M. Ralph: So for the peer review we have Youki Terada who is Edutopia’s research editor. He has a background in education research and looks at how all the Edutopia content aligns with the research base. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
Y. Terada: Thank you very much for having me here.
M. Ralph: You recently published kind of a round up of the 2018 education research highlights, which I really loved, first off because it made me feel really good that we talk about a lot the same stuff, so we’re clearly reading a lot of the same literature.
L.Woodruff: You said in that introduction that you have a background in education research. Even before going to Edutopia, you have experience. I’m curious. Can you tell me more about that?
Y. Terada: Oh yeah, sure. Back in the late ninety’s, I was really into education technology. I was working on digital libraries. Back then we used the term smeet, which is really stem, just in a different arrangement of letters. I worked on smet.org, I worked on the national engineering digital library. This is when I went to U.C. Berkeley. I was working on the digital libraries that we made, which produce courseware for our college students. Back then a professor in, let’s say engineering, would create courseware which is kind of like these little applications. for example, let’s say you’re an engineering professor and you want to help your students learn how to build bridges. You know you have your classroom where you do everything. You do lots of hands on stuff. We also might create a program that helps students learn how to build bridges. You have all the different components, all the different materials. They have to plug in all the different calculations. They’re kind of like these little programs that you can incorporate into your course to give your students kind of a more broader sense, a broader understanding of how to do things in engineering and science, biology. I started off with digital libraries. I also did a lot of curriculum integration work back at Berkeley where we look at the undergraduate courses that are usually single subjects like calculus, physics, biology, and then upper division courses tended to integrate everything that students learned in those separate courses. There’s this disconnect that can happen where student learns, “Oh, here I’m learning biology. I’m learning physics. I’m learning calculus. But then, when they get to these upper division courses, now they have to not think about those subjects in these boxes. They also have to start incorporating everything they’re learning. Also, I was at a children’s science learning center, the Lawrence Hall of Science, where we looked at the connections between informal science learning and formal science learning. One of the CO projects I worked on is, I actually followed kids around in their classrooms at school and I went to their homes and looked up what kind of environment are they learning in at home. What kind of space do they have for homework? What kind of attitudes do their parents and family members have towards what they’re learning and trying to look at the connections between them. How can we support students who are not only learning in schools, but how can we support them and support what they’re learning at home.
M. Ralph: Full disclosure. I have published a couple of articles on Edutopia, so that pitch process. I know the other side of it. I know the author side of that. I’m actually most interested, not in talking about any of the specific research instances, but the more general approach to how you infuse research into the very utilitarian focus that I interpret is present in the Edutopia platform. In the pitches that I submit, they’re always like, “How does this matter to classroom teachers? How can they implement this today?” How do you approach that perspective of, “We need to be using the research, but our readers really need to know how to make use of this right now?”
Y. Terada: I always want to answer a few very basic questions when I write something for Edutopia. How is this important? Why should I spend a few minutes of my time reading what you’ve written, reading your article? It’s really easy with educational research to get abstract and to think about these big ideas, but really what it boils down to is, “How can this inform my practice in the classroom? How can this inform my teaching in the classroom? How can it make me a better teacher or a smarter teacher?” My goal, really with every article that I write and every article that we publish as Edutopia, is to make sure that you come away with some tactical information. That you can come away with some tips so that you can implement things in the classroom immediately. For example, I wrote a piece on classroom decorations. It is very easy to get into the science a bit, to get into the latest study which looks at how classroom decorations can be distracting for students, but one of the takeaways for teachers, and the question really is much broader than just like looking at classroom decorations, Looking at how classroom decorations can distract students, but looking at classroom decorations as a whole. Looking at the physical design of the classroom. Looking at how your classroom can be a symbolic way of representing science. For example, if your wall is full of old white men and all you’re talking about is this historical perspective of science, you might make certain students in your classroom feel welcome, not feel like they belong in the field of science. You want to make sure that with whatever you do, you really give students a sense of belonging, a sense that they can do science. That they’re represented in science. It’s a pretty big question and I always, always want to make sure that no matter what, there are tips that teachers can take away from what I write.
