Category Archives: Live Chat Transcript

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:  

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: 

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:  

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 – 

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 –].

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 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live Chat – Individual Differences #2 – 27th March 2018

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: 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 –

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

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 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live Chat – Individual Differences #1 – Thursday 22nd March

Live chat – Evidence in the classroom #2 – Tuesday 13th March

Modsu: Welcome to the 2nd week of Evidence in the classroom. It would be really useful if we could introduce ourselves – share a little bit about our research or our teaching background, or other areas of interest 🙂

Courtney: Hi Everyone, I’m Courtney – currently a postdoctoral researcher in the US. I study numeracy and mathematics learning, and have education research and math teaching experience.  I focus on adolescents and young adults. I’ve taught middle school, high school, and college math content.

abena baiden: Good evening. I started teaching in EFL, then in England, Malaysia and Vietnam. On a break at the moment, and returning to Asia later this year. Studying Psychology in prep for conversion course (MSc) in September. Find ed neuroscience fascinating. Currently an English and Drama teacher but also do a lot of Digital Literacy.

Carolina: Hello, my name is Carolina and I’m a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Dundee. In my research I focus in learning and memory. Thus, I’m a Cognitive Psychologist. I apply findings from cognitive psychology to education to improve learning and teaching. I’m also part of the scholarly outreach project The Learning Scientists and recently have founded the Teaching Innovation and Learning Enhancement (TILE) network at the University of Dundee:

Brian: Hi everyone. I’m happy to answer questions on typical and atypical maths learning, on the brain, and on genetics.

MrsTulloch: I am a science teacher in Shetland. I have been doing a couple of action research tasks in school although pretty rusty at research. 

Modsu: That sounds really interesting. What was the focus of the action research tasks?

MrsTulloch: Just been giving feedback using iPads, sending a video and airdropping to pupils at the start of the following lesson, I got positive feedback from pupils – they actually listened to it and responded, much better than written feedback!


Modsu: Great! Has anyone seen any research findings that they’ve found really surprising or unexpected, or super-interesting recently?

abena baiden: I found the research on the role of forgetting in long-term memory really interesting. I’m getting on and always worried about my capacity to remember things long-term (as well as for my students) so very interested.

Modsu: I think memory is really interesting. Is there anything in particular that you apply from research with your students?

abena baiden: Interleaving and spaced practice, but I find it’s really hard to plan it systematically without collaboration.

Carolina: How do you apply spaced practice?

abena baiden: Typically at the start of – or during – a longer lesson. I’ll review content from the recent and far past and try to connect it with the current focus, though it isn’t always possible. It can be pretty random, which is something I’d like to change.

Carolina: How do you review previous content?

abena baiden: It depends. Could be through a quiz, a performance task, a game (like Kahoot tho it’s falling out of favour with me because of the time element), a mindmap of all you can remember etc. I’m aware it could be better, but I need to work with others to ensure it’s more robust. I hope I have that opportunity in the future.


Carolina: I think one relatively surprising finding of a recent study was that lecture recordings do not affect lecture attendance. I blogged about it here: 

abena baiden: Carolina, did you see the research on how providing recordings resulted in a drop in attainment in one university? Can’t remember the name but sure it was in the UK, and recent…

Carolina: That study I blogged about was conducted with multiple year groups and in an authentic educational setting. Another interesting finding is that the mere presence (sight) of your cellphone can decrease your cognitive capacity – even if it is turned off: 

abena baiden: Carolina – not hard to believe at all!

Carolina: Follow up research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms, but it is a pretty important finding – particularly for classroom instruction.


abena baiden: As a parent, how can I best support my children’s math development? Is there a particular resource I could refer to? One is in primary and the other starting secondary (8 and 11).

Courtney: Some strategies for helping children at math are keeping a positive attitude toward the material (even more advance/difficult material) and activating prior knowledge that might relate to the current topic. For example, it could be asking what a student knows already about a math concept or related concept. 

Mrs Tulloch: OK, so the more we are strengthening the white matter (connections in the brain) the better they will remember?! Is that true for everyone?

Courtney: In terms of prior knowledge, I think of it as helping students see connections across math problems and concepts.

Paula: In our intervention work we encourage the activation and sharing of prior knowledge to support comprehension. 

abena baiden: I do this (APK) at the start of topics and try to do throughout units when introducing new concepts. Is there hard evidence to suggest it really is worthwhile? It’s one that I picked up before understanding the implications of research and evidence.

Paula: The National Reading Panel includes evidence relating to activating prior knowledge to support comprehension 

abena baiden: My kids are quite good at math, but I’ve heard some math teachers (esp those that have done further study) say it is being taught ‘wrong’ and that’s why it’s so inaccessible to many. I’d like to make sure they are learning concepts in the best way. However, I’m not sure if that means directing them to something like Khan or Bitesize is best when they do struggle.

Courtney: That’s very interesting. What do teachers say is the ‘wrong way’?

abena baiden: As an English teacher, I honestly have no idea. It’s usually secondary teachers and I came across this ( recently too which made me wonder what the ‘secret’ is.

Courtney:  I would have to look a bit more closely at the content of the materials in the link you sent re: division. But at first glance I am a bit skeptical. It may be helpful to think about multiple ways to do math problems, rather than one best way. There is some literature on developing students’ ability to use multiple strategies, and develop flexibility. That is, to choose the best strategy for a problem depending on the problem characteristics.

abena baiden: Unfortunately, I learned math one way so can’t always see the answer. I also worry about confusing my explanations with the teachers’. They seem to do division (for example) differently than the way I was taught.

Brian: It depends on the stage your kids are at and the concepts they are learning. I’m depressed that the current government is focussed on rote learning. The best practice here and in Singapore focuses on understanding.

abena baiden: Ah Singapore – well you certainly have a rep for doing it the ‘right’ way! You don’t believe rote learning has any role? What about times tables?

Brian: Absolutely not. You learn 3×6 and 6×3 as separate facts, not their relationship. That means you miss the chance to get an early understanding of the commutativity of multiplication. Also tables to 10 means learning 81 separate facts!

abena baiden: What’s a better way? Do you have any links?

Brian: In China they don’t learn 1x anything, as I did, and once the learn 6×3 in the 3 times table, they don’t learn it again in 6x table, which starts with 6×6. Only 36 facts to learn, and commutativity comes free!

Courtney: I wonder if it’s helpful to think about fluency with times tables versus how fluency is achieved. For instance, simple memorization without conceptual understanding is problematic, as in Brian’s example. 

abena baiden: Can you expand a bit on that? I’m not sure I understand, though I agree that conceptual understanding is essential.


abena baiden: Do you have suggestions for other ways to do spaced practice?

Carolina: Spaced practice works great through homework. 

abena baiden: Thanks. I saw that’s what Michaela (@mcsbrent) do along with their knowledge organisers. I’d like to try it.

Paula: We use distributed practice approach in our reading and language interventions. We tend to have short 5-7 minute activities spaced over three or four sessions a week.

abena baiden: What kind of activities do you do? And is it for all students? One to one?

Paula: We use elements of reciprocal teaching, and robust vocabulary instruction. Also work on narrative, inferencing, figurative language and metacognitive strategies. We run some sessions one to one and others with pairs of pupils. It is a Wave 2 catch up intervention approach.

abena baiden: Sounds really interesting. Do any of your team blog about it?

Paula: Not currently blogging about it. We have written about it in our book. If we manage to get more funding then hope to develop a stronger web presence.  

Carolina: I use distributed practice in the 4 quizzes that students need to do during a semester. I add questions from topics that were taught weeks earlier.


Carolina: What are the biggest challenges in applying research findings to teaching practice?

abena baiden: Feeling like you’re using the kids as guinea pigs for the latest fad. But with sites like this and the learningscientists, it’s easier now to distinguish between ‘fad’ and something that might actually work.

Carolina: Exactly. Plus, you are genuinely interested in improving their performance and learning.

abena baiden: Thanks. From now on, I should start collating evidence for as much as I can when it comes to my classroom practices, and if I can’t find any – seriously question it.


MrsTulloch: Is there a key to learning the skill of blending letter sounds to make a word? My son, who is 5 can blend really well, but my niece who is also 5 cannot blend at all!?

Paula: Blending is cognitively demanding and can be challenging – we tend to recommend the Sound Linkage materials to assess and support specific phonological skills.


abena baiden: Do you agree with Hattie’s ‘hinge point’ of 0.4 as an effect size to pay attention to? Are there any caveats to consider in this?

Courtney: I’ve never heard of this – is there an easy reference to share?

abena baiden: See the first paragraph here:  

Carolina: Depending on the changes you wish to see, you would not want to settle for an effect size of d = .4…if you want to see bigger changes, you may want to look at strategies with larger effect sizes.

abena baiden: But you wouldn’t want to settle for anything *less* as a general rule?

Carolina: It is the first time I’ve heard about this rule of thumb. I’m sure Hattie has his reasons why he suggested this and not – say – .5, but I don’t know what the reasons are.

Courtney: It seems restrictive to me to only pay attention to effect sized of .4 or greater.

Carolina: Yes, and rules of thumbs sometimes uninvite (is that a word?) criticial reflection.

abena baiden: Fair point!

Courtney: And by my (very quick) read, it seems Hattie determined this hinge point because it was the average effect size across a large set of intervention studies.

Carolina: That’s a bit unsatisfying.

Courtney: So I guess that “what works best in education” (which was the question Hattie was trying to answer) really means what is better than average. That’s not good/bad necessarily, just how he chose to address the question. 

Carolina: Yes, and that is why it is important to think about how this rule of thumb came about. Thanks for checking.

abena baiden: But he does make the important point that almost any intervention will have a positive effect, so I liked the idea there was a point at which you could say something was worth the time, effort and cost.

Carolina: “But he does make the important point that almost any intervention will have a positive effect,” Ehm, no. I would never ever sign this statement. This statement is so general and does not seem to allow for an exception, that it must be scientifically wrong.

abena baiden: This is where it becomes *really* challenging as a teacher to know where to put your trust. ‘Almost’ – he does include interventions that have negative effects, but seems to say that the vast majority of initiatives (traditionally tried) have a positive effect. Would you disagree?

