Educational Research Digests

Click on the links below to access some good quality educational research – I’ll keep the page regularly updated with new stuff. Key points from each paper are contained in the bullets.

Happy reading –


*NEW* When Knowledge Knows No Bounds: Self-Perceived Expertise Predicts Claims of Impossible Knowledge, by Stav Atir et al. (2015)
  • Research on overconfidence finds that people commonly judge the accuracy of their judgments too favorably.
  • A feeling of knowing is often only weakly predictive of actual knowledge and appears to be informed, at least in part, by top-down inferences about what should be or probably is known.
  • The seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple, particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with.
  • The more individuals believe they know about a domain, the more likely they are to claim knowledge in that domain that they cannot possibly possess (known as overclaiming).

*NEW* Effective Schools: Teacher Hiring, Assignment, Development, and Retention, by Susanna Loeb et al. (2012)
  • Quality teachers are one of the most important school-related factors found to facilitate student learning and likely explain at least some of the difference in effectiveness across schools.
  • The processes by which teachers are allocated to students within schools may vary considerably across schools and in particular may happen more equitably in more effective schools.
  • Novice teachers systematically teach students with lower entering test scores than their more senior colleagues.
  • The odds that a teacher who is in the top quartile of effectiveness will leave in a given year is 30–40 percent lower in top quartile schools.
  • More effective schools are able to attract and hire more effective teachers from other schools when vacancies arise.

*NEW* Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up, by Mary Rowe (2008)
  • When teachers ask questions of students, they typically wait 1 second or less for the students to start a reply […] it is difficult for many people to get average wait times of up to three seconds.
  • Independent judges rated the quality of student responses higher under the 3-second treatment than under the control format of 1 second.
  • ‘I don’t know’ or no responses are often as high as 30% in classrooms with mean wait times 1 and 2 of 1 second, which is the most common pace.
  • It appears that fast-paced teacher questioning is a device for maintaining control of behaviour. In fact, it not only inhibits the kind of thinking teachers seek to encourage.
  • As teachers succeed in increasing their average wait times to 3 seconds or more, they become more adept at using student responses.
  • Under the longer wait time schedule, some previously ‘invisible’ people become visible […] This effect was particularly pronounced where minority students were concerned.
  • In their eagerness to elicit responses from students, teachers often develop verbal patterns that make the achievement of [relatively high wait time] unnecessarily difficult.

*NEW* Building a More Complete Understanding of Teacher Evaluation Using Classroom Observations, by Julie Cohen and Dan Goldhaber (2016)
  • Responsive teaching would likely vary depending on a teacher’s students, and this variance is at odds with the standardisation of quality practice underlying observational instruments.
  • Student characteristics may be associated with observational ratings, and teachers with students with higher prior achievement receive higher observation ratings.
  • A single observation is unlikely to reflect a teacher’s broader repertoire of practices, and multiple observations sampled across time and content would likely better assess instructional quality.
  • Raters struggle to keep multiple dimensions of quality in mind during observations and that content-specific aspects of instruction are cognitively demanding and subject to rater biases.

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (2014)
  • Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning.
  • Participants [in tests on multiple college campuses] using laptops were more inclined to take verbatim notes than participants who wrote longhand, thus hurting learning.
  • Participants who had taken notes with laptops performed worse on tests of both factual content and conceptual understanding, relative to participants who had taken notes longhand.
  • Laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments, even – or perhaps especially – when the computer is used for its intended function of easier note taking.
  • Laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.

Studies in Educational Evaluation, by Bob Uttl et al. (2016)
  • Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) ratings are used to evaluate faculty’s teaching effectiveness based on an assumption that students learn more from highly rated professors.
  • Any substantive correlations between SET and learning are likely to be a fluke or an artifact rather than due to students’ ability to accurately assess instructor teaching effectiveness.
  • The individual differences in knowledge and intelligence are likely to influence how much students learn in the same course taught by the same professor.
  • Individual differences in students’ prior interest in a course are likely to influence how engaged they are, how hard they work and how much they learn.
  • There is presently no evidence supporting the widespread belief that students learn more from professors who receive higher SET ratings.
  • The latest large sample studies show that students who were taught by highly rated professors in prerequisites perform more poorly in follow up courses.

Classroom Composition and Measured Teacher Performance: What Do Teacher Observation Scores Really Measure?, by Matthew Steinberg and Rachel Garrett (2016)
  • There is a tendency in American schools to assign novice, less-effective teachers to more disadvantaged students.
  • Observation-based measures of a teacher’s performance tend to be weakly correlated over time.
  • A teacher’s classroom practice may be influenced by classroom composition (i.e. the assigned students and classes).
  • Teacher performance, based on classroom observation, is significantly influenced by the context in which teachers work.
  • Observation scores as measures of teacher effectiveness present validity concerns.
  • Caution should be taken when making high-stakes decisions based largely on observation scores.

Why Public Schools Lose Teachers, by Eric A. Hanushek et al. (2001)
  • American schools serving academically disadvantaged students tend to have difficulty in retaining teachers, particularly those early in their career.
  • Higher salaries appear to reduce the probability that teachers will leave a district that serves very disadvantaged students.
  • Those who choose to switch schools within urban districts appear to seek out schools with fewer academically and economically disadvantaged students.
  • The lowest achieving students are more likely to have teachers new to the school and to the profession.
  • Student achievement appears to be an important determinant of the probability of exiting schools.

Folk Knowledge and Academic Learning, by David C. Geary (2012)
  • Children are innately curious about and motivated to engage actively in and explore social relationships and the biological and physical world.
  • Children’s inherent motivational dispositions and activity preferences are likely to be at odds with the need to engage in […] procedures that promote academic learning.
  • Surveys of the attitudes and preferences of schoolchildren indicate that most children value achievement in sports more than achievement in any academic area.
  • Teachers must organise and guide academic learning because it cannot be assumed that children’s ‘natural curiosity’ will result in an interest in all academic domains.
  • Much of the learning associated with primary domains occurs automatically and effortlessly.
  • Academic learning and is effortful because it requires sustained attentional control and working memory resources.

Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology, by John Dunlosky et al. (2013)
  • Some evidence suggests that the benefits of elaborative interrogation may be limited for learners with low levels of domain knowledge.
  • Self-explanation effects have been shown across an impressive age range, although more work is needed to explore the extent to which this is dependent on learners’ knowledge or ability level.
  • Summarisation can be an effective strategy for learners who are already skilled at summarising; however, many will require extensive training.
  • In most situations that have been examined and with most participants, highlighting does little to boost performance.
  • Keyword mnemonic is not highly efficient (in terms of time needed for training and keyword generation), and may not produce durable learning.
  • Imagery can improve students’ learning of text materials, but the benefits of imagery are largely constrained to imagery-friendly materials and to tests of memory.
  • Rereading is relatively economical with respect to time demands and training requirements, but it is also typically much less effective when compared with some other learning techniques.
  • Practice testing is highly beneficial and effects have been demonstrated across an impressive range of variables, which means that it also has broad applicability.
  • Distributed practice is highly effective across students of different ages, with a wide variety of materials, on the majority of standard laboratory measures, and over long delays.
  • Interleaved practice has been shown to have relatively dramatic effects on students’ learning and retention of mathematical skills; teachers should consider adopting it in appropriate contexts.