Friday, December 19, 2014

With respect to learning, personality is more useful than intelligence

Dr Arthur Poropat from Griffith's School of Applied Psychology has conducted the largest ever reviews of personality and academic performance. He based these reviews on the fundamental personality factors (Conscientiousness, Openness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Extraversion) and found Conscientiousness and Openness have the biggest influence on academic success.
The results have been published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences.
Dr Poropat says educational institutions need to focus less upon intelligence and instead, pay more attention to each student's personality.
"With respect to learning, personality is more useful than intelligence for guiding both students and teachers," Dr Poropat said.
"In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.
"And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard."
In Dr Poropat's research, a student's assessment of their own personality is as useful for predicting university success as intelligence rankings.
However, when people who know the student well provide the personality rating, it is nearly four times more accurate for predicting grades.
Dr Poropat said understanding how personality impacts on academic achievement is a vital when it comes to helping students reach future success.
"Intelligence tests have always been closely linked with education and grades and therefore relied upon to predict who would do well," Dr Poropat said.
"The impact of personality on study is genuinely surprising for educational researchers, and for anyone who thinks they did well at school because they are 'smart'."
Previous studies have shown that students who think they are smart often stop trying and their performance declines over time, while those who consider themselves hard workers get progressively better.
Dr Poropat said the best news for students is that it's possible to develop the most important personality traits linked with academic success.
"Personality does change, and some educators have trained aspects of students' Conscientiousness and Openness, leading to greater learning capacity.
"By contrast, there is little evidence that intelligence can be 'taught', despite the popularity of brain-training apps."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More involved music students show greater gains in speech processing, reading

Music training has well-known benefits for the developing brain, especially for at-risk children. But youngsters who sit passively in a music class may be missing out, according to new Northwestern University research. 

In a study designed to test whether the level of engagement matters, researchers found that children who regularly attended music classes and actively participated showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers after two years.

The research, which appears online on Dec. 16 in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, also showed that the neural benefits stemming from participation occurred in the same areas of the brain that are traditionally weak in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

"Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement -- attendance and class participation -- predicted the strength of neural processing after music training," said study lead author Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. 
The type of music class may also be important, the researchers found. The neural processing of students who played instruments in class improved more than the children who attended the music appreciation group, according to the study.

"Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain," said Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.
The data was collected as part of a multi-year collaboration with The Harmony Project, a non-profit that has provided music education and instruments to disadvantaged children in Los Angeles for more than a decade. 

Rather than using an active control group, the researchers looked for differences within the group of children participating in Harmony Project classes. 

Unlike most music studies, which often estimate brain activity using paper and pencil tests, Kraus directly assessed the brain by strategically placing electrode wires with button sensors on the students' heads to capture the brain's responses.

Northwestern and the Harmony Project joined forces several years ago after Harmony's founder, Margaret Martin, approached Kraus seeking scientific evidence behind the striking academic success of the students. Despite a dropout rate of 50 percent or more in their neighborhoods, 93 percent of Harmony Project seniors have gone on to college since 2008. 

Previous Northwestern findings based on Harmony Project data have shown that two years of music training - but not one - improved the brains' ability to distinguish similar-sounding syllables, a skill linked to literacy. 

"Music, then, can't be thought of as a quick fix," said Kraus. 

That previous research, published in September in the Journal of Neuroscience, indicated that the community music program can literally 'remodel' a child's brain in a way that improves sound processing and was the first direct evidence that the music training has a biological effect on children's developing nervous systems. 

Children from families of lower socioeconomic status process sound less efficiently, in part because of noisier environments and also due to linguistic deprivation -- or not hearing enough complex words, sentences and concepts. This puts them at increased risk of academic failure or dropping out of school, said Kraus. 

"Think of 'neural noise' as like static on the radio, with the announcer's voice coming in faintly," said Kraus. 
Music training may be one way to boost how the brain processes sound to remove the interference, said Kraus. 

"Speech processing efficiency is closely linked to reading, since reading requires the ability to segment speech strings into individual sound units," said Kraus. 

"A poor reader's brain often processes speech sub optimally."

"What we do and how we engage with sound has an effect on our nervous system," said Kraus. "Spending time learning to play a musical instrument can have a profound effect on how your nervous system works."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Does Pennsylvania’s Tool for Evaluating School Leaders Measure Their Effectiveness Accurately?

This study examines the accuracy of performance ratings from the Framework for Leadership (FFL), Pennsylvania’s tool for evaluating the leadership practices of principals and assistant principals. The study analyzed three key properties of the FFL: internal consistency, score variation, and concurrent validity. 
To measure the internal consistency of the FFL, Cronbach’s alpha was calculated for the full FFL and for each of its four categories of leadership practices. 
Score variation was characterized by the percentages of school leaders earning scores in different portions of the rating scale. 
Concurrent validity was assessed through a regression model for the relationship between school leaders’ estimated contributions to student achievement growth and their FFL scores. 
Based on a pilot in which 336 principals and 69 assistant principals were rated by their supervisors in 2012/13, this interim report finds that the full FFL had good internal consistency for both principals and assistant principals. However, most scores for specific leadership practices were in the top two of four possible performance levels, and FFL scores were not associated with school leaders’ contributions to student achievement growth. 
These findings suggest that more evidence is needed on the validity of using FFL scores to identify effective and ineffective school leaders.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Do free, voluntary, district-run summer academics and enrichment activities benefit low-income elementary students?

