Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

‘Resilient’ Dyslexics Have More Gray Matter in Prefrontal Cortex

From PsychCentral

By Traci Pedersen
October 23, 2018

People with dyslexia have difficulty decoding the text as they read, meaning they have trouble navigating between the visual form and sounds of a written language.

But a subset of dyslexics, known as “resilient dyslexics,” exhibit remarkably high levels of reading comprehension despite their decoding difficulties.

In a new study, researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and University of California San Francisco identified the exact brain mechanism that accounts for the discrepancy between low decoding skills and high reading comprehension.

The findings, published in PLOS One, show that resilient dyslexics have a larger volume of gray matter in the part of the brain responsible for executive functions and working memory.

This specific region, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of the left hemisphere, is known as the “air traffic controller” or “conductor” of the brain. Gray matter is the darker tissue of the brain and spinal cord, consisting mainly of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites.

In the study, the research team observed 55 English-speaking children aged 10-16 with a wide range of reading abilities; half were diagnosed with dyslexia. The children were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allowing the researchers to compare the mapped images of the participants’ brains with their reading skill results.

“We wanted to find whether the brain regions related to language or other regions were responsible,” said Dr. Smadar Patael of TAU’s Department of Communication Disorders. “We found that the region in the left frontal part of the brain known as left DLPFC was directly related to this discrepancy. DLPFC has been shown to be important for executive functions and cognitive controls.”

“We then sought to understand answer a ‘chicken or egg’ question related to dyslexia and the slight enlargement of this brain region,” Patael said. “Do resilient dyslexics have distinct brain structures that allow for better resiliency, or is their success in reading a result of compensation strategies that actually altered the density of neurons in a specific region of the brain?”

To answer this question, the researchers scanned 43 kindergartners, and then three years later tested the children’s reading abilities. The findings show that the density of neurons in the DLPFC predated mature reading ability and predicted the discrepancy, regardless of their initial reading abilities.

“This helps us to understand the brain and cognitive mechanisms these children utilize to enable them to do well despite their relative weakness in decoding. It may help us think about incorporating relatively new strategies into reading interventions,” said Professor Fumiko Hoeft, who is currently at the University of California San Francisco and starts as director of the University of Connecticut’s Brain Imaging Research Center this fall.

Patael added that a lot of the reading readiness curriculum in kindergarten is focused on learning sounds of letter and phonological awareness.

“Our research findings suggest new approaches that emphasize executive functions and working memory. If your child is entering first grade, practicing the alphabet may not be enough. Consider activities that require working memory, such as baking cakes and playing song and strategy games."

“These activities stimulate children’s working memory and may in time foster their ability to comprehend texts well,” said Patael.

School Choice Is Great, but to Have Schools Worth Choosing, There Must Be Equity, Access and Diversity, Say Authors of New Report

From The 74 Million

By Carolyn Phenicie
October 25, 2018

Washington, D.C. -- Creating a school choice system that provides all children with good options, rather than one that simply offers choice for choice’s sake, requires a focus on equity and access and creation of schools to meet all students’ needs, experts argue in a new report.

Learning Policy Institute panel

“The right choice does promote educational equity, particularly in promoting diversity and reducing racial isolation and segregation,” John Brittain, professor and acting dean of the law school at the University of the District of Columbia, said at an event in Washington on Thursday to discuss the report.

Policymakers should focus on how choice helps create “a system of schools that would ensure that all schools were worth choosing and all students were chosen by a high-quality school,” said Patrick Shields, one of the authors of the report, which was released by the Learning Policy Institute think tank.

Districts must be deliberate in creating options, ensuring they’re open to students in all neighborhoods and at all levels of ability, the authors wrote.

In San Antonio, systemic reforms created sought-after types of schools like Montessori and dual language, with seats reserved for the most impoverished students. They also attracted wealthier families, helping to integrate district schools.

Mohammed Choudhury, chief innovation officer and architect of the school’s novel integration approach, said that neglecting integration amounts to tacit approval of a “separate but equal” standard for schools, as was ruled legal in the Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case.

“Either we’re going to be OK with this neo-Plessyan notion of ‘separate can be equal,’ or we believe in the promise of Brown and we’re going to continue to fight for it,” he said, arguing instead for the high court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed segregated schools.

Choice systems also must account for how they’re serving special populations of students, like those with disabilities, panelists said.

Julie Mead, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, said policymakers should decide up front whether charter schools will be required or incentivized to serve students with disabilities, for example.

In the case of inter-district transfers, they should clarify whether the sending or the receiving school district is responsible for ensuring that the student receives a free, appropriate public education as required under federal law, she added.

Accountability systems are only as good as their implementation, she said.

