Should individual differences be considered in education?

Individual differences are bound to occur within a classroom. This week I will be discussing whether this should be taken into consideration in education and whether action should be taken in order to reduce or to accommodate the variability among students or whether everyone should be educated in an equal manner.

An example of individual variance in education occurs when analysing the effects of gender differences. It has been documented that girls have increasingly performed better than boys in public exam sessions. In 1996, in England and Wales, girls performed significantly better than boys in 15 of the most popular GCSE subjects and in 13 of the most popular A levels subjects.

Today, individual differences are considered in most schools ans in this blog I will be discussing in particular the effects of grouping in education based on students’ academic abilities and whether this is beneficial for the students.

Ability grouping is the practice of creating different groups of students based on their abilities and achievements in order to provide instruction that is specifically relevant to each particular group’s needs. Although ability grouping has become a standard educational practice in most schools, it inspires heated debates extensive research and much controversy. Moreover, according to Huitt (1997) there are two main approaches to grouping:

1.Between-class Ability Grouping

Between-class grouping refers to the system in which students are separated into different classes based on their ability levels (Davdson, 2013). This system is used much more in secondary schools than in primary schools, in fact it has become the standard in most secondary schools today (VanderHart, 2006).

Research does not support this strategy in terms of beneficial learning to all students. It has been found that only the students that are assigned to the top level of the group seem to benefit and that those assigned to the middle and lower ability levels do not (Davidson, 2013). This undoubtedly raises a question of equality. Furthermore between-class ability grouping has been labelled as a tool of discrimination against students who are economically disadvantaged or are members of minority groups. These students are said to often be placed in groups where opportunities for academically based education is significantly limited and vocational training takes priority (Roberts & Inman, 2007).

However, research studies supporting the between-ability grouping system argues that it provides students with appropriate targeted instruction for their specific academic abilities. They also argue that lower-achieving students are able to ask questions without the risk of embarrassment in front of their higher-achieving peers and that the higher achieving students can benefit from more in-depth education, whereas the lower achievers can benefit from more extensive coverage of the core topics. However this raises issues regarding the lower-achieving groups receiving a lower quality of education than the higher-achieving groups (Davidson, 2013).

2.Within-class Ability Grouping

Within-class grouping is the practice of dividing a class of students with diverse abilities into groups based on ability and achievement level.The purpose of this is in order to provide appropriate specific instruction to high achieving students and to provide more assistance to the lower achieving students.This system is used much more often in primary schools than in secondary schools (VanderHart, 2006). 

On the whole, research tends to support within-class ability grouping and find that it is beneficial to the learning of most students. However many research studies also argue against ability grouping because of concern for the psychological and social well-being of the students, especially those that are placed in the lower-achieving groups. This can potentially lead to students feeling unsure of their academic potential, losing their sense of self-esteem and developing a low self-expectation (Davidson, 2013).

After studying both sides of the on-going debate whether individual differences should be classed into separate groups or not I have come to my own conclusion that I do believe that the grouping system is beneficial to students. As many researchers have previously suggested, placing students in groups based on their academic abilities provide the lower-achieving students with the appropriate education that they are able to process whilst providing the higher-achieving students who have shown to have more academic ability with more in-depth coverage of the course content (Davidson, 2013).

References:

Davidson. H. (2013). Ability Grouping. The Gale Group. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/ability-grouping/#A on February 2013.

Huitt, W. (1997). Considering individual differences. Educational Psychology Interactive.Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/process/indvdiff.html on February 2013. 

Roberts, J. L., & Inman, T. F. (2007). Strategies for differentiating instruction: Best practices for the classroom. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

VanderHart, P. G. (2006). Why do some schools group by ability? Some evidence from the NAEP. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 65(2), 435–463.

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Is assessment in education beneficial or not?

This week I have decided to write a blog discussing whether assessing pupils and students in educational environments is beneficial or not and will be discussing the formative vs. summative assessment debate.

Assessment in learning environments has been previously defined as the act or purpose of gathering data in order to gain a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of student learning (Thomas, 2007). According to Chris Rust (2002) the purpose of assessment in learning is beneficial for a range of different reasons including motivation, creating learning opportunities, to provide feedback, in order to grade, and as a mechanism to assure the quality of learning and understanding. Moreover Gareis (2007) stated that assessments play an essential role in public schools in order to provide equal and impartial educational opportunities to all students.

Furthermore, Rust (2002) proposed that there are two different types of assessments. One being the formative type and the other being the summative type. He stated that because formative assessments such as assignments and essays involve providing students with feedback which they can use in order to improve their performances in the future, students and pupils benefit from being assigned to these types of tasks. However summative assessments such as end of semester exams provide only a single grade as a form of feedback and therefore Rust (2002) argued that whilst assessments are beneficial in educational environments, it is essential that education is not too often focused on the summative form of assessment as students will benefit much more from opportunities on which they can build on their personal strengths and learn from the mistakes that they make through the feedback that is provided from the formative type of assessing.

Dominic & Harry (2009) published an article that supports the argument that was made by Rust (2002). They reviewed previous research and other evidence regarding the development of the national curriculum assessment in England since 1988 and it’s impact on both teachers and pupils. They too concluded that a greater use of formative assessment strategies and providing feedback from the teacher to the pupil in primary schools are more beneficial.

Weimer (2010) claimed that up to 50% of students admit to ‘cramming’ information before an exam or a test. Weimer suggests that when students cram, the information is stored in the short-term memory and will not enter the long-term memory. Students in the high-cramming category will only remember 27% of the content after 150 weeks of the course ending. They suggested that summative assessments including essay and multiple-choice exams encourage this type of study and therefore support previous arguments that formative assessments are more beneficial to learning.

