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:
- Elizabeth Hampton’s essay, “http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/newsletter/archives/left.pdf from the Society for Quality Education (and check the sidebar for a link to the society’s home page) and
- Friend or TE, Dan Willingham provided one of his usual direct-and-grounded take-downs of this idea for the Washington Post‘s “Answer Sheet” in 2010: Willingham: Left/right brain theory is bunk.
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
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.
Even though he harbors doubts about whether there is a need for another education blog, friend of TE Dan Willingham has started a new blog. He thinks there is a niche for providing brief notes pointing at scientific findings that are relevant for education, and he plans to do so at daniel-willingham-science-and-education-blog. Scurry on over there and check on it. I’ll add it to the sidebar here.
Isn’t it unusual to get something for free that is actually worth a lot? The good folks over at Education Consumers Foundation (ECF) are giving away a small book that is quite valuable, and I encourage readers to download it, read it, and tell their friends to get it, too.
What are they giving away? It’s a book called Clear Teaching: With Direct Instruction, Siegfried Engelmann Discovered a Better Way of Teaching by Shep Barbash. As one can tell from the subtitle, it’s about Zig Engelmann’s work on education. I talked with Mr. Barbash as he worked on the manuscript for the book, read an earlier version of it, and am very impressed with this finished product. It’s even more impressive that the book is now out in the wild for free. Kudos to Mr. Barbash, John Stone, and all the others at ECF who made this happen.
Clear Teaching – The Book
Written by veteran journalist Shepard Barbash over a period of 10 years, Clear Teaching is a well-researched, highly readable introduction to Direct Instruction (DI), a systematic teaching approach which for more than 40 years has dramatically improved learning outcomes for students of all abilities and from all walks of life. The book looks at the development of DI through the early experiences of its creator, Zig Engelmann; explains the principles that underpin this approach; and looks at DI’s reception in the world of teaching, where it has been effectively shunned despite a formidable research base and example after example of transformative success.
The image at the top of the post is hot, but readers can also click here to go to the ECF page where they can download the PDF.
Does all the verbiage about the ills of education make you wonder about the reasoning skills of educational reformers? Well, it does make me have questions. I practice resisting the urge to walk away when people start attributing educational underachievement to problems we educators can’t change (poverty, for example) or to features of schooling that are like nibbling on one’s napkin rather than eating food (e.g., walls height in classrooms).
I also get a bit incensed when folks go after teachers as the bad people in the equation. I find it foolish to suggest that education simply needs to raise pay to attract more qualified people into classrooms; it is an admittedly biased sample, but there are lots of smart people going through U.Va.’s (and similar) teacher education programs. (Sadly, too many teacher education programs fill their students’ thinking with Pop-Ed bologna.) And even though I talk about dysteachia and dyspedagogia, those are references to practices, not to the people—and some of the worst cases of dyspedagogia probably can be observed in the professoriate at schools of education!
Anyway, I am glad to report that a couple of my colleagues argued a coherent case about the importance of curriculum in the effects of teaching in an editorial for the New York Daily News. In “The teacher quality conundrum: If they are the problem, why are kids gaining in math? Curriculum design is key to reform,” Dan Willingham and David Grissmer use evidence and reason to explain that it’s not the teachers per se, but the teaching that matters. I encourage people interested in sensible reform of education to read it.
In “Using Encoding Instruction to Improve the Reading and SpellingPerformances of Elementary Students At Risk for Literacy Difficulties: A Best-Evidence Synthesis,” professsors Beverly Weiser and Patricia Mathes of Southern Methodist University reviewed of studies of the effects of spelling instruction on literacy performance and found that systematic instruction in helping students to convert speech into print promotes not just spelling but also reading competence. What is more, the benefits appear to persist over time.
Using Encoding Instruction to Improve the Reading and SpellingPerformances of Elementary Students At Risk for Literacy Difficulties: A Best-Evidence Synthesis
Although connectionist models provide a framework explaining how the decoding and encoding abilities work reciprocally to enhance reading and spelling ability, encoding instruction in today’s schools is not a priority. Although a limited amount of high-quality experimental or control studies to date (N = 11) give empirical support to using direct, explicit encoding instruction to increase the reading and spelling abilities of those students at risk for literacy failure, the benefits of integrating this instruction into current reading curriculums warrant further consideration. Students receiving encoding instruction and guided practice that included using (a) manipulatives (e.g., letter tiles, plastic letters) to learn phoneme–grapheme relationships and words and (b) writing phoneme–grapheme relationships and words made from these correspondences significantly outperformed contrast groups not receiving encoding instruction. Robust Cohen’s d effect sizes, favoring the treatment groups, were found in areas of phonemic awareness, spelling, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and writing. Educational implications of these findings suggest that there is support for using encoding instruction to increase the literacy performances of at-risk primary grade students and that encoding instruction can be successful in improving the reading and spelling performances of older students with learning disabilities. Importantly, there is also evidence to support the transfer effects of early encoding instruction on later reading, writing, and spelling performances.
Continue reading ‘Teaching spelling promotes general literacy’
Over on SpedPro I have a post about an up-coming Webinar on evidence-based practices presented by Bryan Cook. A product of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and and CEC’s Division for Research, the session is billed as helping educators answer questions such as these:
- What exactly does evidence-based practice mean for practitioners?
- How are evidence-based practices different from “best practices” and “research-based practices”?
- Where can you find them?
- How should you select them?
- How can you use them?
- How can you evaluate them?
I haven’t seen the syllabus, but I bet this will be a worthwhile session. For one small fee, one can register as many folks as you can gather around a computer and a projector; and then you get a copy of the Webinar to review later, as well. It’s like a ready-made, re-usable staff-development program. To read the SpedPro post, follow this link. Alternatively, simply follow this link to register for the session!
The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, which covers many different social programs in addition to education, announced the publication of an electronic newsletter that should be of interest to some readers. The current issue of RIGOROUS EVIDENCE Newsletter: Distinguishing Effective Evidence-Based Programs from Everything Else doesn’t have much that is precisely on point for education (though, check the entry about a teen pregnancy program), but one can bookmark the on-line site for the newsletter and check it regularly as a potential source for trustworthy content about effective educational methods.