Reading: How children learn


Stella Vosniadou

The last of my summer reading from the International Academy of Education “Education Practices Series”.

This paper is divided into 12 sections:

  1. Active involvement
  2. Social particpiation
  3. Meaningful activities
  4. Relating new information to prior knowledge
  5. Being strategic
  6. Engaging ins self regulation and being reflective
  7. Restructuring prior knowledge
  8. Aiming towards understanding rather than memorization
  9. Helping students learn to transfer
  10. Taking time to practice
  11. Development and individual differences
  12. Creating motivated learners

My summaries/quotes

  1. Active involvement means, first and foremost “Avoid situations where the students are passive listeners for long periods of time”.
  2. Social participation, according to Vygotsky: “the way children learn is by internalizing the activities, habits, vocabulary and ideas of the members of the community in which they grow up”.
  3. “Many school activities are not meaningful since students understand neither why they are doing them nor what their purpose and usefulness is”
  4. “...more recent research findings have shown that the ability to relate new information to prior knowledge is critical to learning“. This rings a bell for me as I read the first article (Towards a modeling theory of science, cognition and instruction), and I am struggling to make sense of the vocabulary, and meaning of the article. Even though I’ve read it multiple times, I am struggling to connect it to past experiences.
  5. Learning strategies.
  6. Being reflective.
  7. Sometimes prior knowledge can stand in the way of learning something new … for example in the area of mathematics, many children make mistakes when they use fractions because they use rules that apply to natural numbers only.
  8. “Learning is better when material is organized around general principles and explanations, rather than when it is based on the memorization of isolated facts and procedures.” This can be achieved by “1. Ask students to explain a phenomenon or a concept in their own words. 2. Show students how to provide examples that illustrate how a principle applies or how a law works. 3. Students must be able to solve characteristic problems in the subject-matter area. Problems can increase in difficulty as students acquire greater expertise.
  9. Students often cannot apply what they have learned at school to solve real-world problems.”
  10. “Research shows that people must carry out a great deal of practice to acquire expertise in an area… Increase the amount of time students spend on learning in the classroom. Do not try to cover too many topics at once. Give students time to understand new information.”

Reading: Teaching


Jere Brophy

From the International Academy of Education’s Educational Practices Series.

This is a general, but great summary. At each section/principle, I was often thinking of examples or improvements I can make in my teaching.


  1. A supportive classroom environment
  2. Opportunity to learn
  3. Curricular Alignment
  4. Establishing learning orientations
  5. Coherent content
  6. Thoughtful discourse
  7. Private and application activities
  8. Scaffolding students’ task engagement
  9. Strategy teaching
  10. Co-operative learning
  11. Goal-orientated assessment
  12. Achievement expectations

