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Can We Raise Test Scores (Again)?

Let’s explore how you can boost test scores by making small interventions and simple changes at the last moment.

First, a simple disclaimer: I don’t support 95% of all the testing being done on kids. I love accountability, but not crazy-making testing that gives self-serving data; data that helps you do better on the next test, instead of in real life where the tests should be targeting. Having said that, things are what they are. Let’s focus on the here and now.

Here is a plan that will help you maximize testing for your students.

Research: Recent Discovery on Testing

You have only five variables you can tweak in the days, hours and minutes before the actual test time. The biggest variable is how well kids have learned what will be on the test. If you haven’t taken care of that variable all year long, you have fewer options. It’s too late to add much content when you get real close to test time.

The single best thing you can do in the weeks and days before the testing is…have students take tests. Testing produced better overall recall than did restudying (Roediger and Karpicke, 2006). Give them small chunks of “mock tests” that will mimic the real ones. But the research gets a bit more complicated from here out.

What about getting feedback on the mock tests?

When tests are NOT accompanied by feedback, some items (i.e., those that were not correctly retrieved) might not benefit from testing (Pashler et al., 2005).

This tells you feedback has two sides: if you get it wrong, you NEED feedback. If it’s right, it’s less important to get feedback.

The debriefing should begin as a social event with the teacher and classmates involved. Then shift it to a personal assignment. Let students improve their “mock” test cores with a reflective test analysis. Here, students write about each question they got wrong: 1) what was their approach, 2) how they came up with the wrong answer, and 3) what they would do differently next time. Give students partial credit for each debriefed corrected answer. This empowers students by helping them become more thoughtful tests takers and reduces their stress by putting more of the process in their control.

Read carefully to what a team of cognitive psychologists says;

“Information that has been tested will be remembered better over time than information that has been restudied. This test-induced benefit is apparently stronger when repeated tests over the same information are provided. These results suggest that tests should be utilized often in educational contexts to maximize retention of information over long time periods.” (Carpenter, et al., 2008, page 446).

Encourage (even mandate) the asking of questions in the weeks and days leading up to the test. Students who are struggling academically are rarely asking the most questions in class. Researchers have found that low-achieving students are often the most reluctant to seek assistance and that a negative or fearful perception of “help seeking” is to blame (Ryan, et al. 1998).

The Ryan study involved 500 students and 25 teachers in 63 sixth-grade math classes throughout 10 Michigan middle schools. The researchers found that low-achieving students tend to perceive question asking as a sign of inability and associate it with feeling “dumb.” Conversely, high achievers with greater confidence are less likely to worry about what others think and tend to focus on the benefits of seeking help, notes the study.

Advise learners to take inventory of their projected goals, time-management skills, and study habits; and to reorganize them appropriately. Students who give their academic concerns top priority and allow ample time for studying (including exam preparation) often perform best (Yaworski, 1998). If help is needed in establishing a personal study schedule, or if chronic procrastination persists, encourage learners to seek the advice of a guidance counselor or related professional.

Next, in the days coming up to the testing, students often get stressed (the teachers are, of course, totally relaxed!)

The three best ways to get kids more relaxed are each about control (it’s the counterbalance to stress.) First, help them take more control over the process of making choices for when, what type of, and where to prepare. (You pre-select the options.) For example, let them choose which content sections they want to prep for first. Second, teach them self-regulation strategies such as slow deep breathing to relax. Third, teach them how to reframe the testing experience, to help them be more in charge of it. Tell your students, “Tests are a school’s way to assess their schooling success. We want to find out what we’re doing well and what we need to do differently. The tests tell us what changes we can make to develop your brain as best as possible.” (more…)

New Research on Stress; Why You Should Finally Take Charge of It… Now

What’s more personal these days than stress?

Whether it’s stress in your students, stress in your own family or life, it seems that it’s on the rise.  You might be feeling the twinge from job insecurity, school testing, your health, your parent’s health, or issues with your own kids.

None of this sounds good. But, what does stress REALLY do to your body and your brain?

First, let’s get something squared away. Stress is real; it’s the body’s response. It’s what you feel. But it’s only the response to a perception. The perception could be real or imagined. But it’s always the perception of loss of control over an adverse situation or person. In other words, the stress you experience is always about how you deal with life.

There are no stressful jobs, no stressful people and certainly no stressful classrooms. But there are teachers who experience stress in their dealings with those issues. If you think the stress is “out there,” you’ll always be miserable. Why? The world “out there” will never change.

But your brain is malleable; you’ve heard me say that for years. If you allow yourself to experience life as highly stressful, your brain will adapt to that higher stress load. It’s called “allostasis”; the word means “adjusted stability.” Your brain literally resets its own stress thermostat, so a higher stress load becomes the “new norm.” Examples of a “new norm” are depression, general anxiety disorder, PTSD, and chronic stress disorders. Bruce McEwen from Rockefeller University is a pioneer in this field.

Why should you care about all this science? Why care about allostasis and chronic aging? We’ll get to that in a moment. (more…)

A New Insight to the Brain and Nutrition Puzzle

Why You Might be Losing Your Mind

Recent Discovery

Is there anything new in nutrition that you haven’t already  heard? This week I listened to a neuroscientist talk about the research on glucose and the brain. It’s possible your school cafeteria is hurting your kid’s academic performance. It’s also possible your own brain is in trouble. How? Many who are unwilling to read the research claim that what you eat doesn’t matter very much. They are wrong.

