Tag Archives: learning

Statistical Literacy Guides

I am suitably impressed by the clarity and breadth of the House of Commons Library’s statistical literacy guide on How to spot spin and inappropriate use of statistics (pdf, via @TimHarford).

A quick dig around the archives revealed a full series of statistical literacy guides (all pdf), all of which are fantastically readable, accessible and comprehensive. These are must-read guides to what some people feel are complex, seemingly-monolithical subjects:

The Presence of Books and Children’s Intelligence

The number of books in your household has more of an effect on your child’s academic achievements than your education or income, a recently published study (pdf) has found.

Suggesting that the effects seem to be far from trivial, the conclusion indicates that simply the presence of books in their house can make children more intelligent.

Just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The study […] found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father.” Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.

[Another study] found that simply giving low-income children 12 books (of their own choosing) on the first day of summer vacation “may be as effective as summer school” in preventing “summer slide” — the degree to which lower-income students slip behind their more affluent peers academically every year.

Upon reading this I had the same thought as Jonah Lehrer: “But what to do in a world of Kindles and iPads?”

Task Perception (Serious vs. Fun) and Performance

When a task is described as being a serious test of skill or proficiency, high achievers perform significantly better on the task than low achievers (as one would predict).

When the same task is described as ‘fun’, however, the opposite is seen: low achievers outperform high achievers.

Obviously, how we perceive tasks (or describe them to others) can have a drastic influence on our performance.

When high achievers are primed to achieve excellence, the idea that a task is “fun” undercuts their desire to excel. If something is enjoyable and fun, how could it possibly be a credible gauge of achievement?

Conversely, low achievers who are similarly primed with achievement words perceive a “fun” task as worthwhile. Not only is their motivation to perform improved, so is their ability.

This intriguing twist says much about why one-size-fits-all educational strategies so often fail. For students motivated to achieve excellence, making tasks entertaining may actually undermine their performance. Likewise, for those not normally motivated to achieve, describing a task as urgent and serious yields the predictable result.

It also sheds light on the “lazy genius” phenomenon. Everyone has known someone who is remarkably intelligent but gets mediocre grades and doesn’t seem to care. Clearly, low-achievers are not necessarily less intelligent or less capable than high-achievers; instead, they just don’t respond well to status quo motivational cues. A jolt of enjoyment could turn that around.

via Ryan Sager

For an Education in Statistics

The ability to understand data and its analyses is becoming more important in many aspects of our lives–especially government–says Clive Thompson, and as such statistical literacy is becoming an important skill.

Using recent arguments used by some confused climate change sceptics to show why it is important, Thompson explains briefly why we should learn the ‘language of data’:

Statistics is hard. But that’s not just an issue of individual understanding; it’s also becoming one of the nation’s biggest political problems. We live in a world where the thorniest policy issues increasingly boil down to arguments over what the data mean. If you don’t understand statistics, you don’t know what’s going on — and you can’t tell when you’re being lied to. Statistics should now be a core part of general education. You shouldn’t finish high school without understanding it reasonably well — as well, say, as you can compose an essay.

That’s precisely the point. We often say, rightly, that literacy is crucial to public life: If you can’t write, you can’t think. The same is now true in math. Statistics is the new grammar.

The Cognitive Impact of Evaluative ‘Grade’ Letters

Priming students with “evaluative letters” (i.e. letters used to grade papers, such as A and F) has a significant influence on their performance on cognitive tests. As you can imagine, primed with an A their performance on the cognitive tests improve, while those primed with an F displayed degraded performance.

That’s what researchers found when conducting a simple test while investigating the unconscious effect of primed letters on academic performance.

It has been proposed that motivational responses outside people’s conscious awareness can be primed to affect academic performance. The current research focused on the relationship between primed evaluative letters (A and F), explicit and implicit achievement motivation, and cognitive performance. […]

Our findings suggest that students are vulnerable to evaluative letters presented before a task, and support years of research highlighting the significant role that nonconscious processes play in achievement settings.