Courtney: One thing that’s tricky about this statement is whether we’re considering only published studies. Studies that do not find an effect may not get published, creating a bias.

Carolina: Yes, this is a huge problem indeed. Only today I answered a question here on the platform about this:   

abena baiden: I suspect he is indeed including only published studies, but would have to go back and re-check. 

Carolina: “This is where it becomes *really* challenging as a teacher to know where to put your trust.” I know, but that’s why it is good to have a group like The Learning Scientists or other researchers who are doing outreach. You can ask them and they can share their knowledge.

Brian: There’s controversy about his meta-analytic methods. Anyway, what works well on average, may be detrimental to a substantial minority.

abena baiden: Thanks for pointing that out. This is why I’m trying to understand research methods, so I can be more critical. Still a work in progress.

alice-bell: Didn’t Hattie’s research base have a very large sample size over all the studies. Surely this would change the most appropriate effect size?  


alice-bell: Hi, I was interested in you mentioning Singapore. I teach Maths at a sixth form college and we are doing loads on all the cognitive stuff but how does this fit alongside the mastery techniques? Have you seen this working anywhere?

Brian: I am currently working with three schools that use Maths Mastery. The outcomes couldn’t be more different between schools. Cognitive tests – WM or IQ – are a relatively poor guide to attainment in the early years. The ability to subitize is a better predictor. We’re keen on using our own adaptive digital games to promote understanding of basic arithmetic. Early days, but they seem to work for Year 1s, esp kids who are struggling.

alice-bell: Is Maths Mastery less well evidenced by research currently then? Could it be another “fad”? It is not very prevalent in my sector (yet).

Brian: Maths mastery: small effect.  Big sample in the RCT, so a small effect could be significant. Small effect means that lots of kids are not helped by it. Interesting to find out why not.


MrsTulloch: What are the most effective ways you have seen of assessing and capturing understanding in children?

abena baiden: Great question. I wonder if it is at all possible without a long-term view.

MrsTulloch: Do you just keep varying it until you find a way that suits an individual pupil and then continue on with that method for that child or should we look for multiple ways of assessing each child?

abena baiden: I’d say multiple ways, and in my area we also want transferability. I’d also say I don’t think it’s sustainable to explore multiple ways for each individual student unless working in a team. Teacher burnout.

Paula: With regards assessing understanding I think using multiple methods is key. Providing pupils with different ways to express their understanding is important. Very often standardised tests rely on a oral response. I think with comprehension there is the added challenge of determining a ‘correct’ interpretation – as potentially all interpretations are valid.  

MrsTulloch: Yes the ‘correct’ interpretation is what will get them a pass in an exam, whereas the ‘incorrect’ interpretation as seen by the marking team will mean they will fail – not exactly fair I guess.

Paula: When we support comprehension skills we encourage pupils to consider multiple perspectives, interpretations and viewpoints – however some forms of assessment the goal is the ‘correct’ interpretation (that of the test author).

abena baiden: Is there any leeway in the marking? Can markers accept a response if it’s well supported for example?


Modsu: Thanks everyone – hope you found it an interesting and useful discussion. If you have any further questions that haven’t been answered this evening, do feel free to add them to the ‘Ask’ tab.Join us next week for the next live chat!

Carolina: I hope it was a bit helpful for the teachers!

abena baiden: Thanks. It’s always helpful to tap into the experts, even if it leaves me with more questions. Good learning!

Posted on March 14, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live chat – Evidence in the classroom #2 – Tuesday 13th March

Live Chat – Evidence in the classroom #1 – Thursday 8th March

ModKathryn: Hi! Welcome to tonight’s live chat on Evidence in the classroom. We’re due to start at 8pm, but it would be nice to introduce ourselves!

Abena: I’m most recently an international school teacher of English and Digital Literacy, (hopefully) starting a Psychology conversion course in September. Also currently studying Research Methods with Coursera.

ModKathryn: My name is Kathryn, I’m a moderator for the Learning Zone and a PhD student in cognitive development

Richard: Hi, I’m Richard. I have been teaching teachers to do randomised controlled trials for the last three years and am now working on a Wellcome Trust project in which teachers who have previously completed an RCT have designed trials in collaboration with neuroscientists.

Paula: I’m Paula, and I am currently working on developing a previous RCT as I hope to replicate and extend the findings we obtained. The work I hope to develop is on developing reading comprehension skills through oral language training

Abena: @Paula – how common is it for researchers to replicate their own work?

Richard: Replication in education research is a rare thing… but essential to scientific method. In the 19 teacher trials we have several teachers who are doing parallel replications. One teacher has trialled spaced learning in KS1 and KS2 lessons in parallel to look at the effects of the approach on different age groups and with different lesson content.

Paula: @abena – I think it is very common, especially with smaller scale experimental work. It is more challenging with RCTs as they are typically expensive to run and it can takes time to see the impact of intervention

Paula: @all I guess I am thinking about it from the perspective of psychological research, I agree replication seems to be less common in education research

Abena: Why are RCTs so expensive?

Richard: Actually, the large scale trials in England are only expensive because of the way they are organised. One of our teacher-led RCTs has 900 participants and has cost nothing more than teacher time

Paula: RCTs don’t have to be expensive but when run by a research team the costs mount up

Richard: Also, the large trials in education are trying to standardise their protocols over six months with large samples. Teacher-led RCTs often model a laboratory approach with many being single lesson studies

Paula: When we conduct trials we will typically employ research assistants, postdoctoral researchers, pay for buy out of teacher time and teaching assistant time, assessment costs, materials costs etc.

Abena: Do researchers across the globe share and pay attention to each other’s studies? Or do they tend to be more nationally-focused (or even US-UK focused in this case)?

Paula: @abena the number of researchers who work in the field of reading comprehension intervention in the UK is pretty small, it is really important to connect with research internationally

Abena: @Paula – do these connections tend to stay in the ‘western’ world or truly internationally?

Courtney: @abena I think in theory researchers are attending to other’s work, but this may vary by topic. For instance, there may be many researchers in a particular geographic region or country with a similar focus

Paula: Connections are maintained through publication in international journals, conferences, online and through teaching – I have students on the MA programmes at Leeds from around the globe and PhD and EdD students working in international contexts

ModKathryn: @all What are some of the key challenges in translating evidence to practise in the classroom? And how do you think we can, or we are, addressing them in education research?

Richard: Firstly, laboratories are not classrooms, just as the biological experiment is not clinical practice. Secondly, wide replication to control for individual pupil differences as well as school context will be necessary. Finally, and most importantly, writers have pointed to the ‘democratic deficit’ that exists in education research and its potential impact on attempts to establish ‘what works’ (Biesta, 2007). In medicine and healthcare, it is serving clinicians who most frequently publish studies about clinical practice. In education, few practitioner studies reach journals or get disseminated. Further, those researchers who do study or design pedagogy often no longer practise as teachers.

Courtney: I think one challenge is moving from a lab setting into a classroom – to think about how a hypothesis may need to be tested under different circumstances (and revised and tested again)

Alex: Teachers are extremely busy – and they seem to be getting more overworked all the time, and see new fads and changes to curriculum etc all the time – so any additional techniques/methods etc can be a challenge, amongst everything else they need to do

Richard: Another key challenge in relation to translating neuroscience evidence is this. . .on a theoretical level, education and neuroscience can be considered as fundamentally different in their overall objectives and the manner in which the objectives are pursued (the ‘goal problem’). Neuroscience is a natural science that investigates the workings of the brain, the functional architecture of the mind and the way that the brain and mind map together. In contrast, education aims to develop particular pedagogies and therefore, arguably, has more in common with the way in which architecture uses physics.

Abena: @Richard – do you think EdD programs are an answer to the practitioner / researcher issue?

Richard: Few EdD programmes in education include experimental research methods, yet. Education research has tended to be dominated by qualitative methods

Paula: Our EdD programme at Leeds gives the option of doing advanced experimental and statistical methods

Abena: @Richard – you see the qualitative slant as a problem?

Richard: The qualitative slant. . well,. observation alone can’t tell you if something is working or not. Without a control condition you have no idea if the effect you have observed would have happened anyway. After 100 year of education qualitative research we still can’t answer some basic questions about which pedagogy is best with which group in which context

Abena: @Richard – Yes, I see what you mean. I hadn’t realised qual. research didn’t include control groups. Just beginning in my studies in this area

Abena: I’m baffled as to how the idea of ‘evidence-based practice’ is so neglected in ITT programs and PD

ModKathryn: What do ITT and PD stand for?

Abena: Initial teacher training and professional development. I’m just surprised at the distance between research and teacher knowledge of it.

Richard: You might find this article interesting.

Alex: @abena Absolutely agree – this is an issue for ITT as you say. But also for school-based CPD

Paula: In my work I am moving more and more to phases of co-production, working in partnership with teaching assistants to develop materials and training @Richard I think your work sounds very interesting

Alex: The point I was making was more that, teacher’s time or lack of is a challenge for translating research into the classroom – particularly when they have a way that seems to ‘work

Richard: You can find some examples of teacher-led RCTs here

Abena: @Alex – yes I agree about the time demands for sure. Since learning about orgs such as this and EEF, I want everyone to know so we stop pouring energy into black holes.

Courtney: @Alex @abena There have been discussions about creating space for research-practice translators in schools, but how to do this has been a challenge.

Richard: I think the large scale EEF trials are helpful. However, its going to take a long time to answer all of the questions we need to… I am also looking at developing RCTs which involve the collection of quantitative and qualitative data – so key outcome measures which may be psychometric and quantifiable and outcomes which can captured using reflective diaries, interviews etc. However, if only 10% of teachers in England led one robust RCT onece in their career we could have 40,000 studies.

Abena: @Courtney – presumably they would be teachers? (The translators)

Courtney: They could be, or could be former educators or researchers who want to do the translational work. For sure they would need training through schools of education or in-school training.

Paula: My most recent trial was funded by EEF. I think what is important is that there is an opportunity for re-trialling and developing cycles of investigation. I am particularly interested in the potential application of design based methods.

