Psychology of Learning

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Psychology of Learning


Backed by decades of research, a movement is afoot to rethink how students learn inside and outside of classrooms. As a result, momentum is building to introduce students to fresh ideas that will help them confront their anxieties about homework, tests and their own ability to learn, making them more motivated learners along the way.


Backed by decades of research, a movement is afoot to rethink how students learn inside and outside of classrooms. As a result, momentum is building to introduce students to fresh ideas that will help them confront their anxieties about homework, tests and their own ability to learn, making them more motivated learners along the way.

This isn’t New Age sermonizing. Instead, many teachers, researchers and education advocates are reconsidering their perceptions of how students best digest complex information while developing life skills at the same time. Grit, mindsets, trauma-informed learning and social-and-emotional learning are some of the concepts that experts contend are crucial to academic and professional success at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

These terms — and the principles and practices they describe – can be challenging for journalists to report on and write about. This guide aims to help clarify the distinctions between the various efforts schools are making to apply the psychology of learning to how students are taught.


Cognitive scientists and psychologists are deeply curious about what compels people to behave certain ways and how environments affect people’s decision-making skills. This research has been cited frequently in the drive to develop students’ college-and-career-ready skills, prompting new questions about what resources students really need. These inquiries are fueling awareness of the challenges faced by students who have grown up poor, lived in abusive homes or neighborhoods, or otherwise have struggled to fit in.

Students from wealthier households are more likely to possess psychological qualities that will enable them to learn more readily, not because those features are in their genes but because wealth is correlated with parents who can provide stable finances and who hold advanced degrees. Additionally, these parents can offer their children access to similar adults who can foster a community of academic rigor. Still, research suggests that even well-off kids can benefit from homing in on the concepts the psychology of learning research prescribes.

Be advised: Definitions overlap for some of the key terms in the psychology of learning field. The scholarly cul-de-sac that’s home to research about grit and mindsets is also part of the neighborhood of studies that examines the effects of trauma. There are essentially, however, three broad sections for these research realms that are increasingly being applied to the academic success of students: growth mindset, grit and motivation.


Arriving to class regularly and on time, completing assignments and studying: These are important behaviors that researchers say students should learn early on. The desired result of fostering students’ ability to perform these tasks is that they will embrace the larger concepts — and benefits of – grit, mindsets and motivation. Once in college and the workforce, students’ instructors and supervisors will expect them to understand that finishing tasks, asking for support and participating in discussions are crucial.

Grit and perseverance

Grit refers to the self-discipline to work toward a long-term goal, remain focused and complete assignments despite setbacks. The term has been popularized by University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Duckworth. To show grit’s impact, one study asked students 12 questions about their learning habits, such as whether they complete tasks they’ve started and whether new ideas or assignments distract them from previous ones. Their answers correlated with the students’ grades later on, suggesting that levels of grit can affect academic performance.

Merely assigning heavy workloads is an ill-advised approach to building grit or tenacity, scholars say. Instead, research suggests that educators can promote grit by having students buy in to the importance of their work, helping them develop sound studying habits, and instilling in them the notion that they belong in an academic community. Others argue that grit doesn’t offer anything new to the research space and that its effect on learning has been overstated.

Growth Mindset

How grit is nurtured connects to another popular psychological concept – growth mindset, i.e., individual students’ belief that through effort, their academic success will improve. Studies have shown that students with growth mindsets are more likely to perform the work needed to learn complex material and can score nearly a letter-grade higher than similar students who don’t demonstrate this quality. The research also has shown that growth mindset can be taught through low-cost interventions.

That’s not to say, of course, that a sound approach is just chanting at the start of class that students with a growth mindset will succeed. Instead, scholars like Carol Dweck from Stanford University say students should be taught to learn from failure, that rewarding students’ effort when that effort was weak or poorly executed does them no favors, and that almost all learners suffer from feelings that they may not be born with the talents to excel at a task.

However, Dweck and other researchers say, practicing sound studying habits and consulting with peers, mentors and instructors are important steps toward building a growth mindset – and developing solid footing in whatever a student is learning. In recent years several curricular add-ons, like Brainology, have been created to guide teachers toward boosting their students’ growth mindsets. Still, a community of skeptics worries that the popularization of growth mindset may prompt educators and administrators to blame students for lacking this quality. 

Other Academic Mindsets

Helping students understand that their talents aren’t fixed is just one of several “academic mindsets,” a research and policy term that includes other beliefs that advocates say teachers should aim to instill. Students with these mindsets believe that what they are learning is relevant, that they belong in an academic setting, and that they can actually succeed at the appointed tasks.

Some students will pursue any subject matter teachers assign them, while others need subjects explained using terms and themes they recognize – and an effective teacher will be able to spot the students who will benefit from that added context. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a scholar at the University of Southern California, has shown that students can learn better if they feel emotionally invested in their academic work. For example, a student who wants to be a dairy farmer may take an interest in social studies after learning about political lobbying, and may absorb biology better through learning about animal breeding.

Sometimes it also helps students to see that failure is part of the process of learning. Duckworth, for example, has shown her students the rejection letters she’s received from peer-reviewed journals.

