- Lea's Blog

Cartoon by Mark Anderson (andertoons.com)

The education technology industry keeps making it easier for teachers to record and share information on students. Check out the "dashboards" inside programs like Google Apps for Education, or freestanding gradebook apps like JumpRope, or ClassDojo, focused on behavior.

Software also collects information on students all by itself. Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton, said in a 2012 speech that his "adaptive learning" platform, used by 10 million students globally, collects 5 to 10 million data points per student per day — down to how many seconds it takes you to answer that algebra problem.

"We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything," Ferreira said. "And it's not even close."

The argument in favor of all this is that the more we know about how students are doing, the better we can target instruction and other interventions. And sharing that information with parents and the community at large is crucial.

But we're also starting to hear more about what might be lost when schools focus too much on data. Here are five arguments against the excesses of data-driven instruction.

  1. Motivation - In a highly data-driven classroom, students who struggle may be made acutely aware, to the percentile, of how far behind the average they are. This could be enough to trigger stereotype threat, depressing performance still more. And what about the students who are leading the dashboard, collecting badges, prizes or virtual stickers? These kinds of extrinsic rewards could depress their interest in an activity for its own sake, researchers have found.
  2. Helicoptering - Today, parents increasingly are receiving daily text messages with photos and videos from the classroom. And some software systems let them log on and see exactly how Jasper or Alaia are performing, assignment by assignment, even down to the number of minutes spent reading or practicing Spanish. All this info could be a great way for parents to partner in their kids' education. On the other hand, overly involved "intrusive parenting" can do significant harm to student development.
  3. Commercial Monitoring and Marketing - Researchers at the National Education Policy Center raised concerns about targeted marketing to students using computers for schoolwork and homework. Companies like Google pledge not to track the content of schoolwork for the purposes of advertising. But in reality these boundaries can be porous. Schools have proven to be a soft target for data gathering and marketing. Not only are they eager to adopt technology that promises better learning, but their lack of resources makes them susceptible to offers of free technology, free programs and activities, free educational materials, and help with fundraising.
  4. Missing What Data Can't Capture - Computer systems are most comfortable recording and analyzing quantifiable, structured data. The number of absences in a semester, say; or a three-digit score on a multiple-choice test that can be graded by machine, where every question has just one right answer. But what about noncognitive skills, or character strengths that seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children?
  5. Exposing Students' "Permanent Records" - Educational transcripts, unlike credit reports or juvenile court records, are currently considered fair game for gatekeepers like colleges and employers. These records, though, are getting much more detailed. ClassDojo, for example, reports on students' "Perseverance," "Teamwork," "Leadership," "Resourcefulness" and "Curiosity." It's certainly imaginable that both colleges and employers will want to see this info now that it's available in a broader, more accessible format. Should they have access to it? Only if it's beneficial or if it's damaging as well? Who decides?

From an article "5 Doubts About Data-Driven Schools" by Anya Kamenetz

Graphic from The Spartan Issue

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, along with other education researchers interested in growth mindset, have done numerous studies showing that when students believe their intelligence can grow and change with effort, they perform better on academic tests. Now, a national study of tenth-graders in Chile found student mindsets are correlated to achievement on language and math tests. And students from low-income families were less likely to hold a growth mindset than their more affluent peers. However, if a low-income student did have a growth mindset, it worked as a buffer against the negative effects of poverty on achievement.

Susana Claro, a doctoral candidate at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, along with Stanford scholars David Paunesku and Carol Dweck, wanted to know if at a very large-scale (168,000 students) growth mindset would correlate with academic performance. They found that it did at almost every school in Chile, a correlation stronger than they expected to find.

When students in Chile take national exams measuring language and math, they are also obligated to fill out a lengthy survey from the Ministry of Education on a range of subjects. Teachers and parents are also surveyed, which is why Claro and her colleagues have such detailed income information for each student.

“This is the first time that we measured that there is a growth mindset gap across socioeconomic groups,” she said. Researchers are convinced that growth mindsets are socially created, not biologically, so these findings suggest that something in the environment of children from poor families is fostering a fixed mindset.