Prior research has determined that low-income students lose more ground over the summer than their higher-income peers. Prior research has also shown that some summer learning programs can stem this loss, but we do not know whether large, district-run, voluntary programs can improve students' outcomes. 
To fill this gap, The Wallace Foundation launched the National Summer Learning Study in 2011. This five-year study offers the first-ever assessment of the effectiveness of large-scale, voluntary, district-run, summer learning programs serving low-income elementary students. The study, conducted by RAND, uses a randomized controlled trial to assess the effects of district-run voluntary summer programs on student achievement and social and emotional skills over the short and long run. All students in the study were in the third grade as of spring 2013 and enrolled in a public school in one of five urban districts: Boston; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; or Rochester, New York. 
This report, the second of five that will result from the study, looks at how summer programs affected student performance on mathematics, reading, and social and emotional assessments in fall 2013.

Key Findings

Students Who Attended the Programs Entered School in the Fall With Stronger Mathematics Skills Than Those Who Did Not

  • Analyses suggest that students who attended class more often and received more instructional hours received the greatest benefit and performed best on the assessment.

The Programs Did Not Produce Near-Term Effects in Reading

  • It is possible a five-week summer program is insufficient to create measurable improvement in reading skills. Reading outcomes were not significantly affected even for students with the highest attendance and instructional hours.
  • Our implementation analyses suggest that reading outcomes may be sensitive to classroom and site quality.These analyses found that treatment students who received higher-quality instruction, students who had a teacher with grade-level experience, and students attending an orderly site performed better.

The Summer Programs Did Not Affect Social and Emotional Outcomes

  • Treatment students did not receive higher social and emotional competence ratings from their teachers in the fall than control students received, although some district leaders hypothesized that their programs might have a positive effect on social and emotional outcomes.

Summer Learning Programs Appear to Serve Community Needs

  • We found strong demand among low-income students and their families for free, voluntary programs that combine academics and enrichment. Each district exceeded its expectations for applications, and the majority of accepted students attended the programs.
  • Almost 60 percent of the control group, all of whom had applied to the districts' voluntary summer program but were denied admission, reported not attending any kind of summer program or camp over the summer. These families had all received targeted information on other summer recreation programs available in their communities.


  • Districts interested in implementing summer programs may want to plan for programs that run five to six weeks and schedule 60–90 minutes of mathematics per day.
  • Districts should make special efforts to promote consistent attendance, maintain daily schedules, and ensure teachers maximize instructional time inside the classroom.
  • Districts may want to take particular care in selecting reading teachers for summer programming, trying to select the highest-quality reading teachers and those with grade-level experience (in either the sending or receiving grade).
  • Establishing clear expectations for student behavior, ensuring consistent application across teachers, and developing methods of maintaining positive student behavior in class may pay off in terms of student achievement in reading.
  • Districts may need to take specific actions in designing and executing summer programs if they wish to affect students' social-emotional outcomes in the near term.

Is “Academy of Reading” Effective?

A new “intervention report” from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the research on Academy of READING®, an online program that aims to improve students’ reading skills using a structured and sequential approach to learning. The program focuses on practice in five core areas: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

The WWC did a systematic search of all publicly-available research of Academy of READING® and identified 38 studies that were published or released between 1989 and 2013 that were related to adolescent readers. Only one of the studies met the WWC criteria for an eligible sample and research design and this study does not meet WWC group design standards. At this time, more quality effectiveness studies are needed to determine the impacts of Academy of READING® on adolescent readers. (For more details about how the WWC determines which studies are “eligible” for each review, please see the protocols that describe the parameters for each review.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mechanical ability reduces the likelihood of attending four-year college.

This study investigates the role of mechanical ability as another dimension that, jointly with cognitive and socio-emotional, affects schooling decisions and labor market outcomes.  

In contrast to the other dimensions, mechanical ability reduces the likelihood of attending four-year college. 

 On average, for individuals with high levels of mechanical and low levels of cognitive and socio-emotional ability, not attending four-year college is the alternative associated with the highest hourly wage (ages 25-30).  

Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success

This paper reviews the recent literature on measuring and boosting cognitive and noncognitive skills.  The literature establishes that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills|personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains. Their predictive power rivals that of cognitive skills.  

Reliable measures of character have been developed.  All measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task.  In order to reliably estimate skills from tasks, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills when measuring any particular skill.  Character is a skill, not a trait.  At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life cycle.  Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments.  Skill development is a dynamic process, in which the early years lay the foundation for successful investment in later years.  

High-quality early childhood and elementary school programs improve character skills in a lasting and cost-effective way.  Many of them beneficially affect later-life outcomes without improving cognition.  There are fewer long-term evaluations of adolescent interventions, but workplace-based programs that teach character skills are promising.  

The common feature of successful interventions across all stages of the life cycle through adulthood is that they promote attachment and provide a secure base for exploration and learning for the child.  Successful interventions emulate the mentoring environments offered by successful families.