Friday, March 7, 2014
Before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to the way a new word is used in conversations
There is a lot that 19-month-old children can't do: They can't tie their shoes or get their mittens on the correct hands. But they can use words they do know to learn new ones.
New research from Northwestern University demonstrates that even before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to the way a new word is used in conversations, and they learn new words from this information in sentences.
For example, if you take an infant to the zoo and say, "Look at the gorilla" while pointing at the cage, the infant may not know what exactly is being referred to. However, if you say, "Look! The gorilla is eating," the infant can use the word that they do know -- "eating" -- to conclude that "gorilla" must refer to the animal and not, for example, the swing she is sitting on.
The zoo scenario mirrors the method the researchers used for their experiment. First, infants at ages 15 and 19 months were shown several pairs of pictures on a large screen. Each pair included one new kind of animal and a non-living object. Next, the objects disappeared from view and infants overheard a conversation that included a new word, "blick." Finally, the two objects re-appeared, and infants heard, for example, "Look at the blick."
"After overhearing this new word in conversation, infants who hear a helpful sentence such as 'the blick is eating' should look more towards the animal than the other, non-living object," said Brock Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study. "We show that by 19 months, they do just that. In contrast, if infants heard the new word in an unhelpful sentence such as 'the blick is over here' during the conversation, they don't focus specifically on the animal because, after all, in this kind of sentence, 'blick' could mean anything."
The researchers said many people believe that word learning occurs only in clear teaching conditions -- for example, when someone picks up an object, brings it to the baby, points to it and says its name. In fact, infants usually hear a new word for the first time under much more natural and complex circumstances such as the zoo example described.
"What's remarkable is that infants learned so much from hearing the conversation alone," said Sandra Waxman, senior author of the study, the Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. "This shows how attuned even very young infants are to the conversation around them. It also shows how well infants build upon what they do know to build their vocabulary."
Ferguson said that this study underscores that the amount of language a child hears on a daily basis can have significant consequences on their language outcomes later in life.
"One implication of our new study is that infants who hear relatively little language in the first few years may also be missing out on critical word learning opportunities that arise everyday in the conversations that surround them," said Ferguson. He said future research includes examining the link between language input, processing efficiency and the kind of word learning revealed in the study to better understand how to best support children's language development from a very early age.
Preschoolers can be smarter than college students at figuring out how unusual toys and gadgets work because they're more flexible and less biased than adults in their ideas about cause and effect, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Edinburgh.
The findings suggest that technology and innovation can benefit from the exploratory learning and probabilistic reasoning skills that come naturally to young children, many of whom are learning to use smartphones even before they can tie their shoelaces. The findings also build upon the researchers' efforts to use children's cognitive smarts to teach machines to learn in more human ways.
"As far as we know, this is the first study examining whether children can learn abstract cause and effect relationships, and comparing them to adults," said UC Berkeley developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, senior author of the paper published online in the journal, Cognition.
Using a game they call "Blickets," the researchers looked at how 106 preschoolers (aged 4 and 5) and 170 college undergrads figured out a gizmo that works in an unusual way. They did this by placing clay shapes (cubes, pyramids, cylinders, etc), on a red-topped box to see which of the widgets -- individually or in combination -- could light up the box and play music. The shapes that activated the machine were called "blickets."
What separated the young players from the adult players was their response to changing evidence in the blicket demonstrations. For example, unusual combinations could make the machine go, and children caught on to that rule, while the adults tended to focus on which individual blocks activated the machine even in the face of changing evidence.
"The kids got it. They figured out that the machine might work in this unusual way and so that you should put both blocks on together. But the best and brightest students acted as if the machine would always follow the common and obvious rule, even when we showed them that it might work differently," wrote Gopnik in her forthcoming column in The Wall Street Journal.
Overall, the youngsters were more likely to entertain unlikely possibilities to figure out "blicketness." This confirmed the researchers' hypothesis that preschoolers and kindergartners instinctively follow Bayesian logic, a statistical model that draws inferences by calculating the probability of possible outcomes.
One year of Head Start can make a bigger difference for children from homes where parents provide less early academic stimulation, such as reading to children, helping them recognize and pronounce letters and words, and helping them count. Showing parents how they can help their children with reading and counting may help, too.
Those are the conclusions of a new study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. The study appears in the journal Child Development.
Head Start is a comprehensive program that provides low-income children with preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; and nutrition services. Head Start programs currently serve more than a million children a year.
The program was found to be beneficial in the areas of early math, early literacy, and receptive vocabulary for all children at the end of the Head Start year. Children whose mothers said they provided low and moderate amounts of preacademic stimulation scored lower in absolute terms on all three outcomes than children whose mothers said they provided more preacademic stimulation, but they gained more from being in a Head Start program than the children who got more stimulation.
