Tag Archives: Teacher

The ideal professor

24 Aug

Here’s a paper, just published in Personality and Individual Differences, that explores students’ concepts of the ideal professor.

From the abstract:

Despite intuitions that the ideal teacher has a particular set of non-cognitive characteristics, there is little research investigating such issues. The current two studies investigate students’ descriptions of “ideal” instructor personality using the Five-Factor Model of personality. Both absolute personality preferences (certain traits are universally desired) and relative personality preferences (certain traits are desired relative to students’ own level of the trait) are examined among 137 first year mathematics students (Study 1) and 378 first year psychology students (Study 2). Students provided Big Five personality ratings for themselves, their actual instructor, and their ideal instructor. Supporting the absolute preference hypothesis, students rated their ideal instructor as having significantly higher levels than both themselves and the general population on all five personality domains (except for openness in Study 1), with particularly large effect sizes for emotional stability and conscientiousness. Supporting the relative preference hypothesis, students also rated their ideal instructor as having a similar Big Five profile to themselves.

As someone who teaches at the university level I found this quite interesting. In Piaget’s theory of development, teenagers and adults are in the formal operations stage. Piaget describes a kind of formal operations ego-centrism, where the individual compares abstract notions of perfection with reality and finds reality wanting. For example, adolescents will construct a notion of what perfect parents would be like, and then compare their real parents with the abstraction. Any guesses on how the real parents come out in this comparison?

So it seems that our students have ideas about the perfect instructor and we actual teachers suffer by comparison.

Does having an instructor who matches your ideal help your performance? Here is what this study found:

if their actual instructor’s personality was similar to their ideal instructor’s personality, students showed greater educational satisfaction (but not higher performance self-efficacy nor academic achievement).


The importance of school counselors

20 Apr

An article in the always interesting Pacific Standard makes a case for value of school counselors:

“Hiring just one additional school counselor in an average American school could have about a third of the effect of recruiting all the school’s teachers from a pool of candidates in the top 15 percent of their profession, according to a new analysis. That’s also about the effect you’d expect from lowering class sizes by adding two teachers to a school of around 500—either way, not too shabby.”

Here is the abstract from the paper:

“We exploit within-school variation in counselors and find that one additional counselor reduces student misbehavior and increases boys’ academic achievement by over one percentile point. These effects compare favorably with those of increased teacher quality and smaller class sizes.”

This work is interesting and is worth thinking about in a time when schools are cutting back on support staff. However, a few caveats are in order. First, this is correlational research and can not demonstrate cause and effect. Second, while researchers confidently claim that have controlled for confounding variables, there are reasons to doubt them, and, finally, while teachers are of course important, the claim that they are responsible for such a large variance in student scores is disputed.


Students don’t know how to study

14 Dec

A post in The Conversation tells us:

“Universities and governments around the world rely on student evaluations to assess university teachers and degrees. Likewise, potential students check online ratings when deciding where to study. These evaluations are based on the logic that students must know best what helps them learn. So it’s surprising to discover that students may be the worst people to ask about the quality of education.”

The article also highlights the problem with student evaluations of instructors:

“Many educators worry that students are more positive about teachers who give better marks regardless of what the students learn, and are more negative about teachers who make students work hard in order to learn. If this is true, it means the simplest way for a teacher to get a good evaluation is to make it easy for students to get good marks.

As it happens, students who rated their current teacher most highly got better marks in their current course but did much worse in later courses. This confirms the fears of educators: students’ evaluations are linked with current grades, but also with students’ failure to learn things they need for the future. So, a student who is happy with their grade and teacher should worry — they may not have learnt that much.”


VAM is not behaviorist.

9 Sep

I generally agree with Dianne Ravitch on most education policy issues. I have consistently pointed out that value added measures (VAM) of teaching are statistically invalid and I have often cited her blog posts on this issue. Thus, I was very disappointed to see her link to a post that characterized VAM measures as “behaviorist.” Here is the offending quotation:

“However, traditional standardized assessments mainly contain questions that are crafted from a behaviorist perspective. The conceptual understanding that is highlighted in the cognitivist perspective and the participation in practices that is highlighted in the situative perspective are not captured on traditional standardized assessments. Thus, the only valid inference that can be made from a value-added estimate is about a teacher’s ability to teach the basic skills and knowledge associated with the behaviorist perspective.”

These words show an appalling lack of familiarity with modern behavioral psychology. Look at any recent text book on behavioral teaching methods, I like Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching by Julie S. Vargas, and you find critiques of the use of standardized testing. Here is what Vargas writes:

“Educators realize that the goal of education is to prepare students for a future that requires much more than the skills assessed on a test.”

This is from a chapter where Vargas describes techniques for encouraging creativity and curiosity among students.

In later posts I will write about how facile and inaccurate characterizations of behaviorism have denied our teachers access to a set of highly effective classroom techniques.


Should an exam be scheduled before or after Spring break?

15 Jan

Some years ago I let my membership in the American Educational Research Association lapse. This is because,  increasingly, I found its journals to be unreadable and irrelevant.

One the other hand, I have found the material published by the Society for Teaching Psychology in its journal the Teaching of Psychology to be both interesting and useful. I recommend it to anyone who teaches, even if you do not teach psychology. The journal often publishes research that speaks directly to the kind of issues that teachers are concerned about.

For example, in the most recent issue, Kevin J. O’Connor, published a paper that asks if a midterm exam should be scheduled before or after the Spring semester break. His conducted research and concluded:

“in-semester breaks do not impact exam performance and that faculty may choose to hold exams either before or after such breaks without concern for affecting student grades.”

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The Fat City Workshop: Insight into learning difficulties

18 Dec

My post yesterday reminded me of the Richard  Lavoie’s video How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City WorkshopI show this video to my educational psychology students (mostly future teachers) to give in them insight into the processing difficulties faced by children with learning disabilities.

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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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