Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms

| October 14, 2013 | 45 Comments
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Increasingly, educators are looking to research about how kids learn to influence teaching practices and tools. What seemed like on-the-fringe experiments, like game-based learning, have turned into real trends, and have gradually made their way into many (though certainly not most) classrooms.

BRAIN-BASED TEACHING

Many educators are using researchers’ insights into how children best learn to inform their teaching practices. Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research on encouraging children to develop a growth-mindset continues to grow in popularity, as educators try to praise effort, not outcomes. Dweck writes that if children believe their abilities are fixed — that either that they’re smart or they’re not — they approach the world in different ways and aren’t as able to face adversity. When they believe skills and abilities can grow throughout one’s lifetime, they’re better able to rise to challenges.

Brainology, Dweck’s program, is just one of many such school-based programs that teachers can use in classrooms, as is Brainworks.

Educators are also teaching learning strategies, helping students find out the best ways to not just learn content, but how to learn. Ideas like remembering facts when they are set to music. This practice has been employed since the days of oral storytelling, but teachers are reviving it to help students in modern classrooms. Recent studies show that adults learn new languages more easily when they are set to a beat. Some educators are even experimenting with breaking up classical literature into bite sized raps.

There are plenty more examples of brain-based research on learning making its way into classroom practices.

GAME-BASED LEARNING

Games have long been used to engage students. But as game-based learning becomes more prevalent in schools, researchers are interested in how game structure mirrors the learning process. In many games, students explore ideas and try out solutions. When they learn the skills required at one level, they move up. Failure to complete tasks is reframed as part of the path towards learning how to conquer a level.

Universities like Harvard, MIT and the University of Wisconsin’s Game and Learning Society are studying how game-playing helps student engagement and achievement, and well-known researchers in the field like James Paul Gee and University of Wisconsin professor Kurt Squire show are using their own studies to show that games help students learn.

Once the terrain of experimental classrooms, digital games are now becoming more common in classrooms. In a recent survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, half of 505 K-8 teachers said they use digital games with their students two or more days a week, and 18 percent use them daily. Educators are using commercial games like Minecraft, World of Warcraft and SimCity for education. The Institute of Play continues to study game-based learning and helps support two Quest to Learn schools, which are based around the idea of games and learning.

POWER OF PERSEVERANCE

Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, popularized the ideas of grit and perseverance. Now those ideas have made their way into a U.S. Department of Education’s Technology office report as well as the Common Core State Standards, which many states are already implementing. The idea that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve, not a roadblock to achievement, is often referenced as one of the most important life skills a student can take with him beyond the classroom.

Angela Duckworth’s research on grit has shown that often students, who scored lower on intelligence tests, end up doing better in class. They were compensating for their lack of innate intelligence with hard work and that paid off in their GPAs. Duckworth has even developed a “Grit Scale” that allows students to self-report their “grittiness.”

QUESTIONING HOMEWORK

The growing movement against homework in the U.S. challenges the notion that the amount of homework a student is asked to do at home is an indication of rigor, and homework opponents argue that the increasing amount of “busy work” is unnecessarily taking up students’ out-of-school-time. They argue that downtime, free play, and family time are just as important to a child’s social and emotional development as what happens in school.

Some research has shown that too much homework has “little to no impact” on student test scores. Other research on how brains work challenges the common method of asking students to practice one discreet skill at home. Overall, there’s a push to reevaluate the kinds of work students are being asked to do at home and to ask whether it adds value to their learning. If the work is repetitive or tangential, it may add no real value, and teachers across the country are starting to institute no-homework policies. Even principals are starting to revolt and schools are instituting “no homework” nights or substituting “goals” for homework.

CULTIVATING CREATIVITY

Increasingly business leaders and educators are realizing that creativity is a uniquely human quality that will set future graduates apart from the ever smarter computers that are playing increasingly important roles in society. There’s been a focus on stimulating curiosity and creativity through Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) courses, including computer coding, as well as integrating art and design into courses. The design thinking movement is a good example of schools working to develop students’ ability to think for themselves, brainstorm ideas and execute them.

Many schools are also shifting towards project-based learning to help leverage student interests and passions in their school work. Long-form projects often allow students to demonstrate their creativity more than assignments that every student must complete the same way. The trend towards project-based learning is one indication that schools are actively looking to build creativity into curricula.