"These results suggest that it's particularly important that Head Start be offered to those children whose parents did not report providing a lot of preacademic stimulation," according to Elizabeth B. Miller, a Ph.D. student in the school of education at the University of California, Irvine, the study's lead author. "It's vital that Head Start continue to serve children at the highest and moderate levels of risk because the program is particularly helpful to their development."
"Moreover, our study also suggests that children's academic achievement may benefit from programs targeted to help parents boost preacademic stimulation in the home," Miller adds. "Working with parents to increase what they do at home may be an important way Head Start can improve children's readiness for school."
The study analyzed data from the Head Start Impact Study, a nationally representative sample of nearly 5,000 newly entering eligible 3- and 4-year-olds. About a third of the children were Black, a third were Hispanic, and a third were White or of other races and ethnicities.
Children were randomly assigned to be eligible for enrollment in a particular Head Start program. Children in the control group could not enroll in that particular program but were eligible for placement in other Head Start centers and other early care and education programs in the community.
Classroom programs designed to improve elementary school students’ social and emotional skills can also increase reading and math achievement, even if academic improvement is not a direct goal of the skills building, according to a study to be published this month in American Educational Research Journal (AERJ). The benefit holds true for students across a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
In the study, “Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results from a Three Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial,” researchers looked specifically at Responsive Classroom (RC), a widely-used social and emotional learning intervention.
The study, funded by a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, is among just a handful of randomized controlled trials that have examined the effect of social and emotional learning interventions on student achievement.
“We find that at the very least, supporting students' social and emotional growth in the classroom does not interfere with academic learning,” said Rimm-Kaufman, professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. “When teachers receive adequate levels of training and support, using practices that support students’ social and emotional growth actually boosts achievement.”
Math and reading gains were similar among those students who qualified for free and reduced-priced lunch and those who were not.
“The success of many curricula, including those that map onto the Common Core expectations, require that teachers use effective classroom management and develop student confidence and autonomy,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “Our trial of the Responsive Classroom approach suggests that teachers who take the time to foster relationships in the classroom and support children's self-control actually enhance student achievement.”
“In a time of intense academic demands, many critics question the value of spending time on teaching social skills, building classroom relationships and supporting student autonomy,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “Our research shows that time spent supporting children’s social and emotional abilities can be a very wise investment.”
For the study, researchers followed a group of students and teachers at 24 elementary schools over three years, from the end of the students’ second-grade year until the end of their fifth-grade year, and compared student math and reading achievement between thirteen schools that adopted RC and eleven schools that did not.
Teachers being trained in the RC approach received two one week-long training sessions delivered in consecutive summers. Despite the same initial training, schools varied in their use of RC practices. The study found that student achievement gains were evident in classrooms where teachers who had been trained were using the RC practices fully and in ways that were consistent with the program goals. Teachers tended to use the RC practices well if they felt that the principals at their school supported them.
“Our findings raise important questions about the support of teachers in implementing social and emotional learning interventions such as RC,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “Because RC was most effective in classrooms where teachers were supported in implementation, thoughtful school leadership is important to success.”
Social and emotional learning interventions are designed to teach students the social and emotional skills considered foundational to academic learning. The RC approach focuses on enhancing teachers’ capacity to create caring, well-managed classroom environments, by providing practical teaching strategies designed to support social, academic, and self-regulatory skills and bolster respectful and productive classroom interactions.
Millions of high school and college algebra students are united in a shared agony over solving for x and y, and for those to whom the answers don’t come easily, it gets worse: Most preschoolers and kindergarteners can do some algebra before even entering a math class.
In a recently published study in the journal Developmental Science, lead author and post-doctoral fellow Melissa Kibbe and Lisa Feigenson, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, find that most preschoolers and kindergarteners, or children between 4 and 6, can do basic algebra naturally.
“These very young children, some of whom are just learning to count, and few of whom have even gone to school yet, are doing basic algebra and with little effort,” Kibbe said. “They do it by using what we call their ‘Approximate Number System:’ their gut-level, inborn sense of quantity and number.”
The “Approximate Number System,” or ANS, is also called “number sense,” and describes humans’ and animals’ ability to quickly size up the quantity of objects in their everyday environments. Humans and a host of other animals are born with this ability and it’s probably an evolutionary adaptation to help human and animal ancestors survive in the wild, scientists say.
Previous research has revealed some interesting facts about number sense, including that adolescents with better math abilities also had superior number sense when they were preschoolers, and that number sense peaks at age 35.
