What can Teachers Do
to Improve Learning?

Each child is unique. Providing effective support for children and adolescents requires an understanding of how they learn and develop.  It is a strong priority for research to constantly advance with new interventions, novel programs, and modern technologies to provide even better support for children and youth throughout their development. During the second half of our Medium-Term Plan 2016-2020, the Jacobs Foundation is dedicating up to 1 Mio CHF per year to fund pilot intervention studies within the framework of Science of Learning.

Self-regulated learning and digital technologies in the classroom
Children learning a new topic are able to develop competencies most successfully when teaching approaches and learning environments are tailored to their specific level and needs. Digital technologies may create new ways to support concepts of such individualized learning. However, little is known about how younger pupils perform in self-directed learning in digital learning environments, where high levels of metacognition are required. Doreen Prasse and Dominik Petko from the Schwyz University of Teacher Education plan to develop and test a software-based scaffold for metacognitive support for individualized learning in the school context. In collaboration with pioneering schools in Switzerland, they have already successfully implemented the individualized learning platform LearningView. Now they plan to expand this platform with a new add-on for metacognitive support called Learn2Learn. The combination of these novel learning technologies will likely provide important inputs for research into adaptive learning support in school-aged children. Doreen Prasse, one of the project leaders at Schwyz University of Teacher Education emphasizes: “The growing potential of digital learning environments to foster the development of self-regulated learning skills has so far not received sufficient attention.”

Differential susceptibility to one’s environment and its impact in school
The quality of the school environment and the teacher-child relationship are crucial for successful development in childhood and even have long-term influences into adulthood. Together with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), Michael Plüss and Francesca Lionetti (both from the Queen Mary University London) aim to develop and validate an environmental sensitivity measure to be used by teachers and other educational professionals in real school settings in the Swiss Canton of Ticino. Well-defined environmental sensitivity measures will allow teachers to reliably assess their students and to better adjust their teaching style and the school environment to the needs of highly sensitive children – on a very individual basis. This new assessment tool could easily be applied routinely in the school context. Michael Pluess, one of the project leaders at Queen Mary University London highlights: “We know that children differ in their sensitivity to the world around them, but until now no study looked at how sensitivity may affect children’s behavior and performance at school.”

Text-message interventions to promote learning in Cote d’Ivoire
Recently the government of Cote d’Ivoire has committed to expanding educational access through universal basic education for all children ages 6-16. However, enrollment and attendance rates remain low and the majority of children in Côte d’Ivoire drops out of school before completing primary education. The TRECC program is testing a text message-based communication intervention in primary schools in Côte d’Ivoire and aims to engage parents in increasing their children’s school attendance and in decreasing grade retention. In collaboration with this TRECC project, Sharon Wolf (University of Pennsylvania) and Guilherme Lichand (University of Zürich) are adding an audio-based communication intervention to enhance knowledge about how and for whom an audio- or text-message-based intervention is most effective. The researchers assume that parental characteristics play a highly relevant role for the impact of the intervention: Text-message delivery likely will have a larger impact amongst French-speaking literate parents, but also with parents with low levels  of trust in the school system, and, with parents with better visual than auditory attention. In turn, spoken message delivery will better reach illiterate parents. But being in school does not guarantee that children will learn. Understanding how parents invest in their children based on their own level of academic and behavioral skills, and how these skills are impacted if attendance in school increases, is an important and understudied question. With this project the researchers thus want to pinpoint what kind of factors seem to impact parents’ behavior, and which intervention method works best for improving Ivorian children’s learning in school. Sharon Wolf, one of the project leaders at the University of Pennsylvania explains: “This project is the first to test in the Ivorian context whether audio messages are more effective than text messages.”