Richard: You can run a qualitative RCT. It is sometimes done in medicine to explore the qualitative impact of a treatment alongside the patient outcomes

Abena: @richard what about the research schools – is that not what they are aiming for? Or are those studies too small-scale?

Richard: That is the main issue with large-scale expensive trials. When we conduct such research we only end up with a probability that the result may have occurred by chances. Without replication you do not know if the finding is the 1 in 20 anomaly

Courtney: @Paula I think the mixed-methods approach is really interesting and valuable – provides such a rich data set.

Abena: Another obstacle (I guess) is the (seemingly to me) dominant culture of dismissing further studies (e.g. teachers gaining masters) as for self-interest, rather than the furtherance of or understanding of pedagogy. Just last week on TES there was a thread shouting down a teacher who said s/he interested in doing a PhD in education. A bit like the kid in the class who puts his hand up and then gets teased (or bullied) for it later

Richard: That is sad

Alex: do you think the majority of people who do masters are people who want to or aspire to management positions?

Courtney: What was the reason for that? (also, I may have missed what TES is)

Abena: @Alex – I honestly don’t know. I’ve met many US teachers who did it because of the competitiveness for good jobs, but it *seems* less common in the UK. TES = Times Educational Supplement. They run a forum for teachers

Alex: There was talk a while back about making teaching a masters level profession I think – masters in teaching and learning was it? Which would presumably include research elements, but I think the funding wasn’t there

Abena: @Alex – yes. Many PGCEs are now counted as the first part of this masters. Not sure what the funding status is now but I think at one point teachers could get funding to do it from their LEA

ModKathryn: I think Prof Paul Howard Jones is doing some work in collaboration with wellcome trust about implementing more information on brain development and the science of learning into teaching training – I heard him mention at a talk. Worth keeping an eye out for!

Alex: Oh yes, extra modules are being trialed for ITT

Abena: Where are these modules being trialled do you know?

Alex: Bath springs to mind

ModKathryn: Also Bristol – where Howard Jones is based.

Abena: @Richard – why do you think this difference exists (between healthcare and education)?

Richard: I think that there is a fundamental issue beyond this, related to the content of initial teaching training and masters degrees in education – which is not necessarily evdidence based. I think the difference is there because education is still an area at the mercy of fads and quackery

Abena: I agree! I have a masters and hadn’t been exposed to many of the ideas I’ve found recently through this (and related sites). Quite annoyed about it but glad I can move forward now

Paula: We run an MA Education and Professional Enquiry which is specifically for teachers, many of the students use this as a route to a PhD or EdD. The MA in Special Education Needs which I lead on also requires a minimum of 3 years teaching experience.

Richard: As the Journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education puts it – “Just as 200 years ago, medicine was little more than a mixture of bits of knowledge, fads and plain quackery without a basic grounding in a scientific understanding of the body, and just as in the middle of the nineteenth century, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, Emil Du Bois-Reymond and a few others got together and drew up a scheme for what medicine should be (i.e. applied natural science), we believe that this can be taken as a model for what should happen in the field of education. In many countries, education is merely the field of ideology, even though we know that how children learn is not a question of left or right political orientation.”

Richard: There are many places now where educational neuroscience is becoming a core part of academic activity

Richard: Another issue, is that we have no formal pipeline equivalent to the ‘bench to bedside’ concept in medicine and healthcare

Abena: @Richard – I don’t know what that is, but is anyone pushing for the creation of such an equivalent, that you know of?

Richard: Even if a new ‘treatment’ were discovered in education there is no guaranteed way of getting that information into teacher training (as the whole system is fragmented and devolved)…. it is even possible become a qualified teacher with no academic input at all

ModKathryn: Also behavioural research takes a lot longer to get to valid, replicable outcomes which can be rolled out in large-scale interventions

Paula: yes I agree @modkathryn

Richard: Yes that is true too

Richard: I am on the organsing group of CEBE (Coalition for Evidence Based Education) and this year we are focusing on the differences between medicine and education . . in relation to this ‘pipeline’ question

Courtney: @Richard What take-aways may come out of the CEBE meeting? Would the CEBE make recommendations, for example, or a framework to address the pipeline issue?

Richard: Yes that is the plan

Richard: ‘bench-to-bedside’ in healthcare expresses a linkage from basic lab research through applied research and evaluation of programmes to evidence-based treatments and training to deliver them. My understanding is that these functions were all carried out by different bodies in separate silos, as in education, but after a lot of effort they have been linked by the creation of the National Institute for Health Research. We are a long way from this in education

Abena: @Richard – any word of an equivalent being established in education, or is that not the gap the EEF is trying to plug? Or even the CEBE?

Richard: Here is a theory… people often feel very defensive of their PhD research method… and many of the last generation of education researchers were ethnographic sociologists

Richard: In all our teacher-led RCTs. . . the control condition is existing best practice… with the intervention a ‘believed’ improvement. As would be done in surgery. Therefore, in the control condition the teachers are doing no more harm than usual.

Abena: @Richard – don’t think-tanks bring that kind of expertise and knowledge to policy-makers?

Richard: It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. education is so highly politicised precisely because we don’t have enough evidence. . . and we probably don’t have enough evidence because politicians have spent too long shifting from one position to another…. the answer is to do the hard work. . . the controlled research.

Paula: @Richard – same – we use a ‘business as usual’ control – we also have a waiting list element though so that those who did not receive intervention in the trial can have the opportunity to receive it after the trial is complete.

Richard: About 40% of our trials are within-participant (repeated measures) so that the children experience both control and intervention conditions . .. with lesson content as well as the order of conditions counterbalanced

Courtney: @Paula @Richard It seems that a delayed treatment (i.e., waiting list) helps with retention for classroom-based RCTs

Richard: Sometimes you can only do a between-participant design (independent measures) so a wait-group is a good solution to avoid high levels of attrition in the control group…this is what we did on Closing the gap

Richard: Just to clarify on what this means: Between-participant – pupils divided into two groups that each experience a different teaching approach (or condition).Within-participant – all pupils experience all approaches but in different orders (counterbalancing). It is usual to counterbalance the order in which things happen in this type of design, in order to balance out effects that might transfer from one condition to another (carryover or order effects). Matched-pair (or case-matched) – similar pupils are paired and each member of the pair randomly allocated.

Paula: Initial teacher training and postgraduate level training has been mentioned so far in this conversation – I am interested in cost effective ways to deliver continued professional development at scale. I would be grateful for any suggestions of organisations to link up with. I am also interested in online and blended learning approaches to CPD if anyone has any advice there?

Abena: @Paula – my last school had a few cohorts doing online CPD with Harvard’s programs for teachers

Paula: thanks – what kinds of topics do you think work well in these types of training packages?

Abena: @Paula – in all honesty, I think it’s the content that allows for easy implementation, with minimal additional resources. And anything that saves time rather than creates more work is – of course – most popular. I’ve heard many teachers saying that after their masters they never want to study again because of the impact on their time and especially families / partners. But where schools make space for this, it is more popular e.g. reducing timetables

Paula: @abena – thank you for these insights

Alex: abena: how do you think teachers perceive this type of education research?

Abena: @Alex – as you mentioned, it’s a time issue. And also knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Those that experiment can be seen as using kids as guinea pigs; those who don’t can be seen as disinterested in professional development.

Abena: Communities such as this one are excellent for having access to experts. I’m wondering if any asynchronous forums for teachers to discuss research in the company of experts exist. Do you know of any?

ModKathryn: I know its not specific but twitter seems to be a good place to have these discussions between researchers and teachers

Richard: I was talking to Shane about how we might put some of the teacher protocols online here and give other teachers the chance to talk to the teacher who have done RCTs… and even replicate the studies, uploading data

Richard: My twitter is @teacherled_RCTs

Paula: My twitter use is growing and I intend to become more active on it – @DrPJClarke

Courtney: Yes, I hope to as well. @_CPollack

Alex: @hodgkiss_alex here

Abena: Thank you all for being so accessible!

Richard: Thanks for an interesting conversation. . so many of us are now in the same space. . . we definitely should connect more

ModKathryn: Thank you all for the discussion! The transcript will be posted online tomorrow with links attached. Remember if you have any other questions you can ask at any time using the “”Ask”” button on the website. See you in the next chat! 🙂

Posted on March 9, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live Chat – Evidence in the classroom #1 – Thursday 8th March

Live chat – Adolescence #2 – Tuesday 27th February 2018

Modsu: Welcome everyone. I think it would be really useful if we all introduce ourselves and say a little bit about what we’re researching at the moment.

Nicola: I am researching a) wellbeing in adolescents and young adults with language and communication difficulties b) language and cognition in deaf children and c) understanding overlaps between different educational / developmental needs.

Kinga: I’m researching the links between logical thinking and mathematics. We also have a project on the development of time management skills, and we investigate this is both typically developed adolescents and in adolescents with autism.

Lucia: I am Lucia, and I have just started working on my postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, working on how puberty impacts learning.

ModSu: What would you say are the key ways that puberty impacts learning?

Lucia: We really don’t know all that much. It is hard to tease out effects of puberty (hormonal changes) and those of age. Most of what we know so far comes for animal studies. But we think that puberty might be triggering the increased interest in social status and peers, opening windows of sensitivity and plasticity but closing others.

Nicola: Lucia, in your work do you try to separate out cognitive changes as well as physiological ones – I know these are the same at some level but…

Lucia: We are zooming in on reinforcement learning (learning from rewards) and its interaction with puberty and age.

Nicola: Fascinating – I teach a lecture or two on behaviourism basics but this would be great stuff to mention. Do you have a link to a suitable paper?

Lucia: This is a great review!


Modsu: And teachers – perhaps you could tell us a bit about what you’re teaching at the moment, and any particular research you’re interested in?

jwatson: I work at Huntington research school with a specialism in cognition. Im also Head of Year 13 so have an interest in adolescent development.

Modsu: That sounds really interesting. Are you currently involved with a research project?

jwatson: We are being the control group for a study into mindfulness and we are also being part of some research looking at how sleep impacts on vocab development. But most of our work is disseminating research and encouraging teachers to engage in evidence based practice rather than actually being involved in research.