“The places where there seems to be the highest quality, at least in my view, are those places that are not as autonomous, and the places that are more autonomous are the places we’re having more trouble,” she added, citing Massachusetts as an example of high quality.

Schools also must tackle issues like disproportionate school discipline and segregation within schools, as in gifted and talented programs, said Ashley Griffin, director of P-12 research at The Education Trust.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

When Adding SEL to Curriculum, Administrators Don't Need to Start from Scratch

From Education Dive

By Lauren Barack
September 26, 2018

"Students who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentage point gain in academic achievement."

Dive Brief
  • Adding social and emotional learning tools effectively into curriculum can be difficult for schools, which could be a reason why these skills are often not included in formal curriculum designs.
  • Beyond changing how classes are structured, schools may also need to think about they’re physically designed, even considering taking down walls so students can flow from one space to another, regardless of their formal grade.
  • Creating a space that’s both educational and nurturing can help students approach their learning “in a meaningful, productive and emotionally healthy way,” EdSurge reports.

Dive Insight

While basic academic tools and skills need to be incorporated in every district’s curriculum, softer skills are sometimes seen as add-ons. Finding a way to weave social emotional learning (SEL) and personalized approaches into these core classes can be tricky, as they require additional time and thought.

Curriculum designers who wish to blend both SEL and academics effectively face a unique task. But the results may be well worth it: Students who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentage point gain in academic achievement, according to a 2011 meta-analysis from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

For those who are stymied on where to start, there are numerous online resources, including the Tennessee Department of Education, which published an online toolkit in 2015 addressed to teachers and administrators. The Washington Association of School Administrators(WASA) also offers online instruction and implementation guides.

While administrators and educators face an investment of time and work to build a well-balanced curriculum, the results are students who are both academically and emotionally prepared to succeed in the world.

Recommended Reading

What New Orleans Tells Us About the Perils of Putting Schools on the Free Market

From The New Yorker

By Gary Sernovitz
July 30, 2018

In New Orleans, charter schools, like businesses, are compelled to
succeed by competition and choice. But they’re hampered by a
market system that, in key areas, is only half-built.

A year ago, I volunteered to serve on the board of a charter elementary school in New Orleans, where I live. Two months ago, in a cafeteria crowded with whiplashed parents, I tried to give some comfort by explaining why, three days before the school year ended, the school had announced that it wouldn’t be open this fall. I apologized. I described the scrambling to try to solve a six-hundred-thousand-dollar budget shortfall. I apologized again.

But what I didn’t explain was that the fate of Cypress Academy, a unique closure in a unique, charter-dominated school district, was not just about one school. It was about how startups fail, and about what happens when a school system is redesigned around the engines of the free market—autonomy, competition, and customer choice.

Frankly, I didn’t understand this until later. Which is good, because the parents didn’t want to hear market theory. They just wanted their children to get a good public education.

In New Orleans, alone among large urban districts, almost all schools are now charter schools. This is the result of perhaps the most ambitious school-reform effort in the country’s history. In 2004, the year before Katrina, only fifty-four per cent of New Orleans high-school students graduated. After Katrina, the state of Louisiana took over almost all of the city’s schools and began turning them over to independent groups—either single-school charters, like Cypress, or largely local charter-management organizations, or C.M.O.s.

This month, after thirteen years, the Orleans Parish School Board assumed control as the regulatory body over all the public schools in the city, reunifying the district and stirring intense reflection—locally and nationally—on the effects, so far, of ceding the city to a charter system.

That system, in which eighty-three per cent of students are economically disadvantaged, still has a long way to go. Forty per cent of the city’s schools are ranked “D” or “F” by state standards, and New Orleanians are no rookies at the national pastime of school segregation: the C.M.O.s serve mainly poor black students, while independent, “community” charters serve racially mixed populations.

But, in the years since Katrina, the rates of high-school graduation, college attendance, and college persistence have increased by a range of ten to sixty-seven per cent. That’s confirmed in a recent study by Matthew Larsen, a professor at Lafayette College, and Doug Harris, an education researcher and economist at Tulane who, in the past, has been wary of “teach-to-the-test” results and the notion that “scores equal learning.”

New Orleans achieved all this without two of the features most detested by charter critics: there are no for-profit charter schools in the city, and the charter system doesn’t drain money from the “regular” school system. In New Orleans, there is no other system.

Sitting on a charter-school board, I could observe that system firsthand. I joined the board of Cypress because Bob Berk, the founder of the school and a childhood acquaintance, convinced me that volunteering in elementary education was the most direct way to help children in a state that’s hard on them. (Save the Children recently ranked Louisiana the worst state for children, for the second year in a row.)

