Research You Can Use: Educators Edition

chalk and eraserAs the new school year begins, we wanted to share with you some of the latest research coming out of the Curry School with findings that can be practical for educators.

Getting Middle School Boys to Read More

Convincing middle school boys to read is a challenge, so teachers might want to take advantage of boys’ positive attitudes toward recreational reading in digital environments, like websites and social media.

A research group led by Michael C. McKenna, Thomas G. Jewell Professor of Reading, developed an easy-to-use measure of reading attitudes for middle school students that considers their preference for digital versus print media and academic versus recreational purposes. Then, they used the measure in a national survey of nearly 5,000 middle schoolers in 26 states and DC.

Surprisingly, boys had even higher attitudes toward recreational reading in digital environments than girls did.

Surprisingly, boys had even higher attitudes toward recreational reading in digital environments than girls did. The researchers argue that reading a friend’s texts or Facebook page constitutes recreational reading and believe that the ability to interact with peers and read what peers have written promotes reading among adolescents. “Learning about the literacy practices in those hidden worlds might yield useful lessons for designing more engaging classroom applications,” they noted.

Fostering the love of reading is a primary goal of reading instruction, so it follows that assessing and then working to improve students’ attitudes could lead to increases in both the amount and proficiency of their reading and cultivate them as lifelong readers.

For more information: “Reading Attitudes of Middle School Students: Results of a U.S. Survey” was published in Reading Research Quarterly (vol. 47:3). In addition to Michael McKenna, authors included Kristin Conradi (M.Ed. ’07, Ph.D. ’11 Reading Ed), Camille Lawrence (M.Ed. ’07, Ph.D. ’10 Educ Research), Bong Gee Jang (Ph.D. ’13 Reading Ed), and J. Patrick Meyer (Curry, Research, Statistics, & Evaluation).

For more on how to put this research into practice, check out  “Measuring Adolescents’ Attitudes Toward Reading” in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.

The Great Homework Debate

Completing typical homework assignments in high school science and math classes in not likely to improve your students’ grades, according to a study by Adam Maltese (Ph.D. ‘08 Science Ed), Robert Tai (Curry, Science Education), and Xitao Fan (formerly on Curry faculty).

Their analysis found that students’ math and science grades were roughly equivalent whether they did hours of homework or no homework at all. Time spent on homework was, however, associated with higher scores on standardized tests. Even then, a point of diminishing returns was reached after spending more than two hours doing homework in these subjects in an evening.

“We believe that the difference in results between grades and test scores may be an unintended benefit based on the form of homework assignment [for example, skill-based problems like those common on standardized tests] rather than the content,” the researchers said.

They recommended that teachers reevaluate the goals of homework and design assignments to focus on deeper engagement with content—keeping in mind that more is not always better.

For more information: “When is Homework Worth the Time?” appeared in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of The High School Journal.

The Real Problem with Teacher Turnover

Schools and their students can benefit from policies aimed at keeping grade-level teaching teams intact over time. A study in New York City schools by M. Ronfeldt, S. Loeb, and James Wyckoff (Curry, Education Policy) delved into the mechanism that makes teacher turnover harmful to students, especially in schools with large populations of low-performing and Black students.

One possibility is that turnover negatively affects collegiality or relational trust among faculty.

Prior research has assumed that if the teachers who leave a school are worse than those who replace them, then turnover has a net positive effect. This study found that there may be a disruptive impact of turnover beyond compositional changes in teacher quality. The teacher turnover also negatively affected the students of teachers who remained in the same school.

“One possibility is that turnover negatively affects collegiality or relational trust among faculty,” the researchers suggested. “Or perhaps turnover results in loss of institutional knowledge among faculty that is critical for supporting student learning.”

They recommended that school leaders consider introducing incentive structures to retain teachers that might leave otherwise.

For more information: “How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement” is available from the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Did You Know…?

One quarter of young children in Virginia who receive speech-language services in schools also receive reading services. That’s a significant number of students who may be pulled away from classroom instruction multiple times a week for services that often are not coordinated, says associate professor LaVae M. Hoffman.

The key is consciously planning and not leaving instruction to happenstance.

Hoffman recommends that speech-language pathologists and reading specialists in every school meet and compare their caseloads. For each case they have in common, these professionals should discuss the student’s unique needs and how their approaches may be similar or different.

“The key is consciously planning and not leaving instruction to happenstance,” she says.

For more information: “Overlap in Speech-Language and Reading Services for Kindergartners and First Graders” by Carolyn S. Gosse (M.Ed. ’09, Ph.D. ’12 Speech Path & Aud, LaVae M. Hoffman (Curry, Speech Pathology), and Marcia A. Invernizzi (Curry, Reading) was published in the January 2012 issue of Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools.

From Studies Still in Press…

Higher Math Achievement for English Learners

Using multiple representations, building students’ vocabulary, and providing individual student support may be keys to improving the mathematics achievement of upper elementary-level English language learners.

These were some of the findings of a study by a Curry research team led by faculty members Eileen Merritt, Natalia Palacios, and Sara Rimm-Kaufman.

Using a variety of representations of mathematical knowledge, such as manipulatives, pictures and even physical motions, all help English learners develop a richer understanding of important concepts, said the researchers. Model and encourage students to translate from one representation to another.

Check individually with students for understanding and help them analyze their errors.  Circulate around the room and ask questions like, “Do you understand or do you want me to show you?” or “How did you get your answer?” When you notice an error, ask more questions to elicit their thinking.

Help students understand key mathematics vocabulary by providing scaffolds such as word walls or posters that show words with definitions and pictures.  Ask students to construct their own definitions using words they know.

With appropriate support, English learners have great potential to make gains in their mathematics achievement as they gain proficiency in English, the researchers concluded.

Reducing Discipline Referrals

Would you like for all your adolescent students to behave appropriately in class this year? A study from our Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) addressed this subject, specifically in terms of sensitively addressing the discouraging pattern of racial disparities in discipline.

They found evidence that teachers who, with some coaching, improved their sensitivity in interactions with students and adopted a specific set of behavior management skills made fewer office discipline referrals than those who did not. These skills included being explicit and clear about behavioral expectations and following up any misbehavior immediately with a predictable response.

Sensitive teaching and proactive planning is key, said the researchers. Look for cues that indicate students may be moving toward more disruptive or inattentive behavior. Anticipate moments when misbehavior is likely to occur (e.g., transitions, discussions of sensitive topics), and reiterate rules and expectations before any misbehavior occurs. Move closer to students when you note behavioral problems. Be sure to notice when students are behaving, and give specific information about what they are doing well.

Study Authors: Anne Gregory (former Curry professor), Joseph P. Allen (U.Va. Psychology Dept.), Amori Yee Mikami, Christopher A. Hafen (CASTL Research Scientist), Robert C. Pianta (Dean, Curry School).