Nicola: Can you tell us about Huntington research school – is it 6th form or whole secondary?

jwatson: Huntington School is a comprehensive secondary school but the Research School is actually seperate to this – we are 1 of 23 set up accross the country over the past 2 years. They are funded by the EEF and IEE both trying to encourage social mobility.

Nicola: I was not aware of these, sounds like a great idea – does the research school have a twitter presence?

jwatson: Absolutely – check out @HuntResearchSch. It’s super exciting to be a part of!

Nicola: I presume that sleep study is at York – have you met Vic Knowland from their team? 

jwatson: It sure is!!! No I haven’t- I’ve been working with Emma James. I’m really enjoying it – fascinating stuff!

Nicola: Do you find it challenging getting teachers to engage with evidence base, or are most teachers pretty keen?

Modsu: Excellent question – and also, how do you go about sharing research with busy teachers?

jwatson: I suppose part of the issue is that schools choosing to attend our programmes are already relatively interested the problem is getting schools involved that are more sceptical about research. We do 3 day programmes training research leads- the idea that these people will be given time by their schools to do the hard work for busy teachers and make it accessible for them. Eg getting every teacher to complete an inquiry question with a pre and post test, control group etc but the research lead point them in the direction of relevant research so they don’t need to find it. The EEF toolkit is amazing too as its so accessible and in ‘teacher friendly’ language.

Modsu: Yes, I agree. The toolkit is a great resource.

Nicola: Yes the tool kit is excellent.

jwatson: But it’s so important to get teachers to dig deeper beneath the headlines. Many disregard things just by looking at the average months of progress

Nicola: The research programme sounds like a good way in. I have found the training / culture regarding research very different in schools to say health settings.

jwatson: That’s so interesting- I went to Sweden last month to do a talk at the Swedish Institute for Education and they said the same.

Nicola: I think in allied health folk grow up professionally with the idea of evidence based practice, whereas in teaching people often don’t have training or access to journals etc.

jwatson: Absolutely, and many teachers seem to feel using a control group is unethical so don’t feel research has a place in the classroom.

Nicola: Yes, but of course control groups can be many different things. Waitlist controls would be easily found in classrooms I think since children often take turns to do small group activities.

jwatson: Exactly and that’s all based upon us assuming the initiative works rather than trying to be objective about it! 2/3 of our inquiry questions last year showed our interventions were ineffective but thats just as interesting so we can stop doing things that don’t work! Especially with teacher workload issues!

Nicola: This is SO important. Very easy to carry on doing what ‘has always been done’ etc. Also control groups can be active controls, so teachers could compare one method over another. 

Modsu: Absolutely. A finding that something isn’t working is definitely still a finding 🙂

Lucia: Agreed! We need to be more comfortable with negative results.

Modshane: And our next topic on “Evidence in the Classroom” should hopefully be of interest too. Starts on Monday.


Modsu: Have any teachers seen the edition of Impact that was sent to schools this week? All about the science of learning –  

Lucia: It is fantastic! A great survey of the field, and very accessible.

jwatson: Sounds amazing. No I haven’t.

Modsu: I’m not sure who the copy will have been sent to, but hopefully there will be one around your school – it’s a really interesting read!

jwatson: Thanks so much, I’ll hunt it down…


jwatson: I would love to see some more research into metacognition in the classroom.

Nicola: We just had a PhD student, Billie Lowe (also a qualified SLT) finish looking at teaching science vocabulary in secondary classrooms. It’s not strictly meta-cogntive, but the strategies trialled did involve explicit focus on word features (both semantic and phonological) e.g. saying out loud, looking at associated features.

Modsu: Interesting. Was there a difference in effect with the different strategies?

Nicola: The techniques were delivered by mainstream teachers universally using the curriculum vocabulary – teachers had one day training in techniques. They showed promising results, but…fidelity checks showed that teachers gradually ended up doing the most basic (e.g., listing key words on board) and found it hard to maintain the ones we think might be most effective. Teachers found it hard to attend training too.

vmarshall: Was the focus on retention of the vocab as well as the understanding?

Nicola: Yes, the focus was on retaining and understanding. One of the most interesting findings was the science teachers’ raised awareness that vocabulary might benefit from teaching explictly (in the sense of looking at the word structure, sound etc as well as learning what it meant).

vmarshall: Yes – I teach English – primarily to students with SEN so always looking at ways to aid retention of subject terminology. Looking at parts of the word and trying to connect that to the meaning has been effective.

Nicola: Her study was aimed at teens with language disorder who she then assessed even though it was delivered to the whole class. The systematic review on vocab interventions in secondary classrooms is here;jsessionid=A64D7DB0F9D66F1B01693CF254F4D468.f02t01

jwatson: Would you mind if I do a blog on this?

Nicola: Sure! It would be great if you let Billie know – she is on Twitter.

Kinga: We are planning a project on how mathematics anxiety affects learning behaviour. Our hypothesis that anxiety might affect students’ decision to stop preparing for a test, and also their confidence in their knowledge. Our question is how exactly anxiety affects the learning process. We have seen already that anxiety interferes with learning in the classroom, but we don’t know what happens during revision time.

abena baiden: So interesting! I think anxiety was the only thing that ever got me to study! I was always able to achieve well academically (straight As) but my strategy was to do nothing for most of the term, and then panic approaching exams before swotting desperately. The strategy worked for getting excellent results. But did nothing for long-term retention, or even understanding 🙁

Kinga: So you were anxious about the exam, but not the subject.

abena baiden: Yes – worried about failing but not so much about actually knowing anything. Think I’m so fascinated by the brain and learning now, because I hacked my way so successfully through education. Now I want to actually learn.

Kinga: Yes, most research on anxiety focusses on the negative consequences, but it can also help sometimes.

Nicola: Very interested in the anxiety=avoidance. I see it with uni students on the stats course I teach. Now I say to them explictly ‘the people who don’t do well are the people who don’t tell me they are struggling; all of you can get through this course.

Kinga: Yes, in fact one of the subscales of the statistics anxiety scale is (not) “asking for help”.

Nicola: And many of those who then tell me they are struggling either a)understand it but are panicking or b) have got stuck on something small they can’t get past.

Kinga: There are many links between anxiety and avoidance: avoiding participation, avoiding opportunities to learn… but most of this is not very well-researched.

Lucia: I guess it also relates to the curve of performance under stress. Where mild levels of stress can actually enhance performance and motivation.

Kinga: We have tried to look at this, but the picture is quite complicated. It depends also on the complexity of the materials.

Lucia: Yes, we had some evidence in a task I did during my PhD. We found that while complexity is manageble, motivation can lead teens to try harder. 

Modsu: I think Sam Wass is looking at stress and performance too?

Lucia: Thanks, I will have a look.

Nicola: Is the stats anxiety scale a tool? or do you mean conceptually?

Kinga: There is an actual scale.


vmarshall: Our school is looking to start an ‘action research working party’. A chance for staff to read and share evidence based practice and then conduct small scale research projects in school. I’m going to get involved when it starts up – I am doing my SENCo course currently and my second assignment requires me to do some action based research – need to start thinking about the topic.

Nicola: This sounds really exciting too! I am really encouraged that these initiatives are happening.

Modsu: That sounds really exciting! Are there any particular research areas you are most interested in?

Lia – Wellcome Trust: We have been funding a project which suuports teachers to do small scale research – they will publish the findings soon – so watch this space (

jwatson: Let us know if you would like any resources in terms of how to set up a research question 🙂

vmarshall: Great, thank you.

Lia – Wellcome Trust: Also this might be helpful – . It’s a guide from EEF on doing your own in school evaluations.

Nicola: Looks great.

Kinga: This is a great initiative.

Lucia: Thanks! Looks great.


Kinga: Do you see particular benefits of applying neuroscience to educational contexts?

Lia – Wellcome Trust: We think there is potential, hence why we funded some trials to test if there is benefit But also wanted to help clear up some of the neuromyths in the education sector, and instead help teachers to access researchers and research so that they can help in the translation of the research to practice, and help evaluate it by testing it.

Kinga: I did a teaching course a few years ago, and they were still lecturing about “learning styles”. 

Lia – Wellcome Trust: Yes, I know it is still around a lot… when I was a teacher it was the teaching styles that prompted me to start looking into what the research said.. and then realised how difficult it was (even though my degree was neuroscience).

Kinga: It seems that there are some misconceptions that are hard to let go.

Nicola: Ugh – I was even given a session to run at a uni once on learning styles. Of course I just spent the hour discussing with students why it wasn’t evidence based!

Lia – Wellcome Trust: We also have two projects developing and testing science of learning content to go into initial teacher education courses.

Kinga: I did a course for teaching in HE. It seemed to me that the course teachers could choose whatever they wanted to lecture on.

Lia – Wellcome Trust: There is much room for improvement. But also lots of good practice about.. but the whole education sector is slowly becoming more evdence informed.


Modsu: It’s been an excellent discussion tonight – I hope everyone has found it useful and interesting. Do have a look around the website at other questions and comments, and feel free to add to them 🙂 Thanks again and hope to see you all soon.

Posted on February 28, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live chat – Adolescence #2 – Tuesday 27th February 2018

Live Chat – Adolescence #1 – Thursday 22nd Feb

ModKathryn: Welcome everyone!

ModShane: Hello everyone. What have you learned about adolescents so far this week?

Lucia: I was excited to see the journal Nature launch a special collection on Adolescence, which includes more traditional research articles, as well as podcasts, videos, and popular science articles.
Many of the reviews invite us to rethink how we talk about adolescence, and how to move the research forward

ModShane: @Lucia From an educational perspective or more broadly?

Lucia: More broadly, but it definitely includes relevant topics for learning and education. The nature collection link is here:

ModShane: “It’s widely accepted that adolescents are misunderstood. Less well known is how far we still have to go to understand adolescence itself.” That is a quote from the Nature collection

ModKathryn: The Centre for Educational Neuroscience Seminar at Birkbeck today was on sleep-dependent learning and academic performance. Dr Francis Knight presented her work and one of the findings was that media-use and caffeine consumption negatively effected quality of sleep and then consequently academic performance. They’re now looking at developing interventions, focus groups and raising awareness amongst teenagers

Nicola: @modkathryn – Interested in those findings – were they definitely causal the way you describe them?

