Category Archives: Education Research

Measures of Effective Listening

Thirty-two years ago, Donald E. Powers wrote Considerations for Developing Measures of Speaking & Listening. It was published by the College Board, which expresses how important these measures are to a student’s academic success, particularly in their Advanced Placement programs, yet has not validated any standardized tests to measure these skills. This synthesis on some of the research on listening offers advice to teachers enrolled in our MOOC Teaching Speaking & Listening Skills

Research shows that students can listen 2-3 grade levels above what they can read. Listening while reading helps people have successful reading events, where they read with enjoyment and accuracy. Listening while reading has been shown to help with decoding, a fundamental part of reading. The average person talks at a rate of about 125 to 175 words per minute, while we listen and comprehend up to 450 words per minute (Carver, Johnson, & Friedman, 1970).

Listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek in entry-level employees as well as those being promoted. Even though most of us spend the majority of our day listening, it is the communication activity that receives the least instruction in school (Coakley & Wolvin, 1997). On average, viewers who just watched and listened to the evening news can only recall 17.2% of the content.

Listening is critical to academic success. Conaway (1982) examined an entire freshman class of over 400 students. They were given a listening test at the beginning of their first semester. After their first year of college, 49% of students scoring low on the listening test were on academic probation, while only 4.42% of those scoring high on the listening test were on academic probation. On the other hand, 68.5% of those scoring high on the listening test were considered Honors Students after the first year, while only 4.17% of those scoring low attained the same success.

Students do not have a clear concept of listening as an active process that they can control. Students find it easier to criticize the speaker as opposed to the speaker’s message (Imhof, 1998). Students report greater listening comprehension when they use the metacognitive strategies of asking pre-questions, interest management, and elaboration strategies (Imhof, 2001). Listening and nonverbal communication training significantly influences multicultural sensitivity (Timm & Schroeder, 2000).

Understanding is the goal of listening. Our friend Erik Palmer suggests before students engage in purposeful listening, their teachers should tell them what to attend to. We need to teach students what to respond to, how to respond, and when to respond. For example, today we are going to listen to five speeches. For each speech, we are only listening for LIFE. After each speaker finishes, clap, then take a minute to evaluate the level of passion they put into their speech. After that write down three suggestions on how they could improve the LIFE in their speech (i.e., instead of emphasizing: you stole my red hat, try stressing, you stole my red hat).

A classroom teacher who reads Powers (1984) College Board study will understand that speaking, listening, reading and writing are all tightly correlated. Empirically measuring oral communication skills requires many hours of assessment on small, controlled populations. It is the opposite of what we experience in public schools where it is not feasible for us to precisely measure each skill. The important takeaway here is that teachers need to prepare their students to actively listen, avoid distractions, and teach listening and speaking with core academic content by training students to evaluate how well various speaking functions are accomplished by their classmates. While there are reliability issues with classroom peer review models, the benefits of “learning by evaluation” far outweigh the negatives.


Getting Students To Ask Questions


Researchers understand that student questions can improve instruction and increase achievement, however, students rarely ask their own questions in school. When they do, they ask more memory questions involving knowledge recall than all other question types combined. Asking open-ended questions and research questions can be difficult for students because they don’t always have a large enough knowledge base on a subject to see relationships and big picture issues. My classroom experience has shown that if I use small groups to get students to generate their own questions about a topic, many groups rely on one or two participants and the other students are content to be passive observers. Similarly, when I try to have whole-class, student-led discussions only 38% to 60% of my students participate. This year, I have used Zaption so students view a short, instructional video and then are asked questions that demonstrate their understanding of the content. Zaption Tours are also helpful for helping students develop their own questions, driving independent research projects, and tapping into student motivation. Further, Zaption presents this data in tables or discussion board threads for easy teacher analysis. Discussion data also be download into Excel spreadsheets for further analysis.


Prior to beginning this unit on the WWII, I asked students two open-ended questions: What do you already know about the Holocaust? What do you want to know about the Holocaust? The Zaption Tour was viewed 287 times and 107 students replied to the question. To make it an easier reading experience, I edited spelling mistakes and typos, but did not edit the “heart” of the student question. I tried to eliminate similar questions.  My next steps will be grouping the questions into themes for additional reflection and analysis. At the very least, these questions indicate that students have thought deeply about the Holocaust and are eager to learn more about it.