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  • deserteacher

    How exciting to be an educator with these new frontiers for our students.

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  • Quizzical

    I am curious how the “no homework” movement would apply in the English classroom If students are reading literature, are they supposed to spend the entire block in class reading it, as opposed to reading it at home? Or is the proposed solution to not have students read anything lengthier than “short raps” or 144 character tweets?

    • Mark Lamont

      ‘Homework’ is the wrong label. No one would suggest that students should not read, think, write, plan, research or problem-solve at home. The issue is when we try to turn all that into ‘homework’. Homework is a concept loaded with all sorts of 20th Century meaning, just as ‘study’ and ‘revision’ are. The issues are how and why ‘homework’ is served up, and that ties back to the traditions of the classroom. You cannot reform homework till you reform the classroom, or more precisely, the approach and culture of learning. The segregation of learning in the classroom (school work) vs learning at home (homework) is a big part of the problem. If the classroom is not filled with inquiry, it is likely to be a struggle pushing inquiry into ‘homework’ time. That ‘push off’ is the pain point of millions of parents who end up assisting their children with the inquiry skills that are often assumed in the classroom – and in many cases were never taught to the parents either in the previous era. So it really does take a village to teach a child.

    • Lissa R Carre

      In this case, and as per the Guest comment also replying, the term “homework” is referring for the most part to work that is assigned to students as drill or practice work only to be done at home, for the sole purpose of having them work outside the classroom.

      While I certainly didn’t have the entire block devoted to reading, I certainly did spend time reading to my students, and yes, I taught secondary, or having them read and share their thoughts with each other, or be able to bring me questions during the reading process.

      Further, even without entirely “Flipping” your classroom, with carefully designed inquiry and skilled use of tools like purposeful talk / comprehension through conversation in lit circles, reading does not (perhaps would not, should not, might not?) happen in prolonged periods of uninterrupted individual reading. While that may be what many educators prefer when reading for personal enjoyment, it’s not the same as active reading, and not necessarily the best way to engage reluctant readers in connecting to text. That sort of stop-and-go interactive reading, interspersed with purposeful teacher modeled questioning, inquiry and exploration, then in partnered or small groups, and if possible, eventually larger groups or entire classes, does need to happen in a “class” setting, whether your classroom is four-walled or virtual.

      That doesn’t preclude or even discourage reading at home – far from it.

      The point being made above is simply that work done outside of school should be part of the valid, carefully designed and deliberate learning activities, and that the timing of those activities should be set to maximize teacher-to-student-face-to-face time so that kids are interacting with teachers and receiving the expertise and support they need from their instructors while at school, and working to practice independently and build confidence in applying mastered skills when that expertise isn’t as crucial, if/when time does not allow for it to happen in the classroom environment.

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  • Guest

    The interesting thing about Brain-based learning and Design Thinking are very much related. At DESIGN-ED, we try to help teachers make this connection. Brain-based learning helps students develop their own processes for developing a solution, rather than trying to squeeze them into a box that they don’t necessarily fit into. A good curriculum is designed for all types of learners and if we focus on how the students show good effort in developing their thinking skills, they can start to make the connections they will need to succeed later on.

    Design Thinking teaches the steps that designers and engineers use to develop solutions – steps that can be applied to many other subjects. This is yet another process that students can use to develop their own path to a solution, rather than trying to fit into something that is dictated by the curriculum but doesn’t work for them.

  • disqus_VcJRieCN7e

    The interesting thing about Brain-based learning and Design Thinking are very much related. At DESIGN-ED, we try to help teachers make this connection. Brain-based learning helps students develop their own processes for developing a solution, rather than trying to squeeze them into a box that they don’t necessarily fit into. A good curriculum is designed for all types of learners and if we focus on how the students show good effort in developing their thinking skills, they can start to make the connections they will need to succeed later on.

    Design Thinking teaches the steps that designers and engineers use to develop solutions – steps that can be applied to many other subjects. This is yet another process that students can use to develop their own path to a solution, rather than trying to fit into something that is dictated by the curriculum but doesn’t work for them.