Learning strategies

Should students read and re-read the information in a textbook or create flashcards? Is it more effective to spend hours or days reviewing a single concept or to cycle through related but different concepts in the same amount of time? Those decisions highlight different learning strategies, and often students and teachers maintain a poor grasp on what works and what’s a waste of time, according to some researchers. Benedict Carey, a science writer for The New York Times, wrote a whole book on learning strategies. Paul Bruni, a former teacher, and Daniel Willingham, a psychologist, wrote an easy-to-use summary of the learning techniques that research have found to be effective.

The concepts in this section have been the subject of numerous peer-reviewed studies and many of them can be found at PERTS – a research laboratory at Stanford University dedicated to applying academic research in real-world settings. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching also has published a glossary of noncognitive concepts.


Numerous academic groups and nonprofits have helped shape the public’s understanding of social and emotional learning. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is perhaps the leading organization for SEL research and evaluations for schools to use, although scholars at Harvard, Yale and elsewhere are associated with this area of research as well.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) has been researched for decades, and more schools are adopting its tenets. In Boston, the school district hired its first assistant superintendent of social and emotional learning in fall 2015. SEL describes the ways in which individuals combine their emotions, thoughts and behaviors to be attuned to their needs and the needs of others. Efforts to teach awareness of SEL include guiding students to being able to recognize emotional cues from others, practice self-discipline and interact with fellow students or colleagues considerately. SEL isn’t limited to schools: Parents and communities also play a major role.

Awareness of SEL principles can help students make better decisions, from avoiding drugs and committing crimes to preventing bullying — if efforts to instill the principles are implemented effectively, research suggests. The behaviors that SEL programming encourages are also conducive to improved academic performance, like graduating high school or completing college, scholars say.

Skills like getting along with others “are the abilities that make other kids like you, and make teachers like kids,” said Mark T. Greenberg, a professor of Human Development and Psychology at Penn State in a 2015 New York Times article. “And when kids feel liked, they’re more likely to settle down and pay attention, and keep out of the principal’s office, and reap the benefits of being in a classroom. And this builds over time; it’s like a cascade. They become more bonded with peers and healthy adults and they become more bonded to school as an institution, and all those skills lead them, independent of their I.Q., to be less at risk for problems.”

2011 meta-analysis that included more than 200,000 students from primary and secondary schools found that SEL programming had numerous positive effects, including an average of 11-point gains on standardized tests. High-quality SEL academic content also can have economic benefits: For every dollar schools spent on SEL programs, there’s an $11 return on investment, according to a 2015 study by Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Several approaches are underway to both bring these ideas to the classroom and ensure they are adopted in ways that are beneficial to students. Stephanie Jones, a scholar on SEL at Harvard University, is using the kernel approach, which relays to schools the 12 or 15 approaches for implementing SEL and lets them choose the few that work best for their students. Here’s example of a kernel: “Using a turtle metaphor, child holds self, breathes through nose, and engages in verbal or sub-verbal self-coaching to calm down.”

According to CASEL, school-based activities to enhance the social-and-emotional competencies of students can include:

  • Using conflict-resolution activities or dialogue exercises so students can apply SEL tenets to new situations;
  • Students help to create classrooms rules;
  • Through games and sports, students practice developing cooperation and teamwork;
  • Students apply a current or historical event to a set of questions that require them to problem-solve together;
  • Pairing younger and older students for mentoring purposes.

Another major scholar, Marc Brackett of Yale University, has created the RULER approach and teaches it to schools, for a fee. 


A common critique of the ideas of grit, growth mindset and SEL is that students who grow up in troubled environments are depicted as being at fault for the traumas they have endured – and aren’t rewarded for navigating the complexities of poverty, unstable homes and violence. Students who are tardy after witnessing their parents’ arrest or working late to support their families should not be seen as lacking grit or emotional maturity, such experts argue, in part because those students may be showing those very qualities in their lives outside of school.

More schools are responding to the particular hardships such students face, taking pains to not paint them as deficient, but instead recognizing their needs for individualized attention and care. One set of approaches schools can adopt is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a program of school interventions recommended by the U.S. Department of Education and used in every state.

Tyrone Howard, a University of California, Los Angeles scholar, said at an EWA event in 2015 that growth mindsets and social-emotional skills may be more relevant to students who already have their basic needs met. For example, a typical grit questionnaire would ask a student whether “new ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones,” “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one,” and “setbacks don’t discourage me.”

But Howard suggested that a questionnaire more sensitive to trauma might instead pose alternative questions such as, “I always have bus fare to get to school,” “whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor,” or “I have at least one teacher who cares about me.” He believes schools should have more mental health experts to assist students in need.

Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit organization headed by Pamela Cantor, offers professional development for teachers and administrators to support students affected by trauma in several cities on the East Coast. 

Other researchers look at how teachers’ efforts to build their own empathy for students can reduce suspension rates and generate more respect for students who are viewed as troublemakers. But sometimes teachers can be the agents of stress in students’ lives. Jason Okonofua, a Stanford scholar, has explored how teachers’ implicit biases about students can harm black and Latino students, particularly in matters of discipline.


Measuring these attributes is the next frontier in translating the psychology of learning into techniques to help students learn in school. The Every Student Succeeds Act has opened the door for districts to experiment with evaluating schools based in part on students’ behavioral and emotional development. Last year the U.S. Department of Education issued grants to select schools for the ”implementation, evaluation, and refinement” of these concepts. Also, the group Transforming Education has partnered with several large urban districts in California to create a measurement for tracking the extent to which students display these academic and emotional behaviors.

Major assessments will be measuring these skills, too. The makers of both the National Assessment of Educational Progress and PISA have announced plans to include questions that gauge students’ social-and-emotional abilities. Federal researchers have been monitoring social-and-emotional skills in young children for several years.

But a paper written by Duckworth and David Yeager, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, warned against assessing teachers or basing other high-stakes decisions on student growth in academic behaviors. They argue that tools for measuring those qualities aren’t sufficiently fine-tuned to tell whether individual teachers are communicating relevant ideas. A Brookings Institution analysis goes further by saying little consensus exists over what in the social-emotional domain should be measured, and how. Some researchers also worry about the accuracy of self-reported data on grit or mindset.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top 10 Most-Read EWA Blogs of 2021
Journalist members wrote practical resources to help their fellow reporters all year long.

Supporting our talented journalist members is one of the best parts of my job here at the Education Writers Association.

Many of them have written insightful, well-researched and, yes, educational blog posts over the course of the year. And several took time from full-time reporting jobs to write these resources – all with the purpose of helping their fellow journalists do their jobs.


75th EWA National Seminar
Orlando • July 24-26, 2022

National Seminar graphic

Celebrating 75 Years! 

As those in education and journalism work to recover from an extended pandemic, bringing together the community has never been more critical. The Education Writers Association’s 75th annual National Seminar will provide a long-awaited opportunity to gather in person for three days of training, networking, and inspiration. 


How Will Educators Use Data on COVID-19 Learning Disruption?
Experts say recent findings can inform instructional strategies.

How Will Educators Use Data on COVID-19 Learning Disruption?

New data continues to show impeded academic learning during the coronavirus pandemic. A critical question is: What, exactly, should be done to address the problem? Efforts are growing to better connect education data with instructional strategies during the education recovery.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Lack of Sleep Affecting Adolescent Learning? Coverage Tips for Early School Start Times
Get background, story ideas and advice.

“What’s keeping you up at night?” 

Science journalist and author Lydia Denworth posed that question to a pair of experts on adolescent development during the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar. 

“Sleep!,” speakers Adriana Galván of UCLA and Denise Pope of Stanford University both said at a panel. Adolescents, they agreed, don’t get enough of it.


Brain Waves: Covering How the Science of Learning Translates to the Classroom

 Brain Waves: Covering How the Science of Learning Translates to the Classroom

Cognitive science has vastly expanded the body of knowledge on how people learn in the last 25 years. Yet, little of that knowledge has trickled down to the classroom. 

A small, but growing, number of schools and districts are working to change that. More educators are looking at the science of learning after concerns expressed about learning disruptions and recovering from the pandemic. To learn more, watch the webinar recording below.


Knowing and Addressing Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

The pandemic has interrupted social interactions and hurt student well-being. Understanding students’ social and emotional needs will be crucial in the coming year.

What new methods are emerging for gauging social and emotional needs, competencies and learning? How has the pandemic affected SEL and what does that mean for teaching and learning?

Speakers addressed these and other issues at a May 3 session at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar.

The participants were:

  • Julia Joy Dumas Wilks, Great Oaks Charter School, Wilmington, Delaware
  • Libby Pier, Education Analytics
  • Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, Dallas Independent School District
  • Kevin McCorry, WHYY (Moderator)

Knowing and Addressing Students’ Social and Emotional Needs


74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

EWA 74th National Seminar  graphic

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Schools Brace for Mental Health Challenges During COVID-19 and Civil Unrest
Experts discuss trauma, social and emotional development

As schools nationwide gear up for a new school year during the pandemic — whether virtually or in person — meeting the social, emotional and mental health needs of students and staff will be a huge challenge and priority for school systems.

Educators and counselors said stories are waiting to be told at every level of education as the combination of pandemic fears and racial injustice puts added pressures on students and teachers.


73rd EWA National Seminar

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. 

This multi-day conference is designed to give participants the skills, understanding, and inspiration to improve their coverage of education at all levels. It also will deliver a lengthy list of story ideas. We will offer numerous sessions on important education issues, as well as on journalism skills.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Keeping Up With Brain Science Is a Tall Order for Many Teachers
Teacher training often fails to reflect current research, experts say

When teacher Eric Kalenze introduced a new book or reading passage to his students, he used to allow them to explore it on their own, following an approach he learned in teacher training.

Now, armed with a better understanding of the science of learning, he believes leading with this type of student inquiry is ineffective. Instead, he front-loads crucial context and factual information he thinks students will need to understand the text.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Adolescence: A Prime Chance to Invest in Learning
Youths are wiring their brains for the rest of their lives during this time

In popular culture, the teen years are a worrisome period when kids can spiral downward, developing anxieties and addictions. But Ron Dahl, who directs the Institute for Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that adolescence is a second opportunity to invest in children because of the enormous brain development taking place.

“It’s a perfect storm of change,” said Dahl, speaking before education reporters at an Education Writers Association seminar on adolescent learning and well-being in Berkeley, Calif., in late February.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Educating the ‘Whole Child’ Is Complex. Will Schools Get It Right?
Recipe blends academics with SEL, character development

The idea that education isn’t simply about academics is nothing new. But efforts are mounting to promote a better balance in schools, to more explicitly address students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), build strong character, and foster civic responsibility. 