  1. I want to know if the Holocaust was necessary and if it was good for the people back then.
  2. I would just like to be more knowledgeable about the Holocaust.
  3. What I’d like to know about the Holocaust was?  Who came up with idea?  What kind of movies there are to watch about the Holocaust?
  4. I want to learn if any groups or people tried to rebel over this power and try to support and help Jews.
  5. I would like to know why Jews didn’t fight back or resist because it seem as if the Germans just killed the Jews with ease.
  6. What I want to know is who put a stop to all Hitler’s terror and how did people just let him do that?
  7. What I would like to know is where did Hitler get all his ideas about a master race?
  8. The thing that I want to know about the Holocaust is why did Hitler believe that Germans were superior than any other race?
  9. I would want to learn how did Hitler persuade Germany’s citizens to use the Jews as scapegoats for their country problems?
  10. I think what I want to know about the Holocaust is why Hitler hated the Jews in the first place?
  11. I would like to know why the Nazis targeted the Jews first? Also what made the Nazis hate the Jews so much and how did they make all of Germany hate them as well?
  12. I would like to know how Hitler convinced Germans to let this happen and why the US didn’t intervene earlier?
  13. I want to know what Hitler thought he was going to get out of this genocide?  I want to know why the people in Germany were following Hitler even though they knew it was wrong?
  14. I want to know why Hitler thought he was going to get away with it?
  15. Why did Hitler feel the need to exterminate the Jews when his own mother was Jewish and he wasn’t an Aryan himself?
  16. Hitler hated the Jews… but why?
  17. I want to know why the US didn’t help.
  18. I would like to know who else was involved with the Holocaust other than Adolf Hitler.
  19. I would like to know why the other countries let this happen to innocent Jewish and other people.
  20. What I would like to learn about the Holocaust is how the public felt about it and how Americans reacted to it?
  21. I want to learn what the Jews did and how they acted in the camps.
  22. I would like to know more about what caused the Holocaust to start.
  23. I would like to know more in depth stories of some of the Jews who survived the Holocaust.
  24. I would like to learn about conspiracy theories and the psychology of why Hitler wanted to kill these people. Was it a mental illness, or was he simply racist?
  25. I would like to learn what went on inside the concentration camps.
  26. I want to know the stories about the Holocaust.
  27. Something I would really like to know about the holocaust is why Hitler wanted to get rid of an entire race, I understand that he detested Jews but why would he go for something like this?
  28. I’d like to know the in-depth stories of the Jews who survived the concentration camps.
  29. I know about the beginning, middle, and D-Day. I want to know about the ending of the war.
  30. I would want to know about how the German people reacted to the concentration camps.
  31. I would like to know why Hitler wanted more land
  32. What I want to know is how it really started and how it ended.
  33. What I want to know is how many survivors were there in total?
  34. I would like to know why Hitler hated them so much and how were people able to survive and I want to learn how it affected others besides the Jewish race.
  35. I would like to know why this event in history happened and why no one took any act on it.
  36. I want to learn more about what really caused everything, how it happened, during the process, just everything, people’s feelings, and etc. Even if it takes 15 video lectures and big projects. 🙂
  37. I’d like to know why kill the Jews if they did nothing to you?
  38. I really want to know why Hitler did it? Why does he hate Jews so much and why were people going along with it?
  39. I want to know why Hitler killed this many Jews and what did he accomplish in killing them?
  40. I want to know how some people around the camps felt, if they felt bad or not about the situation, I don’t know. I heard that some Jews would fight back like setting buildings on fire. I’d like to know more stuff like that.
  41. What I would want to know about the Holocaust is how close does the movie “The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas” come to teaching us the truth about the Holocaust?
  42. I would like to know what had started the hatred. Was it an experience Hitler had or what?
  43. I’d like to know more about peoples’ personal experiences and obviously I’d like to know more and more about this topic. This is a topic that I could love to learn a lot about.
  44. I would like to see inside the mind of the man who ran the terrible atrocity of human action, the Holocaust.
  45. What caused Hitler to decide to kill and torture Jewish people?
  46. I know that a lot of people died I want to know who started it and why
  47. What I’d like to know is why many states or countries tried nothing what so ever to help and why they just let 6 million lives be lost?
  48. I would like to know what would go on with the Germans who disagreed with the Nazis? Were there rebellions and anti-Nazi campaigns?
  49. Was the U.S using spies and if yes what would they do and what were some major accomplishments for them.
  50. I would like to learn new things like how did Hitler die, or why would other countries ignore something so important?
  51. I want to know what Hitler thought he was going to get out of this when it was all over. I want to know why he did it. I want to know way beyond what the book says.
  52. I would like to learn more about things that people or students hardly know. That would be helpful.
  53. What I would like to know about the Holocaust is more about people’s reactions to life in the concentration camps and how people managed to get out. Did they recover and have good times later in life?

To Cool To Try

A primary focus in my class this year has been teaching ninth graders to make deadlines and turn in their assignments on time. The main reason students fail my course is simply they do not turn work in on time, if at all. For example, our study of the Holocaust devoted 30 days to reading The Plot Against America. As a culminating task students created a character evolution timeline, which tracked one character through ten events in the story. The results were knowledgeable, creative and imaginative. Unfortunately, this assignment only had a 51% completion rate, which in turn had a negative impact on 49% of student grades.

End Cool Zone

For their next assignments, students were required to view three survivor testimonies, annotate their notes, then turn each testimony into a poem, piece of art, or an essay that tells the survivor’s story forward. The majority of students did not address the contest’s prompt when creating their work. These projects were graded on student effort, students who read the contest rules and followed the directions were awarded 95 points, those who missed one element got 85 points and those who missed two or more elements got 75 points. Late work was awarded 60 points.