    Joe Schwartz
    jschwartz@design-ed.org

  • http://www.kevincrouch.net Kevin Crouch

    I agree with Mark about his comment that homework is a concept that needs to change, not a thing that needs to be eliminated. If a student goes home, inspired by what they’ve done in class and wants to do more of it, we can easily say that is not homework, but what if its a project they are doing for school but that requires work outside of class to complete it? I think we can call it home learning and be safe, but lets not dodge the facts; the notion that re-visiting ideas 4-6 hours after they have been introduced has been demonstrated as a brain-based learning strategy. Read Brain Rules for support on that.

  • The Rice Process

    Energizing! Such a great way to set a course for new teaching and learning practices.

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  • Dana

    I have recently been exploring the trends that you pulled together. Your article helped me solidify the connections between the trends and relevance of each of them to today’s classrooms. Over the last two months, I finished Jo Boaler’s MOOC, How to Learn Math, which taps heavily into Carol Dweck’s mindset research, and started and finished Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. My deep and continued interest in these topics is both personal and professional. I taught high school math, and left the classroom to join MIND Research Institute, the neuroscience research nonprofit that develops ST Math, a visual, conceptual game-based math instructional software tool. As I have been reading and researching many of the same topics you mention in your article, I recognized that most, if not all, of the trends relate to how ST Math challenges students during their interaction with mathematics. The manner in which ST Math moves from the visual to the symbolic and forces students to problem-solve, with mistake-making at the core, reflects the trend of brain-based teaching. Each component of our software, including metacognitive choices about confidence levels on math questions and student choice in answers, was developed using neuroscience research on how children learn best. As you mention, in game-based learning, “students explore ideas and try out solutions,” which is certainly true of ST Math. Our software follows game-based learning principles and taps into the importance of desired difficulty during problem-solving that teaches students perseverance. Through using ST Math, students learn that mistakes are opportunities for learning and continued growth. MIND is at the forefront of STEM education, which relies heavily on the ability to thoroughly understand topics at a conceptual level and to foster creativity that will move students to build solutions to problems that we have not yet seen. Thank you for the comprehensive article.

  • jakesmith

    hi,

    I really not going to be an educator…

    Animation Notes

  • Albert Amato

    This is totally false stuff. Only SPORTS count. Only sports teaches kids what really matters – I WIN – YOU LOSE. Sports teaches kids to get tough, get real, smash the opposition. You don’t need no math, or literatore, you need Sports to make your kid win, and keep America strong. We outta spend more on sports and less on light weight subjects. Go Yankees !

    • laurie

      case in point, cant spell literatOre-OUCH, not a subject, only an elective!

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  • acerview54

    I am now holding Creativity workshops for teachers. Showing them how to use creative ideas in their teaching. Any subject, any level, its an attitude of mind and the workshops change mind-sets and open possibilities. Anyone interested?

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  • jimmy

    Design Thinking teaches the steps that designers and engineers use to develop solutions – steps that can be applied to many other subjects. This is yet another process that students can use to develop their own path to a solution, rather than trying to fit into something that is dictated by the curriculum but doesn’t work for them.dental intrumente
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  • http://www.hometutormalaysia.com/Home-Tuition-in-Malaysia.html Kevin

    Well, these are some unique educational trends that can improve the learning process in a better direction. Very inspiring post, I must say.

  • Vik Rana

    I believe to in power of perseverance.latest government jobs India

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  • mrmars72

    I think that modern day educational researchers have done such an excellent job that they should all be rewarded immediately! (Place smiley face here). Lets give them ALL a lifetime all expenses paid retirement in some lovely vacation spot where they can spend their days expanding on the wonderful mythical constructs they’ve created over the years. They doubtless will be very “excited” about this because they’re always “excited” by the latest results of their research, so much so that they just can’t wait to try the next”exciting” trend out on your kids! Then while they’re off happily impressing each other in their new community we can reconstruct an effective educational systems around more level headed evaluations of what actually works rather than around the results of “research” that is structured in ways which are predetermined to validate whatever new “exciting” method is being explored. If you want to glimpse what is wrong with education in our country today you need look no further than our colleges of teacher education and the illogical experience-defying “research” that goes on there. Have a nice day.

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  • ben

    My wife, Dr Jennifer Leonard, professor at Montana State University-Billings, is completing a research paper about Transformational Learning. Dr Leonard uses games in her Capstone Strategy, including reading Hansel and Gretel to college seniors.

    Jennifer Crawford can be contacted on Linkedin. Dr Leonard has published a Management textbook

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