The terminology varies, but the broad concept is sometimes referred to as “educating the whole child.” What’s it all about? What’s driving the increased interest and attention? And are public schools today really equipped to deliver this expansive vision of education? 

EWA Radio

Why Is Reading Instruction So Controversial?
In award-winning documentary, APM Reports' Emily Hanford digs into the roots of nation's literacy challenges
(EWA Radio: Episode 181)

(image: Katherine Zhou for APM Reports)

Across the country, the way most students are being taught to read is out of step with more than 40 years of scientific research on how children learn this essential skill. That’s the case being made in an award-winning radio documentary from APM Reports’ Emily Hanford, who describes the devastating domino effect of inadequate literacy instruction on students’ academic progress and opportunities. 

Tip Sheet

EWA Tip Sheet: Covering Innovations to Bachelor’s Degrees

Driven by changing student demographics and demands from employers, colleges are experimenting with new, more flexible and affordable bachelors’ degrees, a panel of higher education leaders and experts told journalists at the Education Writers Association’s 2019 National Seminar.

Colleges are trying boot camps, competency-based education, credit for prior learning, and other strategies to lower costs, speed up and improve the value of bachelors’ degrees.

Tip Sheet

EWA Tip Sheet: How to Write About Graduate Schools

Most journalists covering universities focus on undergraduate programs, even though, in many cases, the graduate student population is larger and has a bigger impact on the school’s financial health. So graduate schools can be a trove of fresh, under-covered story ideas, according to graduate student representatives and researchers who spoke at the Education Writers Association’s 2019 National Seminar.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Mental Health: A Hidden Crisis in Schools?

Mental health can influence all sorts of basic issues in education, from test scores to attendance and school discipline. Yet it’s a topic that education journalists often overlook.

That was the message of Steve Drummond, education editor and an executive producer at NPR, who moderated the panel, “Mental Health: A Hidden Crisis in Schools?” at this year’s EWA national conference. NPR chronicled the problem in a 2016 package called “A Silent Epidemic; The Mental Health Crisis in Our Schools.”

Tip Sheet

EWA Tip Sheet: How to Cover Instruction in College Classrooms

Many instructors still use traditional-style lectures despite growing scientific evidence that less-passive approaches are more effective in building students’ skills and knowledge. At the Education Writers Association 2019 National Seminar, Harvard professor Eric Mazur demonstrated to journalists how active engagement – both inside and outside the classroom – stimulates higher-order thinking and motivates students to learn.

EWA Radio

An American Boy in a Chinese School
In 'Little Soldiers,' journalist shares her family's immersion into Shanghai Province education system, amid China's push for globally competitive students
(EWA Radio: Episode 175)

Around the time that China’s Shanghai province was drawing international attention for top scores on a global exam, U.S. journalist Lenora Chu and her husband moved into their new Shanghai home. They lived just blocks away from a highly-regarded primary school that she calls a “laboratory for Chinese education reform,” and managed to secure a spot for their young son. The next few years gave Chu an inside look into Shanghai’s elite school system, and sparked a deeper interest in education in China.


Can Restorative Practices Improve School Climate and Curb Suspensions?
An Evaluation of the Impact of Restorative Practices in a Mid-Sized Urban School District

Across the country, school districts, their stakeholders, and policymakers have become increasingly concerned about suspensions, particularly about suspending students from elementary school and disproportionately suspending ethnic/racial minority students. Suspended students are less likely to graduate, possibly because they miss the instructional time they need to advance academically. Restorative practices have gained buy-in in the education community as a strategy to reduce suspension rates.

EWA Radio

Will Cursive Make a Comeback?
States and schools battle over requiring formal handwriting instruction
(EWA Radio: Episode 194)

Has any part of the curriculum come back from the dead as many times as cursive handwriting? From Connecticut to California, lawmakers are alternatively fighting to either mandate or ban cursive instruction, in some cases leaving the verdict up to individual districts and schools. The latter is the case in Maine, reports Noel Gallagher of The Portland Press Herald, where the cursive debate offers a window into the state’s long-held preference for local control. What are some surprising ways mastering the art of cursive writing might help students, according to advocates? And where should reporters be skeptical about claims of purported benefits, particularly when it comes to brain development in younger students?


Trauma in the Classroom: What Reporters Need to Know

Trauma in the Classroom: What Reporters Need to Know

Attention is growing to the detrimental impact stress and trauma have on children’s learning and development. In response, some schools are rethinking everything from student discipline and support services to teacher training. The shift has also given birth to a whole new set of terms and practices for education reporters to understand and break down for their audiences.


72nd EWA National Seminar
Baltimore • May 6-8, 2019

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.

EWA Radio

It’s Not Just the Schools: Why Helping Families in Poverty Could Boost Students’ Test Scores
A review of research finds positive benefits to boosting family well-being
(EWA Radio: Episode 183)

In the debate over how to boost student achievement, especially among kids from low-income families, out-of-school factors are often cited as hurdles that even the best school-based programs and services can’t fully overcome. But what about programs that focus on lifting an entire family out of poverty?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Social and Emotional Learning: From Theory to Practice

At Hazel Wolf STEM K-8 School in Seattle, academics don’t start on the first day of school.

“We haven’t yet built community,” teacher Tamara Alston said. “We haven’t figured out how we work together.”

EWA Radio

Want to Help Students in Poverty? Help Their Families, Too.
A review of research finds positive benefits to boosting family well-being
(EWA Radio: Episode 183)

In the debate over how to boost student achievement, especially among kids from low-income families, out-of-school factors are often cited as hurdles that even the best school-based programs and services can’t fully overcome. But what about programs that focus on lifting an entire family out of poverty?

EWA Radio

Is It Time to Turn The Page on How Schools Teach Reading?
Outdated instructional approaches are hurting student learning, experts say
(EWA Radio: Episode 181)

(image: Katherine Zhou for APM Reports)

Across the country, the way most students are being taught to read is out of step with more than 40 years of scientific research on how children learn this essential skill. That’s the case being made in a new radio documentary from APM Reports’ Emily Hanford, who describes the devastating domino effect of inadequate literacy instruction on students’ academic progress and opportunities.

EWA Radio

Summer Reading List: ‘Little Soldiers’
What happens when an American boy enrolls in a Chinese school?
(EWA Radio: Episode 175)

Around the time that China’s Shanghai province was drawing international attention for top scores on a global exam, U.S. journalist Lenora Chu and her husband moved into their new Shanghai home. They lived just blocks away from a highly-regarded primary school that she calls a “laboratory for Chinese education reform,” and managed to secure a spot for their young son. The next few years gave Chu an inside look into Shanghai’s elite school system, and sparked a deeper interest in education in China.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Educators ‘Cultivate’ Connections to Build Character

Building character is an everyday event, woven into the fabric of how school is done on every level, educators and students told journalists during a conference in New Orleans on educating for character and citizenship.

A key goal is creating a community of trust among students and faculty, said educators at several schools that put character development at the center. During the panel discussion, they used words like “love” and “team” to describe their schools, emphasizing the mutual respect that they work to cultivate between students and teachers.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When It Comes to Character Education, There’s ‘No Off Switch’

It’s an education topic that prompts more questions than answers, and it’s expected to spur debate for years to come.

Character education: What is it? What does it look like? Can it be measured?

Experts in education and journalists gathered in New Orleans last month quickly agreed there are numerous terms, definitions, philosophies and methods to explain character education.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What You Missed at EWA’s Seminar on Educating for Character & Citizenship

photo of students at EWA Character & Citizenship event..

Dozens of journalists gathered in New Orleans this month to explore a dimension of education that often gets short shrift both in schools and in news coverage: developing students’ character and preparing them for active citizenship.

Reporters heard not only from educators, experts, and fellow journalists, but also students from New Orleans and beyond. Issues on tap included the moral education of young people, social and emotional learning, media literacy, and the rapid rise of ”restorative justice” as an alternative to traditional disciplinary practice.

P-12 Topic

Educating for Character & Citizenship

image of teacher and children sitting in circle in classroom

The intensive focus in public schools on boosting achievement in core subjects has sparked concerns that the U.S. education system is neglecting an important responsibility: to help foster in children strong character and prepare them for active citizenship in a democratic society.


71st EWA National Seminar
Los Angeles • May 16-18, 2018

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.


Beyond Academics: Covering Education for Character and Citizenship

The intensive focus in many public schools on basic academics has sparked concerns that the U.S. education system is neglecting a fundamental responsibility: to foster in young people the character traits and social-emotional skills needed to be successful students and engaged citizens. Empathy, collaboration, and self-efficacy, for instance, are essential in a democratic society. They also are important for success in a fast-changing job market.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Reporters Should Look for in Early Learning Settings
Lectures don't work well for young children. Look instead for child-directed fun.

In some classrooms she visited, children counted numbers as they did jumping jacks, author Suzanne Bouffard said. In others, teachers lectured as children sat quietly, nearly whispering answers to questions as if scared to say the wrong thing — something you never want to see a 4-year-old do.

The stark differences among these preschool classrooms illustrate what years of research have documented, Bouffard said.

EWA Radio

‘Raising Kings’: A Portrait of an Urban High School for Young Men of Color
Education Week-NPR series features social-emotional learning and restorative justice at new D.C. campus

Can schools ever fully fill the gaps in students’ life experiences that often keep them from succeeding in school? Two reporters, Education Week’s Kavitha Cardoza and Cory Turner of NPR, spent hundreds of hours at Ron Brown College Prep, a new boys-only public high school in Washington, D.C. that primarily serves students of color.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Student ‘Expeditions’ Help Drive, Inspire Learning at D.C. Charter School

The second-graders at a charter school in the nation’s capital recently discovered a problem: a lack of “green spaces” in certain parts of the city.

The students at Two Rivers Public Charter School conducted research. But they didn’t stop there. They also wrote letters to the city council to share their concerns about inequitable access to green spaces across Washington, D.C.

The letters described the situation, explained why having such spaces in urban environments is important, and offered solutions, including the idea of helping to plant gardens near campus.

EWA Radio

When Students Talk Back, These Teachers Listen
EWA Radio: Episode 139

What do teachers learn from their most challenging students – the interrupters, the ones who push back or whose difficult home lives spill over into the classroom? Sarah Carr, the editor of The Teacher Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, discusses a new podcast partnership with The Atlantic, featuring candid conversations with educators and students, as each recall pivotal moments in their relationships.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Do’s and Don’ts of Covering Education Research

When it comes to education research, the biggest mistake journalists make is avoiding it.

