Hanna Dumont’s research agenda can best be described as the study of educational inequality from a psychological perspective. She studies the micro-level processes in families and schools that lead to differences in students’ cognitive and motivational development as a function of social background. She focuses on three main areas. First, she investigates whether family processes and parental behavior can explain why children from privileged families are doing better academically. Her second research area focuses on how secondary school tracking perpetuates educational inequalities. Finally, she investigates whether and how educational inequalities can be reduced through the practice of adaptive teaching.
My plans for the fellowship period
I aim to generate new insights into the instructional processes and peer influences that can explain how secondary school tracking as well as the student body composition of a school or class can affect students’ cognitive and motivational development. For this work, I will collaborate with Douglas Ready, Professor of Education and Public Policy at Teachers College at Columbia University. Our collaborative work will be based on a nationally-representative longitudinal dataset of US primary school students. Secondly, I will study the pedagogical approach of adaptive teaching. On the one hand, this implies understanding how adaptive teaching looks like in practice. On the other hand, I will develop an instrument that allows to measure the degree to which teachers’ instruction is adapted to students’ needs in their classroom. The long-term goal beyond the fellowship period is to use this instrument to measure the effectiveness of adaptive teaching in terms of supporting children’s development and reducing educational inequalities.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Only when we know what is happening at the micro level in the day-to-day interactions between students, parents and teachers will we be able to target the roots of inequalities between children of different backgrounds. Therefore, I hope that my work on the underlying mechanisms of educational inequality can inspire policies and interventions designed to support students of disadvantaged background. Moreover, the practice of adaptive teaching has been discussed in both practice and policy as a solution to the increasing heterogeneity of students in schools and classrooms and as a way to reduce educational inequalities. If I were able to empirically show that this is the case and to gather more insights into how instruction can be adapted to the needs of each student, this practice may be put into place in more schools and more students may be enabled to reach their individual potential regardless of their background.