And, I admired the school’s philosophy, which stressed diversity, a “whole child” education, and a commitment to teaching all types of learners, from gifted to special-needs, in one classroom.

In New Orleans, parents rank schools through a common application, so Cypress treated every challenge—teacher turnover, disappointing enrollment—as an existential threat that demanded a creative response. By the end of the school’s third year, there was high demand from parents for the coming term. But that success came with a rot in the woodwork: the school couldn’t afford to deliver the education that was capturing parent interest.

For four months, the board pursued initiatives familiar to any cash-burning startup: potential mergers, cost cutting, revenue fixes (in this case, money from the school board), and capital raising. There was too much hope, in hindsight, and too few hard decisions. No solution came.

Startups fail all the time. That’s why markets work. (Doug Harris attributes a good deal of the New Orleans charter system’s success to the de-chartering of underperforming schools.) But Cypress’s failure was unique in the history of New Orleans school reform; according to Michael Stone, the former co-C.E.O. of the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, it was the first time a “good” school had closed.

To me, Cypress’s fate had to do with a larger failure: a school system that had the engines of the free market but not all of its features. Cypress, like a business, was compelled to succeed by competition and choice. But, like other charter startups, it was hampered by a market system that, in three key areas, is only half-built.

First, there’s the incomplete reward system. An open secret in the charter community is that many charters work because they devour the time, energy, and bodies of their staff. That kind of grind applies at private-sector startups, too; but there a startup founder knows that her investment could result in retiring, at thirty-four, to a life of microdosing and suborbital space travel. A charter-school job will never supply such comfort. The economic model is based on endless life-draining and frequent burnout.

The second problem, and one of the most fatal to Cypress, is the clash of a competitive system with a fixed-price economy. Cypress wanted to educate all children, and twenty-six per cent of its students had special needs, twice the city’s average. New Orleans’s funding for these students, though much improved, is still a work in progress. Each special-needs student effectively takes money away from the budget for other students.

Given this, other schools “recommended” Cypress to parents of special-needs families. Cypress welcomed those children; it was its mission. But unlike, say, a startup restaurant chain that could adjust its menu or prices to attract certain customers and improve margins, Cypress is an open-admission school. It couldn’t, morally or legally, choose its customers nor the revenue it could gain from each one.

“Philanthropy doesn’t want to pay teachers’ salaries.”

Finally, the funding model for startup charter schools is only half finished. Venture capitalists often refer to “The Valley of Death”—the potential period, well known to startup companies, when venture funding runs out but self-sustaining profitability has yet to begin. The exponential growth in capital available to float companies over that valley has been one of the central novelties of our age. (The most obvious example is Uber, which still raises money to cover operating losses.)

But most of the philanthropic “investors” in the school-choice movement see their payoff as the disruption of underperforming school systems. There’s a lot of money for system-wide change and new schools; Cypress benefitted from it. There’s even “growth capital,” supplied by groups such as the Charter School Growth Fund, that allows proven and financially stable schools to spawn new ones.

But, as the Cypress board discovered when trying to appeal to the rich of New Orleans—a smallish number in a poor city—there is very limited capital for startup schools trying to cover their operating losses until they reach scale. As Michael Stone put it to me, “Philanthropy doesn’t want to pay teachers’ salaries.”

When Cypress announced its closure, the plan was for an ungainly merger with a C.M.O.-managed school. Then Cypress parents, in an admirable eruption of self-organization, told the Orleans Parish School Board that Cypress’s closure was not just another day in the market. The board almost immediately reversed its decision, and will now take over the school.

No one knows how this will turn out. Maybe—and this seems its vision—the board will be energetic caretakers for a year or two before another organization, or the parents’ group, charters the school again. Maybe the school will endure as something like the health-care debate’s public option, reminding the city that there are some students, and some models, that can’t live and die by the free market.

Or maybe, the charter movement in New Orleans, and across the country, will learn, through examples like Cypress, that there is hard work to come in making the funding, reward, and revenue systems work. No market is just about competition and choice.

Gary Sernovitz is a writer and a managing director of a private-equity firm. His most recent book is “The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy.”

Monday, October 29, 2018

International Body Confirms It: Our School Segregation Problem is Dragging Student Achievement Down

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
October 25, 2018

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development just released its report on education equity and mobility. The results for the United States aren’t pretty.

For those unfamiliar, the report analyzes massive amount of data and makes international comparisons. The organization is comprised of representatives from 36 different member countries.

