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Curious Minds - Education News

Education News


There are times when educational research is not able to make clear and absolute claims about the impact of certain programs, interventions, or reforms. For example, does extending the school day help all kids? Or, what is the most effective curriculum structure for teaching algebra?


This is not the case when looking at the importance of summer learning opportunities for youth. There is a long, broad, and rigorous research base supporting participation in high-quality learning opportunities for kids. A summary of existing research by Rand Education and the Wallace Foundation concluded that “students who attend summer programs have better outcomes than similar peers who do not attend these programs,” and that these effects tend to last for beyond the next school year. Researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison have done extensive studies of summer programs and found them to be critical to students from diverse backgrounds, achievement levels and ages. 

Read more: Summer Learning Found to be Critical


Tal Gross, an assistant professor Columbia University, is banning laptops from his classroom, convinced that doing so will help his students get more out of class.

Gross isn’t talking about those students who sit in the back row using their laptops to check Facebook, scroll through a Twitter feed, or read email. As he points out in an article he wrote for the Washington Post, most teachers in higher education just ignore such behavior. “After all, these students are adults, and they have to take a final exam. Do I have to be the disciplinarian?” 

Gross worries about those students who are paying attention—specifically, those who are using their laptops to take copious notes. The problem: because his students are fast, accurate typists, their notes tend to include just about everything said in class. The students, he writes “shift from being intellectuals, listening to one another, to being customer-service representatives, taking down orders. Class is supposed to be a conversation, not an exercise in dictation.”

In their rush to record Gross’s lecture, the students are neglecting to do something far more important: really listening to and thinking about what he’s saying and then jotting down his truly key and most relevant points. 

Read more: Laptop Note Takers: Your Keyboard May Impair Learning


As both consumers and producers of online media, we not only interact with devices and technologies, but also with the content and dialogue they deliver. For example, in reading this blog post, you are taking in, making choices around, and responding to 1) the device (laptop, tablet, smart phone) on which you are reading it, 2) the website hosting it, and 3) the content (information in the post) flowing through both. There are skills and knowledge we bring to all three steps.


“The New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension: Rethinking the Achievement Gap,” a study published this fall in the journal Reading Research Quarterly and summarized in the New York Times, concluded that kids may be really good at #1 and even #2. Yet, they often lack the skills and knowledge needed to deal effectively with online content—something that is especially true for those from low-income settings.


As part of the study, led by Donald Leu at the University of Connecticut, seventh-grade students at two middle schools with widely varying median family income levels were asked to research questions such as “How Do Energy Drinks Affect Heart Health?” The study found that students from both schools displayed “low level” online research and comprehension skills. According to the researchers, “Although today’s students grow up in an online world and are developing skills in gaming, social networking, video and audio downloading, and texting, this does not mean that they are necessarily skilled in online information use.” Researchers go on to point out that students’ skills are especially limited when it comes to both “locating information online and critically evaluating it.”


Read more: Being Awesome at Facebook ≠ Digital Literacy


In a commencement address he delivered Friday at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College, author and journalist Fareed Zakaria (pictured, at left) sung the praises of a liberal arts education. “You are heirs to one of the greatest traditions in human history, one that has uncovered the clockwork of the stars, created works of unimaginable beauty, and organized societies of amazing productivity,” he told graduates.


But Zakaria revealed that when he was growing up in India during the 1960s and 70s, those studying liberal arts were considered “weird or dumb.” Sure, it was fine for women destined to become housewives, but not those planning on joining the professional ranks. As a smart kid, Zakaria studied science, got good at taking tests, and “regurgitating stuff I had memorized.” What he was not so good at: “expressing my own ideas.”


Even these days, Zakaria pointed out, “the liberal arts are, honestly, not very cool.” He noted that Texas, Florida, and North Carolina will no longer spend public money to fund the liberal arts. “Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history,” he said.

Zakaria said his notions about the liberal arts changed during his freshman year at Yale, where a course on the Cold War awakened a love of history, politics, and economics, and an English class taught him to begin making “the connection between thought and word.” He came to value the importance of being taught to “speak and to speak your mind,” often through seminar classes in which it was necessary to “read, analyze, dissect, and . . . express yourself.” He also learned how to learn (and to love learning), and specifically, how “to read an essay closely, find new sources, search for data . . . and figure out whether an author [is] trustworthy.”

Read more: Fareed Zakaria: In Praise of the Liberal Arts

I was just thinking the other day how glad I am that it wasn’t until the late 1990s, when my son was five or six years old, that we got our first iMac. Of course, he quickly became fascinated by it, and grew up to love all things technology.

However, by the time that candy-colored, futuristic-looking desktop computer made its appearance, he already had developed a slew of other, deep-seated interests that couldn’t be undermined, even by Steve Jobs. I’m happy to report one was his love of reading for fun, a joy that persists to this day.

I’d like to think the same thing would happen were I the mother of a young child today. But as the new report Children, Teens, and Reading, issued by Common Sense Media points out, “The reading environments of children in the United States have changed dramatically since years past . . . . From children’s earliest ages, ‘reading’ used to mean sitting down with a book and turning pages as a story unfolded. Today it may mean sitting down with a screen and touching words to have them read aloud.”


That may not necessarily be a bad thing: anything to get kids reading, right? And the report, which pulls together data from a number of key studies on reading, notes that 53 percent of nine-year-olds surveyed in 2012 said they did read for fun nearly every day—a figure that hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years.


The data, however, get alarming when one considers that by the time they’re thirteen, only 27 percent of children are reading for fun daily; even worse, 22 percent say they do so “never” or “hardly ever,” compared to 8 percent in 1984.

Read more: Keeping our 13-Year-Olds Reading for Fun