Elementary Education

Why schools should provide one laptop per child

Binbin Zheng, Michigan State University and Mark Warschauer, University of California, Irvine

A recent international study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found no positive evidence of impact of educational technology on student performance.

It did not find any significant improvement in reading, math or science in countries that heavily invested in technology to improve student achievement. In fact, the report found that technology perhaps even widened the achievement gaps.

Does this mean we should abandon attempts to integrate technology in schools?

We are researchers of technology and learning in K-12 environments, and our research suggests this would be shortsighted.

Impact of one-to-one laptop programs

For the last 10 years, our research team has been investigating what are called “one-to-one” programs, where all the students in a classroom, grade, school or district are provided laptop computers for use throughout the school day, and often at home, in different school districts across the United States.

The largest one-to-one laptop program in the world is OLPC (One Laptop per Child), which mainly targets developing countries, with the mission “to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children.” In the United States, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) launched a one-to-one laptop initiative in fall 2002, which made Maine the first state to use technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms statewide. Later, these programs were extended to other school districts as well.

In addition to our own extensive observations, we conducted a synthesis of the results of 96 published global studies on these programs in K-12 schools during 2001-2015. Among them, 10 rigorously designed studies, mostly from the U.S., were included, to examine the relationship between these programs and academic achievement. We found significant benefits.

We found students’ test scores in science, writing, math and English language arts improved significantly.

And the benefits were not limited to test scores.

Laptop use led to significant benefits for students.Tim & Selena Middleton, CC BY

We found students with laptops wrote more frequently across a wider variety of genres. They also received more feedback on their writing. In addition, we found they edited and revised their papers more often, drew on a wider range of resources to write, and published or shared their work with others more often.

Student surveys, teacher interviews and classroom observations in these studies revealed that students with access to laptops worked more autonomously and gained experience in project-based learning. This allowed them to synthesize and critically apply knowledge.

For example, researcher Chrystalla Mouza found that elementary school students with access to laptops were able to create electronic storybooks and publish reports in language arts classrooms.

One-to-one laptop programs also enhanced students’ 21st-century skills – skills needed in an information age – such as the ability to locate and use internet resources. Students also improved their collaborative learning skills – that is, they were more capable of working collaboratively with others.

Research led by Deborah L. Lowther at University of Memphis found that when students were given a problem and related answer to consider, students with laptops exhibited higher problem-solving skills than those in the comparison group.

A closer look at the OECD report also reveals that students in the United States performed particularly well on technology-based tasks such as online navigation, digital reading and using computers to solve math problems.

Can laptop use reduce educational gap?

However, our study did not find firm evidence on whether these one-to-one laptop programs helped lessen the academic gap between academically advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Earlier studies have found that laptop programs could help shorten the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers. We did not find such positive evidence in all programs.

One possible explanation is that difficulty in using technology sometimes places an extra load on already challenged students. In contrast, wealthier students are usually more tech-savvy so they can maximize the benefits of using computers to support learning.

Not all laptop programs are effective

One issue here is that not all programs are successful. In our study, although most programs were successful, there were some stark failures as well.

These tended to be in school districts that treated computers like magical devices that would solve educational problems merely through their distribution, without sufficient planning on how they could best be deployed to improve learning.

Some schools phased out their laptop program. Mere access to a computer does not improve learning. Schoolchildren image via www.shutterstock.com

Some of these schools, after observing no progress with laptops, decided to phase them out. For example, Liverpool Central School District, a public school district in a suburban community near Syracuse, New York, decided to drop the laptop program from fall 2007.

A school district in Philadelphia had to abandon its program after being sued over its use of laptop webcams to capture pictures of students at home. The district claimed it was an effort to track down missing laptops.

For schools and classrooms that are already poorly organized, merely having access to a computer connected to the internet will not improve learning. However, for classrooms that focus on improving students’ writing, analysis, research, problem solving and critical thinking, those same internet-connected computers could be invaluable tools.

Technology to train future citizens

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the business world. When computers were first introduced into corporations, it took a number of years to increase productivity.
Today it is hard to imagine any field of commerce or knowledge production succeeding while shunning computers.

Well-organized programs that make individual computers available to students are already getting excellent test score results. Such programs are critical for helping students develop necessary skills for the future. These programs deserve our support.