As to the United States, these two findings struck me as particularly poignant:

  • Some 51% of disadvantaged students in the United States attend disadvantaged schools, i.e. schools where other students tend to be disadvantaged as well (OECD: 48%; in Finland, only 40% of disadvantaged students attend such schools). However, where disadvantaged students attend advantaged schools, they score 41 points higher, or the equivalent of almost one-and-a-half years of school, than those attending disadvantaged schools (OECD average: 78 points higher; among OECD countries with above-average performance, no performance difference is observed between the two groups of students in Finland, Norway and Poland; Figure 1.1).
  • Disparities in student performance related to socio-economic status take root at an early age and widen throughout students’ lives. In the United States, the magnitude of the socioeconomic gap in mathematics achievement at age 10 (as measured by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS]) is about 74% as large as the gap observed among 15-year-olds (as measured by PISA), and about 73% as large as the gap in numeracy proficiency among 25-29 year-olds (as measured by the Survey of Adult Skills [PIAAC]; Figure 1.1).

In other words, the school that a disadvantage students attends, not just that student's individual characteristics, correlate a year and a half worth of learning. Assign those students to predominantly middle income school, their scores and graduation rates jump substantially.

Assign them to predominantly low-income schools, their chances drop precipitously. And because we don't do anything to deal with this reality, the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students widens each year that they remain in our schools.

There is nothing really new on this point in the report. I and other scholars and advocates have been making this point for decades. But it is reassuring to have an international body, with no real stake in the particulars of our domestic education policy, to make the point so bluntly based on data.

Zooming out even further, the report's findings suggest that our education system is nowhere close to making the American dream possible for disadvantaged students.

In terms of upward mobility, the United States ranks 29 out of 33 countries.

A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley

From The New York Times

By Nellie Bowles
October 26, 2018

“I am convinced the devil lives in our phones.”

SAN FRANCISCO — The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.

A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a regionwide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K.

“Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.”

Ms. Stecher, 37, and her husband, Rushabh Doshi, researched screen time and came to a simple conclusion: they wanted almost none of it in their house. Their daughters, ages 5 and 3, have no screen time “budget,” no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens. The only time a screen can be used is during the travel portion of a long car ride (the four-hour drive to Tahoe counts) or during a plane trip.

Recently she has softened this approach. Every Friday evening the family watches one movie.

There is a looming issue Ms. Stecher sees in the future: Her husband, who is 39, loves video games and thinks they can be educational and entertaining. She does not.

“We’ll cross that when we come to it,” said Ms. Stecher, who is due soon with a boy.

Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook
engineer in Menlo Park, Calif., said their daughters, ages 5 and 3, have
no screen time “budget,” no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens.

Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video.

Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: “Hashtag ‘products we didn’t buy.’”

Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Ms. Chavarria did not let her children have cellphones until high school, and even now bans phone use in the car and severely limits it at home.

She said she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins. Her daughter did not get a phone until she started ninth grade.

“Other parents are like, ‘Aren’t you worried you don’t know where your kids are when you can’t find them?’” Ms. Chavarria said. “And I’m like, ‘No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day.’”

For longtime tech leaders, watching how the tools they built affect their children has felt like a reckoning on their life and work.

Among those is Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of

“On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said of screens.

Technologists building these products and writers observing the tech revolution were naïve, he said.

“We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”

He has five children and 12 tech rules. They include: no phones until the summer before high school, no screens in bedrooms, network-level content blocking, no social media until age 13, no iPads at all and screen time schedules enforced by Google Wifi that he controls from his phone. Bad behavior? The child goes offline for 24 hours.

“I didn’t know what we were doing to their brains until I started to observe the symptoms and the consequences,” Mr. Anderson said.

A view of the Anderson family schedule.
“This is scar tissue talking. We’ve made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids,” Mr. Anderson said. “We glimpsed into the chasm of addiction, and there were some lost years, which we feel bad about.”

His children attended private elementary school, where he saw the administration introduce iPads and smart whiteboards, only to “descend into chaos and then pull back from it all.”

This idea that Silicon Valley parents are wary about tech is not new. The godfathers of tech expressed these concerns years ago, and concern has been loudest from the top.

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said earlier this year that he would not let his nephew join social networks. Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers, and Melinda Gates wrote that she wished they had waited even longer. Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads.

But in the last year, a fleet of high-profile Silicon Valley defectors have been sounding alarms in increasingly dire terms about what these gadgets do to the human brain. Suddenly rank-and-file Silicon Valley workers are obsessed. No-tech homes are cropping up across the region. Nannies are being asked to sign no-phone contracts.

Those who have exposed their children to screens try to talk them out of addiction by explaining how the tech works.

John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla, said he tries to help his 13-year-old son understand that he is being manipulated by those who built the technology.

“I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.’”

And there are those in tech who disagree that screens are dangerous. Jason Toff, 32, who ran the video platform Vine and now works for Google, lets his 3-year-old play on an iPad, which he believes is no better or worse than a book. This opinion is unpopular enough with his fellow tech workers that he feels there is now “a stigma.”

