Educational Research


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The Research on Life-Changing Teaching

What really moves the needle for educators and, by extension, their students?

Being an effective teacher is about more than just improving test scores—it’s also about making a difference in students’ lives. When Edutopia asked their readers to describe the traits of a life-changing teacher, they said that great teachers make their students feel safe and loved, possess a contagious passion for learning, believe their students can succeed—and always know when to be tough to help students reach their full potential.

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But does the research agree? What are the fundamental levers that teachers can pull to refine their practices, improve their craft, and make a significant—or even life-altering—contribution to the lives of their students?

Edutopia reviewed nearly two dozen studies in compiling this piece—and here are the key findings. Read the entire article

1. Always Be Collecting (Targeted) Feedback

2. Attend to Relationships (and Classroom Culture)

3. Don't Give an Inch on Standards

4. Make Your Classroom Management 'Invisible'

5. Humanize Your Teaching

6. Check Your Biases

7. Authenticity + Passion = Success!

8. Close the Book on the Day

Source: Edutopia


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Effective Teacher Professional Development

In 2017 the Learning Policy Institute put out a comprehensive report on Effective Teacher Professional Development, written by Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner, with assistance from Danny Espinoza.

After reading the report it comes down to two things that hold back most professional learning experiences:

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Reason #1: A lot of professional learning is "sit and get".

The report is clear. This does not usually work, unless it is to kick off follow-up active PD sessions.

In the report they identify seven factors of effective PD. Five out of the first six are specifically about active and hands on learning.

Using the methodology detailed in Appendix A, we identify seven characteristics of effective PD. Specifically, we find that it:

1. Is content focused

2. Incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory (can't do this in sit and get)

3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts (can't do this in sit and get)

4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice (can't do this in sit and get)

5. Provides coaching and expert support (can't do this in sit and get)

6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection (can't do this in sit and get)

We see that each characteristic is slightly different, but almost all of them cannot be successful in a "sit and get" type of learning environment. This is why the most effective PD is often an "Earn to Learn" session where both the facilitator and the learner are working to create authentic meaning out of the experience.

Reason #2: A lot of professional learning is "one and done"

The seventh characteristic of effective PD is "sustained duration". This means it cannot be a single session on a single topic. When we do this there is no research to support it being effective in any way, and is often a waste of time.

If you are leading professional learning, try to filter the experiences and sessions between these two reasons and see how it stacks up.

If you have to do a sit and get session, follow it up with a hands on experience like a design sprint, rapid prototyping session, or empathy mapping experience.

Then follow up and continue the focus of your professional learning for a sustained duration to make it effective.

Source: Learning Policy Institute & A.J. Juliani Blog


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When researchers at the Fordham Institute asked parents to rank phrases associated with social and emotional learning, nothing seemed to add up. The term “social-emotional learning” was very unpopular; parents wanted to steer their kids clear of it.

But when the researchers added a simple clause, forming a new phrase —”social-emotional & academic learning”— the program shot all the way up to No. 2 in the rankings.... What gives?

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Parents were picking up subtle cues in the list of SEL-related terms that irked or worried them, the researchers suggest. Phrases like “soft skills” and “growth mindset” felt “nebulous” and devoid of academic content. For some, the language felt suspiciously like “code for liberal indoctrination.”

But the study suggests that parents might need the simplest of reassurances to break through the political noise. Removing the jargon, focusing on productive phrases like “life skills,” and relentlessly connecting SEL to academic progress puts parents at ease—and seems to save social and emotional learning in the process.

Source: Edupedia


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We Drastically Underestimate the Importance of Brain Breaks

When it comes to optimizing learning, we don’t value breaks enough, neuroscientists suggest in a new study. It was discovered that after learning new information, our brains continue to whir, using cognitive downtime as a virtual staging ground to process, organize, and integrate learned information. The key, lies in neural replay, the “temporally compressed reactivation of neural activity patterns representing behavioral sequences during rest.” In other words, after practicing a skill, our brains rapidly cycle through the experience, compressing and imprinting the material to optimize storage and recall.

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Practice makes perfect. To become ambidextrous in basketball, dribble with your left hand, switch to your right, and repeat the process again and again. Likewise, to solve differential equations in math, pile them up and work your way through them diligently.

According to one popular school of thought, it’s this active, repeated manipulation of material that lays the neural foundations for skill development. All too often, time away from the basketball court—or the math books—is seen as a break in the learning process, a way to cool off, reenergize, and then return to the vital work of actual practice.

But for Leonardo Cohen, a neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health and the senior author of a June 2021 study published in the journal Cell, the idea that breaks are a cooling-off period is a misconception.

