Tag Archives: Student

NPR: The cognitive advantages of taking notes on paper

28 May

This story on NPR suggests you will remember material better if you take notes on paper:

‘Oppenheimer and Mueller wondered if there was something about paper and the act of writing that explained this phenomenon, so they conducted an experiment.

The paper industry struggled in the past decade, but some sectors have fared better than others.
They asked about 50 students to attend a lecture. Half took notes on laptops and half with pen and paper. Both groups were then given a comprehension test.

It wasn’t even close. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops.

Mueller attributes this unexpected finding — published in the journal, Psychological Science — to the fact that the “analog” note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe. It’s a phenomenon known as “desirable difficulty.”‘

Here is the abstract from the original paper:

“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. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”


More on note taking

10 Apr

I have posted on this study in the past, but Vox has a nice gloss of the paper:

“But the crazy thing is that the many college students being distracted by their laptops are simultaneously paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of doing so.

Science and common sense are both pretty clear here. If you want to learn something from a class or lecture — or, from that matter, a meeting, conference, or any other situation where you’re basically sitting and listening — you’re best off taking notes with pen and paper.”

note taking

“Will students pass a competitive exam that they failed in their dreams?”

19 Aug

Hat tip to the Dream & Nightmare Lab blog for alerting me to this study. Here is the abstract:

“We tested whether dreams can anticipate a stressful exam and how failure/success in dreams affect next-day performance. We collected information on students’ dreams during the night preceding the medical school entrance exam. Demographic, academic, sleep and dream characteristics were compared to the students’ grades on the exam. Of the 719 respondents to the questionnaire (of 2324 total students), 60.4% dreamt of the exam during the night preceding it. Problems with the exam appeared in 78% of dreams and primarily involved being late and forgetting answers. Reporting a dream about the exam on the pre-exam night was associated with better performance on the exam (p = .01). The frequency of dreams concerning the exam during the first term predicted proportionally higher performance on the exam (R = 0.1, p = .01). These results suggest that the negative anticipation of a stressful event in dreams is common and that this episodic simulation provides a cognitive gain.”

From the paper’s conclusion:

“In conclusion, dreams about the exam were frequent the day before and several days and months prior to the exam, even among students who had not yet experienced the exam. Although the dreams primarily represented problems and failure, these contextual, anticipatory dreams predicted better performance on the exam. These results suggest that this cognitive episodic simulation in dreams is common.”

Here is a 1942 newsreel from British Pathé with an unscientific view of dreams:

How to remember students’ names

28 Apr

My wife’s twin sister, Kathy, is a teacher and she sent me the following email:

“In your blog did you mention Ronnie White’s technique to remember names? or did I just stumble upon it when I was looking at the post about Dominic O’Brien. I can’t seem to find his name when I search your blog.

I wanted to make a comment on your blog at how effective this is for classroom management for a substitute. I try to use his technique when I sub in the classroom. I am not quite perfect at it but it helps so much for a substitute to know the students’ names. I usually only have a very short time to do this but it is worth the 5 minutes at the beginning of the day. First graders LOVES it! If I can go around and call them by name they just think that is great. I reinforce their name in my memory by calling them by name everytime I hand something to a student or ask a student to do something. Before this I was just stumbling around with hey you.

I don’t have this luxury with highschool or junior high because those students won’t give me the 5 minutes I need and the classes are constantly changing, but if I am going to be with a class an entire day it really makes a difference.”


I would also reccomend Harry Lorayne’s Remembering people: The key to success available on Amazon for only one cent!

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Later school start time benefits students

27 Jan

A study, published in The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, reports that an experimental 25 minute delay in school start time improved students’ sleep and their daytime functioning.  From the abstract:


The delay in school start time was associated with a significant (29 min) increase in sleep duration on school nights. The percentage of students receiving 8 or more hours of sleep on a school night increased to more than double, from 18% to 44%. Students in 9th and 10th grade and those with lower baseline sleep amounts were more likely to report improvements in sleep duration after the schedule change. Daytime sleepiness, depressed mood, and caffeine use were all significantly reduced after the delay in school start time. Sleep duration reverted to baseline levels when the original (earlier) school start time was reinstituted.


A modest (25 min) delay in school start time was associated with significant improvements in sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, mood, and caffeine use. These findings have important implications for public policy and add to research suggesting the health benefits of modifying school schedules to more closely align with adolescents’ circadian rhythms and sleep needs.”

One weakness of the study is that it was based on self-report data, not objective measures. In addition, it did not examine any effects on cognitive performance. However, it was a prospective experimental study that did show important effects and should be taken seriously.

Later start times for school would a relatively inexpensive intervention and is certainly worth considering.