“We don’t really know if changing mindsets of students is possible at a larger scale and how to work with teachers,” Claro said. She acknowledged that even when teachers are well intentioned, they might be sending messages to students that don’t promote a growth mindset. But, “good teachers do this naturally,” she said. “They send growth mindset messages, and we are learning from them and trying to disaggregate what they do... This is not the solution, but we can’t ignore this.”

Dave Van Patten for NPR

Introverts often are really amazing, talented, gifted, loving children, and they feel like there's something wrong with them. It's a person who feels at their best and at their most alive when they're in quieter, more mellow environments. An introverted kid would rather draw quietly or would rather play their favorite sport with one or two other kids. A more extroverted child would rather be part of a big gang and a big noisy birthday party, and not only not be fazed by it but seem to really relish all that stimulation.

There are expectations on our kids to be a charismatic extrovert. Even if it's unconsciously, teachers tend to give more attention to the louder students, calling on the kids who raise their hands first. So what can be done to help teachers notice, and serve, those quiet kids in the class?

Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts

What are the right ways to think about class participation? And are we over-evaluating as an educational culture? We overvalue the person who raises their hand all the time. Why is that important? Do we overvalue in quantity, as opposed to quality, of participation? Are there ways to think about class participation differently? Like we [at Quiet Revolution] have been encouraging schools to think in terms of classroom engagement rather than participation. Take a more holistic way of looking at how a child is engaging with this material or with their classmates.

But focusing on introverts also means reining in the extroverts.

One idea is the think/pair/share technique where the teacher asks the students a question; asks them to think about the answer. They pair up with another student to talk about their reflections. And then, once they're paired, once they've articulated it with that partner, then you ask each pair to share their thoughts with the room as a whole. And this does a lot of great things for introverted kids. No. 1, it gives them the time to process. No. 2, it allows them to get the experience of articulating their thoughts out loud. But in front of only one other student, they don't have to do it in front of the whole class. And then, often, once they have had that warmup period with one other student, they're then much more likely to want to share with the whole class.

Public speech trauma: should teachers push introverts along, out of their comfort zone? Better not, says Susan Cain, there's too big a risk of it backfiring and the experience going poorly and the fear being further codified in their brain. You're much better off meeting a fear in small steps. The answer is not: 'OK, you never have to do... ' The Answer is: "OK. You're afraid of public speaking. Why don't you prepare your speech and work on it first with your best friend?" Give the speech to your friend. And then, when you've done that, maybe you can give it to another, smaller group. From there, you work up in stages, to finally giving the all out speech. You look for ways to make the experience less anxiety producing. Making sure that the child is speaking about a subject that they're truly passionate about and excited to speak about is important.

Concluding with a quote from a reader comment:
Sure, introverts are not the people who kick the door open with their foot, but down the road, many managers/leaders/scientists are introverts since it takes time, patience and perseverance to achieve success.


Photo by Agência Brasil on Wikimedia Commons

By Steve Wheeler

There has been much consternation about the amount of standardised testing the British government is determined to impose upon English school children. Children don't learn any more or any better because of standardised testing, unless there is feedback on how they can improve. But SATs seem to be the weapon of choice for many governments across the globe. It seems that little else matters but the metrics by which our political masters judge our schools. At a recent head teachers conference, one of the most astute comments was 'you can assess without testing.' There are many ways to assess, and here are seven:

  1. Teacher assessment. Questioning is an old, tried and tested method where teachers check children's understanding. The questioning must be appropriate, and timely however. A well timed question can reveal how developed children's understanding is, and what needs to be done to help them to reach a particular standard. Another method of teacher assessment is through observation. This has been used for centuries, and is great for ascertaining how well a child has mastered a particular skill, whether they are disengaged or are on task, and how well they are integrating into the social context of learning.
  2. Show and Tell. When children get the chance to present something to the rest of their class, they often grab it with both hands. If they are passionate about a topic, they will show how much they have learnt by what they present and how they present it. Show and tell also encourages children to think about their learning, and makes them more aware of how they have learnt it. Most importantly, show and tell helps children to develop their articulation and explanation skills (speaking and listening).
  3. Personal Development Plans. Teachers can work with individual students to agree on what they wish to achieve. This is often connected to their passions and keen interests, and can be instrumental in shaping their future careers. This is a very personalised form of self-assessment, which can be facilitated by the teacher as an informal method of assessment. It indicates how well students are progressing in a range of subjects, but ultimately is about their readiness to take up responsible positions in society.
  4. e-Portfolios. This is clearly a digital age assessment tool, allowing students to build their own personal profiles, develop a CV, showcase their achievements and generally develop their presentation skills using a set of digital tools. This goes hand in hand with number 3, enabling students to apply their learning with a view on their future employment. Most e-portfolios have a setting that allows students to share their learning and qualifications with others such as potential employers, when required.
  5. Games. There is an increasing number of games that can showcase children's learning, especially in some of the core subjects such as numeracy, science and literacy. Although games are generally fun and can be competitive, the key aspect of playing the game is that children can develop reasoning and problem solving skills which are demonstrated in the levels they reach and the points they score.
  6. Authentic challenges and real world tasks. My own students showcase their learning through making videos or writing blogs. The feedback is informal, and the learning is variable, but such activities can clearly lock into the demands of future work. Some of my students are given the chance to speak publicly, either at Teachmeets run by their own Education Society, or at other events nationally, and even internationally such as conferences.
  7. Project work. This can take many different forms, depending on what most interests the student. Some projects can run for a term, or even an entire academic year. Students develop a number of organisational skills such as resource and time management, and if the project is collaborative, can also lead to building negotiation, decision making and leadership skills.

From the blog of Steve Wheeler

Getty Images

Excerpted from the book “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why” by Paul Tough.

Because noncognitive qualities like grit, curiosity, self-control, optimism, and conscientiousness are often described, with some accuracy, as skills, educators eager to develop these qualities in their students quite naturally tend to treat them like the skills that we already know how to teach: reading, calculating, analyzing, and so on. And as the value of noncognitive skills has become more widely acknowledged, demand has grown for a curriculum or a textbook or a teaching strategy to guide us in helping students develop these skills. If we can all agree on the most effective way to teach the Pythagorean theorem, can’t we also agree on the best way to teach grit? In practice, though, it hasn’t been so simple. Some schools have developed comprehensive approaches to teaching character strengths, and in classrooms across the country, teachers are talking to their students more than ever about qualities like grit and perseverance. But in my reporting for How Children Succeed, I noticed a strange paradox: Many of the educators I encountered who seemed best able to engender noncognitive abilities in their students never said a word about these skills in the classroom.

It was clear that certain pedagogical techniques that work well in math or history are ineffective when it comes to character strengths. No child ever learned curiosity by filling out curiosity worksheets; hearing lectures on perseverance doesn’t seem to have much impact on the extent to which young people persevere.

This dawning understanding led me to some new questions: What if noncognitive capacities are categorically different than cognitive skills? What if they are not primarily the result of training and practice? And what if the process of developing them doesn’t actually look anything like the process of learning stuff like reading and writing and math?

Rather than consider noncognitive capacities as skills to be taught, I came to conclude, it’s more accurate and useful to look at them as products of a child’s environment. There is certainly strong evidence that this is true in early childhood; we have in recent years learned a great deal about the effects that adverse environments have on children’s early development. And there is growing evidence that even in middle and high school, children’s noncognitive capacities are primarily a reflection of the environments in which they are embedded, including, centrally, their school environment.

That’s important news for those of us seeking to shrink class-based achievement gaps and provide broader avenues of opportunity for children growing up in adversity. If we want to improve a child’s grit or resilience or self-control, it turns out that the place to begin is not with the child himself. What we need to change first, it seems, is his environment.

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Lea's Learning Analytics Blog

Learning analytics, educational data mining, formative assessment - all recent buzz words in educational research. In principle, the idea is to find theoretical frameworks, models, procedures, and smart tools to collect, aggregate, analyze, reason on and visualize large scale educational data. LEA’s BOX is a research and development project funded by the European Commission. The project aims at (a) making educational assessment and appraisal more goal-oriented, proactive, and beneficial for students, and (b) at enabling formative support of teachers and other educational stakeholders on a solid basis of a wide range of information about learners. That means, LEA’s BOX is a learning analytics toolbox that is intended to enable educators to perform competence-centered, multi-source learning analytics. More info at http://www.leas-box.eu!


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