My thoughts/summaries/favourite quotes

  1. Its all about creating good relationships…
  2. “Research indicates that teachers who approach management as a process of establishing an effective learning environment tend to be more successful than teachers who emphasis their roles as disciplinarians.”…”There are more things worth learning than there is time available to teach them, and so it is essential that limited classroom time be used efficiently.” Finally good teachers “begin and end lessons on time…[have] good planning and preparation which enable them to proceed through lessons smoothly without having to stop to consult a manual etc … and when possible they intervene in ways that do not disrupt lesson momentum or distract students who are working on assignments.” I need to improve in all of this!
  3. “Research indicates that educational policy-makers, textbook publishers and teachers often become so focused on content coverage or learning activities that they lose sight of the larger purposes and goals that are supposed to guide curriculum planning …As a result, too many topics are covered in not enough depth.”
  4. “Research indicates the value of establishing a learning orientation by beginning lessons and activities with advance organizers or previews. “ I have started to create these “advance organizers” for my Level 2 and Level 3 physics class.
  5. “Research indicates that networks of connected knowledge structured around powerful ideas can be learned with understanding and retained in forms that make them accessible for application. In contrast, disconnected bits of information are likely to be learned only through low-level processes such as rote memorizing, and most of these bits either are soon forgotten or are retained in ways that limit their accessibility.” … “In combination, the principles calling for curricular alignment and for coherent content imply that, to enable students to construct meaningful knowledge that they can access and use in their lives outside school, teachers need to: (i) retreat from breadth of coverage in order to allow time to develop the
    most important content in greater depth; (ii) represent this important content as networks of connected information structured around powerful ideas; (iii) develop the content with a focus on explaining these important ideas and the connections among them; and (iv) follow up with authentic learning activities and assessment measures that provide students with opportunities to develop and display learning that reflects the intended outcomes of the instruction.”
  6. This section really makes me appreciate how whiteboard sessions force the students to become more involved in the discourse. “Besides presenting information and modelling application of skills, effective teachers structure a great deal of content-based discourse. … The discourse is not limited to rapidly paced recitation that elicits short answers to miscellaneous questions. Instead, it features sustained and thoughtful development of key ideas. … Some primarily closed-end and factual questions might be appropriate when teachers are assessing prior knowledge or reviewing new learning, but accomplishing the most significant instructional goals requires open-ended questions that call for students to apply, analyse, synthesize or evaluate what they are learning. … Because questions are intended to engage students in cognitive processing and construction of knowledge, they should ordinarily be addressed to the class as a whole. This encourages all students, not just the one eventually called on, to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to each question. After posing a question, the teacher needs to pause to allow students enough time to process it and at least begin to formulate responses”. This is a great section to provide for readings for professional development (along with the Talk Science Primer)
  7. This section does a good job of explaining how important practice is, and how it should be planned. “Most skills included in school curricula are learned best when practice is distributed across time and embedded within a variety of tasks. … practice becomes more important as learning becomes complex …Fill-in-the-blank worksheets, pages of mathematical computation problems and related tasks that engage students in memorizing facts or practising subskills in isolation from the
    rest of the curriculum should be minimized.” There is a great paragraph on homework, and finally one on feedback (of practice).
  8. “Research on learning tasks suggests that activities and assignments should be sufficiently varied and interesting to motivate student engagement, sufficiently new or challenging to constitute meaningful learning experiences rather than needless repetition, and yet sufficiently easy to allow students to achieve high rates of success if they invest reasonable time and effort” … Research on learning tasks suggests that activities and assignments should be sufficiently varied and interesting to motivate
    student engagement, sufficiently new or challenging to constitute meaningful learning experiences rather than needless repetition, and yet sufficiently easy to allow students to achieve high rates of success if they invest reasonable time and effort” This reminds me of the John Wooden quote – “You have not taught until they have learned”
  9. Details meta-cognition and self-regulation strategies.
  10. The benefits of group work.
  11. How assessment should be a strength. “Comprehensive assessment does not just document students’ ability to supply acceptable answers to questions or problems; it also examines the students’ reasoning and problem-solving processes. … Effective teachers use assessment for evaluating students’ progress in learning and for planning curriculum improvements, not just for generating grades. ” That last quote rang a bell for me. We should be assessing our teaching units based on our assessment feedback.
  12. ” Teacher effects research indicates that teachers who elicit strong achievement gains accept responsibility for doing so. They believe that their students are capable of learning and that they (the teachers) are capable of and responsible for teaching them successfully.  … It is helpful if teachers set goals for the class and for individuals in terms of floors (minimally acceptable standards), not ceilings. …  At the very least, teachers should expect all their students to progress sufficiently to enable them to perform satisfactorily at the next level. … teachers should emphasize continuous progress relative to previous levels of mastery rather than how students compare with their classmates or with standardized test norms” – That last sentence implies great pretests, or tracking kids individually year to year.


Reading: Teacher professional learning and development


Helen Timperley

Another article from the International Academy of Education’s Educational Practices Series.

The sections:

  1. Focus on valued student outcomes
  2. Worthwhile content
  3. Integration of content and skills
  4. Assessment for professional inquiry
  5. Multiple opportunities to learn and apply information
  6. Approaches responsive to learning processes
  7. Opportunities to process new learning with others
  8. Knowledgeable expertise
  9. Active Leadership
  10. Maintaining Momentum