Sixty percent of students turned in poems and received the following grades: 69 Fs (40% incompletion rate), 3 Ds, 24 Cs, 27 Bs, and 48 As. For poems, 89 students turned in video notes, which were worth 50 points and 81 students did not (48% incompletion rate).

Sixty-five percent of students turned in Art entries and received 59 Fs (35% incompletion rate), 2 Ds, 34 Cs, 30 Bs, and 46 As.  Only 88 students chose to turn in their video notes, 83 students (48% incompletion rate) did not turn in the required notes on a Holocaust survivor’s testimony.

Lastly, fifty-eight percent of students turned in Essay entries: 72 Fs (42% incompletion rate), 3 Ds, 18 Cs, 31 Bs, and 46 As. Only 55 students turned in notes from the survivor’s video testimony, while 77 (58% incompletion rate) students did not.

Considering the information above, it is not surprising that in the final grade distribution only 10% were As, 25% were Bs, 27% were Cs, 17% were Ds and 21% were Fs. What is surprising is how these grades cluster period by period. Most comprehensive high schools “track” students with Honors & AP programs. Thus, it is not surprising that the highest percentages of As and Bs occurred in Honors classes. What is particularly dispiriting in looking at the “regular” classes is that two of them contain majorities (66% & 51%) of students who are now ineligible for admission to a University of California.  Further, research from the MRDC indicates that more than 40% of ninth grade students fail to promote to the tenth grade on time and fewer than 20% of those students recover from failure and graduate from high school.

Ninth Grade Academies are designed to support the transition to high school by creating interdisciplinary teacher teams that have students and planning times in common. These teachers work to coordinate their courses to better meet their students’ needs. I wonder if my colleagues have similar work completion and course passage rates. How can our NGA better prepare students to complete their assignments and make deadlines instead of making excuses?


Final Grade Distribution by %

  A B C D F
P1 26 40 11 17 6
P2 11 46 32 11 0
P4 3 9 22 28 38
P5 9 9 31 11 40
P6 3 20 37 20 20

My overall course passage rate was 79%, which means my course failure rate was 21%. Overall, this isn’t bad, however, my lowest achieving class periods have course failure rates of 62% and 60% respectively. I suspect that these students have been “tracked” and the culture they have developed of not caring about grades is greater than one teacher can overcome. Nevertheless, in the Spring semester, I will double my efforts to engage these students.

20 Education Stats

The Condition of Education 2015 presented 42 key indicators on important topics and trends in U.S. education. It reported characteristics of the K-12 population, educational attainment, economic outcomes, participation in education, school characteristics and climate, along with postsecondary education and completion rates. This publication is considered top shelf educational research when it comes to setting baselines and identifying trends. Additional reports on postsecondary education are available at The Condition of Education website.

Avg Reading Scores

Lately, I am more focused on students’ reading and writing scores. I wonder if anyone has done any work comparing NAEP scaled scores to Lexile levels, so that I can compare my 9th-grade students to the national average. Other stats that intrigued me were:

  1. 91 percent of young adults ages 25 to 29 had a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2014
  2. In 2014, 34 percent of young adults ages 25 to 29 had a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  3. 20 percent, or 1 out of 5 school-age children lived in poverty in 2013, a 6 percent increase from about one in seven in 2000
  4. Sixty-five percent of
3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2013 – about the same amount as in the previous year
  5. 60 percent of 2013 preschool children attended full-day programs
  6. In the fall of 2012, nearly 50 million students were enrolled in public schools
  7. Over 2 million US students were enrolled in charter schools in fall of 2012
  8. The percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and do not have a high school credential, declined from 11 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2013.
  9. In school year 2011–12, 3.1 million public high school students, or 81 percent, graduated on time with a regular diploma
  10. Sixty-six percent of 2013 high school completers enrolled in college the following fall
  11. 42 percent of 2013 high school completers went to 4-year institutions
  12. 24 percent of 2013 high school completers went to 2-year institutions.
  13. Postsecondary enrollment hit 20 million students in the fall of 2013
  14. US colleges enrolled 17 million undergraduate students in fall 2013
  15. In the fall of 2013, the US had 3 million graduate students
  16. At public and private nonprofit 4-year colleges, most of the full-time undergraduates (88 and 86 percent, respectively) were under 25
  17. Only 30 percent of full-time students at private for-profit colleges were under 25
  18. 56 percent of male students who began their bachelor’s degree in the fall of 2007, and did not transfer, had completed their degree within six years
  19. 62 percent of female students who began their bachelor’s degree in the fall of 2007, and did not transfer, had completed their degree within six years
  20. In 2013, American colleges awarded over 1 million associate’s degrees, 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees, 750,000 master’s degrees, and 175,000 doctoral degrees

I am interested in learning how educators use education statistics to help students with goal-setting strategies. Please leave any ideas in the comments section.


Kena, G., Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., Wang, X., Rathbun, A., Zhang, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Barmer, A., and Dunlop Velez, E. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015-144). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Retrieved July 23, 2015 from