Physical Activity During Lessons Can Boost Learning

Students who take part in physical exercises like running in place during school lessons do better in tests than students who stick to sedentary learning.

A meta-analysis of 42 studies around the world conducted by researchers at the University College London, Leiden University, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Sydney, aimed to assess the benefits of incorporating physical activity in academic lessons. This approach has been adopted by schools that want to increase activity levels among students without reducing academic teaching time.

Typical activities include using movement to signify whether a fact is true or false, or jumping on the spot a certain number of times to answer a math question, the researchers explained.

The study concluded that incorporating physical activity had a large, significant effect on educational outcomes during the lesson, assessed through tests or by observing pupils’ attention to a given task. It also had a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, as well as increasing the students’ overall levels of physical activity.

“Physical activity is good for children’s health, and the biggest contributor of sedentary time in children’s lives is the seven or eight hours a day they spend in classrooms,” said lead author Dr. Emma Norris of University College London. “Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively.”

“These improvements in physical activity levels and educational outcomes are the result of quite basic physical exercises,” added co-author Dr. Tommy van Steen of Leiden University in The Netherlands. “Teachers can easily incorporate these physical active lessons in the existing curriculum to improve the learning experience of students.”

For the study, researchers looked at data from 12,663 students between the ages of three and 14. Nearly half of the studies took place in the United States, with seven conducted in Australia, five in the UK, four in the Netherlands, and one in China, Croatia, Ireland, Israel, Portugal, and Sweden.

In one of the 42 studies analyzed, eight- and nine-year-olds simulated traveling the world by running in place in between answering questions relating to different countries.

The research team, also led by Norris at UCL, concluded that the children were more active and more focused on the task than peers in a control group, following teachers’ instructions more closely.

In another study in the Netherlands, primary school children who took part in physically active lessons three times a week over two years made significantly better progress in spelling and mathematics than their peers, equating to four months of extra learning gains, according to researchers.

The  study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Source: University College London

Two-Year-Olds From Poor Neighborhoods More Likely to Have Language Difficulties

Two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are three times more likely to develop difficulties with language than those from more affluent areas, according to a new Scottish study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Researchers say the findings highlight the need for policy makers to address the social factors that can hinder speech, language and communication (SLC) development.

Failing to do so means children might not fully develop the language skills necessary for emotional development, wellbeing and educational and employment opportunities.

“Growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood where there is poverty and reduced access to services is closely associated with problems with preschool language development,” said Professor James Boardman of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health.

“These results suggest that policies designed to lessen deprivation could reduce language and communication difficulties among pre-school children.”

For the study, a research team from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian in Scotland looked at more than 26,000 records of children who had received a routine health review between 27 and 30 months between April 2013 and April 2016.

The findings show that two-year-olds living in the most economically deprived neighborhoods were three times more likely to have SLC concerns compared to those brought up in better-off areas.

It is believed that growing up in neighborhoods with low income and unemployment — which is related to problems with education, health, access to services, crime and housing — can increase the risk of setbacks.

The researchers also discovered that being born prematurely had an impact on language issues. The findings show that each week a child spent in the womb from 23 to 36 weeks was associated with an 8.8% reduction in the likelihood of the children having an SLC concern reported at 27 months.

A pregnancy is considered full term between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, 6 days, while preterm birth is defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Socioeconomic disadvantage has also been associated with a greater risk for preterm birth.

Although the research team looked at birth data from children born in the Lothians, experts say similar results might be expected across the United Kingdom.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Performance Anxiety Reduces Pre-Performance Memory

New research finds that performance anticipation at work or school may hinder your ability to remember what happened before your presentation or performance. Investigators also discovered that the presence of an audience may be an important factor in pre-performance memory deficit.

University of Waterloo researchers designed the study to explore what is called the next-in-line effect. “Performance anticipation could weaken memory because people tend to focus on the details of their upcoming presentation instead of paying attention to information that occurs before their performance,” says lead author Noah Forrin.

“People who experience performance anxiety may be particularly likely to experience this phenomenon.”

Forrin and his co-authors experimented with a variety of techniques that enhance memory, including the production effect — we can remember something best if we say it aloud.

One of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Colin MacLeod, coined the term production effect from previous research. Prior studies have identified that reading aloud involves at least three distinct processes that help to encode memory: articulation, audition and self-reference.

Research by Forrin and MacLeod has demonstrated that reading aloud is better for memory than reading silently, writing, or hearing another person speak aloud. In the new study, however, the findings suggest that the production effect has a downside: When people anticipate reading aloud, they may have worse memory for information they encounter before reading aloud.

The researchers conducted four experiments with 400 undergraduate students and found that students have worse memory for words that they read silently when they anticipate having to read upcoming words aloud (compared to when they anticipate having to read upcoming words silently).

“Our results show that performance anticipation may be detrimental to effective memory encoding strategies,” said Forrin. “Students frequently have upcoming performances — whether for class presentations or the expectation of class participation.”

“We are currently examining whether the anticipation of those future performances reduces students’ learning and memory in the classroom.”

Forrin suggests that a strategy to avoid pre-performance memory deficits relates to scheduling.

“Try to get your performance over with by being the first student in class (or employee in a meeting) to present. After that, you can focus on others’ presentations without anticipating your own.”

The paper, “Wait for it… performance anticipation reduces recognition memory,” appears in the Journal of Memory and Language.

Source: University of Waterloo

When Abuse Involves Controlling a Partner’s Education

A new study offers a closer look at a lesser-known form of psychological abuse: educational sabotage. This type of abuse involves behaviors aimed at hindering or stopping another person’s educational efforts.