My thoughts/favourite quotes/summaries

  1. “Success needs to be defined not in terms of teacher mastery of new strategies, but in terms of the impact that changed practice has on valued outcomes.”
  2. While some well-grounded principles [about teaching effectively] have been established, unproven ideas continue to sweep through different educational jurisdictions.” 
  3. “Theory and practice need to be integrated”. Teachers need to be able to practice new approaches, but by understanding the theory underlying these new approaches, teachers will be more effective, as they can tailor these new practices.
  4. “Teachers need sophisticated assessment skills if they are to identify (i) what their students know and can do in relation to valued outcomes and (ii) what further learning they themselves need if they are to assist their students in learning. Assessment of this kind cannot take place outside of the teaching–learning process—it is integral to it. Teachers, therefore, need a variety of ways of assessing their
    students’ progress, ways that include, but go beyond, standardised testing. These include interviews with students about their learning, systematic analysis of student work, and classroom observations…This use of assessment information is very different from traditional uses, such as sorting and labelling students or making summative judgements about teaching quality. “
  5. “For substantive learning, such as that involved in improving their students’ reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, or scientific reasoning, teachers need extended time in which to learn and change. In such cases, it typically takes one to two years for teachers to understand how existing beliefs and practices are different from those being promoted, to build the required pedagogical content knowledge, and to change practice. Given that teachers engaged in professional learning are simultaneously maintaining a teaching
    workload, and that many of their existing assumptions about effective practice are being challenged, it is not surprising that so much time is required…In any learning situation, learners may be present physically but lack commitment to the learning process. In the case of teachers’ professional learning, participation is sometimes made voluntary as a way to minimise this problem. The research evidence, however, does not support this approach.”
  6. ” In the case of mathematics and science, for example, existing curricula usually emphasise computational and factual knowledge while new curricula typically emphasise reasoning and problem-solving skills. This kind of change involves more than learning new knowledge and skills. It requires that teachers understand both the limitations of the current emphasis and the new ways of deciding what knowledge is valued.”
  7. Teacher learner communities can work, but they can also not work… What the communites have in common that work are that they are “focused on becoming responsive to students”.
  8. “Experts need to know the content of the relevant curricula and what teaching practices make a difference for students. They need to be able to make new knowledge and skills meaningful to teachers and manageable within their practice contexts, to connect theory and practice in ways that teachers find helpful, and to develop teachers’ ability to use inquiry and assessment data to inform their teaching. Not everyone engaged in promoting teacher professional learning has the knowledge and skills to do these things. For this reason, it is unfortunately possible for professional development to have an adverse impact on teacher practice and student outcomes.”
  9. “Schools do not thrive on visions alone, so leaders must ensure that professional learning opportunities are well managed and organised and that appropriate conditions are in place for the extended engagement that in-depth professional learning requires. “
  10. “Regrettably, most efforts to improve student outcomes through professional learning and development are short-lived. For improvement to be sustained, short-term perspectives need to be extended to more distant horizons. Although the research base identifying the conditions associated with long-term improvement is
    somewhat thin, one thing does appear clear: sustainability depends both on what happens during the professional learning experience and on the organizational conditions that are in place when external support is withdrawn.”


Reading: Effective educational practices


Herbert Walberg and Susan Paik

Another article of my summer reading in the “Educational Practices Series” from the International Bureau of Education.

Sections of the paper:

  1. Parent Involvement
  2. Graded Homework
  3. Aligned time on task
  4. Direct teaching
  5. Advance organisers
  6. The teaching of learning strategies
  7. Tutoring
  8. Mastery Learning
  9. Co-operative learning
  10. Adaptive Education

My thoughts/summary/quotes from each section:

  1. The home environment is vitally important for success in school, so co-operation between parents and educators can support these approaches.
  2. “[The effect on learning of homework] is almost tripled when teachers take time to grade the work, make corrections and specific comments on improvements that can be made, and discuss problems and solutions with individual students or the whole class”. I think could be a year long project for me one year.
  3. As a teacher, I need to be efficient in class. “The teacher’s skillful classroom management… increases effective study time”.
  4. “Six phased functions of direct teaching work well: 1. Daily review, homework check and, if necessary, reteaching; 2. Presentation of new content and skills in small steps; 3. Guided student practice with close teacher monitoring; 4. Corrective feedback and instructional reinforcement; 5. Independent practice in work at the desk and in homework with a high (more than 90%) success rate; and 6. Weekly and monthly reviews”
  5. “Advance organizers help students focus on key ideas by enabling them to anticipate which points are important to learn”. This section has inspired me to make an advanced organizer which doubles as summary sheet for each physics model. Watch this space!
  6. The teaching of learning strategies. Not sure I got much from this one.
  7. “Peer tutoring (tutoring of slower or younger students by more advanced students) appears to work nearly as well as teacher tutoring… Significantly, peer tutoring promotes effective learning in tutors as well as tutees. The need to organize ones thoughts to impart them intelligibly to others… benefits the tutor”. This made me think of a newish idea to try in whiteboarding sessions. When kids don not understand something, go straight to a TPS (think-pair-share) in a group. Im aiming for a a few learning moments before we share it as a group.
  8. “For subject-matter to be learned step by step, thorough mastery of each step is often optimal”. This section made me really think of standards based grading. Something I still want to get into.