Kibbe, working in Feigenson’s lab, wondered whether preschool-age children could harness that intuitive mathematical ability to solve for a hidden variable, or in other words, to do something akin to basic algebra before they ever received formal classroom mathematics instruction. The answer was “yes,” at least when the algebra problem was acted out by two furry stuffed animals — Gator and Cheetah — using “magic cups” filled with objects like buttons, plastic doll shoes and pennies.
In the study, children sat down individually with an examiner who introduced them to the two characters, each of whom had a cup filled with an unknown quantity of items. Children were told that each character’s cup would “magically” add more items to a pile of objects already sitting on a table. But children were not allowed to see the number of objects in either cup: they only saw the pile before it was added to, and after, so they had to infer approximately how many objects Gator’s cup and Cheetah’s cup contained.
At the end, the examiner pretended that she had mixed up the cups, and asked the children — after showing them what was in one of the cups – to help her figure out whose cup it was. The majority of the children knew whose cup it was, a finding that revealed for the researchers that the pint-sized participants had been solving for a missing quantity, which is the essence of doing basic algebra.
“What was in the cup was the x and y variable, and children nailed it,” said Feigenson, director of Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development. “Gator’s cup was the x variable and Cheetah’s cup was the y variable. We found out that young children are very, very good at this. It appears that they are harnessing their gut level number sense to solve this task.”
If this kind of basic algebraic reasoning is so simple and natural for 4, 5 and 6-year-olds, the question remains why it is so difficult for teens and others.
“One possibility is that formal algebra relies on memorized rules and symbols that seem to trip many people up,” Feigenson said. “So one of the exciting future directions for this research is to ask whether telling teachers that children have this gut level ability – long before they master the symbols – might help in encouraging students to harness these skills. Teachers may be able to help children master these kind of computations earlier, and more easily, giving them a wedge into the system.”
While the ANS helps children in solving basic algebra, more sophisticated concepts and reasoning are needed to master the complex algebra problems that are taught later in the school age years.
Another finding from the research was that an ANS aptitude does not follow gender lines. Boys and girls answered questions correctly in equal proportions during the experiments, the researchers said.
Although other research shows that even young children can be influenced by gender stereotypes about girls’ versus boys’ math prowess, “we see no evidence for gender differences in our work on basic number sense,” Feigenson said.
Parents with numerically challenged kids shouldn’t worry that not showing a strong aptitude with numbers is a sign that Bobby or Becky will be bad at math. The psychologists say it’s more important to nurture and support young children’s use of the ANS in solving problems that will later be introduced more formally in school.
“We find links at all ages between the precision of people’s Approximate Number System and their formal math ability,” Feigenson said. “But this does not necessarily mean that children with poorer precision grow up to be bad at math. For example, children with poorer number sense may need to rely on other strategies, besides their gut sense of number, to solve math problems. But this is an area where much future research is needed.”
Thursday, March 6, 2014
This report provides an overview of how states define and apply student learning objectives (SLOs) in evaluation systems. The research team conducted a systematic scan of state policies by searching state education agency websites of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. to identify tools, guidance, policies, regulations, and other documents related to the use of SLOs in teacher evaluation systems. The researchers reviewed each relevant document to code the requirements, components, and uses of SLOs, which are summarized in a brief report and a series of searchable tables.
The study found that among the 30 states using SLOse:
• Most require SLOs to be measurable and based on student growth and achievement.
• States vary by whether they apply SLOs at the school, team, or individual teacher level and by which teachers and students are included.
• State SLO policies differ in whether and how achievement targets are set, which assessments are used, and how SLO processes are approved.
The report includes searchable tables with detailed information on the characteristics and use of SLOs in the 30 states that had publicly available information on their SLO policies.
One year after graduation, the unemployment rate of 2007–08 bachelor’s degree recipients (9 percent) was higher than that of their counterparts who attained their degrees in 1992-93 and 1999–2000 (4 percent and 5 percent, respectively).
This Statistics in Brief investigates the employment outcomes of 1992–93, 1999–2000, and 2007–08 college graduates 1 year after earning a bachelor’s degree. The brief first examines the employment and enrollment status of all college graduates 1 year after graduation and then detailed information on key aspects of employment, including intensity (whether employed full time, part time, or in multiple jobs), occupation, and salary of those who were employed and not enrolled 1 year after graduation. The findings indicate that these employment outcomes vary for male and female graduates, and by age group, race/ethnicity, and undergraduate major field of study.
Other key findings include:
• In 2009, about 8 percent of female graduates who earned their degrees in 2007–08 were unemployed, compared with 10 percent of male graduates.
• In constant dollars, median annual salaries 1 year after graduation were lower in 2009 than in 2001 for graduates in computer and information science, engineering, social science, humanities, business, and other applied fields.