“This form of violence is used by one of the partners as a means for furthering their own power and control over the other partner,” said Dr. Rachel Voth Schrag, a domestic violence expert and assistant professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Arlington. “Pursuing higher education can be perceived as a threat by the abusing party.”

Educational sabotage is a form of coercive control that directly affects a survivor’s efforts to obtain educational credentials, said Voth Schrag. Tactics may include disruption of financial aid or academic efforts, physical violence and/or inducing guilt related to academic efforts.

These strategies are a serious hindrance to the successful completion of educational programs and, ultimately, the economic independence and safety of survivors, she said.

For the study, the researchers conducted 20 interviews with community college students who reported current or recent intimate partner violence  (IPV). The participants identified several ways in which educational sabotage had impacted their lives. Impacts included reduced academic achievement, emotional or mental health challenges, but on a more positive note, an increased desire to overcome such obstacles.

Educational sabotage is considered a form of IPV, which is a factor in 16.5% of all homicides in the U.S., according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency estimates one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime.

Pursuing higher education can be a catalyst for breaking out of the isolation and cycles of dependency that often accompany IPV. According to Voth Schrag’s study, “by understanding, addressing, and preventing school sabotage, scholars, institutions of higher education, and their community partners have an opportunity to make an important contribution to the well-being and safety of students.”

The study is published in the journal Violence Against Women.

Source: University of Texas at Arlington

 

Teens Less Likely to Cooperate When Moms Speak in a Controlling Voice

A new study has found that teens are less likely to cooperate and put effort into their mother’s requests when they are said in a controlling tone of voice.

Speaking in a “pressurizing tone” also elicits a range of negative emotions and less feelings of closeness, according to researchers at Cardiff University in the UK.

According to researchers, the study, which included more than 1,000 14 and 15 year olds, is the first to examine how teens respond to the tone of voice when receiving instructions from their mothers, even when the specific words that are used are exactly the same.

“If parents want conversations with their teens to have the most benefit, it’s important to remember to use supportive tones of voice,” said Dr. Netta Weinstein, lead author of the study. “It’s easy for parents to forget, especially if they are feeling stressed, tired, or pressured themselves.”

The study’s findings showed that teenagers were much more likely to engage with instructions that conveyed a sense of encouragement and support for self-expression and choice.

The results also could be relevant to schoolteachers whose use of more motivational language could impact the learning and well-being of students in their classrooms, Weinstein noted.

“Adolescents likely feel more cared about and happier, and as a result they try harder at school, when parents and teachers speak in supportive rather than pressuring tones of voice,” she said.

For the study’s experiment, 486 male teens and 514 female were randomly assigned to groups that would hear identical messages delivered by mothers in either a controlling, autonomy-supportive, or neutral tone of voice.

Expressions of control impose pressure and attempt to coerce or push listeners to action. In contrast, those that express autonomy support convey a sense of encouragement and support for listeners’ sense of choice and opportunity for self-expression, the researchers explain.

Each of the mothers delivered 30 sentences that centered around school work, and included instructions such as: “It’s time now to go to school,” “you will read this book tonight,” and “you will do well on this assignment.”

After hearing the messages, each student took a survey and answered questions about how they would feel if their own mother had spoken to them in that particular way.

The findings showed that the tone of voice used by mothers can significantly impact teenagers’ emotional, relational, and behavioral intention responses, the researchers discovered.

Across most outcomes, teens who listened to mothers making motivational statements in a controlling tone of voice responded in undesirable ways. In contrast, autonomy-supportive tones elicited positive reactions from listeners, compared to listening to mothers who used a neutral tone of voice to deliver their motivational sentences.

“These results nicely illustrate how powerful our voice is and that choosing the right tone to communicate is crucial in all of our conversations,” said Professor Silke Paulmann of the University of Essex, co-author of the study.

The researchers say they intend to take their work a step further by investigating how tone of voice can impact physiological responses, such as heart rates or skin conductance responses, and how long-lasting these effects may be.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Source: Cardiff University

Strong Linguistic Ability Tied to Reduced Risk of Dementia

People who speak four or more languages have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo in Canada.

The research examined the health outcomes of 325 Roman Catholic nuns who were members of the Sisters of Notre Dame in the United States. The data was drawn from a larger, internationally recognized study examining the Sisters, known as the Nun Study.

The findings show that six percent of the nuns who spoke four or more languages developed dementia, compared to 31 percent of those who only spoke one. However, knowing two or three languages did not significantly reduce the risk in this study, which differs from some previous research.

“The Nun Study is unique: It is a natural experiment, with very different lives in childhood and adolescence before entering the convent, contrasted with very similar adult lives in the convent,” said study leader Dr. Suzanne Tyas, a public health professor at Waterloo.

“This gives us the ability to look at early-life factors on health later in life without worrying about all the other factors, such as socioeconomic status and genetics, which usually vary from person to person during adulthood and can weaken other studies.”

“Language is a complex ability of the human brain, and switching between different languages takes cognitive flexibility. So it makes sense that the extra mental exercise multilinguals would get from speaking four or more languages might help their brains be in better shape than monolinguals.”

The researchers also examined 106 samples of the nuns’ written work and compared it to the broader findings. They discovered that written linguistic ability affected whether the individuals were at greater risk of developing dementia.

For example, idea density — the number of ideas expressed succinctly in written work — helped reduce the risk even more than multilingualism.

“This study shows that while multilingualism may be important, we should also be looking further into other examples of linguistic ability,” said Tyas.

“In addition, we need to know more about multilingualism and what aspects are important, such as the age when a language is first learned, how often each language is spoken, and how similar or different these languages are. This knowledge can guide strategies to promote multilingualism and other linguistic training to reduce the risk of developing dementia.”

Source: University of Waterloo