Reading: Proportional Reasoning


Wim Van Dooren, Xwnia Vamvakoussi, and Lieven Verschaffel

Another in the “Educational Practices Series” by the International Academy of Education.

I really liked this summary. It made me aware of a number of issues in students reasoning for proportional problems (and the misuse of proportional reasoning when an additive solution is appropriate). It also hammered home that in physics, teachers are probably not aware, but proportional reasoning is one of the foundations of our subject, and it is something either take for granted that the students know, are are unaware of its importance.

Headings in this article are:

  1. Introduction
  2. The pervasiveness of proportionality in the mathematics curriculum: An overarching concept
  3. The importance of mastering one-to-many correspondence
  4. Acknowledging the validity of a variety of strategies
  5. Stimulating variety and flexibility in strategy use to develop understanding of proportionality
  6. Inappropriate additive reasoning is a major source of errors in proportional problems
  7. Be cautious of the overuse of proportionality
  8. Improve teacher knowledge
  9. Concluding educational recommendations

My summaries for each section (or good quotes)

  1. Proportionality is the capstone of elementary arithmetic, number, and measurement concepts, and at the same time one of the most elementary understandings one needs for more advanced mathematics” (or physics!)
  2. Proportionality is a “big idea”, that is a connective thread through many topics. “One of the first (implicit) encounters with proportionality is that of measuring quantities, as this relies on the decision to refer to one quantity as the ‘unit’, which leads to a linear relation between the physical quantity measured and the number assigned to it.” 
  3. One-to-many correspondence is also known as “repeated addition” (If I need 4 handfuls of sand for 1 bucket, I will need 4 + 4 + 4 handfuls for 3 buckets). These can be fine, and persist as the main strategy to solve proportional problems, but it can run into issues. “These informal strategies do not necessarily evolve to more sophisticated ones”. However “teaching students formal methods does not guarantee that they will use them when appropriate … On contextualized problems, secondary school students who were taught the formal method of solving the expression a/b = c/x for the unknown have been found to perform worse than completely illiterate adults who never set foot in school”. Really?! Will have to find this study!
  4. Formal proportional strategies include “within-strategies” and “between-strategies”: For example, for making jam I use 3kg of sugar with 6kg of strawberries. How much sugar is needed for 18kg of strawberries? The within-strategy is comparing the 6kg and 18kg of strawberries (3 times bigger). The between-strategy is looking at the relationship between sugar and strawberries (sugar always half of strawberries). Other strategies are ratios, cross-multiplying and fractions.
  5. Although we might poo-poo “repeated addition”, because “it is less sophisticated, more limited, but more meaningful for the novice learner”. Conversely “between-strategies are more sophisticated, less limited, but less accessible to the novice learner”. Finally “the strategies of creating equivalent fractions and cross-multiplication have as a major advantage that they are algorithmic in nature. One can follow a fixed and guaranteed accurate procedure… However research points out that students themselves rarely choose them, and mistakes are very common. One of the main causes seems to be that these algorithms consist of the blind manipulation of numbers according to formal rules that have no relation whatsoever with the original problem context.” This section really resonated with me about how I feel physics is often taught, and also I think the authors have really summed up my interpretation of the direct instruction/interactive learning divide in maths.
  6. Incorrect use of additive reasoning is the biggest source of errors in proportional reasoning. “Task related factors may discourage or enhance additive errors. For example, an important task-related factor associated with fewer additive errors is familiarity with the meaning of the rates (external ratios) involved in the problem (eg speed in kilometers per hour) … furthermore non-interger ratios trigger additive errors. eg When grandmother makes jam she uses 3.5 kg of sugar for 5 kg of strawberries. How much sugar does she need for 8 kg of strawberries.” Being aware of this level of detail is how good our exam writers should be …
  7. “Much research has shown that students also apply proportional strategies where this is not appropriate” (When an additive solution is more appropriate). It turns out, that like the quote in the section above, the choice of numbers on questions can change the percent of kids who answer correctly. In this case, kids who might mistakenly use proportional reasoning (instead of correctly using additive) will accidentally use the correct reasoning if the numbers picked are non-integer ratios! From answering too many proportional questions kids acquire a “routine expertise”, instead of “adaptive expertise”. “For students to develop adaptive expertise in proportional problems, it is essential that they acquire the habit of explicitly and systematically questioning whether proportionality is the right mathematical model for the situation at hand.”
  8. There are clear indications that pre-service and also in-service teachers sometimes struggle with difficulties similar to the ones summarized above. … in-service teachers rely strongly on additive building-up strategies … other studies have also documented that in-service teachers strongly favour the cross-multiplication approach … and often they did not acknowledge the value of any other strategies explained above, and considered them as less sophisticated or even wrong. “
  9. “Treat proportionality as a “big idea””. Great suggestions here too (consider a modeling approach, teach for adaptive expertise, use a variety of tasks).