“One reaction I got just yesterday was, ‘Doesn’t it worry you that all the major tech execs are limiting screen time?’” Mr. Toff said. “And I was like, ‘Maybe it should, but I guess I’ve always been skeptical of norms.’ People are just scared of the unknown.”

“It’s contrarian,” Mr. Toff said. “But I feel like I’m speaking for a lot of parents that are afraid of speaking out loud for fear of judgment.”

He said he thinks back to his own childhood growing up watching a lot of TV. “I think I turned out O.K.,” Mr. Toff said.

Other Silicon Valley parents say there are ways to make some limited screen time slightly less toxic.

Renee DiResta, a security researcher on the board of the Center for Humane Tech, won’t allow passive screen time, but will allow short amounts of time on challenging games.

She wants her 2- and 4-year-old children to learn how to code young, so she embraces their awareness of gadgets. But she distinguishes between these types of screen use. Playing a building game is allowed, but watching a YouTube video is not, unless it is as a family.

And Frank Barbieri, a San Francisco-based executive at the start-up PebblePost that tracks online activity to send direct mail advertising, tries to limit his 5-year-old daughter’s screen time to Italian language content.

“We have friends who are screen abolitionists, and we have friends who are screen liberalists,” Mr. Barbieri said.

He had read studies on how learning a second language at a young age is good for the developing mind, so his daughter watches Italian-language movies and TV shows.

“For us, honestly, me and my wife were like, ‘Where would we like to visit?’” Mr. Barbieri said.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Multiple Intelligences Theory: Widely Used, Yet Misunderstood

From Edutopia

By Youki Terada
October 15, 2018

One of the most popular ideas in education is applied in ways that its creator never intended.

When Howard Gardner introduced his multiple intelligences theory 35 years ago, it was a revolutionary idea that challenged long-cherished beliefs.

At the time, psychologists were interested in general intelligence—a person’s ability to solve problems and apply logical reasoning across a wide range of disciplines. Popularized in part by the IQ test, which was originally developed in the early 1900s to assess a child’s ability to “understand, reason, and make judgments,” the idea of general intelligence helped explain why some students seemed to excel at many subjects. Gardner found the concept too limiting.

“Most lay and scholarly writings about intelligence focus on a combination of linguistic and logical intelligences. The particular intellectual strengths, I often maintain, of a law professor,” Gardner explains. Having grown up playing piano, Gardner wondered why the arts weren’t included in discussions about intelligence. As a graduate student studying psychology in the 1960s, he felt “struck by the virtual absence of any mention of the arts in the key textbooks.”

That doubt planted the seed that grew into Gardner’s big insight: The prevailing idea of a single, monolithic intelligence didn’t match the world he observed. Surely Mozart’s genius was partially, but not fully, explained by an extraordinary musical intelligence.

And, wasn’t it the case that all people demonstrated a wide range of intellectual capabilities—from linguistic to social to logical—that were often mutually reinforcing, and that ebbed and flowed over time based on a person’s changing interests and efforts?

Those hypotheses have largely been confirmed by recent studies from the fields of neuroscience. A 2015 study, for example, upends the centuries-old idea that reading occurs in distinct areas of the brain; scientists have discovered, instead, that language processing “involves all of the regions of the brain, because it involves all cognitive functioning of humans”—not just visual processing but also attention, abstract reasoning, working memory, and predicting, to name a few.

And a growing body of evidence has dramatically altered our understanding of brain development, revealing that we continue to grow and change intellectually well into adulthood.

Mistakes Were Made

But if Gardner’s objective was to broaden and democratize our conception of intelligence—an idea that resonates deeply with teachers—the pull of the old model has been hard to shake. Today, the idea of multiple intelligences is as popular as ever, but it’s starting to look suspiciously like the theory Gardner sought to displace.

“It’s true that I write a lot and also that I am misunderstood a lot,” says Gardner, who originally proposed seven distinct intelligences, adding an eighth a decade later. The big mistake: In popular culture, and in our educational system, the theory of multiple intelligences has too often been conflated with learning styles, reducing Gardner’s premise of a multifaceted system to a single “preferred intelligence”: Students are visual or auditory learners, for example, but never both. We’ve stumbled into the same old trap—we’ve simply traded one intelligence for another.

“If people want to talk about ‘an impulsive style’ or ‘a visual learner,’ that’s their prerogative,” Gardner clarifies. “But they should recognize that these labels may be unhelpful, at best, and ill-conceived at worst.”

It’s clear that children learn differently—teachers in Edutopia’s audience are adamant on that score—but research shows that when students process and retain information, there is no dominant biological style, and that when teachers try to match instruction to a perceived learning style, the benefits are nonexistent.

