkers) for any of these.

Abena: @Courtenay – are the diagnostic tools robust and well-applied? Has anyone ever studied this?

Courtenay: @Abena considerable amounts of research on diagnostic accuracy – depends on the measures used, age of child etc. No diagnostic instrument is perfect but there are ways of measuring accuracy of particular measures

Lorna: @abena there are currently no biological tests for dyslexia, developmental language disorder, autism and other ‘non-syndromic’ disorders. The underlying causes are complex and multifactorial – so the specific genes contributing to language difficulties will vary from child to child, for example- each gene individual gene variant by itself having a tiny effect on brain development. So the best available diagnostic tools are based on behaviours – e.g. Standardised tests, observations, questionnaires

Emma: @Abena There are standardised clinical tools that are used to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. They are not perfect, but they are pretty reliable.

Abena: Autism is the one I hear most teachers have least problem with diagnoses. The others often have a reputation of over-diagnosis. I wonder if this is fair.

Courtenay: And diagnosis would involve direct assessment, observation, family interview (case history), and hopefully, discussion with teachers/class observation!

Jacob: @Abena @Courtenay Indeed. There a number of behavioural screeners for dyscalculia (Brian Butterworth’s in the UK, PanaMath in the US, for example), which have been validated now on thousands of children and adults

Courtenay: @Abena in our SCALES research we do find variation in symptom reporting depending on who is doing the rating – our expectations play a key role in how much of a problem these are.

Abena: I hardly dare ask but is it likely in the future, we will consider such disorders as non-issues as we now do homosexuality?

Courtenay: @Abena I often give my running disorder as an example – my running speed is probably in bottom 3rd centile for women of my age…but we don’t think of this as a disorder because (for the most part) it doesn’t yield any negative functional impacts these days (i can get a bus, mobility scooters are popular). So one reason things like ADHD and dyslexia and developmental language disorder are important to diagnose is that we know these children are at high risk for negative life outcomes

Jacob: In terms of brain-based evidence, recent work has begun to show different behavioural, yet similar brain activity profiles during arithmetic for children diagnosed with dyscalculia and dyslexia, but it’s only just a start. See here for more info https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213158218300731

Lorna: Neurodiversity activists are working towards that! Neurotribes by Steve Silberman is a great book on autism and neurodiversity

Abena: Because of the way our schools are set up though, right? In an adapted environment, these disorders may not have such a negative impact?

Courtenay: @Abena well, society places high value on oracy and literacy, and I can’t see that changing any time soon. But yes, in other cultures/societies it would have less impact (like my running!)

Abena: Thanks all. @Lorna – that books looks interesting. Will read.

Courtenay: @Abena having said that, the curriculum is not always in line with developmental expectations and this can give the impression that a child is having problems when it is just they are not developmentally ready for what they are being asked to do!

Abena: @Courtenay – this totally resonates! Unfortunately it’s easier for adults to see (retrospectively thinking about their peers and what they achieved in spite / because of school) and not so much for kids/teens. League tables don’t wait for ‘readiness’ 🙁

Nthomas: @Courtenay That is soo sooo true!

Courtenay: @nthomas this is the one thing I could change if I could – we seem to have forgotten all about the zone of proximal development!

Jacob: @Courtenay this is such an important point and likely to be a source of tension in education (maturation/development vs guided instruction). Zone of proximal development indeed, as well as capitialising on the timing of critical periods

ModKathryn: Could you elaborate on what zone of proximal development is?

Jacob: The zone of proximal development describes the “”sweet spot”” between (1) what a learner can achieve unaided and (2) what they cannot achieve without help. It’s the point where they benefit the most from guided instruction

Courtenay: the zone of proximal development is basically the gap between what a child can do (without help) and what they can’t do. The idea is that you target new learning in this zone – just a bit beyond current ability.

Jacob: How’s that for reliability of answers!

ModKathryn: Excellent!

@Courtenay: I worry that the gaps in the curriculum are just too big, and many children feel frustrated and experience failure regularly

Abena: @Courtenay – I agree, which is why I find what MCS Brent do with their ‘boot camp’ and same expectations for all. Their claims are astonishing – that even students several years behind with literacy / numeracy make huge gains by avoiding differentiation and instead supporting them to reach the same goals. They make no allowances within the classroom for SEN, including ADHD…and if the reports are to be believed, the students love it.

Lorna: @abena I’m not aware of any independent evaluation of Michaela school techniques

Courtenay: @Abena the school where I am a governor uses something called ‘you own your own behaviour’ (YOYOB) – I don’t know of any research on it, but works very well in that school! They move up and down a behaviour line – I like it because if you move down, you still have potential to redeem yourself within the same lesson/day

Courtenay: @Abena I’m always suspicious of ‘astonishing’ claims! A real problem for many children with SEND is being able to reason about cause/effect/and future consequences

Abena: @Courtenay – yes, they talk in their book about the need for speed when it comes to consequences and reactions.

Courtenay: @Abena agree they need to be immediate, otherwise many children with SEND won’t link the outcome with the behaviour!

Abena: @Courtenay – do you think this holds in examples of suspensions carried out over more than the day of the offence? Does anyone know of any evidence supporting / refuting the effectiveness of suspensions in elementary / primary schools? Especially with SEND students?

Courtenay: @Abena I’m afraid I don’t know about that. I would question what the goal of suspension is – I suspect for many children it won’t alter their behaviour because it doesn’t get at the cause of the behaviour.

Abena: @Courtenay – I agree. The time is not used for restoration or for probing the issue – just as punishment (in this case)

Courtenay: @Abena not helpful! for SEND, really important to understand the triggers of behaviour and how to address the before things reach crisis

Abena: @Courtenay – But schools (generally) wouldn’t see a ‘crisis’ as their failing…only the student’s 🙁

Lorna: @Abena not sure about evidence on that, but imagine frequent exclusion for behaviours over which the child may have limited control (e.g. Impulsivity in ADHD) likely counterproductive

Courtenay: @Abena I do know of cases where the school has a tricky balance in meeting needs of the child with challenging behaviour and meeting the needs of the other children affected by that behaviour

Courtenay: Thank you all for such interesting questions – clearly we have lots of research work to do (and lots to do to influence those who dev curriculum and behaviour policies)

ModKathryn: Thank you all for the discussion! Remember you can ask a question at any time on the website by clicking the Ask icon. See you in the next live chat!

Posted on March 23, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment