Studies concerning the application of psychological science to education
Ritchie, Stuart James
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The purpose of this thesis is to apply an evidence-based perspective to educational interventions and techniques, and more specifically, to examine areas in which techniques ostensibly derived from an understanding of the psychological literature are applied to children’s learning. Broadly, the thesis moves from a review of ‘alternative’ techniques in education, toward empirical studies in areas where techniques informed by psychological science may, or may not, inform educational practice, toward a final empirical study examining the outcomes of the educational process. In an introductory review (Chapter One), I assess the evidence base of five ‘alternative’—but still commonly-used—educational techniques, providing a sketch of the sometimes seductive claims made by their proponents, and the reasons teachers may decide to use them in their classrooms. Chapter Two describes a study of one such ‘alternative’ technique: coloured filters for alleviating reading difficulties. I followed-up a sample of eighteen children who had used these filters—plastic overlays or tinted spectacle lenses—while reading for one year, and showed that, similar to the analysis at initial diagnosis, the lenses did not appear to improve reading on either a rate-of-reading test or a reading comprehension measure. In Chapter Three, I describe an investigation of a second technique: brief relaxation and exercise periods designed to improve children’s attention and concentration in the classroom. In two experiments, one involving two hundred and twelve children and the second involving two hundred and seventy children, I found inconclusive results: small detrimental effects of exercise on attention, but small positive effects on memory. Chapter Four addresses a technique related to those in the previous chapter: wakeful resting. Shown to be effective for learning in amnesic patients and older individuals, and theoretically important for our understanding of memory consolidation and forgetting, this technique had not yet been applied to children learning in the classroom. Here, I provide evidence from two experiments—one large-scale, in which the technique was carried out by two hundred and eighty-four children in the classroom, and one small-scale, where the measures were administered to fourteen children in a controlled setting—that both show the technique does not appear to improve memory in young children. In Chapter Five, I describe a simultaneous study of two educational techniques, one popular but poorly-evidenced, and one unpopular but with a strong evidential basis: mind-mapping and retrieval practice, respectively. In two samples of one hundred and nine and two hundred and nine children, I showed that retrieval practice, with or without mind mapping, improved fact learning in primary school children. In Chapter Six, I focus on the effects of education, examined in a large, longitudinal, publicly available birth cohort dataset (n > 18,000). Using structural equation modeling, I show that reading and mathematics skills measured in childhood predict socio-economic status in mid-life, even after controlling for socio-economic status of origin, general intelligence, motivation, and educational duration. Finally, in Chapter Seven, I summarize the findings of the thesis, give recommendations for future research, and discuss potential contributions to education from three other fields of psychology: neuroscience, social psychology, and differential psychology.