ModKathryn: @Nicola – they did a mediation analysis showing sleep was mediating the relationship but it wasnt causal. She mentioned that shes working on doing some studies involving groups restricting sleep comparing to those sleeping longer etc. which could involve causality, but she said thats very difficult in terms of ethics and getting people to agree!

Nicola: @modkathryn I’m interested because often pitched as causal, but I haven’t seen any papers that show more than association – people who sleep less well drink more coffee and use screens when they can’t sleep

vmarshall: I am interested in whether there is anything in the brain that means adolescents become more interested in gaining the respect and attention of their peers rather than that of the adults around them. With young children they are very keen to please and gain recognition from the adults around them, but with adolescents it seems they find greater reward in the attention from peers. Is there anything behind this?

Lucia: Definitively, there is a lot of work showing that there is social reorientation during adolescence, perhaps related to hormonal changes in puberty, in which peers become particularly relevant and an important motivator for teens

Kinga: @vmarshall you can check out this TED talk about adolescent brain development: It’s not so recent but still very relevant

Lucia: @vmarshall an important developmental goal for teens is to gain independence, and learn about and practice with social relationships. This is also related to changes in maturation in regions of the brain that respond to social and exciting/rewarding stimuli

Nicola: Also Theory of Mind – the ability to understand other people’s perspectives and emotions is going through change in adolescence. Here’s a link to an article on this:

ModShane: @lucia @nicola – do we know what is the bigger influence? Is it physical and hormonal changes or social?

Kinga: @ModShane hormonal change happen within a relatively short period. Brain development and cognitive changes take much longer.

vmarshall: @all that’s interesting. I’m wondering if there’s anything teachers can do to replicate/simulate that same feeling in teenagers as the appreciation they gain from their peers. Would certainly help relationships and outcomes between teachers and students if it were possible

Nicola: @vmarshall not sure simulation of being a peer is possible (or desirable!) since partly adolescents are seeking to fit themselves into a peer reference group. But some of the ‘lack of respect’ evident probably stems from social anxiety and difficulty reading people – so more explicit approaches by parents and teachers about how they feel / what they are thinking may go some way

Lucia: @vmarshall there is important work by David Yaeger on how interventions and interactions should acknowledge teens desire to feel respected and be accorded status (instead of “telling them what to do”). Here is the link:

Kinga: @Nicola mentioned theory of mind. There is also the development of metacognitive skills. The ability to see ourselves from “”outside””. It is natural that teen consider their peers to be important reference points

vmarshall: @Lucía That’s great – thank you.

Nicola: One complaint from teenagers is that adults often tell them ‘they have it easy’, or ‘wait ’til you hit the real world’ – in fact the challenges of adolescence are real and often painful. Other teens maybe show increased empathy for these

Rebecca: @vmarshall I agree with @nicola that it may not be possible to simulate peer relationships, but it is the case that although conflict with parents increases during adolescence, adolescents with greater empathic abilities and those who have been taught about empathic skills show less conflict and better conflict resolution with parents, and likely with teachers too

ModShane: @Rebecca Teaching Empathic Skills sounds important. Is it being done? Formally or just for students who struggle badly? Any indications on what works?

vmarshall: @Rebecca That’s interesting. From some of the reading I have been doing on Twitter it seems there is an increasing focus on schools explicitly teaching empathy skills. Not sure if they are Uk or US schools though

Nicola: Emotional Literacy has certainly become more prominent in school classrooms

Rebecca: @vmarshall and @ModShane. I am based in the US and do not know as much about what is happening in the UK. In the U.S. at both the state and federal level there are relatively new education legislation that calls for schools to measure students’ progress with social-emotional skill development, including the development of skills like empathy and perspective-taking.

ModShane: @Rebecca And are there established ways to measure social-emotional skills that are consistent?

Kinga: Maybe it’s an important point to note that perspective taking has a strong component, and for this reason it might be easier to train than empathy.

Nicola: Language is an important element. Teenagers might be helped by labelling their emotions properly

Nicola: The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire is a very well used and tested questionnaire about social and emotion skill. It can be downloaded free here and has norms for girls and boys in many different countries

Rebecca: @vmarshall there is a study that might be of interest to you about the way teaching teachers an emapthic mindset let to reduction in adolescents’ school suspension and in increase in the amount of respect at-risk students believed their teachers had for them

vmarshall: @Rebecca thank you. Our school is currently adopting a new approach to behaviour which is based a lot more on empathy and preventative measures rather than focusing on what sanction to implement when X,Y, Z happens so it would be interesting to read this study

Nicola: What do people think of this — Babies encouraging empathy in primary… I would be interested to know whether it’s evidence based!

Nicola: Ultimately empathy is very difficult to teach. In fact even social skills training evidence is not as convincing as it could be. Teenagers with autism really struggle with this!

Kinga: @Nicola I’m wondering what the babies learn from this. That could be an interesting study too!

Lucia: @vmarshall what strategies have worked for you in the classroom?

vmarshall: I am SENCo at my school and this is something that we are always trying to develop in our students with Autsim. We are having some success with getting students to select the social situations to discuss rather than us as teachers creating scenarios

Lucia: @vmarshall this sounds like a great example of recognising the teens need for independence, and letting them lead and make decisions

ModShane: @Nicola how do we find ways to improve the teaching of empathy? Knowing it is important, but not knowing the best way to teach it is frustrating.

Nicola: the SMILE program looks promising for improving social skills, but not properly evaluated yet. It breaks social behaviour down into very small chunks and uses video analysis (but not feedback until the end – to illustrate change)

vmarshall: @Lucia The strategies that we are using are mainly with our younger students (11-13 year olds). Emotional literacy sessions to help develop a vocabulary around expressing different feelings. With our older students we are encouraging a lot of reflective pratice – we stsrt each session with a positive and a minus and an interesting about their day. We then discuss why things have gone the way they have and teach the social skills from there

Lucia: @vmarshall Sounds great! Scaffolding their developing ability to reflect (what we sometimes call meta-cognition) sounds like a nice approach

Kinga: @vmarshall can you identify any topics that your autistic students are particularly interested in?

Nicola: @vmarshall – I think starting from scenarios they suggest is a great approach. Not always easy for neurotypical adults to guess what the issues / confusions were

vmasrshall: @Kinga it mainly seems to be conflicts with other students – usually stems from their misunderstanding and then inappropriate reaction from them

Kinga: @vmarshall Do you find that your students enjoy these discussions? Would they discuss these issues outside the classroom as well?

vmarshall: @Kinga It depends on the timing of the discussion – if it is happening close to the event they don’t enjoy them as much asthey get hung up on the ‘incident’ and we often go round in circles. This is why we have scheduled sessions so that we can reflect on the past days when in a more calm and objective frame of mind. They enjoy this more when done this way.

vmarshall: @Kinga our sessions are outside the classroom in the students’ mind because it takes place in a specific intervention. They see it very differently to the classroom environment

Nicola: It may also help to work with them to categorise different social demands. I heard an autistic adult once say: you are allowed to answer yes or no to ‘would you like to have a tea?’ but if someone says ‘would you like to sign in over there’… you have to do it. The same language structure in both. But the situation and the pragmatics are the cues

Nicola: @vmarshall – and that helps them being outside of the classroom to discuss?

Kinga: @vmarshall I’m also curious if you see a change in autistic adolescents as well that they are getting more focussed on their peers?

vmarshall: @Kinga our students with autism are definitely more interested in their peers when the become adolescents but more form the perspective of trying to understand other teenagers! Trying to understand their actions and their mannerisms etc.

vmarshall: @Nicola It does seem to. I mean we work in classrooms but they are set up differently to mainstream classes. Much smaller and quieter environment

ModKathryn: The chat will end in 1 minute! Thank you for joining us, the questions and answers will be posted afterwards on the website, and you can ask questions at any time under the “”Ask”” tab. See you in the next chat!

Posted on February 23, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live Chat – Adolescence #1 – Thursday 22nd Feb

Live chat – Early development (Primary Schools) #2 – Thursday 13th February 2018.

ModSu: Welcome everyone to tonight’s live chat.


Mark: My major project is testing 20,000 children of who 13,500 are part of our longitudinal birth cohort study – this allows us to understand all of the factors that influence a child’s outcome. We did our first school sweep when they were 4-5 years and now we are back when they are 7-8 years. But we have all of the routine data being harvested continually.

Rebecca: My interest is primarily on early years learning and attention, and I’ve focused on maths learning in particular. I’m especially interested in how young children learn the meaning of number symbols and what foundational numeracy skills are important to establish in the early years.

Katie: My research is in maths education. In particular in how spatial thinking influences maths learning.


ModSu: What do you think are the most important foundational numeracy skills to establish in the early years?

Rebecca: From the research, it seems the symbolic numerical skills are pretty important. But so are spatial skills! @mickleja has been working on improving early maths education in her board and might have some insight as to what seems to matter in the classroom.

@mickleja: We’ve certainly learned a lot from being part of this project with Rebecca- I agree that the symbolic numerical skills are important. We are spending a lot of time playing games with symbolic and non symbolic representations. Our results have also shown us spatial skills are a need among our early years learners. Number lines are a powerful model to helps kids visualize mentally- we find it’s something teachers need to explore more.


ModSu: Are there any particular resources you use to encourage children to use spatial skills in maths?

@mickleja: We are currently working with some of our kindergarten teams using a resource called Taking Shape that looks specifically at spatial reasoning in the early years. It’s a wonderful resource.

Rebecca: here is the link:

@mickleja: The activities are great but even more it the teacher learning embedded throughout- it supports teachers in really noticing and naming the learning and making information instructional informed.

Katie: I have just taken a look. It looks great. I have read a lot of other work Zach Hawes has done. 

@mickleja: The feedback from teachers is extremely positive- the games are engaging but they really do love the learning it is providing them. We are still in the early stages, so we don’t have any data to support changes in student thinking. However, I can tell you spatial reasoning is being discussed in class more than ever, so that hopefully will lead to something positive! They find the activities easy to engage students with.


@mickleja: I’d love to hear more about Katie’s work on spatial thinking and maths.

