08 September 2010

Recent Findings From Educational Psychology

[T]he correlation between SAT and GPA in upper division, in-major courses (presumably the most important courses in a particular student's college career) is much higher than the often reported correlation with freshman GPA.

The feel-good conclusion from our work is that in most majors (e.g., History, English, Biology, social sciences, ...) students with modest SAT scores can still obtain high GPAs, presumably through hard work. However, we found almost no cases of SAT-M scorers below about 90th percentile who obtained high upper division GPAs in physics or pure mathematics[.]

From here.

The SAT is a less good predictor of grades in the first two years of college, because students with higher scores tend to take harder courses with less grade inflation.

One conclusion of this research echos my point from yesterday about the questionable benefits of core curriculums that insist on math and math intensive science courses that can elevate failure rates. Even if these are mandatory, it may make sense to wait until the end of an undergraduate course of study, when students are better established on campus and in their study habits, to require these course of students who don't have intensely math related majors, in order to improve retention.

The New York Times highlights some evidence based research on study habits and teaching methods:

[I]nstead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing. . . .

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research. . . a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. . . . Ditto for teaching styles. . . Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. “We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

[H]onest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out. . . . When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

The Psychologist magazine also has evidence based studying and instruction suggestions, with a greater emphasis on attitude:

Students who believe that intelligence and academic ability are fixed tend to stumble at the first hurdle. By contrast, those with a ‘growth mindset’, who see intelligence as malleable, react to adversity by working harder and trying out new strategies. . . lecturers and teachers should offer praise in a way that fosters in students a growth mindset – avoid comments on innate ability and emphasise instead what students did well to achieve their success.

[L]ack of sleep impairs students’ ability to learn new information. . . .

The secret to recovering from a bout of procrastination. . . is to forgive yourself. . . . Those who had forgiven themselves for procrastination prior to the initial mid-terms were less likely to procrastinate prior to the second lot of exams and tended to do better as a result.

[T]ime spent answering quiz questions (including feedback of correct answers) is more beneficial than the same time spent merely re-studying that same material. . . . [but] ‘self-testing when information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn’t work. It does not create lasting memories, and it creates overconfidence.’

The secret to remembering material long-term is to review it periodically, rather than trying to cram. . . . the optimal time to leave material before reviewing it is 10 to 30 per cent of the period you want to remember it for. So, if you were to be tested eleven days after first studying some material, the ideal time to revisit it would be a day later. If it’s seven months from your initial study of the material to an exam, then reviewing the material after a month is optimal.

Vivid examples may not always work best. . .. [S]tudents taught about mathematical relations linking three items in a group were only able to transfer the rules to a novel, real-life situation if they were originally taught the rules using abstract symbols. Those taught with the metaphorical aid of water jugs and pizza slices were unable to transfer what they’d learned.

[N]aps as short as ten minutes can reduce subsequent fatigue and help boost concentration. . . . [does] it makes any difference if you nap lying down or leaning forward with your head rested on a desk[?]. . . [N]apping lying down was associated with . . . increased mental alertness.

Students given Powerpoint slide handouts before a lecture made fewer notes but performed the same or better in a later test of the lecture material than students who weren’t given the handouts until the lecture was over. . . . ‘in situations where students’ notes are likely to reiterate the content of the slides, there is no harm from releasing students from note-taking.’

[S]tudents’ belief in their own ability, called ‘self-efficacy’, and their general ability both made unique contributions to their performance. . . . ‘there is a natural tendency to build basic skills, but . . . [i]nstructors that focus on building the confidence of students, providing strategic instruction, and giving relevant feedback can enhance performance outcomes.’

The point about vivid examples is particularly notable for legal education, where vivid case examples predominate over direct teaching of abstract rules which law professors are trained to believe it is bad pedagogical practice to disclose outright.

1 comment:

Psychology CE said...


Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. Thanks.