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For some students, video lectures lowers achievement

10 Jan

A paper just published in the journal Teaching of Psychology reports that for some students the availability of video lectures depresses both class attendance and achievement. Here is the abstract:

“In this study, I examined the effects of offering supplemental video lecture recordings to students in a face-to-face introductory psychology course. I employed a quasi-experimental design, in which one section had lectures recordings available (recordings of the face-to-face lecture) and one section did not, and I examined whether class section affected achievement and whether attendance mediated this relationship. Although students had favorable views of the lecture capture technology and thought it should be available campus wide, few actually viewed the recordings, and those who did used them mainly as a substitute rather than a supplement to face-to-face lectures. More importantly, the class with lecture recordings available had significantly lower attendance rates and course achievement (final grades), and attendance mediated the relationship between class section and achievement. Further analyses showed that the negative effects of offering lecture recordings were not global; instead, lecture recording availability appeared to increase nonparticipation (in exams, class activities, and assignments) in a select group of students. When these nonparticipators were excluded from analyses, significant differences between class sections disappeared.”

I liked the fact that this paper hints at the importance of individual differences. Some students do just as well with video lectures, but others are negatively affected. One of the great weakness of educational research is that much of it ignores these differences.

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Texting during class disrupts comprehension

3 Jan

Spring semester starts soon and I have been busy preparing the syllabi for my classes. One issue that has become an increasing problem is students texting during class and I have been thinking about what to say in the syllabus.

By some weird synchronicity my copy of the journal Teaching Psychology arrived today. It included an article titled: “OMG! Texting in Class = U Fail 😦 Empirical Evidence That Text Messaging During Class Disrupts Comprehension.” Here is the abstract:

“In two experiments, we examined the effects of text messaging during lecture on comprehension of lecture material. Students (in Experiment 1) and randomly assigned participants (in Experiment 2) in a text message condition texted a prescribed conversation while listening to a brief lecture. Students and participants in the no-text condition refrained from texting during the same lecture. Postlecture quiz scores confirmed the hypothesis that texting during lecture would disrupt comprehension and retention of lecture material. In both experiments, the no-text group significantly outscored the text group on the quiz and felt more confident about their performance. The classroom demonstration described in Experiment 1 provides preliminary empirical evidence that texting during class disrupts comprehension in an actual classroom environment. Experiment 2 addressed the selection bias and demand characteristic issues present in Experiment 1 and replicated the main findings. Together, these two experiments clearly illustrate the detrimental effects of texting during class, which could discourage such behavior in students.”

Here is the rule I am thinking of adding to my syllabus:

The use of laptops, phones, texting devices, and other electronic equipment is not allowed in class without the permission of the instructor. All cell phone and similar devices must be silenced and put away. You may not have a phone on your desk or visible during class

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Value added measures of teachers are invalid

2 Oct

This is not a blog about educational policy. However, often findings in my field, educational psychology, have a direct bearing on policy debates. In those cases, particularly when the consequences are great,  it would be irresponsible for me not to speak out.

Value added measures of teacher performance are being widely adopted across the country. This adoption is occurring with very little discussion about the validity of these measures. I believe that these measures, at least as conceived today, are invalid.

A measurement can be defined as taking some property in the world and representing it as a number. An invalid measure is one that does not accurately reflect the property it is supposed to represent.

In the past few weeks I have been analyzing data from a research project. The topic is not important for our discussion here, the methodology, however, is. The approach I am using is called a gain score analysis. Participants are assigned to one of two groups, each group will receive a different intervention. For each group we measured our outcome variable at baseline, that is before treatment. After the intervention we will measure our outcome variable again. Gain score is defined as the final measurement minus the baseline measurement. In other word the magnitude of the change.  By focusing on the magnitude of the change we don’t have to worry about the fact that the baseline scores were not identical. We use a statistical test to see if one group gained significantly more that the other.

A value added measure of teaching is also a gain score analysis. They measure the students’ performance at the beginning of the year and then measure their performance again at years end. The difference would be the gain score or, as it is called in education, the value added. The average gain score for a group of students is said to be the value added by the teacher.

What is wrong with this approach? After all it seems to be identical to what my colleagues and I are doing in our research. Unfortunately, there is a crucial difference. In my study the participants were randomly assigned to the two groups. A gain score analysis can not be valid if the group assignments are not random. 

If students are not randomly assigned to schools and classrooms, and,  of course they are not, then value added measures are invalid for comparisons between teachers.

We know that students learn at different rates. We know this because in research where teaching is kept constant, such as in programmed instruction, students will complete at different rates. What ever the source of these differences in learning rate it means that a teacher’s value added score will, in part, be a function of student characteristics  not under control of the teacher. Thus, any policy based on value added measures is invalid and, by extension, unfair.

I am not opposed to measurement in education. Indeed, I know that properly used measurement can benefit both students and teachers. But to base policy on a measurement that we know to be invalid is senseless.

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