CEC standards for evidence-based practice

The Council for Exceptional Children released a document providing guidance for identifying evidence-based practices in special education on 23 January 2014. Developed by a work group composed of leaders from the Division for Research—Bryan Cook (chair), Viriginia Buysse, Janette Klingner, Tim Landrum, Robin McWilliam, Melody Tankersley, and Dave Test—and aimed at serving groups or individuals who are understand educational research design and methods, the standards provide a means for categorizing practices as (a) evidence-based, (b) potentially evidence-based, (c) mixed evidence, (d) insufficient evidence, or (e) negative evidence. To make these determinations, groups or individuals will need to apply quality indicators, which the document also identifies to studies, to ascertain the extent to which individual studies are methodologically sound.
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Science and preschool policy

In “How to Get More Early Bloomers” (New York Times, 30 January 2014), Dan Willingham and David Grissmer argue that policymakers should be more cautious about the benefits of universal preschool and should employ the tools of science to examine policies so that quality can be built into the preschools that states and localities offer.

When New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, went to Albany earlier this week to talk about his program for universal preschool, the discussion reportedly focused on funding, not on whether or how preschool would actually help children. President Obama seemed equally confident when he introduced his plan for universal preschool last year, flatly stating, “We know this works.” But the state of research is actually much murkier. And unless policy makers begin to design preschool programs in ways that can be evaluated later, the situation won’t get any clearer.

You can read the entire editorial on-line. Observant readers might say the authors could have cited some other historical examples of effective preschools (e.g., Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966), but that doesn’t negate their general thrust that policy on preschools should be guided by science.

Reference

Bereiter, C., & Engelmann, S. (1966). Teaching disadvantaged children in the preschool. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Teaching computer coding

A well-resourced effort to promote instruction in coding has been underway since about 2011 or so (my guess about when I first heard of it?). In December 2013 it’s slated to hit a big crescendo, the hour of coding. The effort is founded on the growing importance of computer science in contemporary science, and it features many recognizable people from many different walks of life in the pitch. Check it out.

Now, however, help me with this question, please. What do we know about effective instruction in teaching students about technology? Much? How about the relative effectiveness of different ways of teaching coding (i.e., programming)? I’ve not researched the literature on this matter. I hope the folks at code.org have.

I like the idea of helping students become proficient users and producers of technology…a lot…a heckuva lot! Let’s do it effectively.

We have a hot one

Over on Pragmatic Education Joe Kirby provides his take on

  • What makes a great education system?
  • What makes great teaching?
  • What makes a great curriculum?
  • What makes great training (CPD & ITT)?
  • What makes great assessment?
  • What makes great school leadership?

Mr. Kirby has a distinctly British view. One may have to learn some lingo specific to how folks in Great Britain talk about schools (this isn’t a criticism), but it’s well worth the effort. I’ve not dug through all of his posts, but I’ve read several, including these that will resonate with loyal readers of TE:

I’m virtually certain I’m going to find some entries with which I’ll disagree and some ways of posing ideas that I would recommend be shaded differently, but I’m betting that Mr. Kirby’s posts will provide a lot of fodder for my biases. Highly recommended. His blog is going in the side bar.

Neuroimaging data do not validate left- vs. -right-brain types

If you believe in learning styles, personalities, and so forth, skip this entry. It just reports that another of those balloons has been popped. However, it you’re into understanding the fascinating nature of humans’ thinking, there are a couple of morsels here.

Unless you’ve been putting your thumbs in your ears and wiggling your fingers while loudly saying, “Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m not listening to you. I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” you’ve probably heard some educator talking about left-bained or right-brained learners, schools as catering to left-brained learners, girls as better at left-brained tasks and therefore better in schools, and so forth. (Think I’m kidding? Try this example from the widely circulated magazine, Scholastic or check on the sales of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)

Fortunately, some folks have called “bologna” on this already. See, for examples:

Well, if that’s not enough (and it should be), a group of neuroscientists at the University of Utah (abstract and source follows) studied images showing the neural connections in the brain hemispheres of over 1000 people ranging from seven to 29 years of age. Although they found that there were functionally separate areas in the brain (e.g., language regions or hubs), these connections consistently showed lateralization between the major “hubs,” not a general individual type. They said that their

…analyses suggest that an individual brain is not “left-brained” or “right-brained” as a global property, but that asymmetric lateralization is a property of individual nodes or local subnetworks, and that different aspects of the left-dominant network and right-dominant network may show relatively greater or lesser lateralization within an individual.

Before you get carried away with interpreting that statement, please read the article. It’s available for free!