In her talk at EWA’s recent annual conference in Washington, D.C., Holly Yettick admitted that’s what she did when she was a reporter: Dismiss research as too difficult to cover or something for national publications.

Today, as the director of the Education Week Research Center, Yettick doesn’t want reporters to make the same error, and miss out on studies that can help them break news, add context to their stories, and hold public officials accountable.

EWA Radio

On the Menu: Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts and School Nutrition
EWA Radio: Episode 135

Tovin Lapan of The Hechinger Report visited Greenville, Miss., to examine how President Trump’s proposed budget cuts could impact rural school communities that depend heavily on federal aid for after-school and student nutrition programs. What does research show about the connections between connecting students’ eating habits and test scores?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Trump Era Serves Up ‘Teachable Moments’ for Character Ed.

Days after Donald Trump won the White House, the Brookings Institution published an essay suggesting the 2016 presidential election should serve as a “Sputnik moment” for character education.

The campaign’s “extraordinary vitriol and divisiveness” offers a strong argument for a “renewed emphasis on schools’ role in developing children as caring, empathetic citizens,” wrote Brookings scholar Jon Valant.

EWA Radio

A Houston High School’s Transformation
EWA Radio: Episode 129

Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media discusses Furr High School, which recently received a $10 million grant to help it reinvent what, when, and how students learn. The changes are already underway: a veteran principal was lured out of retirement to take the helm; students are able dig into their own areas of interest during regular periods of “Genius Time”; and even the hiring process for teachers and staff has taken some innovative turns. What’s been the response of the school community to these new developments?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Social-Emotional Learning: Helping Students Help Themselves

Ask a parent how their child is doing in school, and the parent may tell you how well they’re reading, or whether they agonize over addition and subtraction.

A growing volume of research, however, finds that a child’s ability to work with her classmates, or how she handles feelings of anger or excitement, can be just as pivotal to success as academics.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

At ‘High-Tech Hogwarts,’ Students Taught to Code Their Way to Success

On a recent Friday morning, students in Kalee Barbis’ English class at Washington Leadership Academy work diligently on laptops as they sit under the high, vaulted ceilings of the school’s Great Hall.  Light filters through stained glass windows as the students put the final touches on essays about the lives of Matthew Shepard, Trayvon Martin, Pablo Escobar, and others.

EWA Radio

Why (and How) Vermont Schools Are Getting Personal
EWA Radio: Episode 116

Some school districts are experimenting with ways to get students more engaged in their own learning, and to connect their individual interests to long-term goals. John Tulenko, a contributor to The Hechinger Report, visited Vermont, where a statewide investment in personalized learning is starting to gain traction. What kinds of learning opportunities are students creating for themselves? How are teachers responding to the instructional shift?

EWA Radio

Beyond Buzzwords: What Does “Student-Centered Learning” Look Like?
EWA Radio: Episode 100

Katrina Schwartz of KQED Public Radio in San Francisco joins the 100th episode of EWA Radio to discuss the growing interest in student-centered learning and  personalized instruction. What are promising examples of these approaches in action? Can personalization and efficiency co-exist? How is data — big and small — informing teachers and shaping individual student learning? And what are some big stories to watch for in the coming months?


Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Should schools measure skills like cooperation, communication, self-confidence and the ability to organize? Efforts to gauge these so-called “soft skills” are gaining traction in the classroom, especially with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new federal law calls on states and school districts to incorporate at least one measure beyond test scores and graduation rates in their accountability systems.

EWA Radio

‘Unprepared’ in Memphis: The Realities of College Readiness
EWA Radio: Episode 99

In a new series, Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jennifer Pignolet tells the story of Shelby County students working hard to make it to college — and to succeed once they arrive. And their challenges aren’t just financial: for some, like Darrius Isom of South Memphis, having reliable transportation to get to class on time is a game changer. And what are some of the in-school and extracurricular programs that students say are making a difference? Pignolet also looks at the the Tennessee Promise program, which provides free community college classes to qualified students, and assigns a mentor to help guide them. 

THANKSGIVING BONUS: EWA journalist members share some of the things they’re grateful for this year. 


Seven Facts On Noncognitive Skills From Education To The Labor Market
The Hamilton Project

Cognitive skills—that is, math and reading skills that are measured by standardized tests—are generally understood to be of critical importance in the labor market. Most people find it intuitive and indeed unsurprising that cognitive skills, as measured by standardized tests, are important for students’ later-life outcomes. For example, earnings tend to be higher for those with higher levels of cognitive skills. What is less well understood—and is the focus of these economic facts—is that noncognitive skills are also integral to educational performance and labor-market outcomes.


Dr. Frances Jensen Discusses the Development of the Teenage Brain
Author Discusses Book, "The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults​"


Join Education Writers Association for a brown bag lunch with noted neuroscientist Frances Jensen, author of “The Teenage Brain.”

Teens may look like amateur adults, equipped with the kind of know-how parents and teachers take for granted. But behind those side-eyes and earbuds is a brain fast at work learning to cope with an onslaught of hormones, sensory experiences and the last gasps of adolescence.