However Thomas (2007) suggested that examinations are equally as important in education because they allow students to demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired throughout a specific learning period and to also demonstrate the students’ ability to process that knowledge in order to use it within a context.

There is a limited amount of evidence in order to suggest that summative assessments are beneficial to educational environments whilst many theorists who have reviewed previous research and evidence argue that formative assessments are essential to learning. Therefore I conclude that whilst assessing students and pupils is important, it is essential to include formative methods to an academic environment whilst exams, tests and other forms of summative assessments are not effective and therefore are not absolutely necessary in education.

References:
Dominic. W., Harry. T. (2009). The development and consequences of national assessment curriculum for primary education in England. Educational research. 51. 2. 213-228.

Gareis. C. (2007). Reclaiming an important teacher competency: The lost art of formative assessment. Journal of personnel evaluation in education. 20. 1-2.

Rust. C. (2007). Principles and purposes of assessments. Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development. 1.

Thomas. S. (2007). Exams as learning experiences: One nutty idea after another. Beyond tests and quizzes: Creative assessments in the college classroom. 71-83.

Weimer. M. (2010). Why students cram for exams. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/why-students-cram-for-exams/ on February 2013.

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Is applied research more valuable than theoretical research?

Applied research refers to one that has a specific direction and leads towards answering a particular hypothesis that typically have defined and structured methods whereas on the other hand, theoretical research provides a richer insight into broader areas and does not typically have defined methods of investigation and therefore the results are more likely to be capable of being generalised to the common population. 

Both types of research serve an important purpose within the field of Psychology however it has been argued that without theoretical research, applied research would not even exist. Furthermore if theoretical research did not exist, we would have no basis on which to build broader research upon. As I have stated above, applied research is one that involves a particular direction in order to answer a specific hypothesis whereas theoretical research would provide more generalisable results that covers a larger spectrum of individuals. For example, applied research would involve analysing the effects of a drug on individuals that are suffering from depression whereas theoretical research would essentially investigate the effects of that particular drug on a sample of randomly selected participants that do not ”belong” within a certain category of individuals or so to speak. 

To conclude critics believe that without the findings that are obtained from the results of theoretical research, applied researchers would not have the required knowledge that is essential in order to know what particular populations they need to target their hypothesis upon. 

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Should Psychology be written for the layman or should science be exclusive for scientists?

The topic of my blog this week is in regards to wether or not I believe the field of Psychology should be modified when necessary in order to simplify certain concepts in order to allow the population who do not pursue an interest in social science to obtain a deeper understanding. As a student that’s been studying Psychology for the last year and a half, I now feel like I can read a psychological journal and understand exactly what the study involved and what findings the results section demonstrate. However if I would not have experienced that year and a half of practice I do not believe I would have the slightest idea on how to make sense of the paper due to the complex psychological terms, statistical inferences and the structure in which it would have been written.

Personally I believe that it is important for people who do not necessarily study or expertise in Psychology to have a general understanding of what the field involves. Furthermore I believe that the results that are obtained by some research studies can be generalised to the general population and therefore by obtaining a stronger knowledge about the basic concepts of Psychology, the general public would benefit. For example, Asch (1951) demonstrated an increase in the likelyhood of conformity in an environment where a large number of peers were also present. These findings can be generalised to the vast population and therefore if an ordinary individual was to take the findings of this research experiment into consideration, it could possibly have a positive influence in the sense that the individual would have a deeper understanding of his/her behaviours and actions.

To conclude although I do agree that as a Psychology student, scientific writing and follwing guidelines such as the APA is very important in the sense that it gives every student a structure in which to base research reports upon, I also believe that simplified versions of ground-breaking research studies such as Asch’s study on conformity were to be available in order for the general public to read and fully understand. I believe that understanding and obtaining explanaitions of why different behaviours and actions occur can only be beneficial regardless of wether the individual in question was an aspiring psychologist or not.

Are blogs useful as a teaching and/or learning method?

Some would argue that asking Psychology students at Bangor University to write weekly blogs about an unsystematic Psychological topic can be an effective learning method as students are entailed to consider various specific topics that they perhaps would not be required to think about normally. However, others would criticise that writing casual weekly blogs is not considered to be a very scientific form of teaching. Magg (2005) claimed that the use of blogs is not well documented as an effective educational method in educating nurses, however Krause (2005) declared his beliefs that publishing weekly blogs are beneficial to student education. He claimed that blogs have a significant potential in education as a site to gather discussions and different opinions on a topic and also as a support system for academic conferences. 

Personally being a student in a situation where I am required to write a weekly blog about a Psychological topic, I agree that blog writing can be an effective learning tool in the sense that it requires the student to explore topics that they perhaps would not come across usually. However I believe that there are more successful ways in educating students about behaviour and Psychological matters. For example, Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory demonstrates the importance of learning through observation. This is exhibited in his ”Bobo the doll” experiments in which participants learn and imitate behaviours they have observed in other people. Therefore an example of perhaps an effective method of teaching would be to show a film of an experimental study being conducted and then asking the students to imitate the researchers and participants’ behaviours in small groups.

To conclude, I agree from a teacher’s point of view that asking students to publish weekly blogs about a subject is an effective way of teaching because of the research requirements. However, as a student I find this method of learning to be rather tedious and ineffective yet I do find that reading fellow students’ discussions on points of views that oppose to my personal opinions to be informative and useful as I am then obliged to consider my own beliefs in different aspects.