Still, the idea endures.

Wide Acceptance

Over 90 percent of teachers believe that students learn better when they receive information tailored to their preferred learning styles, but that’s a myth, explains Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol.

“The brain’s interconnectivity makes such an assumption unsound, and reviews of educational literature and controlled laboratory studies fail to support this approach to teaching.”

Students are also swayed by the idea. In a study published earlier this year, medical professors Polly Husmann and Valerie O’Loughlin found that many of their students “still hold to the conventional wisdom that learning styles are legitimate,” and often adapt their study strategies to match these learning styles.

But after analyzing the test scores of these students, researchers found no improvement. Instead, they found that tried-and-true strategies—such as viewing microscope slides online—worked equally well for all students, whether they considered themselves linguistic or visual learners.

The study highlights the value of learning through multiple modalities, which is an effective way to boost memory and understanding. A 2015 study found that students have a deeper conceptual understanding of a lesson when teachers pair lectures with diagrams. And a review spanning three decades of research found that students retain more information when textbooks contain illustrations because the images complement the text.

When students use more than one medium to process a lesson, learning is more deeply encoded—and being overly reliant on a perceived dominant learning style is a recipe for learning less effectively.

Some Dos and Don'ts

So what should teachers do? Gardner argues that “multiple intelligences should not, in and of itself, be an educational goal.” Instead, here are a few evidence-based dos and don’ts for applying multiple intelligences theory in your classroom.

  • Give students multiple ways to access information: Not only will your lessons be more engaging, but students will be more likely to remember informationthat’s presented in different ways.
  • Individualize your lessons: It still makes sense to differentiate your instruction, even if students don’t have a single dominant learning style. Avoid a one-size-fits-all method of teaching, and think about students’ needs and interests.
  • Incorporate the arts into your lessons: Schools often focus on the linguistic and logical intelligences, but we can nurture student growth by letting them express themselves in different ways. As Gardner explains, “My theory of multiple intelligences provides a basis for education in the arts. According to this theory, all of us as human beings possess a number of intellectual potentials.”

  • Label students with a particular type of intelligence: By pigeonholing students, we deny them opportunities to learn at a deeper, richer level. Labels—such as “book smart” or “visual learner”—can be harmful when they discourage students from exploring other ways of thinking and learning, or from developing their weaker skills.
  • Confuse multiple intelligences with learning styles: A popular misconception is that learning styles is a useful classroom application of multiple intelligences theory. “This notion is incoherent,” argues Gardner. We read and process spatial information with our eyes, but reading and processing require different types of intelligence. It doesn’t matter what sense we use to pick up information—what matters is how our brain processes that information. “Drop the term styles. It will confuse others, and it won't help either you or your students,” Gardner suggests.
  • Try to match a lesson to a student’s perceived learning style: Although students may have a preference for how material is presented, there’s little evidence that matching materials to a preference will enhance learning. In matching, an assumption is made that there’s a single best way to learn, which may ultimately prevent students and teachers from using strategies that work. “When one has a thorough understanding of a topic, one can typically think of it in several ways,” Gardner explains.

Father's Nicotine Use Can Cause Cognitive Problems in Children and Grandchildren

From PLOS Biology
via ScienceDaily

October 16, 2018

A father's exposure to nicotine may cause cognitive deficits in his children and even grandchildren, according to a study in mice published October 16 in the journal PLOS Biology by Pradeep Bhide of Florida State University and colleagues.

The effect, which was not caused by direct secondhand exposure, may be due to epigenetic changes in key genes in the father's sperm.

Exposure of mothers to nicotine and other components of cigarette smoke is recognized as a significant risk factor for behavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (or ADHD) in multiple generations of descendants.

Whether the same applies to fathers has been less clear, in part because in human studies it has been difficult to separate genetic factors (such as a genetic predisposition to ADHD) from environmental factors, such as direct exposure to cigarette smoke.

To overcome this difficulty, Deirdre McCarthy, Pradeep Bhide and colleagues exposed male mice to low-dose nicotine in their drinking water during the stage of life in which the mice produce sperm. They then bred these mice with females that had never been exposed to nicotine.

While the fathers were behaviorally normal, both sexes of offspring displayed hyperactivity, attention deficit, and cognitive inflexibility. When female (but not male) mice from this generation were bred with nicotine-naïve mates, male offspring displayed fewer, but still significant, deficits in cognitive flexibility.

Analysis of spermatozoa from the original nicotine-exposed males indicated that promoter regions of multiple genes had been epigenetically modified, including the dopamine D2 gene, critical for brain development and learning, suggesting that these modifications likely contributed to the cognitive deficits in the descendants.

