Nan Austin

What researchers say about texting, immersing and first-grade math

Research can bolster a case for action or shake up common wisdom. But what I like about it is its thoughtful dissection of complex topics. Here are some intriguing deep looks from the in-basket and journals:

Texting, tweeting in the classroom: A study in the National Communication Association’s journal, Communication Education, basically concludes that kids not paying attention and playing on their phones learn a lot less than others in the class (no surprise). But paradoxically, kids tweeting and texting about anything related to the lecture topic learned a lot more than others in the class taking traditional notes.

The research said that texting and tweeting is note-taking in some ways. Kids thought about what they texted to others, more like the skilled note-taking that includes sorting and summarizing the information. Just copying down lecture points helps in remembering them, but does not require thinking.

While in-class texting is tough to regulate, it may have some defensible uses. As more and more of these devices show up in backpacks and back pockets, smart use of smartphones may be worth considering.

The article is titled “Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter and Message Content on Student Learning,” by Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff, Stevie Munz and Scott Titsworth, released June 8.

Immersion programs in language literacy: In this study by researchers with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, the language skills of fourth- and fifth-grade students at a Palo Alto Mandarin language immersion program were compared to students in fourth- and fifth-year high school Mandarin classes.

The fourth-graders outscored the high schoolers in reading – even native speakers – but did not do quite as well in writing and speaking skills. The study notes the roughly seven-year age difference might figure in that. It notes other studies showing that immersive language learners, even English learners, tend to outperform native English speakers in upper grades.

The study has implications here, where immersion programs exist in many districts. Livingston elementary schools offer it. Riverbank Unified has an immersion charter school and is opening a three-way language program in the coming year, Spanish-English and instruction in Mandarin. Denair Unified will start a kindergarten class of Spanish-English immersion in the fall.

The overwhelming popularity of Turlock’s Spanish immersion program has caused overcrowding at its Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy, with English speakers the largest part of the waiting list.

Modesto City Schools’ fledgling dual-language program, structured differently, has not yet drawn such interest. For 2014-15, as its first class reached fourth grade, the program announced it would contract from two schools with small programs to a single program at Bret Harte Elementary.

The article’s title is “Learner Performance in Mandarin Immersion and High School World Language Programs: A Comparison,” by Amado M. Padilla, Xiaoqiu Xu and Duarte M. Silva.

Best ways to teach math to first-graders: This American Educational Research Association article released in the June 2015 Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal is highly technical, but here’s the takeaway: Kids struggling with basic concepts need to be told exactly what to do, how to do it and practice with drills. Kids who do well in math will learn a lot more from working in groups and discovering math concepts themselves.

On a sad note for arts enthusiasts, while music, movement and math tend to bolster each other, in this young population researchers found those strategies did not help either group – the math strugglers or the math savvy.

The results will provide fodder for fans and foes of Common Core, because it suggests that hands-on learning at the heart of the new standards will be great for average and above-average students. Kids who are way behind, however, don’t have the basics to make the projects work and will not get a lot out of them.

In the great standards pendulum swing from nothing but worksheets to no worksheets, this study suggests there needs to be a balance found. In truth, most teachers I see – especially early grade teachers – already do this.

The full name of the article is: “Which Instructional Practices Most Help First-Grade Students With and Without Mathematics Difficulties,” by Paul Morgan and Steve Maczuga of Pennsylvania State University, and George Farkas of the University of California, Irvine.