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Education Trends

Education Research Highlights From 2016

A look at the research that made an impact in 2016, from growth mindset in science class to effective stress-reduction strategies for teachers and students.
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In 2016, we learned more about how teachers feel about their profession, from the reasons why they started teaching in the first place (#1) to why they leave (#6). We learned that science students do better when teachers share stories about the struggles scientists face instead of portraying them as geniuses (#3). We’re also learning more about why U.S. students are falling behind students in other countries (#12). Here are 15 studies published this year that every educator should know about.

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1. It Turns Out Teaching Really Is a Noble Profession

Altruism drives many people to become teachers, according to this survey of over 3,000 public school teachers. A full 82 percent of teachers say that making a difference in students’ lives is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. Forty-five percent also said that they wanted to help students reach their full potential.

2. Kindergartners Are Still Not Spending Enough Time on Art, Music, and Play

Are kindergartners spending too much time on academics? A study found that in 2010 kindergarten teachers spent more time on literacy and math, teacher-directed instruction, and assessment than they did in 1998—and less time on art, music, and science. The trend continues despite research suggesting that focusing on academics at an early age can be counterproductive.

3. Learning About the Struggles of Famous Scientists Boosts Student Motivation

It turns out that the idea of genius might intimidate young learners. When students read about the struggles of famous scientists—when the scientists were humanized—the students developed a growth mindset, which boosted motivation and science scores. The performance improvements were most dramatic for low-performing students.

4. Students Have Positive Perceptions of Teachers of Color

In the teaching profession, people of color are underrepresented nationally, and a new study finds a compelling reason to recruit more: Students of all races prefer teachers of color. A survey of over 50,000 middle school students found that black and Latino teachers were generally the highest-rated teachers, performing highly on teaching qualities such as ability to motivate students, classroom management, and relationship building.

5. Students Have Difficulty Telling Real News From Fake News

Despite growing up as digital natives, many students have difficulty evaluating the information they find online. More than 80 percent think that sponsored articles are actual articles, and most can’t spot fake accounts on social media. Many are fooled by official-sounding organizations making controversial claims, while others accept photographs as evidence of a claim without verifying their authenticity.

6. 46 Percent of Teachers Report High Daily Stress During the School Year

Teacher stress, now at an all-time high, is linked to poor teacher performance, high turnover rates, and poor student outcomes. But the news isn’t all bad: Many schools have found success with stress-reduction programs, mentoring programs, workplace wellness programs, social and emotional learning programs, and mindfulness/stress-management programs for maxed-out teachers.

7. Meanwhile, Here’s a Simple Way to Address Growing Student Stress

Teachers aren’t the only ones. Last year, we learned that high school students feel stressed 80 percent of the time. This year, we heard about a simple daily reading and writing exercise that helped students cope with stress by promoting a simple idea: People can change. After a week, students who participated were better able to cope with stress and had higher grades, compared with students who didn’t participate.

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8. Racially Diverse Schools Benefit All Students

In this analysis of racial diversity in U.S. schools, researchers found that students of all races benefit from exposure to students with different backgrounds, since the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings lead to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.

9. Game-Based Learning Works by Tapping Student Competitiveness

Games have a lot of potential to boost student learning, and a new study helps explain why. When students competed against each other in a series of quizzes, they did better than students who studied alone. Neuroscientists scanning brain activity found that competition among students increases their ability to focus and improves their working memory—leading to better performance.

10. Student Homelessness Is Way Up (Plus, Some Ideas to Address the Crisis)

More than 1.3 million students are homeless today, twice as many as in 2007. This report provides insight into how homeless students can be supported, including material support (providing food, clothes, and shelter) and emotional support (providing counseling and a safe place to learn).

11. Showing Empathy and Respect Cuts Suspension Rates in Half

Despite the prevalence of zero-tolerance policies over the last few decades, research continues to show that they may not be effective. When middle school teachers were encouraged to adopt positive approaches toward discipline, which emphasize trust-building and empathy, teacher-student relationships improved—and suspensions dropped by half.

12. Lessons Learned From the Best Schools Around the World

The bad news is that the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in preparing students for a 21st-century economy. The good news? World-class education systems have a few common elements that we can learn from: a strong early education system, a high-quality professional teacher workforce, robust career and technical education programs, and strong alignment between K-12 and college/career goals.

13. 84 Percent of Parents Believe Computer Science Is Just as Important as Math, Science, and English

Google and Gallup teamed up to explore trends in K-12 computer science across the U.S. While a majority of parents, teachers, and principals value computer science instruction, the survey found that most schools still don’t offer these classes.

14. A Growth Mindset Helps Offset the Effects of Poverty

In one of the largest studies so far on growth mindset, researchers looked at a nationwide survey of 168,000 Chilean high school students to explore the relationship it has with poverty. They found that poor students with a growth mindset performed as well as wealthy students with a fixed mindset.

15. One-to-One Laptops Improve Student Scores

Good news for schools interested in starting or expanding a one-to-one program (one laptop per student): A review of 15 years’ worth of studies found that laptop programs significantly boost scores in English, writing, mathematics, and science. Students in these programs also had a modest boost to 21st-century skills such as technological proficiency and problem solving.

Want to catch up on research highlights from 2015? Be sure to check out our list of must-read studies from last year.

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4GBrotto's picture

Great synthesis, thanks for sharing. I'm curious to know your methodology...why did these rank on top ( in terms of impact) compared to all others from 2016?

Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Research and Standards Editor

Hi 4GBrotto,

Since Edutopia regularly covers education research throughout the year, I have a lot of feedback from our audience on what works for them. I also look at which studies generate lots of attention, both on social media and on mainstream media. Finally, the Edutopia staff (and our extended network of educators and researchers) provides an amazing amount of feedback on the research that we should cover. I put all of this together to make a list that is diverse and useful for educators. Hope that answers your question!

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Christina Gil's picture
Christina Gil
Former Classroom Teacher, Current Homeschooler and Ecovillager

I have never been big on looking to research for answers, except the research that I do myself of the trial-and-error variety! Still, it's nice when what I have always believed to be true is proven in a more scientific way. (Yeah for empathy!)

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