Let’s take the simple (ha!) subject of sugar and your brain.

Is your school cafeteria helping or hurting your kid’s academic performance? Many who are still unwilling to read the research claim that what you eat doesn’t matter very much. They are wrong. Many early studies were not done with a strong experimental protocol or they were done on malnourished kids. But more recent ones have used the “gold standard” in research (blind studies, large sample sizes, cross-over design) and they have found that school nutrition does matter.

Here’s what I learned that was new…


The Chinese Tiger Mother – The Debate

The Wall Street Journal published Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior and touched off a passionate debate on the topic of parenting.

Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School and author of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” shares her story on how she raised her children.

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

From the survey the Wall Street Journal did on the subject, you can see that readers are 2-1 in favor of the Eastern style of parenting…

Tou may want to read the article A Response to the Chinese Tiger Mother: Children Need a Balanced Approach where Lori Desautels, Ph.D. notes:

Although the math and science scores are lower in the United States than in many Asian countries, a recent international study reported that “Chinese children as young as six are suffering from serious stress at school, according to the international study, which shines a light onto the pressures faced by Chinese youngsters being pushed to take advantage of the opportunities of the ‘new’ China.

“A scientific survey of 9 to 12-year-olds in eastern China found that more than 80 percent worried “a lot” about exams, two-thirds feared punishment by their teachers and almost three-quarters reported fearing physical punishment from their parents.”[3]

There is always a trade off and balancing mechanism in place when we consciously or subconsciously move to one extreme or the other in any area of life. When we push our children and students to strive academically neglecting the emotional intelligence of self-awareness, empathy and social connectedness, there are often times negative consequences within the social and emotional constructs of social and emotional growth. And if we do not set high expectations and place rigor and meaningful content and differentiated instruction into our curriculum, we may see apathetic students who do not embrace the importance and significance of educational learning, expansion and inquiry!

I think we all know that Western parenting could use a tune-up, and Amy’s book may have created a new discussion… although our first reaction is to defend the way we raise our children, it’s a topic that needs attention.

Feel free to share your thoughts on her approach.

Can Brain Research Help Educators?

Is there evidence that brain research can help educators?

This question above is highly relevant to all educators. Brain-based teaching is the active engagement of practical strategies based on principles derived from brain related sciences.

All teachers use strategies; the difference here is that you’re using strategies based on real science, not rumor or mythology. But the strategies ought to be generated by verifiable, established principles.

An example of a principle would be…”Brains change based on experience.” The science tells us HOW they change in response to experience. For example, we know that behaviorally relevant repetition is a smart strategy for skill learning. We know that intensity and duration matter over time. Did anyone know the optimal protocol for skill-building to maximize brain change twenty years ago? Yes, some knew them, through trial and error. But at issue is not whether any educator has learned a revolutionary new strategy or not from the brain research. Teachers are highly resourceful and creative; literally thousands of strategies have been tried in the classrooms around the world.

The issue is, “Can we make better informed decisions about teaching, based on what we have learned about the brain?”

Brain-based education suggests we not wait twenty years until each of these correlations are proven beyond any possible doubt. Many theories might never be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It’s possible that the sheer quantity of school, home and genetic factors will render any generalizable principle impossible to prove as 100% accurate.

As educators, we must live in the world of “likely” and “unlikely” versus the world of “certainty.”

Yet, in the example from above, the data from neuroscience is highly suggestive that gross motor voluntary exercise enhances neurogenesis and that neurogenesis supports cognition, memory and mood regulation. The neuroscience merely supports other disciplines, but it’s a discipline you can’t see with your naked eyes, so it’s worth reporting.

Brain-based advocates should be pointing out how neuroscience parallels, supports or leads the related sciences. But neuroscience is not a replacement science. Schools are too complex for that.

I look forward to your replies.

Eric Jensen

Creative Commons License photo credit: priyaswtc

10 Critical Things You Should Know About Brain Based Education

ADCD article by Eric Jensen

October 2010 Leaders of Learners – Eric Jensen article published. Texas ASCD.

The brain is involved in everything we do and it takes many approaches to understand it better. Brain-based education has withstood the test of time and an accumulating body of empirical and experiental evidence confirms the validity of the new paradigm. Many educationally significant, even profound, brain-based discoveries have occurred in recent years such as neurogenesis, the production of new neurons in the human brain. It is highly likely that these discoveries would have been ignored if the education profession hadn’t been primed, alerted, and actively monitoring cognitive neuroscience research and contemplating its implications and applications.

Why Brain-Based is a “No Brainer”

Let’s start this discussion with a simple, but essential, premise: the brain is intimately involved in and connected with everything educators and students do at school. Any disconnect is a recipe for frustration and potentially disaster. Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies, and principles. Here you will learn the principles of how the synergy of biology, cognitive science, and education can support better education with direct application to schools. Here are some of the powerful connections for educators to make in our new understanding of the new brain-based paradigm.


1. Highly relevant is the recent discovery that the human brain can and does grow new neurons. Many survive and become functional. Now we now know that new neurons are highly correlated with memory, mood, and learning. Of interest to educators is that this process can be regulated by our everyday behaviors, which include exercise, lowering stress, and nutrition. Schools can and should influence these variables. This discovery came straight from neuroscientists Gerd Kempermann and Fred Gage. Practical school application: support more – not less – physical activity, recess, and classroom movement.

Read the rest of the article here..