Nicotine and cigarette smoke have been previously shown to cause widespread epigenetic changes, Bhide said. "The fact that men smoke more than women makes the effects in males especially important from a public health perspective. Our findings underscore the need for more research on the effects of smoking by the father, rather than just the mother, on the health of their children."

Journal Reference
  • Deirdre M. McCarthy, Thomas J. Morgan, Sarah E. Lowe, Matthew J. Williamson, Thomas J. Spencer, Joseph Biederman, Pradeep G. Bhide. Nicotine exposure of male mice produces behavioral impairment in multiple generations of descendants. PLOS Biology, 2018; 16 (10): e2006497 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2006497

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Kids Aren’t Failing School–School is Failing Kids

From Fast Company

By Eillie Anzilotti
October 22, 2018

For many kids, what they learn in high school isn’t preparing them for success in college or in their career. A new report delves into how our education system is letting them down.

Work hard in school, and you’ll be successful. That is something every kid in America hears, and believes. This mandate, though, leaves out an important side of the equation: Is school working for kids?

For many students, the answer is no, but this can be hard to see–especially when the American dream ideal of self-determination exists to place the blame for why so many people struggle after finishing high school squarely on the shoulders of students themselves. If a person has a hard time in college, or can’t hold down a job, this logic goes, they mustn’t have tried hard enough.

A new study from The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit focused on teacher development and educational programming, aims to dispel this idea. Called The Opportunity Myth, it delves into a phenomenon that’s taken hold across the U.S.: As students finish high school and either enroll in college or head straight to the workforce, they’re finding themselves poorly prepared for whatever path they choose.

“They’re planning their futures on the belief that doing well in school creates opportunities–that showing up, doing the work, and meeting their teachers’ expectations will prepare them for what’s next,” the study notes, but something, along the way, is not working.
According to TNTP, that something is school itself. Across the U.S., 40% of students who enroll in college (including 66% of black students and 53% of Latinx students) end up having to take a remedial course, where they re-learn skills they were supposed to have mastered in high school.

This places them behind in their degrees and adds costs onto already steep tuition; students who have to take a remedial course are 74% more likely to drop out than their peers. Employers are also reporting that new hires out of high school often lack basic skills on the job.

This is not because students are not trying hard enough in high school, says TNTP CEO Dan Weisberg. In the course of compiling the three-year study, which looked at five diverse school systems across the U.S., TNTP found that more than half of the students consistently brought home As and Bs–they were obviously satisfying the demands of their schools and their teachers.

The issue, Weisberg says, is that those demands don’t match up with students’ capabilities, or the level at which they need to be performing to stay on track for a successful college degree or career.

“As we visited classrooms around the country, we found teachers working hard individually to help their students, but we also saw pretty low-quality assignments kids were getting, and instruction that doesn’t give them a chance to do deep thinking and the type of work they’re going to need to do in order to succeed,” Weisberg says.
Students only demonstrated grade-level mastery on their assignments 17% of the time. More often than not, their teachers are not assigning work that would bring them up to their grade level. “Students spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade and with instruction that didn’t ask enough of them–the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject,” the report found.

But, classrooms filled with predominantly higher-income students spent twice as much time on grade-appropriate assignments as classrooms with predominantly lower-income students.

What’s particularly devastating, TNTP found, was that out of the students surveyed, 94% wanted to attend college, and 70% had career goals that require at least a college degree.

“Yet we found classroom after classroom filled with A and B students whose big goals for their lives were slipping further away each day, unbeknownst to them and their families–not because they couldn’t learn what they needed to reach them, but because they were rarely given a real chance to try,” the report notes. But when kids are given work that challenges them, they do well, Weisberg says.

There’s no one cause for this gap, but one is low expectations on the part of teachers: Less than half surveyed by TNTP believe their students could work at grade level, so they assign them work that doesn’t require them to stretch.

But teachers themselves are not solely responsible for this problem: Teacher prep programs in the U.S., TNTP found, are often too focused on cookie-cutter curricula or standardized test scores, and doesn’t prepare them to lead nuanced and engaging lessons or deal with students as individuals.

And, as the teacher strikes in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma made clear, teachers continue to be expected to take on more and more work with little compensation to show for it.

Weisberg believes that the solution starts with teachers and school administrators listening to students, much in same way that TNTP did in compiling the report. “Kids are very sophisticated consumers and they are really expert in the quality of education, so they distinguish, classroom to classroom, lesson to lesson, what type of work engages and challenges them, and when they’re just sitting there copying down notes,” Weisberg says.

“What we prioritize is operational efficiency–getting large volumes of kids through the system,” he adds, but The Opportunity Myth calls for an approach that not only gets kids through high school, but ensures that they succeed afterward.