The Conversation

Binbin Zheng, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University and Mark Warschauer, Professor of Education and Informatics, University of California, Irvine

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reading to your child: the difference it makes

Peggy Albers, Georgia State University

If you are a parent or a teacher, you most probably read stories to young children. Together, you laugh and point at the pictures. You engage them with a few simple questions. And they respond.

So what happens to children when they participate in shared reading? Does it make a difference to their learning? If so, what aspects of their learning are affected?

Shared reading for language development

British researcher Don Holdaway was the first to point out the benefits of shared reading. He noted that children found these moments to be some of their happiest. He also found that children developed positive and strong associations with spoken language and the physical book itself, during these moments.

Since then a number of studies have been conducted showing the value of shared reading in children’s language development, especially in vocabulary and concept development.

Early childhood researcher Vivian Paley, for example, during her work in the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, found that kindergarten children learned when a story was dramatized in shared reading. Not only did children develop oral language, they imaginatively learned the conventions of a story, such as character, plot and themes. In shared storytelling, children also learned how to use language in multiple ways.

Other research found that shared reading was related to the development of expressive vocabulary. That is, children developed listening skills and built an understanding of grammar as well as vocabulary in the context of the story.

Connecting words to emotions

As a language and literacy researcher, I work with teachers to develop reading strategies that develop children’s interest in reading and help them think critically. Kay Cowan, an early childhood researcher who studies the role of the arts in language learning, and I conducted two studies to understand children’s language development in grades one to five.

Grade 5 child generates vocabulary through shared reading. Kay Cowan, CC BY

We worked with approximately 75 children across grade levels. We began our language study by talking with the students about the power of words, and the role they play in and outside of school. Following this, we discussed the pleasures associated with words. We then read “Shadow,” an award-winning picture book by children’s author Marcia Brown, and poems by Shel Silverstein, another children’s author.

Children were then asked to think of an “absolutely wonderful” event that they had experienced, and associate an emotion with it. Children chose a personal event that elicited emotions. They then drew contrasting images of the word that showed opposite emotions, and studied synonyms and antonyms to understand the “shades of meaning.” They then wrote descriptive poetry to convey this emotion.

All children – even those who were at the risk of failing – used vivid language. Children described words like “ebullient” and “melancholy” in ways that related to their own emotion.

One child described her word “ebullient” as “bright,” and “merry,” and “never asking for anything.” “Ebullient” was also “warm,” and “gypsy-like,” and so on. Another described loneliness as “…making me feel cold/Like an icicle/wanting to melt away.”

Following this exercise, children noticed that their writing was much better. It showed us how wide and varied reading, repetition and varied encounters with words were extremely important for children to have a depth of understanding as well as verbal flexibility – being able to express the meaning of word in different ways.

Why home matters

The quality of exchanges between children and adults during shared reading is found to be critical to their language development. So, the role of home in shared reading is crucial.

Long-term studies by linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath and other literacy scholars have documented children’s ability to read as related to their families’ beliefs about reading, the quality of conversation at home and access to print materials prior to their entry into school.

Mother reads with children. Diana Ramsey, CC BY

For 10 years, Heath studied two communities a few miles a part, one black working-class and one white working-class. She documented how family practices (e.g., oral storytelling, reading books, talk) influenced children’s language development at home and in school. For example, children read and talked about stories, were asked questions about the stories or told stories about their lives, events and situations in which they were involved. Parents engaged their children in these experiences to prepare them to do well in school.

Similarly, researcher Victoria Purcell-Gates worked with an Appalachian family, specifically mother Jenny and son Donny, to help them learn to read. With Jenny, they read and talked about picture books, listened to and read along with books on tape and wrote in a journal. With Donny, they shared reading, labeled pictures and wrote stories. Jenny was able to read picture books to her sons, while Donny learned to write letters to his dad in prison.

Other researchers have found that when parents, specifically mothers, knew how to interact with their children during shared reading using positive reinforcement and asking questions about the story, both children and mothers benefited.

Mothers learned how to ask open-ended questions, and prompted their children to respond to stories. Children were more engaged and enthusiastic about the shared reading experience. They also were able to talk more about the story’s content, and were able to talk about the relationship between pictures and story.

What’s more, shared story experiences have also been shown to have an influence on children’s understanding of math concepts and geometry in kindergarten.

Children more readily learn math concepts like numbers, size (bigger, smaller) and estimation/approximation (lots, many) when parents engaged in “math talk” while reading picture books.