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Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

EWA Radio

‘Glen’s Village’: From Childhood Trauma to the Ivy League
EWA Radio: Episode 82

Glen Casey, a young man who escaped the drugs and violence of his West Philadelphia neighborhood, looks on as his school is demolished. (Philadelphia Public School Notebook/"Glen's Village")

Veteran education writer Paul Jablow and multimedia journalist Dorian Geiger discuss their documentary of a young man who escaped the drugs and violence of his West Philadelphia neighborhood thanks to the intensive interventions of a network of support, including his mother, teachers, and social workers. Glen Casey is now a successful student at the University of Pennsylvania and plans on a teaching career. But how unusual is his story, particularly in a public school system of ever-dwindling resources?


Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance

Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners summarizes the research on five categories of noncognitive factors that are related to academic performance: academic behaviors, academic perseverance, academic mindsets, learning strategies and social skills, and proposes a framework for thinking about how these factors interact to affect academic performance, and what the relationship is between noncognitive factors and classroom/school context, as well as the larger socio-cultural context.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Higher Ed: Hunger on Campus

Flickr/Salvation Army USA West (CC BY 2.0)

The stereotypes of the financially struggling college students are well-known. They live on ramen, share an apartment or house with several roommates, and work part-time for money to buy beer. They get summer jobs to cover college tuition and expenses. And they come from middle- and upper-class families, so if they do struggle sometimes to pay the bills, that scarcity is hip and cool.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

‘Paper Tigers’ Documentary Offers Solutions to Teaching Traumatized Kids

From left, James Redford, director of Paper Tigers, Amanda Moreno of the Erikson Institute, Michelle Porche of Boston University, and Michael Chandler of the Washington Post discuss the impact of trauma on children's ability to learn. (Lilli Boxer for EWA)

The film “Paper Tigers” opens with what looks like phone camera footage of a fight. There’s a splatter of blood, shouting, a chair flying across a classroom.

The voiceover is a patchwork of voices saying things like: “This place is absolute chaos.” And: “All the kids were forced to be here.” And: “That’s where the bad kids went.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A New 2016 “Common Core,” With Social-and-Emotional Muscle

By BMRR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

At the age of nine, Amalio Nieves saw his father die from gun violence in Chicago. And as a child, Nieves himself was robbed at gunpoint. Now he’s always thinking about his young niece Jordan and the year 2100 – when Jordan will be the parent of a child that leads America into a new, unknown century.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Psychology, Mentoring and Dollars: Innovations in Graduating More Students from College

Flickr/Cat Branchman (CC BY 2.0)

College students enter their institutions excited about learning and eager to succeed. Yet many don’t.

Hurdles like the cost of attendance certainly exist, but researchers are also now starting to examine the effects psychological barriers such as social group dynamics, self-confidence and feelings of isolation have on college students’ success.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Angela Duckworth: Raising Test Scores Is Not a Sign of Grit

In the dozen years that Angela Duckworth has researched the concept of grit, she’s found new ways to test its validity, identified examples of it in popular culture, and worked to bust myths about its application in schools. But she hasn’t developed a just-add-water curriculum package that interested schools can use to develop the character trait in their students.


Why Motivation and Deeper Learning Matter
New Lens on Learning: The Hidden Value of Motivation, Grit and Engagement

Why Motivation and Deeper Learning Matter

How do you create a good student? How do schools find ways for children to take criticism well, respond to feedback, and learn from mistakes? How does a child’s motivation and sense of self factor into a culture of learning? While schools are finding answers to these questions, there is no shortcut to creating classroom practices — and embracing a “growth mindset” is no panacea. So how can schools adapt the concepts that research shows go a long way toward improving student learning?


How to Motivate Students — or Not
New Lens on Learning: The Hidden Value of Motivation, Grit and Engagement

How to Motivate Students — or Not

Carol Dweck, a distinguished professor and the scholar most associated with the now-widespread concept of “growth mindset,” talks about new studies on the impact the idea has had in education. How should a student learn from failure? If you tell students that the brain can be trained, will they feel encouraged to put in additional effort? And is feeling motivated even enough — what interventions are necessary when a student tries her best but isn’t comprehending the material?


Get Schooled: Unlocking the Secrets of the Adolescent Brain
New Lens on Learning: The Hidden Value of Motivation, Grit and Engagement

Get Schooled: Unlocking the Secrets of the Adolescent Brain

Over the past decade research in neuroscience has provided an explosion of new knowledge and insights about the adolescent brain, shedding light on our understanding of teens’ complex neural state. Importantly, the field has focused on the development of neural circuits that underpin social, emotional, and motivational learning and how these systems change at the onset of puberty. These changes create not only vulnerabilities but also opportunities for learning.