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson M. A., Lainhart J. E., & Anderson J. S. (2013) An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071275

Abstract

Lateralized brain regions subserve functions such as language and visuospatial processing. It has been conjectured that individuals may be left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant based on personality and cognitive style, but neuroimaging data has not provided clear evidence whether such phenotypic differences in the strength of left-dominant or right-dominant networks exist. We evaluated whether strongly lateralized connections covaried within the same individuals. Data were analyzed from publicly available resting state scans for 1011 individuals between the ages of 7 and 29. For each subject, functional lateralization was measured for each pair of 7266 regions covering the gray matter at 5-mm resolution as a difference in correlation before and after inverting images across the midsagittal plane. The difference in gray matter density between homotopic coordinates was used as a regressor to reduce the effect of structural asymmetries on functional lateralization. Nine left- and 11 right-lateralized hubs were identified as peaks in the degree map from the graph of significantly lateralized connections. The left-lateralized hubs included regions from the default mode network (medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and temporoparietal junction) and language regions (e.g., Broca Area and Wernicke Area), whereas the right-lateralized hubs included regions from the attention control network (e.g., lateral intraparietal sulcus, anterior insula, area MT, and frontal eye fields). Left- and right-lateralized hubs formed two separable networks of mutually lateralized regions. Connections involving only left- or only right-lateralized hubs showed positive correlation across subjects, but only for connections sharing a node. Lateralization of brain connections appears to be a local rather than global property of brain networks, and our data are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater “left-brained” or greater “right-brained” network strength across individuals. Small increases in lateralization with age were seen, but no differences in gender were observed.

So, can the bunk. Quit blaming kids’ outcomes on irrelevant factors and let’s get to thinking about what matters: The things we can do to alter the teaching environment to improve those outcomes. Let’s see, we could start with having more light in the classrooms. O.K., how about adjusting the temperature up or down one degree? What? You think it would be more important to change the teaching?

Well, I agree.

Is my teaching effective?

How does one know whether one’s teaching is working? That’s a dang important question. Over on myIGDIs, Scott McConnell provides a quick and clear introduction to the answer. In How Do I Know if My Classroom Practices Are Working?, Professor McConnell explains that one needs (a) goals or standards, (b) points of comparison against which to assess change or difference, and (c) trustworthy ways of measuring students’ performance, if one is to assess the effects of one’s teaching.

Although Professor McConnell’s analysis is aimed primarily at early childhood education, it’s base is general enough to be applicable across age groups. He’s talking about Individual Growth and Development Indicators, or IGDIs. Those are important tools in an effective educator’s apron. I’m thinking myIGDIs, which provides research-based, preschool language and literacy measures, looks like a valuable site. These link nicely to RtI, CBM, and other models that align with monitoring progress systematically.

ACLU suing schools for failing to teach students to read

The Michigan chapter of the US civil rights group, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLY), announced 12 July 2012 that it has filed a class action suit on behalf of children in Highland Park, Michigan, who the local public schools have failed to teach to read. The suit alleges that the schools’ failure to teach students to read violate Michigan laws.

“The capacity to learn is deeply rooted in the ability to achieve literacy. A child who cannot read will be disenfranchised in our society and economy for a lifetime,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Highland Park students want to be educated. However, their hopes and dreams for a future are being destroyed by an ineffective system that does not adequately prepare them for life beyond school.”

The ACLU contends that this is a first-of-it’s-kind lawsuit, and it may be a true assertion, depending on how one defines “kind.” It’s a class action, which is the first of that theory that I’ve seen—and the class-action approach may be a very good path to pursue because the injury is more clearly widespread than it is for an individual, and the harm to society is easier to show. There have, however, been previous suits alleging that schools failed to discharge a duty to teach reading. Alert readers of Teach Effectively will recall a post about “J.K.” suing his schools for failing to prepare him for post-secondary education (“Ex-Student sues school“) and may also recall that in that post I listed notes about the Peter Doe case from the 1970s as well as some other resources about educational malpractice that have discussed this topic.

Let’s see what happens. For right now, here’s a cheer for the ACLU for raising this important issue. Too many students are being neglected, shunted aside, left for lost. Students who can read and write (and compute and do science as well as sing and do other things, too) will have a better chance to make more and more lasting contributions to society than they would were they if they are left ill-educated, as is happening too often in our public schools. So hooray for the ACLU shining a light here.

Meanwhile, here is as the press release from the ACLU, entitled “Highland Park Students File Class-Action ‘Right to Read’ Lawsuit” (follow the link embedded in the end of the release that points to many additional material) as well as a list of selected examples of coverage of the current story in various press sources:

Guide for effective writing instruction

The US Institute of Education Sciences announced the release of a practice guide about improving writing instruction. The guide, entitled “Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers,” is available for free from the IES What Works Clearinghouse (direct link follows). The authorship team, led by Steve Graham of Arizona State University, included Alisha Bollinger (Norris Elementary School, Firth, NE), Carol Booth Olsen (University of California, Irvine), Catherine D’Aoust (University of California, Irvine), Charles MacArthur (University of Delaware), Deborah McCutchen (University of Washington), and Natalie Olinghouse (University of Connecticut).

This practice guide provides four recommendations for improving elementary students’ writing. Each recommendation includes implementation steps and solutions for common roadblocks. The recommendations also summarize and rate supporting evidence. This guide is geared toward teachers, literacy coaches, and other educators who want to improve the writing of their elementary students.

Recommendation Level of
Evidence
1. Provide daily time for students to write. Minimal
2. Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes. Strong
3. Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing. Moderate
4. Create an engaged community of writers. Minimal

Go to the landing page for the practice guide or download a pdf of the guide directly.

Professor Graham and his team have done an excellent job of assembling and interpreting the research here and making it useful to consumers. Of course, readers of Teach Effectively recognize him as one of the foremost experts in the US on writing instruction (and a good friend of TE). Alert readers will remember earlier posts about Professor Graham’s work including Graham Lecture with S. Graham (24 April 2009) and Effective methods for teaching writing (15 April 2009).




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