Shared reading in a digital world

While shared reading is often associated with print books, shared reading can be extended to digital texts such as blogs, podcasts, text messages, video and other complex combinations of print, image, sound, animation and so on.

Good video games, for example, incorporate many learning principles, such as interaction, problem-solving and risk-taking, among others. As in shared reading, children interact with their parents, teachers or peers as they engage in stories.

South African children share reading on computer. Amy Seely Flint, CC BY

Literacy researcher Jason Ranker’s case study of eight-year-old Adrian shows that young children can actually “redesign” how stories are read, discussed and told when they engage actively with video game narratives.

Adrian, who played a video game, Gauntlet Legends, created a story in Ranker’s class, to which he added many drawings to show the movement of characters.

In this case study, Ranker found that children like Adrian who play video games learn how to produce stories that do not follow the linear pattern found in print stories (exposition, climax, resolution). Rather, children experience stories at “levels” that allow characters and plots to move in many directions, eventually coming to resolution.

Similarly, children with access to certain apps are coordinating their storytelling on a touchscreen. They choose characters for their stories. They move them around with their fingers, and drag-and-drop them in and out of the story. If they want to create more complex stories, they work with others to coordinate characters’ movements. Sharing stories, then, becomes collaborative, imaginative and dynamic through these digital mediums.

Children, in essence, have redesigned how stories are told and experienced, demonstrating imagination, vision and problem-solving.

One thing that is clear across research is that rich complex language development does not happen merely by pointing at letters or pronouncing words out of context. It is engagement, and guided attention to language conventions, that matter in shared reading.

Ultimately, what is important is that shared reading must be a joyful experience for the child. Sharing stories must allow for a personal connection and allow for interaction and a shared learning.

The Conversation

Peggy Albers, Professor of Language and Literacy Education, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Should parents ask their children to apologize?

Craig Smith, University of Michigan

Have you ever felt deserving of an apology and been upset when you didn’t get one? Have you ever found it hard to deliver the words, I’m sorry?

Such experiences show how much apologies matter. The importance placed on apologies is shared by many cultures. Diverse cultures even share a great deal in common when it comes to how apologies are communicated.

When adults feel wronged, apologies have been shown to help in a variety of ways:
Apologies can reduce retaliation; they can bring about forgiveness and empathy for wrongdoers; and they can aid in the repair of broken trust. Further, sincere apologies have the physiological effect of lowering blood pressure more quickly, especially among those who are prone to hold on to anger.

How do children view and experience apologies? And what do parents think about when to prompt their young ones to apologize?

How children understand apologies

Research shows that children as young as age four grasp the emotional implications of apology. They understand, for example, that an apology can improve the feelings of someone who’s been upset. Preschoolers also judge apologizing wrongdoers to be more likable, and more desirable as partners for interaction and cooperation.

Children as young as four understand the emotional meaning of an apology. Funkyah, CC BY-NC-ND

Recent studies have tested the actual impact of apologies on children. In one such study, a group of four- to seven-year-olds received an apology from a child who failed to share, while another group did not get an apology. The participants who received the apology felt better and viewed the offending child as nicer as well as more remorseful.

Another study exposed children to a more distressing event: A person knocked over a tower that six- to seven-year-olds were building. Some children got an apology, some did not. In this case, a spontaneous apology did not improve children’s upset feelings. However, the apology still had an impact. Children who got an apology were willing to share more of their attractive stickers with the person who knocked over the tower compared to those who did not get an apology.

This finding suggests that an apology led to forgiveness in children, even if sadness about the incident understandably lingered. Notably, children did feel better when the other person offered to help rebuild their toppled towers. In other words, for children, both remorseful words and restorative actions make a difference.

When does a child’s apology matter to parents?

Although apologies carry meaning for children, views on whether parents should ask their children to apologize vary. A recent caution against apology prompting was based on the mistaken notion that young children have limited social understanding. In fact, young children understand a great deal about others’ viewpoints.

When and why parents prompt their children to apologize has not been systematically studied. In order to gain better insight into this question, I recently conducted a study with my colleagues Jee Young Noh and Michael Rizzo at the University of Maryland and Paul Harris at Harvard University.

We surveyed 483 parents of three- to 10-year-old children. Most participants were mothers, but there was a sizable group of fathers as well. Parents were recruited via online parenting discussion groups and came from communities all around the U.S.. The discussion groups had a variety of orientations toward parenting.