So how can schools begin to create the kind of environments that ensure success? The good news, Weisberg says, is most of the changes do not require additional funding or massive overhaul (though teachers and people in educational systems, he says, should absolutely receive higher pay to reflect the difficult work that they do).

“It doesn’t cost one penny more to have higher expectations for kids, to actually believe that kids–low-income kids, kids of color, English-language learners–can succeed,” he says.

Weisberg wants to start seeing teachers and schools re-engage with students’ experience of the work–are the engaged throughout the whole time in a classroom? Are they asking questions, or zoning out during a lecture that requires no participation?–and ensure that their lessons are pulling kids forward, not letting them stay stuck.

TNTP does not yet have a full set of recommendations for what exactly this new approach might look like–the organization compiled The Opportunity Myth to understand why so many kids were struggling, despite finishing high school, and their next step will be to build a system that ensures that they succeed.

So far, TNTP has gotten over 40 education-system professionals and organizations, including Success Academy, IDEA Public Schools, Tennessee SCORE, and Greater MN Schools, to pledge to take action in response to the findings in The Opportunity Myth. TNTP will work in concert with this growing list of organizations to develop a set of recommendations over the next several years.

Even though the work to develop a better system is ongoing, Weisberg says, schools don’t need to wait to have a complete set of recommendations to begin changing things for their students. “We don’t need three years of planning or a billion more dollars to every school system to do this work–we can start right now,” he says.

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

Genetics Plays Outsized Role in Autism, Large Study Shows

From Spectrum News

By Nicholette Zeliadt
October 15, 2018

Autism is more heritable than anorexia, alcohol dependence, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to an analysis of data from nearly 4.5 million people (1).

In the family: Full siblings are more likely than half siblings
to share an autism diagnosis.

At 64 percent, its heritability is similar to that of schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder, the new study shows.

Heritability refers to the degree to which differences in people’s genes, as opposed to environmental factors, account for their traits. The new study measures the heritability of these conditions by calculating how often pairs of siblings — who share about half their DNA — have the same diagnosis compared with half siblings, who have about one-quarter of their genes in common.

“Between conditions and disorders we see large differences in heritability estimates, and autism is one of the most heritable,” says co-lead investigator Tinca Polderman, assistant professor of complex trait genetics at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

The estimate for autism is in line with results from twin studies. Those studies show that identical twins, who have nearly identical DNA, are more likely than fraternal twins to both have autism. (Fraternal twins share about half their DNA, as other siblings do.)

“It’s reassuring,” says Sven Sandin, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who was not involved in the study. “We see again the heritability for autism is especially high, and it’s in the same range where we have estimated earlier.”

Family Matters

Polderman and her colleagues combed through Sweden’s Multi-Generation Register to identify siblings born in Sweden since 1932. For each sibling pair, they included the two eldest siblings in a family who were born within five years of each other. They looked at full siblings and half siblings who share a mother. The final sample includes 4,408,646 people.

The researchers identified people diagnosed with any of the eight psychiatric conditions. For autism, the study included people born since 1990, when diagnoses of the condition first appeared; the sample includes more than 1 million full siblings, 9,347 of whom have an autism diagnosis, and more than 55,000 half siblings, 1,114 of whom have an autism diagnosis.

Full-sibling pairs are more likely than half-sibling pairs to both have autism, the researchers found. They estimated that 64 percent of the variability in autism diagnoses in siblings can be explained by genetic variation.

The heritability estimates for other diagnoses vary widely, from as high as 80 percent for ADHD to as low as 30 percent for depression. The findings appeared 17 September in Psychological Medicine.

Sibling Rivalry

The team also looked at common genetic variants — those present in more than 1 percent of the population — in more than 333,000 people, including 18,381with autism. The data come from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, an ongoing international effort to catalog variants associated with autism and other conditions.

The researchers scanned up to about 3 million sites in the genome for common variants. By comparing the patterns of variants in autistic people with those in controls, they estimated the heritability of autism at about 12 percent.

The fact that this genetics-based estimate is far lower than the sibling-based estimates suggests that common variants do not fully account for autism’s heritability.

“That suggests for autism, there’s possibly a bigger role for rare variants,” says Emma Meaburn, senior lecturer of psychological sciences at Birkbeck, University of London, who was not involved in the study.

The estimate for common-variant contribution is also likely to be low, because it is not based on the entire genome, Polderman says.

She and her colleagues are looking for common variants that can help explain the overlap in traits of autism, schizophrenia and ADHD seen in siblings. They are also using the data to predict a person’s odds of being diagnosed with one of the conditions.

  • Pettersson E. et al. Psychol. Med. Epub ahead of print (2018) PubMed