M. Ralph: That’s actually what we’re interested in hearing from you about. You wrote up this 2018 education research highlights piece. It’s funny that you mentioned the classroom decoration because that was actually the topic of our last month’s show, where we were talking about how it can promote mindfulness. It was nice because it was nice and concrete and actionable, but there was a spot about halfway through your article where you were looking at some of the recent, it was fairly popular, at least in my perception, of the Meta analysis on growth mindset research and how it’s a little more subtle, more complex than we initially thought, and how some of the interventions weren’t having the effect that we thought they were having. How do you approach coming out with tactile information when we’ve got somebody that is saying, “OK. This implementation that we thought was going to be this broadly useful and broadly impactful idea is maybe not as straightforward as we thought it was going to be. There is still value in here, but it’s a little more complex. How do you approach sharing that information that we don’t make teachers feel like, “Well crap. I got to throw everything out that I thought I was doing,” but also giving them pause to think more about some of the subtleties that maybe we’ve been overlooking to this point. How do you kind of do that balancing act?
Y. Terada: Yeah. We see this over and over, where this big landmark study comes out and it really changes how people understand something. But then as time goes on, there are nuances to the study. It’s not necessarily that the study was wrong. I mean there’s a lot of value in those studies because they have helped point us to new ideas and new research that we might not have thought about before. Withs growth mindset, I mean the idea that there are students with fixed mindsets and there are students with growth mindsets, and that if you help students understand their own mental processes, then you can help them kind of like overcome the barriers that they might be implementing on themselves. For example, you have a student that is a straight A student, and they do well in every single test. It’s understanding that identity plays a large role and learning, and if a student is afraid to fail a test, not necessarily because of kind of the actual grades, but because they don’t want to be seen as someone who is not smart, that plays a large role and how they approach things. They might not be as willing to take risks. There was a study a couple years ago looking at peer pressure and learning. This was in high school. When the high school actually advertise that that that they were doing SAT prep courses for free, the sign up rate for those courses was about 50 percent. When the high school didn’t advertise that these kind of courses were being held the sign up rate actually went up to 80 percent.
L. Woodruff: Whooooooaaaaaaaaa
Y. Terada: What was happening was that there were students who were afraid that they were giving the perception that they were asking for help. These tended to be students who didn’t do as well. The students who need the most help are often the ones that are afraid to actually ask for it because for whatever reason, it could be peer pressure, it be their friends. There’s an old book, “Learning to Labor,” by Paul Willis, where he looked at, this is in Europe, he looked at how what students did was more formed by their peers than what their parents, or what their teachers would tell them to do. If a student had this image of being really cool, really friendly with other students, they might not necessarily ask for help when they need it. Back to the recent study. If you have the sign ups that were public and the students who sign up were on a list and that list was actually available to other students and it was pretty obvious that the student was asking for help, a student that doesn’t do well, a student who struggles might be much more reluctant to sign up for help.
L. Woodruff: I just wanted to say that in your article you referred to the discipline issues. The heading in your article, “disparities in discipline for black boys,” researchers found that 40 percent of black boys at a certain age had been suspended or expelled by age 9 and that was highly disparate. There’s this, in addition to an achievement gap, there is a suspension gap essentially a discipline gap, and the idea that we as professionals, we as individuals, perceive behaviors, the intent of behaviors, we impose the intent of behaviors, with bias so we can see the same exact behaviors and then infer different intentions based on demographics, is really important research because we have to acknowledge that that is true. Like you said bias is a natural part of existing in humans, but we have to acknowledge that bias before we can navigate it responsibly. Just having that published in black and white.
Y. Terada: About that study in the research highlights piece, just in general, it’s really important to connect education to a kind of a larger society as a whole. If we’re looking at, let’s say, disciplinary bias with students of color, this isn’t something that happens just with teachers. This is something that happens across society as whole. In the criminal justice system, penalties for crimes are distributed disproportionately. We can have the same crime being committed by 2 different people and have different actual sentences being given to those 2 different people not just not because of the crime they actually committed but because of all these other factors. Because of perceptions of that person as a criminal, perceptions of how his or her background might influence what they’ve done. The idea that in our schools that black and white students are treated differently based off of our perceptions of misbehavior, it’s not limited just to schools. It’s really a broad, big idea and what we’re seeing is kind of the extension.
L. Woodruff: What do you think was the most important research that you discussed, you shared, you published this year? What do you think was the most important classroom shaping research?