Katie: Gladly 🙂 My research has focused on what types of spatial thinking might be important for different aspects of maths. So for example we have found that spatial scaling seems to have a particularly important role for a number of maths measures. We also found that mental rotation is important for younger children. Based on this we have designed some spatial training videos – hoping that improving spatial skills will have knock-on effects on maths! This data collection is just finished but the results are looking promising 🙂 We are also looking into spatial language and its role for maths learning – again only provisional results so far, but it looks like spatial language is also an important predictor of maths achievement. So mirroring the messages in “Taking Space” that spatial thinking is certainly important! And often under emphasised! 

@mickleja: This is so interesting – I think it is definitely an area of mathematics that has not been focused on enough – especially in the early years.

Katie: I completely agree. I also think it is an area that children find really enjoyable! 

ModSu: Mark, are spatial skills and maths measures included as part of your large-scale study?

Mark: We have all the children’s maths scores from school and national tests. WRT ‘spatial skills’ – this is a broad construct and I think it is important to know how it is being operationalised. We do have a paper just about to come out in psych sci that shows a relationship between children’s interceptive timing abilities and their performance on national maths scores. But yes – we have a number of tests that tap into the ‘spatial’ domain.


ModSu: Thank you everyone for taking part, and enjoy the rest of your half term break.


Posted on February 14, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live chat – Early development (Primary Schools) #2 – Thursday 13th February 2018.

Live chat – Early development (Primary Schools) #1 – Thursday 8th February 2018.

ModAnnie: Welcome to the chat everyone! 


gertzerl17: I’m interested in the effect of sign language on English language and literacy skills in hearing, and in bilingualism in general and its effect on literacy.

Mark: These are really interesting questions! I tend to think in terms of information – so sign language MIGHT provide additional information that could aid literacy etc. An interesting research question!

Rebecca: There is a lot of mixed evidence about the effects of bilingualism on literacy. This is a gross oversimplification, but I think the general picture is that learning a second language seems to cause some delays in early vocabulary and literacy. But, bilingual children seem to eventually ‘catch up’ to their monolingual peers.

Annie: A quick search in the questions section of this site showed me one article that concluded “simultaneously presenting words visually, kinaesthetically, and orally enhances a child’s vocabulary development.” It is of course just one paper –

Mark: There is a lot of work showing bilingualism can be beneficial BUT we in Bradford we see evidence that English as an Additional language can be (probabilistically) a risk factor. These are the types of issues we are trying to resolve within the ‘Born in Bradford’ study.

Lia: This blog may be of interest –

Rebecca: I also know Victoria Murphy, a professor in the Education Department at the University of Oxford does a lot of work on bilingual and EAL learners and language and literacy. And she does some work with an organization called NALDIC:

Katie: I think Roberto Filipi is doing lots of work on the effects of bilingualism on cognition in general- and it seems to be beneficial to cognition more generally! 

Mark: It depends… Lots of evidence that cognition can be adversely affected… the research showing benefits is typically done in higher SEP groups. This is why large scale studies that can control for multiple factors are needed (such as Born in Bradford)

Katie: You’re correct Mark. Big studies where multiple factors can be controlled for will give us a better idea of the impact of bilingualism on cognition!

Sarah: There are a number of researchers in the UK conducting research in this area – Claudine Bowyer Crane and Lynne Duncan spring to mind.


elliemc: I’m looking at developing literacy skills in 6 years olds who have been making steady progress in reading and have now turned off to it and don’t want to read for now! Is there an approach you would recommend and is there an age by which learning will become much harder?

Sarah: Hi, this is very disappointing, but also quite common that children’s enjoyment of, and attitudes to reading decline with increasing age (although usually much later – aged 8/9, rather than aged 6). It’s critical that children have the underlying skills (ie word reading, language) they need to be independent readers in order to enjoy reading. After this, research shows that giving children choice of reading material (rather than imposing texts on them) is critical. It can be useful for teachers to know a bit about children’s literature so they can support students to choose books that they might like. Focusing on reading for pleasure is critical, so that children are enjoying reading, rather than simply reading to develop their reading skills. I suspect you know all of this already though! Reading can get harder as children get older if they don’t have the necessary language skills to support their understanding of the texts. Therefore developing language skills alongside literacy skills is important.

elliemc: Thanks Sarah, I’m currently working with one girl in particular who was getting along with fine with phonics and reading short early reading, she has been offered other books text, offered to create her own books to read and would happily be read to for hours but resist every attempt to re-engage with reading herself! 

Sarah: Yes, I think it makes sense. So she’s keen to be read to, but doesn’t want to read independently. At age 6 her word reading skills will still be developing and she won’t be a fluent reader so it may just be that she prefers to be read to rather than to read independently.

elliemc: Would you suggest waiting to see if the approach has given her a love of stories or another approach? 

Sarah: No, I’m not a fan of wait and see! I’d be inclined to speak to her and find out why she doesn’t want to read independently. It’s fantastic that she enjoys listening to stories but is crucial to understand why she’s turned off from reading herself (at such a young age). It may be a case of simply asking her, or you may need to work out what difficulties she’s experiencing when reading independently (ie. fluency issues, word reading difficulties, language).


gertzerl17: Is reading on a screen cognitively similar to reading on paper? What about typing vs. handwriting?

Sarah: There’s a really interesting paper on multimedia learning by Mayer and Moreno that might be helpful

Rebecca: Here’s an open access paper on e-readers versus paper: believe the possible advantages are that you can control things like spacing and font size with e-readers. I haven’t read the full paper, but I don’t think there were any negatives, per se. Just that not everyone showed an advantage in reading speed and comprehension with using the e-reader. The authors suggested that it could help overcome visual attention deficits, with the shorter line lengths. But that not might be what all students who struggle with reading have trouble with.

gertzerl17: I find that my students seem to prefer reading on the small screen of the phone to the bigger screen of a laptop. And I wonder whether it might have adverse effects in terms of recalling material – I always find it easier to recall text when I can map it to a physical location in a book rather than an e-reader (but perhaps that’s a function of my age!). My 5-year-old, who is required to do online reading as part of his homework, likes the interactive nature of online quizzes following the reading, but he seems to prefer reading to me over reading to himself on the computer.

Matt: That’s interesting. Is it becoming more common practice to have online reading homework for primary children?

gertzerl17: I don’t know if it’s common practice, but most of the local schools seem to do it (I’m in suburban New York State).


Lia: What pieces of research from your respective research areas do you think could have the biggest impact on teaching/learning if more people knew about them? 

Rebecca: I think the biggest thing I’ve been taking away from my own work and communicating with teachers is that maths concepts, like number symbols can and should be introduced in the early years, but through fun, play-based activities. There seems to be this false dichotomy in early education – like in that article the learning zone linked to in the Guardian, about Ofsted’s report about math in early years and those arguing against too much direct instruction and formal lessons in the Early Years.

Lia: That’s really interesting, thanks. Is there good evidence for introducing such concepts earlier that you could link to?

Rebecca: The DREME network has lots of great resources. Here is one article: is another great article on the topic:


Mark: The importance of children being physically active during the school day for ‘staying on task’. Here is press release (will try and dig out references) are the actual references – Hill, L.J.B., Williams, J.H.G., Aucott, L., Thomson, J., Mon-Williams, M. (2011) How does exercise benefit cognitive performance in primary-school pupils? Dev Med & Child Neurology. Hill, L., Williams, J.H.G., Milne, J., Thomson, J., Greig J., Mon-Williams, M. (2010) Exercising attention in the classroom. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 52, 929-934.

Katie: I think teachers could encourage children to think spatially, engage in spatial activities, and use spatial language. Spatial thinking has been shown to be important for maths ( and indeed it is important in its own right) but is often forgotten in the classroom.

Mark: We just had a paper accepted in psych science that shows children’s ability to intercept a moving target has a relationship with their SATs maths scores – so very much in agreement with your suggestion!

Katie: There are lots of fun ways to introduce spatial thinking in the classroom like encouraging the use of gesture, spatial language, models and diagrams, maps.

Mark: And let’s not forget the number line…

Sarah: I think focusing on reading for pleasure is important to develop reading skills. Finding out what motivates children to read is the best way to encourage children to become independent reader who choose to read (and therefore practice their reading) outside of the classroom.


elliemc: I’m previously Montessori trained and as a result believe that maths should remain as hands on, large -scale and tactile as long as possible through early and middle childhood – would you agree?

Rebecca: Yes! I read a book recently about the Montessori approach to maths. And this article came out recently about the Montessori approach (but not maths-specific):

As fun and helpful of those manipulatives are, though, it is important that children develop a good understanding of number symbols!

Mark: Traditional playground activities are good (as are Forest school activities) – but fine motor skills useful for developing ‘pen skills’

ellimc: I use home made Montessori sandpaper numbers for initial and further teaching and then once they recognise them the written numbers on card so that they don’t have to wait to be able to write to able to access to maths and solve number problems. We do mud kitchen, clay play, whittling and mark making in sand and water – any other pincer grip/fine motor activities you can recommend for outdoors? 

Mark: They all sound great. It’s less important what activities but ensure there is good diversity, lots of practise (there are big dosage effects) and make the practise distributed (do it often rather than for a long time).


ModAnnie: Please do make the most of the ASK function where you can pose a question and get more in depth answers from a range of scientists. Thanks for contributing, hope to see you Tuesday.

Posted on February 9, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live chat – Early development (Primary Schools) #1 – Thursday 8th February 2018.

Live Chat – Attention, Reward and Motivation – Wednesday 31st January

ModKathryn: Welcome everyone to tonight’s live chat on Attention, Reward and Motivation!

Mike: Hi everyone! I’m Mike and I work mostly on attention and distraction in real world environments, with special focus on teenagers in schools

ModKathryn: Hi Mike! Maybe I could start with a question? There seems to be various opinions on whether colourful and vibrant displays on the walls in classrooms are distracting or not. What are your thoughts on this? Is there evidence to suggest it has benefits?