In order to account for the possibility that parents might want to show themselves in the best light, we took a measure of “social desirability bias” from each parent. The results reported here emerged after we statistically corrected for the influence of this bias.

A card from daughter to mother. Todd Ehlers, CC BY-ND

We asked parents to imagine their children committing what they would consider to be “transgressions.” We then asked them how likely they would be to prompt an apology in each scenario. We also asked parents to rate how important they felt it was for their children to learn to apologize in a variety of situations. Finally, we asked the parents about their general approaches to parenting.

The large majority of parents (96 percent) felt that it was important for their children to learn to apologize following an incident in which children upset another person on purpose. Further, 88 percent felt it was important for their children to learn to apologize in the aftermath of upsetting someone by mistake.

Fewer than five percent of the parents surveyed endorsed the view that apologies are empty words. However, parents were sensitive to context.

Parents reported being especially likely to prompt apologies following their children’s intentional and accidental “moral transgressions.” Moral transgressions involve issues of welfare, justice, and rights, such as stealing from or hurting another person.

Parents viewed apologies as relatively less important following their children’s transgressions of social convention (e.g., breaking a rule in a game, interrupting a conversation).

Apology as a way to mend rifts

It’s noteworthy that parents were very likely to anticipate prompting apologies following incidents in which their children upset others on purpose and by mistake.

This suggests that a focus for many parents, when prompting apologies, is addressing the outcomes of their children’s social missteps. Our data suggest that parents use apology prompts to teach their children how to manage difficult social situations, regardless of underlying intentions.

Parents may prompt an apology to mend an interpersonal rift. Girl image via www.shutterstock.com

For example, 88 percent of parents indicated that they would typically prompt an apology if their child broke a peer’s toy by mistake (in the event that the child did not apologize spontaneously).

Indeed, parents especially anticipated prompting apologies following accidental mishaps that involved their children’s peers (and not parents themselves as the wronged parties). When a child’s peer is a victim, parents likely recognize that apologies can quickly mend potential interpersonal rifts that may otherwise linger.

We also asked parents why they viewed apology prompts as important for their children. In the case of moral transgressions, parents saw these prompts as tools for helping children take responsibility. In addition, they used apology prompts for promoting empathy, teaching about harm, helping others feel better and clearing up confusing situations.

However, not all parents viewed the importance of apology prompting in the same way. There was a subset of parents who were relatively permissive: warm and caring but not overly inclined to provide discipline or expect mature behavior from their children.

Most of these parents were not wholly dismissive of the importance of apologies, but they consistently indicated being less likely to provide prompting to their children, compared to the other parents in the study.

When to prompt an apology

Overall, most parents in our study viewed apologies as important in the lives of children. And the child development research described above indicates that many children share this view.

But are there more and less effective ways to prompt a child to apologize? I argue that parents should consider whether a child will offer a prompted apology willingly and sincerely. A recently completed study sheds some light on why.

When should parents prompt an apology? Zvi Kons, CC BY-NC

In this study – currently under review – we asked four- to nine-year-old children to evaluate two types of apologies that were prompted by an adult. One apology was willingly given to the victim after the apology prompt; the other apology was given only after additional adult coercion (“You need to say you’re sorry!”).

We found that 90 percent of the children viewed the recipient of the prompted, “willingly given” apology as feeling better. However, only 22 percent of the children connected a coerced apology to improved feelings in the victim.

So, as parents ponder the merits of prompting apologies from children, it seems important to refrain from pushing one’s child to apologize when he or she is not ready, or is simply not remorseful. Most young children don’t view coerced apologies as effective.

In such cases, interventions aimed at calming down, increasing empathy and making amends may be more constructive than pushing a resistant child to deliver an apology. And, of course, components like making amends can accompany willingly given apologies as well.

Finally, to arguments that apologies are merely empty words that young children parrot, it’s worth noting that we have many rituals that involve rather scripted verbal exchanges, such as when two people in love say “I do” at a wedding or commitment ceremony.

Just as these scripted words carry deep cultural and personal meaning, so too can other culturally valued verbal scripts, such the words in an apology. Thoughtfully teaching young children about apologizing is one aspect of teaching them how to be caring and well-regarded members of their communities.

The Conversation

Craig Smith, Research Investigator, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.