Source: Edutopia


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Index For Inclusion: Developing Learning and Participation in Schools

The Index is a resource to support the inclusive development of schools. It is a comprehensive document that can help everyone to find their own next steps in developing their setting. The materials are designed to build on the wealth of knowledge and experience that people have about their practice. They challenge and support the development of any school, however 'inclusive' it is thought to be currently.

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Inclusion is often associated with students who have impairments or students seen as 'having special educational needs'. However, in the Index, inclusion is about the education of all children and young people. Read the entire document here.

Source: Published by the Center for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)


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Immigrant students are sometimes portrayed as a costly expense to the education system, but new research is systematically dismantling that myth.

In a 2021 study, researchers analyzed over 1.3 million academic and birth records for students in Florida communities and concluded that the presence of immigrant students actually has “a positive effect on the academic achievement of U.S.-born students,” raising test scores as the size of the immigrant school population increases. The benefits were especially powerful for low-income students.

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While immigrants initially “face challenges in assimilation that may require additional school resources,” the researchers concluded, hard work and resilience may allow them to excel and thus “positively affect exposed U.S.-born students’ attitudes and behavior.” But according to teacher Larry Ferlazzo, the improvements might stem from the fact that having English language learners in classes improves pedagogy, pushing teachers to consider “issues like prior knowledge, scaffolding, and maximizing accessibility.”

Source: Edupedia


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It’s time to rethink our definition of what a “good school” is, researchers assert in a study published in late 2020.⁣ That’s because typical measures of school quality like test scores often provide an incomplete and misleading picture, the researchers found.

The study looked at over 150,000 ninth-grade students who attended Chicago public schools and concluded that emphasizing the social and emotional dimensions of learning—relationship-building, a sense of belonging, and resilience, for example—improves high school graduation and college matriculation rates for both high- and low-income students, beating out schools that focus primarily on improving test scores.⁣

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“Schools that promote socio-emotional development actually have a really big positive impact on kids,” said lead researcher C. Kirabo Jackson in an interview with Edutopia. “And these impacts are particularly large for vulnerable student populations who don’t tend to do very well in the education system.”

The findings reinforce the importance of a holistic approach to measuring student progress and are a reminder that schools—and teachers—can influence students in ways that are difficult to measure, and may only materialize well into the future.⁣

Source: Edupedia


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New Studies Link the Arts to Crucial Cognitive Skills

New research reveals that the arts may prime our neural circuitry for a broad range of activities, boosting crucial cognitive and social skills like spoken and written language, focus, self-control, and empathy. In a 2016 study, for example, T. Christina Zhao and Patricia Kuhl demonstrated that babies exposed to simple melodies in a social setting developed a greater sensitivity to the rhythms of spoken language. More surprisingly, they noted, the processing of music was traced not just to the auditory cortex of the infants, but to the prefrontal cortex as well—the seat of higher-order cognitive faculties like attention and self-regulation.

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“We can see that the babies who have been through the music experience have greater abilities to...hold attention when that’s important, and to switch attention when it’s appropriate to switch,” Kuhl explained in a TED talk. “In other words, music is affecting executive function.”

A 2019 study reached similar conclusions with professional musicians, finding that “executive attention is more efficient in musicians than non-musicians,” and improves as musical training progresses.

Source: Edupedia


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A future for the World's Children? A WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission Report

Despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future. Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflict, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country. In 2015, the world’s countries agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet nearly 5 years later, few countries have recorded much progress towards achieving them.

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The Lancet Commission presents the case for placing children, aged 0–18 years, at the centre of the SDGs: at the heart of the concept of sustainability and our shared human endeavour. Governments must harness coalitions across sectors to overcome ecological and commercial pressures to ensure children receive their rights and entitlements now and a liveable planet in the years to come.

February 2020


Source: ReseachGate Website


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Nine Principles of Ideal Learning - Early Years

Drawing from the strength of world-renowned early childhood approaches including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Friends Center for Children, Tools of the Mind, Bank Street College of Education, and Waldorf, these nine principles outline core concepts that create ideal learning environments for young children across settings. They allow for multiple approaches, models, and traditions, and take into account the varied contexts within which early educators and care providers work. Several essential beliefs weave throughout, including a commitment to play, relationship-based interactions, an ecologically-focused, child-centered perspective; equity; and a strength-based and inquiry-based approach with children, adults and families. Together, they balance principles of attachment and independence that are meaningful for young children’s development.