Mike: It’s an interesting question. There is research suggesting that highly decorated classroom environments could be distracting for children and impede learning, e.g. Barrett, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., & Barrett, L. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment
Hanley, M., Khairat, M., Taylor, K., Wilson, R., Cole-fletcher, R., Riby, D. (2017). Classroom displays- attraction or distraction? Evidence of impact on attention and learning from children with and without autism.

At the same time, the designs used in some of these studies are not all that similar to a real classroom (e.g. a video of a teacher presenting against a very busy background, which isn’t very realistic as a model of a classroom). You also have to factor in other factors such as possible motivational benefits of the displays and the potential for relevant displays to useful reduce cognitive load by reminding students of key vocab or methods for approaching problems. Drawing all that together I think my ideal classroom design would be blank at the front (other than the whiteboard etc), some simple highly relevant key terms etc in displays towards the front at the sides, which students could refer to to help them with ongoing work, and then more ‘motivational’ displays celebrating students work at the back.

Tyrrellt: Hi all. @Mike – have you found any correlation between time spent online gaming and attention in class?

Mike: Hi. So online gaming isn’t something that I collect data on personally (I have collected data on media multitasking – combining different media sources simultaneously, but that’s a little different). What the research seems to show is that there are some specific attention-related tasks that action video players actually do better at (e.g. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention.

On the whole however there has been an association between lots of video gaming and attention problems (e.g. Gentile, D. A., Swing, E. L., Lim, C. G., & Khoo, A. (2012). Video game playing, attention problems, and impulsiveness: Evidence of bidirectional causality. but it is important to say that it is NOT at all clear which causes which – perhaps attention problems lead people to game more

So we can’t really say for certain that it’s a bad thing for attention in school. in general a lot of the very negative predictions about ‘screen time’ etc haven’t really been backed up by research. I would suggest that if there is someone playing a lot of video games who is having trouble concentrating in class, it is more likely due to the fact that they aren’t getting enough sleep than because of the video games themselves!

Tyrrellt: @Mike Thanks. The children in my classes are spending more and more time online but we are seeing an increase in attention problems. Sleep is definitely an issue too though – many of the children said they had their gaming device in their bedroom

Mike: “@tyrrellt Absolutely. i think sleeps an absolute time bomb in schools and for young people generally. A huge undiagnosed problem. I would be very tempted to get your students to keep sleep diaries and do some lessons on good sleep hygiene, and see how that helps!

Vmarshall: There are some sleep charities who run workshops in school. We had a charity come in and run sessions for students during the day and then for parents after school –

Ellieerussell: I like the idea of sleep diaries…maybe form tutors, science teachers or PSHE colleagues could try it…

Mike: @ellieerussell Yes – I got my forms to keep them when I was teaching – it was amazing (and terrifying)

Ellieerussell: What can you tell me about seating/grouping in classrooms? I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years and sometimes with some classes there seems to be quite an impact on changing seating. Unfortunately, we are limited in a science lab!

Mike: It’s not my specific area of study but I remember looking some research up on this a few years ago. In general by most outcomes rows tend to be more effective than other arrangements (round tables etc.), but it does depend on what your aims are. Tables have been found to encourage more discussion, for example, so if you have very specific aims in that direction you could maybe consider that. In general though, the research suggests that children learn most effectively in good old-fashioned rows!

Ellieerussell: @Mike The more experienced I get the ‘old school’ I get too! I think there is good reason for rows

Jamesallen1705: Evening all! My question is related to reward. I find myself hesitating to give rewards at times as I don’t want to give too many and devalue them. Is there any evidence that this is can be the case?

Mike: @jamesallen1705 Hi. Yes this is certainly a feature of rewards, that they become less rewarding if given too often. One way around this might be to make the reward uncertain, in the sense that there is an element of luck or randomness about getting a reward. There seem to be stronger brain responses to uncertain rewards than predictable ones, and there are projects going on now to try to harness this for educational purposes. e.g. see

Ellieerussell: We took part in EEF pilot study of ‘reward’ and learning 2 years ago. Interesting to see the motivation of students to get MCQ’s correct with the chance to ‘win’ the spin of a wheel. They certainly were more keen to get the right answer (so I thought more carefully about asking better questions!

Mike: @ellieerussell @jamesallen1705 This project will have been the one run by the guy who wrote the article I linked to – so very relevant. How did you enjoy being a part of it Ellie?

Ellieerussell: @Mike I think your Bristol research link is connected to the EEF project! The ‘game’ aspect was a huge motivator for some previously unenthusiastic students… and if they lost overall they could blame bad luck at the spin of the wheel. As a teacher, it made me consider very carefully what my MCQs would be and I saw how those were considered the most important parts of ‘learning’ of the lesson….So it helped clarify my planning! After piloting it I conitued to use the resource the following year with classes. Particularly as we were timetabled to be in a computer room once a week!

What I liked about the gaming was the students were clearly getting a buzz out of scoring more when the wheel randomly spun to ‘win’ ( It was 50 50!). Obviously I bribe/motivate students at other times with key word bingo and the winner gets a lollipop…. I like to try to make it part skill and part luck so they all feel they are in with a ‘fair’ chance.

Mike: Sounds interesting. I’ve been reading about the many possibilities of MCQs as well recently. A very powerful tool when used right!

Stannum: Is there any evidence that practising mindfulness can have a positive impact on attention?

Mike: @stannum Most have used adults, but there are a few which have used mindfulness and children. Quoting from a summary of one paper: applied 12 sessions of mindfulness meditation training to a group of 114 children aged 6–9 years and found, relative to a wait-list control group, that training led to significant improvements on the Test of Everyday Attention on the selective but not the sustained attention subcomponents. The paper is Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., & Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1)

However, One of the problems that I have with mindfulness in school is that it requires a very highly qualified practitioner to do it properly (especially for children who may lack the metacognitive awareness to properly access some of the techniques). Done badly, it can be more harmful than helpful, and I think quite a few schools are trying it out in PSHE lessons without qualified guidance.

Ellieerussell: My worry about mindfulness and so many other things like growth mindset is that school jump too quickly to try to do something and end up doing a bad job of it, or simply wasting time!

Vmarshall: @mike is there any evidence that shows a link between the type of rewards Vs their impact. E.G do tangible rewards have more of an impact than verbal/visual praise/gaining points and the suchlike

Mike: @vmarshall It’s an interesting question. I’m not aware of any research that has separated things in that way. Rewards often get separated into intrinsic and extrinsic (i.e. between personal satisfaction and goal attainment and external reward). Both of these are important in their own way. Extrinsic rewards can be very motivating for simple tasks, but can impair performance of very complex tasks. Whether extrinsic rewards might be more powerful if they are tangible compared to things like praise or a sticker, however, I don’t know. I would imagine that, all things being equal (the student’s attitude towards the reward and the scale of the reward etc) it probably wouldn’t make a difference, but it would be an interesting thing to test

Tutku: Hi. I’m a student teacher currently doing my training year. I’d like to get some advice on how to motivate EAL pupils. I have a class in my second school placement with majority of the pupils being EAL and struggling to understand scientific terminology. What strategies would you implement particularly for EAL pupils in terms of attention/motivation?

Ellieerussell: I’m not a researcher, but what worked for my bottom set Yr 11 last year was key word bingo. The students had so many words to learn, but with bingo cards (make free online) and a vocabulary list I gave them, it meant they were keen to read up the key words and hope to win at bingo! I’d type key words and meanings into free website ‘quizlet’ and print out vocab lists. There are other revsion games they can do on that too. I’d type the key words into ‘’ and get 30 cards printed out for free. Sometimes I’d laminate key sets to be reused. Other times at end of term I’d print out paper copies for one time use. Good luck with your placement!

Gaia: “@ellieerussell @tutku key word bingo was also what I was going to suggest! Tied and intermixed with games / group work that gets to understanding the meaning of the scientific terms you’d like them to learn, but then consolidating them in game format

Mike: “@tutku Hi. Sounds a challenging situation. The EAL position clearly adds an extra layer of challenge for the student, but I would treat the key words as another piece of factual information that they need to know, and try to encourage them to learn this factual information using the best techniques we know of for learning information, i.e. lots of low-states quizzes and testing, repeated and spaced out across the year. Add in some rewards for good performance (or even a ‘mastery’ requirement, where they re-take the quiz until they have got 100% and then you make a huge thing of them having got 100%), and repeat this regularly. Hopefully, then the key words will start to stick, and the other understanding can begin to stick around those

Gaia: @ellieerussell @tutku, I agree and small group might take the pressure off EAL students with low confidence

Ellieerussell: Yes sometimes I’d get students to work in pairs, as a team to find key word….Over time you remove the glossary from them! Thanks. So pleased I could finally join the chat.

ModKathryn: Thank you all for joining and for such interesting questions. If you have any further questions please feel free to ask via the website 🙂 see you at the next live chat!

Posted on January 31, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript | Comments Off on Live Chat – Attention, Reward and Motivation – Wednesday 31st January

Attention, Reward, and Motivation #1 – Chat transcript – Tuesday 23 January 2018

ModSu: Welcome everyone to Attention, Reward, and Motivation!

Liptrotc17: I would love your opinions now how to motivate students and build resilience in the classroom?


Matt: It can be hard to find something that works for everyone as far as motivation is concerned, as there are so many different types of students and types of learning. The main aspect of teaching that I see a positive response to is the passion of a teacher, which has a tendency to rub off on the students over the long term. Apart from that, it’d be about reward, such as something simple like writing their name down on the board if they answer a question correctly, and adding a tally to each name as they continue. This is almost a ‘gamification’ of education which many students have responded positively to. 

Mike: There is some interesting work out there on uncertain rewards – i.e. making it less predictable when a reward is coming. This seems to lead to a stronger response to the reward than more predictable rewards.

Gaia: Peer teaching is a great tool. With younger children it works very well too, very much based on working at scaffolding others.


JamesAllen1705: It would be great if you had any advice on how to establish a growth mindset in children?

Mike: The term ‘growth mindset’ is quite a specific term that has often been misused (and simplified into a set of motivational posters) in some educational settings. I think that the evidence suggests that motivation (and a more helpful mindset) are PRODUCTS of achievement, rather than precedents. This means that they will be more likely to occur if we can find ways to give students a sense of achievement and accomplishment in their work. 

