Education Week - February 17, 2016 - (Page 6)
Study: Showing Standout Work to Students Can Backfire
put off by exemplars
By Sarah D. Sparks
Sharing examples of stellar student work is a time-honored tradition for helping students understand
how to improve, but new research
suggests that, in some cases, it can
turn off struggling students.
In a series of studies published
online this month in the journal
Psychological Science, researchers
Todd Rogers of Harvard University
and Avi Feller of the University of
California, Berkeley, found struggling young adult and adult students in an online course didn't get
inspired by their classmates' excellent work-quite the opposite.
"One of the surprising, negative
consequences of the approach is
when students are exposed to truly
exceptional work, they use it as a reference point and realize they are not
capable of such exceptional quality,"
said Rogers, an associate professor of
public policy at Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government. "It can lead to
decreased motivation and eventually
quitting if you believe the exceptional
work is actually typical."
Massively open online courses,
or MOOCs, draw thousands of students, but often have very high
dropout rates. The researchers examined student achievement and
persistence in one class of 150,000
students of whom fewer than 4,000
completed the class-a 2 percent
completion rate that is not uncommon in this type of course.
The class randomly assigned students to read and review peers' essays while working on an essay of
their own. They and the teacher separately rated each essay on a scale
of 0-9, with 9 being the best. Of the
more than 5,700 students who participated in the assignment, about
two-thirds completed the full class,
and 68 percent "passed" with a final
grade of 85 or higher to earn a certificate of credit for the course.
Falling Short of Peers
However, students who had reviewed the best essays had significantly lower final grades and were
less likely to finish the course. Of the
students who reviewed essays that
were a full standard deviation above
the average essay in quality, only 64
percent passed the class. Of students
who read the 100 best-rated essays
in the class, only 45 percent passed.
To put that into context, students
who actually wrote top-rated essays
were 18 percentage points more
likely to pass the class than students
who wrote only average essays, but
students who read top-rated essays
were 23 percentage points less likely
to pass than the class average.
By contrast, people who read essays of lower quality had no difference in their final grade compared
with peers who had not read them.
That can create a dilemma for
teachers trying to give students
clear expectations of what they
"I get the irony: When we teach
and we're doing something new,
we want to show them what good
work looks like," Rogers said, "but I
think it's just when it's new-when
we don't have a very strong sense of
what typical ability looks like-that
students are most vulnerable to this
kind of discouragement."
Beverly DeVore-Wedding, a 28year veteran high school and community college science teacher and
a National Science Teachers Association high school division director,
said she has seen that sort of social
comparison in her own classes, both
with adolescents and adults.
"When I only show them the topnotch, I have students who get frustrated and say, 'I can't do this,' " she
Other studies have found similar
results when people-and particularly adolescents-feel lacking in
comparison to their peers. For example, University of Missouri researchers found students using Facebook
reported higher rates of feeling envy
and depressive symptoms after
viewing posts about friends' vacations, new homes, or happy relationships.
Putting Things in Perspective
Teachers can't and shouldn't
shield students from work that's
significantly better than their own,
Rogers said, but they can help to
counter feelings of despair.
"In life, the marketplace for exceptional performance is robust. We are
disproportionately likely to be exposed to exceptional work of others,
rather than mediocre work of others," Rogers said. "One way to fix it,
we think, is to just label it as 'exceptional,' rather than allowing people to
think that the exceptional is typical."
For science-project poster sessions,
for example, DeVore-Wedding said
she only uses individual examples
from students' work that are at
least 6 years old, so the students
themselves have long left the school.
Rogers noted that students are less
likely to take an exemplary essay as
typical if it is obvious the teacher
has held onto it for years.
She also pulls examples from
many different student projects
rather than comparing them holistically in front of the class. One
student may have a beautifully formatted poster with incomplete citations; another may have a thorough
To 'Shadow' Students
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 17, 2016 | www.edweek.org
Coverage of learning mindsets and skills
is supported in part by a grant from the
Raikes Foundation. Education Week
retains sole editorial control over the
content of this coverage.
Susie Wise, the K-12 lab network
director at Stanford University's
d.school, is an organizer of the
upcoming Shadow a Student challenge.
Building empathy is goal
A group of education organizations is challenging
school leaders around the country to spend one day
shadowing individual students so they can develop
greater empathy for their charges' experiences.
Participants in the Shadow
a Student Challenge
up to follow one child for a
full day during the week of
With Stanford's d.school
Feb. 29 to March 4, eating
K-12 lab network director
lunch with them, attending
classes, and maybe even
riding the bus with them. Those taking part will
connect on social media to share what they learn,
and will get resources from the organizers-School
Retool, a fellowship that encourages school leaders
to promote deeper learning and solve problems in
their buildings; IDEO, a consultant group; and the
d.school at Stanford University, which encourages
innovation in schools.