Reading: Teaching Science


John Staver

This article is one of a number from the same series I have read this summer. Each article has 8-10 key ideas. In each of these ideas the author summarizes the research. They then try and give specific examples that can be used directly in the classroom.

The principles/ideas for teaching science described in this article are

  1. Teaching as a purposeful means to an end
  2. Core scientific ideas
  3. Deep scientific understanding
  4. Complexity of learning
  5. Active construction of scientific knowledge
  6. Science content and students’ interests
  7. Expectations for learning
  8. Students’ anxieties and conflicts

My summary of each section

  1. Teachers accept some responsibility for their students struggles and failure to learn.
  2. You cant cover everything in science, so the core scientific ideas need to be identified, and sufficient time given to teaching them
  3. “Deep understanding goes beyond memorization of isolated facts and concepts. Deep scientific understanding includes a coherent system of facts, concepts, scientific inquiry, and a strong problem-solving ability.” And problem solving is different from exercises: “At present, school science contains too many exercises and too few problems”. This section is a good read.
  4. Teaching is complex. For science it is further complex with many interconnected concepts, student misconceptions a new language. The author talks about wait time, and also explicitly states that abstract concepts should be learned after concrete ones.
  5. Describes preconceptions and misconceptions and how to overcome them
  6. “Science teachers must remember that their own intrinsic motivation to learn science is likely not shared by many of their own students, whose motivation is likely activated instrumentally, by connecting science to things that are already familiar and important to them. “
  7.  “For all students, set high expectations for learning”
  8. “Clarify the difference between understanding and believing” in scientific concepts.

Reading: Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment


Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

This article starts by explaining, that although policy seems to be the priority of governments when it comes to raising student achievements, we need to be concentrating more on what actually is going on in the classroom. They refer to the teaching process as the “black box”, and argue that teachers need more explicit help in learning strategies that have evidence behind them that they work.

The main topic these two researches spend time explaining is “formative assessment“. The article is quite good as it does explicit explain a number of strategies that could be picked and used tomorrow.

Some good quotes:

“ʺA focus on standards and accountability that ignores the processes of teaching and learning in classrooms will not provide the direction that teachers need in their quest to improve.”

“The tests used by teachers encourage rote and superficial learning even when teachers say they want to develop understanding; many teachers seem unaware of the inconsistency. “

“The questions and other methods teachers use are not shared with other teachers in the same school, and they are not critically reviewed in relation to what they actually assess.”

“The giving of marks and the grading function are overemphasized, while the giving of useful advice and the learning function are underemphasized.”

“Over time the pupils get the message: they are not required to think out their own answers. The object of the exercise is to work out ‐‐ or guess ‐‐ what answer the teacher expects to see or hear.” (Made me think of what a whiteboarding session/modeling instruction is trying to overcome)

“One common problem is that, following a question, teachers do not wait long enough to allow pupils to think out their answers…because the only questions that can produce
answers in such a short time are questions of fact, these predominate.”

“Research studies have shown that, if pupils are given only marks or grades, they do not benefit from the feedback.” – This made me think of junior science. I need to give more feedback, or smaller tests/tasks with good feedback for the kids. One thing I want to try is more writing tasks, where kids are forced to hand in a “first draft”, and improve on this after feedback.

“Moreover, many of the initiatives that are needed take more class time, particularly when a central purpose is to change the outlook on learning and the working methods of pupils. Thus teachers have to take risks in the belief that such investment of time will yield rewards in the future, while ʺdeliveryʺ and ʺcoverageʺ with poor understanding are pointless and can even be harmful.”

In terms of implementing new policy: “Teachers will not take up ideas that sound attractive, no matter how extensive the research base, if the ideas are presented as general principles that leave the task of translating them into everyday practice entirely up to the teachers. Their classroom lives are too busy and too fragile for all but an outstanding few to undertake such work”

“The essential first step is to set up a small number of local groups of schools… will be
working out the answers to many of the practical questions that the evidence
presented here cannot answer” I like this. It essentially says, that no matter how good you think you are, a new initiative has to be trailed. As the “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”. It needs to be constant refined as feedback is collected.