JamesAllen1705: So positive reinforcement, praise, good feedback etc. to motivate our students and then they will “grow” as a result?

Mike: In theory! But of course the praise needs to be given out sparingly enough so that it isn’t devalued, and the achievement needs to be seen as difficult enough to be proud of, whilst not too hard to not bother trying! It’s a very difficult balance… that’s why teaching is the most difficult job in the world! If it helps there are some specific summaries of motivation theories relevant to education here…


Drjessicahamer: One thing I’ve seen work well is giving ownership of a project to students…ie. make them the experts on a particular topic – is there any research that you know of that supports this as a *thing* for motivation?

Gaia: I really like the suggestion of giving project ownership – that way students can at least in part select areas of strength, which in turns helps focus attention!


Tyrrellt: How do we gain the attention of children who don’t even seem to able to maintain eye contact? Not because of attention disorders but because of lack of interest/engagement? Maths is particularly difficult for one of my boys

Matt: Lack of engagement can be due to a lack of confidence, especially with subjects such as maths which are easily perceived as hard, the best option is to help them develop self-belief, and once they are invested and committed with their own learnings and failures and have a bit more control over their own learning, you may get a more confident and committed learner. Working with their peers can also help, or helping them teach each other, as more information is retained when you teach it to someone.

Gaia: Building self-belief by working first with topics / props that are of interest might be a way to go. Bringing in areas of strength to show success and progress in what’s harder is a great start, and then as soon as a little progress is made, emphasise it (to then draw attention to how persevering – even just a little bit – got him farther? In “cognitive speak”, drawing attention to success and then to how determination / grit results in growth?


Aglover: I was wondering if there is anything that can improve a child’s speed of processing, linked to cognitive issues – dyslexia and ASD in particular?

Matt: Increasing time awareness can help, which can also come with a compromise of increasing their own time to complete tasks, timed tasks can be a particular stressor. Helping the students to develop a plan also helps.


Drjessicahamer: In pre-schoolers, should you acknowledge bad behaviour or just praise good behaviour? Or both?

Gaia: Praise good behaviour, and highlight (positive) changes in bad behaviour – to encourage meta-cognition or one’s awareness of how bad behaviour is not inevitable. This is a very hard one to tackle. But there is pretty good evidence that while praise is a good thing, but teaching self-regulation is hard. However, drawing attention to self-regulation when it happens may be a way to develop it. Peer interactions here help too.


Mark Redwood: How can positive reinforcement be applied more successfully in a group setting where there are other things reinforcing unwanted behaviour for example?

Mike: Great question. I think group work is often quite problematic for this and other reasons! I have found this blog helpful…


Mark Redwood: Clearly each student in a class values different rewards, how do those of you describing the use of positive reinforcement apply it so that all students value the rewards available?

Matt: It’ll be about knowing what each student values, perhaps a dealers choice of reward?

Mike: This is true to an extent, but it’s actually pretty rare that, for example, a student achieving something that they haven’t done before wouldn’t be reinforced/motivated by that. ‘Reinforcements’ don’t all have to be rewards.

Matt: These things can be about the type of reward or more simply the presence vs absence of reward, usually the promise of positive reinforcement can be a good motivator, even if it isn’t the correct flavour of reward for some students there is still something to strive towards. 

Pikec17: One issue with rewards is those at either end of the scale tend to get them but those that just potter along in the middle doing what they should do often miss out.

Gaia: I agree entirely – that’s why I would love motivation researchers to direct us to research on “competition with self”, rather than necessarily against others. Not easy to implement though.


Simon Riley: Is there a way to motivate the kids to learn the knowledge separately to the projects, or should we try to combine them?

Mike: The last 2 weeks on this forum were on memory, and I think there will be some very relevant answers for you on there about the value of quizzing as a way of learning and understanding things. The basic principle is that knowledge and ‘makes’ are sort of inseparable. You can’t make something new without a pretty good knowledge of what has gone before it… so I would definitely teach them together!


Vmarshall: For students with attention deficit disorders (both ADD and ADHD) is there any way of distinguishing between inattention that is a result of their disorder and the inattention that is a result of not finding the lesson interesting?  These are lessons which are accessible to the students, and teachers are struggling with which strategies to use as they are not always able to determine the root of the inattention.

Mike: Great question! I don’t think there would be any possible way of knowing this in real time. Perhaps over the course of a term or so a pattern might emerge, though of course the two might be related – the condition might affect behaviour more in certain situations! It’s obviously a tricky one as you don’t know the level of allowances to make. I think it would also depend on other non-science things like their SEN statement, the school’s SEN and behaviour policies etc.

Gaia: In a way neuroscience would suggest that both inattention and not finding lessons interesting go together. Children with ADD / ADHD find motivating themselves hard, so that what can be engaging children without ADD just fine, kids with ADD may require that bit of extra boost of “extrinsic” motivation. For example, finding what their “hook” is in terms of interests, or incentives / gamification. We and others have found that when counting on self-motivation engaging in tasks was harder for kids with ADD, but with game-like incentives they could get to be as engaged as children without ADD.

Mike: Reward schemes etc could be designed for them perhaps (without trying to create too much work for you).

Gaia: I agree! The challenge for teachers is integrating these additional incentives with their other plans for the class – though they may be beneficial for all?

Vmarshall: I think they are beneficial for all – I think a lot of strategies that we use with students with various types of SEN can actually be beneficial for all.

Gaia: How tailored can your lessons be? Can children compete against themselves (i.e., in terms of improvement to self, rather than against others)? That solves a little the problem that if you are v good or v bad in absolute terms you are a bit stuck.

Vmarshall: It depends on the subject and the content being covered I guess. Most teachers at my school are good at tailoring their lessons to meet the needs of individuals. I think they just struggle when it comes to more ‘boring’ exam content that they just ‘need to get through’. Much easier to tailor lessons for younger year groups and not exam classes.

Mike: This perhaps sidesteps your question slightly, but I think one important neuroscience finding in motivation that can be readily applied to education is that ‘liking’ something (i.e. finding it fun), is not the same thing as ‘wanting’ something (i.e. being motivated to repeat it). They use different brain areas and can be activated independently. I think this has big implications for teaching styles potentially. 

Gaia: I hear your and your colleagues pain with exam content… Any chance of turning that into a game itself (i.e., see if you can beat yourself at your previous score on this short section of that exam)?

Vmarshall: I think there are definitely opportunities for this throughout the year – especilly in certain subjects where it is very quick for students to mark their own work and see quickly an improvement on their score (thinking Maths and Science). Less easy in English where it would require a lot more input from the teacher in re-marking test answers.


Pikec17: Sometimes students think you can only do well if you are born clever they do not necessarily link the hard work with good grades? Even if you tell them they can do something they will still say I can’t. What ways have you found that increase confidence?

Matt: The genius vs hard work discussion is a valid one, but I know many people doing PhDs who have had to move to wildly different areas (e.g. Product design engineering to cell biology) and they are true experts in their fields after a time. But of course, this is paid research so the motivation is ever present! With students it’s about finding that motivation and self-belief, praise, and allowing them to achieve small goals and compartmentalise. Rather than failing one large goal, succeeding in a number of smaller and more achievable goals to pop up their egos somewhat tunic they are more confident. This is something that can change from subject to subject and module to module so these upswings and downswings in confidence can be treated in different students at different times.

Pikec17: They do find it hard to link the hard work they did on one topic and doing well to the missing lessons and poor result!

Matt: While the success from one topic may not carry over, the habits can remain, and the urge to achieve goals for rewards is still there.


Drjessicahamer: What environmental factors (that we can control) have been shown to negatively impact attention? I’m thinking things like noise, screen time, diet/hydration, etc.

Pikec17: With environmental factors such as room colour or how ‘busy’ the room is etc how can you ensure it is the best environment for all students?

Matt: Distracting ambient noises and overstimulation in a classroom can take attention away in a lesson, even the colour of the light has been shown to affect work. It’s a fine line between bare and busy, certain colours have been shown to have certain effects, but a good rule of thumb is no more than three colours to a room. For example, while during the day we’re exposed to all colours of natural light, when the sun sets (and especially during these winter months when that happens within school time) the amount of blue light drops drastically, and our body responds to the amount of blue light as part of the natural circadian rhythm. But with phones, laptops, TVs etc we get exposed to a great deal of blue light and this can affect our natural rhythms. You can get programs (flux for PC and Twilight for mobile) that cut out the blue light as the day wears on, with the screen dark and reddish towards midnight, and this helps a great deal with sleep and any disruption to a rhythm. The other aspect of light colour is that blue light has been shown to increase alertness and performance during the day  Not to mention affecting melatonin levels and eye health. There is great evidence on blue light improving cognitive performance  This may be a better paper actually  

Mike: Great question. There are lots. Some interesting recent research has found that densely decorated classrooms might be distracting Barrett, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., and Barrett, L. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment, 89, 118-133.

Gaia: Great question! The interesting thing is also how variable this is – some of the environmental “distractions” are sometimes relevant (think of illustrations with content). So part of the challenge is not just controlling the environment but also teaching kids what is relevant.

Mike: A big one though is technology. Not only the people using it, but other people around the person can be negatively affected by a laptop being used for non-work related things (admittedly this was a study done in lecture theatres) Sana, F., Weston, T., and Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers and Education, 62, 24-31.  My big problem with technology in the classroom is that it often encourages multitasking, and there is very clear evidence that we aren’t able to multitask efficiently!

Gaia: I am sure you have seen this – not entirely an overlapping discussion, but bringing in some of the positives to offset the negatives is the use of technology not in the context of the classroom, but for home learning in particular for kids with difficulties.  

Mike: It’s all about the use of the technology. It’s a tool, not a pedagogy.

Drjessicahamer: I think technology is extremely important and helpful in learning …but uncontrolled “mindless” use probably not.


ModSu: Thank you everyone for taking part this evening. Feel free to ask further questions at any time on the website under the ‘Ask’ tab. And join us again for another live chat next week, 1st Feb 4-5pm.

Posted on January 24, 2018 in Live Chat Transcript, News | Comments Off on Attention, Reward, and Motivation #1 – Chat transcript – Tuesday 23 January 2018