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Children Are Born Learning, Exploring and Growing

How children develop depends on us. We know that during the first few years of life, more than 1 million neural connections are formed every second. Young children develop through rich, daily interactions with nurturing caregivers and educators, building brains and shaping physical, socioemotional and cognitive development for life. These early years represent a unique, flexible period of human development and a finite window for high-impact investment.

Early learning environments shape children’s present and future through mechanisms scientists continue to discover — from statistical learning to nervous system attunement to epigenetics. Because children are born learning, any environment can become an ideal learning environment — whether at home, in family- or center-based child care, or at school. While every child should have access to ideal learning environments from birth, far too many do not. With growing public investment, we now have the opportunity to create equitable ideal learning environments serving children, families and educators in any setting.

Additional Resources


Source: Trust For Learning


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Some of the most popular and well-regarded children’s books—Caldecott and Newbery honorees among them—persistently depict Black, Asian, and Hispanic characters with lighter skin, according to new research.

Using artificial intelligence, researchers combed through 1,130 children’s books written in the last century, comparing two sets of diverse children’s books—one a collection of popular books that garnered major literary awards, the other favored by identity-based awards. The software analyzed data on skin tone, race, age, and gender.

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Among the findings: While more characters with darker skin color begin to appear over time, the most popular books—those most frequently checked out of libraries and lining classroom bookshelves—continue to depict people of color in lighter skin tones. More insidiously, when adult characters are “moral or upstanding,” their skin color tends to appear lighter, the study’s lead author, Anjali Aduki, told The 74, with some books converting “Martin Luther King Jr.’s chocolate complexion to a light brown or beige.” Female characters, meanwhile, are often seen but not heard.

Cultural representations are a reflection of our values, the researchers conclude: “Inequality in representation, therefore, constitutes an explicit statement of inequality of value.”

Source: Edupedia


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Many classrooms today still look like they did 100 years ago, when students were preparing for factory jobs. But the world’s moved on: Modern careers demand a more sophisticated set of skills—collaboration, advanced problem-solving, and creativity, for example—and those can be difficult to teach in classrooms that rarely give students the time and space to develop those competencies.

Project-based learning (PBL) would seem like an ideal solution. But critics say PBL places too much responsibility on novice learners, ignoring the evidence about the effectiveness of direct instruction and ultimately undermining subject fluency.

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Advocates counter that student-centered learning and direct instruction can and should coexist in classrooms.

Now two new large-scale studies—encompassing over 6,000 students in 114 diverse schools across the nation—provide evidence that a well-structured, project-based approach boosts learning for a wide range of students.

In the studies, which were funded by Lucas Education Research, a sister division of Edutopia, elementary and high school students engaged in challenging projects that had them designing water systems for local farms or creating toys using simple household objects to learn about gravity, friction, and force. Subsequent testing revealed notable learning gains—well above those experienced by students in traditional classrooms—and those gains seemed to raise all boats, persisting across socioeconomic class, race, and reading levels.

Source: Edupedia


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This article by A.J. Juliani is for those that need more resources about inquiry-driven education, and for those trying to get research to back them up when bringing it to a leader, school board, parent committee, or even colleagues.

The article sheds some light on the research behind choice, and more broadly, inquiry-driven education. Juliani says it’s easy for him to praise Genius Hour because he's done it in the classroom, and seen many other teachers do it successfully with their students. However, he also understands that if you have not had that experience, it may be difficult to justify.

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The article is separated into four sections:

  1. How choice, PBL, and inquiry-driven learning increases student engagement and achievement

  2. Success-stories from fellow teachers using the choice and inquiry-driven learning model

  3. How choice, PBL, and inquiry-driven learning is connected to the common core standards

  4. Related books, whitepapers, and research linked to choice and inquiry-driven education

Also read: PBL vs Doing The Same Thing: The Research Is Clear by A. J. Juliani

Source: A. J. Juliani


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Timed Tests Are a Habit We Can’t Seem to Quit

Timed tests are entrenched in the school system, but they aren’t a fair or accurate reflection of students’ mastery and content knowledge, a 2020 review of dozens of studies concludes. They provoke anxiety and exclude far too many kids—including students with disabilities, English language learners, and those who simply need more time (and that’s most of us).

“Speed and intelligence are not very highly correlated,” the researchers note, echoing a plea voiced by educators and researchers for decades. The answer is refreshingly simple: “The best way to improve a time-limited test’s reliability is simply to remove its time limits.”

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Doing so improves the validity of tests - probably because with more time students can read instructions more closely, check their work, and keep their anxiety under control. “As instructors, we are not assessed by how speedily we can demonstrate our mastery,” the researchers conclude. “Why then do we continue to administer time- limited exams, which are less valid, less reliable, less inclusive, and less equitable?”

Source: Edutopia