Interventions in the Classroom: What Works, What Doesn’t — A Demonstration
New Lens on Learning: The Hidden Value of Motivation, Grit and Engagement

Interventions in the Classroom: What Works, What Doesn’t — A Demonstration

What does it take to get a kid to care about school? A wave of research is producing quick interventions that motivate students to learn, with hundreds of schools adopting curricular tools designed to boost students’ growth mindsets. How do young learners respond to these efforts to reshape their views about themselves in the context of school? How can educators employ these tricks while teaching core subjects like math or English?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Deeper Learning, Smarter Testing

Linda Darling-Hammond speaks to reporters at a seminar on motivation at Stanford in November. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

Since 2003, more information is produced every two days than the total sum of information produced between that year and the dawn of time, the CEO of Google said in 2010.  Easily web-accessible facts, names and articles have grown exponentially, so much so that some say students can’t be taught like they were in the past, when rote memorization was the gold standard for learning and information wasn’t at almost everyone’s fingertips.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Growing Minds, Changing Math Classes

Jo Boaler speakers to reporters during EWA's seminar on motivation held at Stanford University in November (Credit: Stanford University/Marc Franklin)

As the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” plays out over the music video, the lyrics are a bit different:

“We will make mistakes…our method’s gonna break…not a piece of cake…we’re gonna shake it off, shake it off…”

It was in this video Stanford University Professor and author Jo Boaler says she was compelled to do something she didn’t want to do. “They made me rap,” she said. When her undergraduate students challenged whether she had a growth mindset about her rhyme skills, Boaler said to herself, “Oh my gosh. I’m gonna have to rap.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When Grit Isn’t Enough

Tyrone Howard, a professor and associate dean at UCLA, speakers to reporters about student trauma at EWA's seminar on Motivation Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

The first time I heard a preschooler explaining a classmate’s disruptive behavior, I was surprised at how adult her four-year-old voice sounded.

Her classmate “doesn’t know how to sit still and listen,” she said to me, while I sat at the snack table with them. He couldn’t learn because he couldn’t follow directions, she explained, as if she had recently completed a behavioral assessment on him.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Carol Dweck Explains ‘Growth Mindsets’

Carol Dweck addresses reporters at EWA's seminar on Motivation on the Stanford University campus, Nov. 11, 2015 (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

One of the most popular ideas in education today is also one that is often misunderstood. While Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” has a emerged as a meme for motivation less than a decade after the publication of her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” the Stanford psychology professor is worried about its misapplication.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

To Improve Learning, More Researchers Say Students Should Feel Like They Belong in the Classroom

Camille Farrington speaks to reporters at EWA's seminar on motivation at Stanford, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

About a third of the students who started college in 2009 have since dropped out, joining the millions of young adults who never entered college in the first place.

Several years into a massive push by both the federal government and states to increase postsecondary graduation rates, education policymakers across the country are asking what else they can do to get more students to and through college.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Teaching ‘Grit’: How Students, Schools Can Benefit

Over at EWA Radio, we explored the debate over how so-called noncognitive factors like “grit” influence student achievement, and how schools are rethinking approaches to classroom instruction as a result. (You can find the full episode here.I thought this was a good opportunity to revisit a recent guest post by Daveen Rae Kurutz of the Beaver County Times, looking at our “deep dive” session into these issues at EWA’s recent National Seminar:

EWA Radio

What Grit and Perseverance Could Look Like in the Classroom
EWA Radio: Episode 31

(Flickr/Steven Depolo)

Nestled within the new-agey sounding concept of “noncognitive factors” are fairly concrete examples of what parents and educators should and shouldn’t do to prepare students for the rigors of college and careers. Gleaned from research into brain development and human behavior, a toolkit is emerging on how to make the best of the scholarship focused on qualities like grit, persistence and learning from mistakes.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When Wrong Answers Lead to the Right Outcomes

Moderator Ki Sung (L) listens as Camille Farrington (R) explains the role non-cognitive research plays in schools. (Credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

In a second-grade classroom outside of Palo Alto, Calif., students were sharing their answers to a math quiz. A young boy named Michael held up his answer, and, as was customary, his classmates showed their verdict on the answer – thumbs up or thumbs down.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Students, Teachers Don’t Study The Way Science Says They Should

Henry Roediger listens as Bror Saxberg answers a reporter's question at EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago. (Photo credit: Mikhail Zinshteyn/EWA)

Most students don’t study using methods backed by scientific research, panelists at the Education Writers Association’s deep dive on the science of learning told reporters in Chicago at the association’s 68th National Seminar.

“Why do people find learning so hard?” asked Henry Roediger, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who participated in the April event.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Littlest Learners See Boost with Less Stress, Active Dads

Lillian Mongeau of The Hechinger Report (left) moderates a conversation with Natasha Cabrera and Geoffrey Nagle at EWA's National Seminar in Chicago in May 2015. (EWA/Mikhail Zinshteyn)

Saturday nights in the newsroom we keep an ear tuned to the scanner. After dark it becomes this portal to all nightmares, a listening post to a relationship war zone.

At first, calls of beatings, knifings and guns drawn ramp up the adrenalin. But eventually, the drone of the dispatchers and pure repetition dull the impact. About 40 percent of all cases at the District Attorney’s office in my county relate to domestic violence.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Motivation May Not Improve Student Scores, While Girls Still March Forward

By Jorge (originally posted to Flickr as School girls) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

At schools around the globe, girls outscore boys, and bored students are better test-takers than their more motivated peers. These topsy-turvy observations are the latest findings in a report from the Washington-based Brookings Institution, research that is part of a long-running series that aims to put a finger on the pulse of academics in the United States and abroad. 

Key Coverage

The Science of Smart

Researchers have long been searching for better ways to learn. In recent decades, experts working in cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience have opened new windows into how the brain works, and how we can learn to learn better.

In this program, we look at some of the big ideas coming out of brain science. We meet the researchers who are unlocking the secrets of how the brain acquires and holds on to knowledge. And we introduce listeners to the teachers and students who are trying to apply that knowledge in the real world.