SUSIE WISE, the K-12 lab network director for
Stanford's d.school, talked about the vision of
Shadow a Student with Staff Writer Evie Blad.
The exchange has been edited for length and
literature review but faulty analysis.
The online-classroom environment
also could exacerbate students' discouragement, DeVore-Wedding said,
because students have less opportunity to build working relationships
with their classmates. "They do not
know their peers, and they may not
understand the value of peer evaluation to improve their own work
[and] skills," she said.
Other studies have shown top
performers often feel alienated in
K-12 schools, and Rogers wonders
if social comparisons could lead to
bullying of gifted students.
"One of the things we're really interested in is, what does it do to you
socially? I think in a classroom where
you can't quit, it probably leads you
to derogate exceptional performers,"
Developing learning communities among students may help them
think about learning from peer work
rather than comparing themselves
socially, DeVore-Wedding said.
"I treat the reviewing of others'
work as a learning experience," she
said, "so they are not evaluating the
quality of the work, but 'what did I
learn from my peers' projects?' "
Why is empathy something
school leaders should include in
their improvement strategies?
WISE: To a person, [principals who
have shadowed students] all had
realizations, really different ones that
were very profound to them. It felt like
it was a kind of interesting gateway
for them in terms of shifting their
mindset about their role as a leader.
What is the difference between
following one student and the
day-to-day life of being in and
out of classrooms?
WISE: You're intending to really shift
your position to not be the leader who
is directing traffic and working on 47
things at once.
One of the things you get to see is
the space in between, for instance.
You see transitions and you see
posture. Some of the leaders who've
done it have been surprised with
how passive the student's day is,
how much sitting there is, how many
transitions there are that don't make
much sense. You don't see that when
you're looking at a master schedule
and you're in your leader mode.
It's very important work to make
sure all of the pieces fit together, but
then you have to also sit in it and see
'how does this work for the student?'
You want school leaders to find
"hacks" to solve problems they
may identify while shadowing.
What's a hack?
WISE: [We work] with people who are
in situations that feel constrained, and
that's why we've landed on hacks. A
hack is a small, scrappy experiment
that gets you moving. So the opposite
of a hack is saying, "We need to get a
bond and raise $10 million and build
a new building and then have a new
bell schedule." A hack is, "Gosh, I
have heard about advisory," which is
where you really ensure that every
student has a deep relationship with
adults in your school. And, to roll
that out schoolwide, that takes a lot
of orchestration. ... Try it. Get two
teachers to try a collaborative project
with two classes. Do an advisory
with six kids for one week and then
find out from the kids and from the
teachers: What does that feel like?
What shifted? Could this be an
important way for us to work? And
then keep going. We call it a quick
win. A hack helps you get to a quick
win or a quick loss, and that's really
How should leaders pick which
student to shadow?
WISE: The most important thing
is to be really intentional about it.
Who are the groups of students in
your school that you know the least
about? What's most important is
what might you see and how will
that connect with the questions you
have about your school. ... Whether
you are a struggling student or a
star student or someone in between,
the experience of being noticed and
having someone with authority show
that they care is actually really
powerful and validating.
Coverage of social and emotional learning
is supported in part by a grant from the
NoVo Foundation. Education Week retains
sole editorial control over the content of this
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 17, 2016
Education Week - February 17, 2016
Preservice Programs Seek To Head Off Teacher Biases
Black Male Teachers a Rarity
Consolidation Fight Erupts In Vermont
In Cities With Choice, Single- Enrollment Systems Hit Hurdles
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Letting Students Work From Home Adds Policy Twist
News in Brief
Q&A: Principals Urged To ‘Shadow’ Students
Study: Showing Standout Work To Students Can Backfire
U.S. Manages to Reduce Share Of Low PISA Scores— in Science
Blogs of the Week
Lawmakers Pledging to Keep Close Eye on ESSA Implementation
Obama Budget Doubles As Policy Document
Blogs of the Week
Five-State Study Examines Teaching Shifts Under Core
Kansas High Court Strikes Down Stopgap Aid Formula
State of the States
Increased Accountability of Teacher Prep Gives Equity the Back Seat
Self-Care Is the Educator’s Core Standard
Beware the Racist Subtext Of Children’s Books
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Dispatch From Flint, Mich.: Our Water Crisis Is a Crisis of Trust
Education Week - February 17, 2016