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Article

Since the mid-20th century, there have been dramatic changes in our conception of how bilingualism affects children’s cognitive development, moving from one of certain negativity, to unlimited advantage, and finally resting in a current state defined largely by confusion because of the complexity in how bilingualism is defined. However, the question has great consequences, so it is important to evaluate the evidence to understand the impact. Such information determines how families make decisions about their home language, particularly regarding the maintenance of heritage languages; how schools offer programs based on alternative languages; how clinicians assess children for learning or other special needs; and how communities offer services to diverse members. By defining the concepts more precisely than has typically been the case, the complexity of the relation between bilingualism and cognition becomes clear. The evidence shows that bilingualism impacts cognitive level and brain function across the lifespan, but the nature and extent of those effects are modified by the type and degree of bilingualism and the nature of the task. Understanding the conditions under which various effects emerge is essential for interpreting the effects of bilingualism on children’s cognitive development and their potential role in education.

Article

P. Karen Murphy, Carla M. Firetto, Gwendolyn M. Lloyd, Liwei Wei, and Sara E. Baszczewski

Classroom discussions are a common pedagogical approach that involve verbal exchanges of information between teachers and students. Given their importance to teaching and learning, classroom discussions have been the focus of extensive curricular mandates and, to a lesser extent, research over the last several decades. In traditional classroom discussions, the teacher tends to be situated at the center of the discussion. This type of discussion model is commonly referred to as a transmissionary model, where the teacher transmits knowledge and understandings and often leads the discussion by posing factual questions and responding to students’ answers by giving evaluative feedback. However, productive classroom discussions are better characterized by a dialogic model with students at the center of the discussion. When students are encouraged to ask thoughtful questions, give reflective responses, and challenge each other using reasoned arguments within classroom discussions, they are more likely to become builders and owners of their knowledge. Indeed, productive classroom discussions tend to ignite students’ engagement, thinking, and understanding of knowledge across academic content areas. When adopting a dialogic model, classroom discussions can advance students’ learning by promoting their basic and high-level comprehension of literary text, reasoning, and argumentation during mathematical sense-making, scientific reasoning, and model building and even second-language proficiency and communicative competence. While the overarching aim of classroom discussions is to enhance student learning across content areas (e.g., language arts, mathematics, science, or second-language learning), the various roles that teachers assume in each of the content areas may have different emphases that align with various content learning expectations. Optimizing classroom discussions requires specific considerations of the content-focused goal, teacher knowledge of content and discourse orchestration, student instruction on classroom talk, and context of content learning. Importantly, the potential and promise of productive classroom discussions can be realized by supporting teachers’ content-specific discussion practices through sustained professional development and by supporting students through explicit instruction about discussion.

Article

The topic of gender differences in reading, writing, and language development has long been of interest to parents, educators, and public-policy makers. While some researchers have claimed that gender differences in verbal and language abilities are disappearing, careful evaluation of the scientific research shows otherwise. Examination of nationally representative samples of educational achievement data show that there are moderately sized gender differences in reading achievement favoring girls and women (d = −0.19 to −0.44 across age groups), and substantially larger gender differences in writing (d = −0.42 to −0.62), spelling (d = −0.39 to −0.50), and grammar (d = −0.39 to −0.42). Explanations for observed gender differences in verbal and language abilities suggest a complex network of biological, social, and cultural forces rather than any single factor.

Article

M. Anne Britt and Jean Rouet

Multiple document comprehension refers to people’s acquisition of information from more than one document for the purpose of achieving their goals. Comprehending single documents involves constructing a long-term memory representation in which text contents get integrated with the reader’s prior knowledge. Both text structure and readers’ goals are important in determining which information is included in the reader’s memory representation. In multiple document comprehension, documents are associated with distinct source features and they do not have to follow the coherence and cohesion principles that define single documents. Thus, multiple document comprehension involves several additional challenges, including selecting documents, making strategic reading decisions, and sourcing. The documents model framework (DMF) proposed two additional representations beyond those of single-document comprehension: an intertext model based on identifying and interpreting the document sources and an integrated situation model based on representing conceptual connections across documents organized around the structure of the interpreted task. The RESOLV model extended the DMF by proposing that readers formulate their reading task within a larger physical and social situation (a context model), creating goals and methods to achieve those goals (a task model). One such task situation that has received research attention presents people with documents that describe discrepant accounts of some event. The discrepancy-induced source comprehension (DISC) hypothesis predicted that readers would use source information via an intertext model to resolve the contradictory information in their situation models. Several issues that are the focus of current research include understanding the factors that influence coherence across documents, creating interventions to help students become aware of multiple document challenges, and improving our understanding of the developmental trajectory for learning these skills and how they build upon more basic literacy skills.

Article

Writing  

Danielle S. McNamara and Laura K. Allen

Writing is a crucial means of communicating with others and thus vital to success and survival in modern society. Writing processes rely on virtually all aspects of cognition (e.g., working memory, motivation, affect, self-regulation, prior knowledge, problem solving) and are naturally embedded in social contexts. Social factors include writers’ objectives, audience, genre, and mode of writing. For example, the increased use of the Internet has rendered writing for informal purposes more frequent, and writing mechanics (e.g., deleting, spell checking) and search for information more efficient. Research on educational interventions to improve writing points to the importance of providing students with instruction and practice using writing strategies, writing practice with feedback (e.g., instructor, automated), and collaborative writing (including peer feedback). Given the inherent complexity of writing, it is important to help students learn how to write across various situations with varying purposes and demands. This necessitates reading many types of text genres (e.g., narrative vs. informational writing), writing frequently, and revising based on feedback. Since the turn of the century, there has been a substantial increase in research on writing processes, including methods to improve writing. However, there remains a substantial need for additional experimental work to understand writing processes as well as more evidence on which types of interventions are most beneficial in helping students to improve their writing. Feedback from both cognitive and sociocultural researchers should inform future revisions of the standardized guidelines and assessments with the long-term goal of developing a clearly defined set of standards for academic excellence in writing.