Y. Terada: That is a tough question because what’s important isn’t necessarily always what’s the most popular. Because what’s important, to me, really fundamentally changes the way a teacher thinks about teaching. It really gives them insights about what they can do in the classroom. The most popular pieces tend to be ones that tend to be very broad. The classroom decorations piece. I mean, almost every teacher has a classroom. Almost every teacher thinks about decorations in classrooms. Not just decorations, also looking at symbolic representations of people in the field, things like that. Almost every teacher thinks about seating arrangement and that’s important. But for me what’s really important is looking at kind of the big inequities in education and how we can address that. For me some of the most important research has to do with bias. It has to do with if your students aren’t doing well on a test is it because they don’t understand the material or is it because there are all these other things going on that we might not be aware of that are influencing how that student does on the test. Really, ultimately, we want a fair educational system. We want a system where when we understand what students are doing, we get a good picture of what they know. It’s not influenced by all these other factors. For example, looking at achievement gaps. I think it’s really important and getting a bigger understanding of why achievement gaps exist, and not just looking at like the black/white achievement gap, but looking at why are girls and students of color underrepresented in STEM fields. How can we better create an educational system that’s accommodating to students with disabilities, students with learning disabilities and physical disabilities. How can we make it so that students feel welcome in a classroom. It’s really much broader than just looking at these disparities in education. It is really about making sure that our educational system addresses the needs of every student. That’s, to me that’s really what it boils down to, is just making sure that we have the best educational system. We have the best schools as possible.
M. Ralph: I appreciate you making the distinction between what is popular and what is important. That makes me feel really good. Highlighting the racial disparities we talked about this pretty deeply in Episode 021 with the TNPT research and there’s a struggle that I have, and I’d be curious to know what your approach is to it, about trying to invite people to participate in these uncomfortable discussions. I think they’re hard discussions about how do we deal with the current systemic inequities in education, STEM education in particular, in the STEM professions that they lead to, and how do we deal with different interventions we’re trying to have, or different responsibilities that there may be for the current inequities that exist, and those are difficult conversations. Those are really difficult emotionally for people to engage, especially people of privilege, I’m one of them, to acknowledge, “This is my privilege and this is the responsibility I have to engage with that, to talk about that, that’s tough to do. How do you navigate that problem of inviting people to participate but also making sure that there’s enough people involved in conversation that actually matters? Right? I don’t want to be shouting into the void either. An article with zero readers is not particularly valuable article either. How do you navigate those those 2 competing interests, maybe?
Y. Terada: Every time I write a piece, and with every piece that we publish on Edutopia,. I try really hard to take myself out of the shoes of a researcher and into the shoes of a classroom teacher thinking about what’s the tactical information that will be useful in the classroom. Really when I write something, and I look at comments, the comments that I really engage with most are questions specifically about the content. For example, I just wrote a piece on multiple choice quizzes. It’s giving some tips on how to create effective multiple choices, because our research shows that quizzes aren’t just tools for assessment, they can also be tools for learning. When you have a quiz, you’re not just gauging how students understand the topic, we’re also, in a way, you’re creating the conditions for them to be able to study for the test, and you also are creating an actual learning artifact for students to engage with. One of the takeaways from that piece was don’t have too many kind of wrong answers on the multiple choice question because if a student picks a wrong answer then they’re more likely to actually remember the wrong answer and it will stick in their head. One of the questions that came up was, “What’s the right balance between essay questions and multiple choice questions,?” because when you have multiple choice questions you get a more superficial, in the sense, of what your students understand but with an essay question you can really dig in into what students know. My response was that there isn’t really an ideal mix. But the person was on the right track, meaning that with any form of assessment it’s important to not look at a single form or a single way of doing things. You want a really rich mix of assessment forms. You want essay questions, you want multiple choice questions. You want students talking up in front of a classroom and in front of other students presenting ideas, presenting a topic, because if you stick to one way of assessing students, then you can create this environment where, if this student is, just for whatever reason, bad at a particular way of expressing themselves, then you can disproportionately be harming that student. If a student, let’s say, isn’t good at speaking in public, then you don’t want your classroom to just focus on performative assessment. You don’t want your class to just focus on that student getting up in front of other kids. You want that to be a component because it’s good to expose student to things that they’re not good at to help them and have overcome those challenges, but you want to make sure that you’re giving students multiple ways to express what they know.