Article Archive for ‘January, 2012’

Fujitsu Stylistic Q550

January 25th, 2012

I recently bought one of these devices to use in my business and I suspect that they really are (if anything) a business tool. However, they may have some applications for students who have learning difficulties (LD).

The Q550 is a solid beast that will withstand punishment from children (unlike iPad). The sales pitch suggests that the Gorrilla glass can be dropped onto a concrete floor from 2 metres and not break. I haven’t been game to try the experiment with mine. It can also be secured by a fingerprint scanner which is useful for keeping photos, documents and so on secure.

Unlike iPad and Android devices, the Q550 is a Tablet PC that runs Windows 7. Therefore, it runs MS Word, Excel, Power Point and so on as native apps. The downside is that it’s expensive ($1300) and a little slow. The touch functions with finger input also run a distant third to iPad and Android.

The useful thing is that the Q550 comes with a stylus that allows the student to write/draw on the screen with really good accuracy. This means that they can open a document in MS Word and write as if they were using a pen and paper. The same function can be used for maths problems and so on. Import the teacher’s worksheet to the device, open it in Word and circle, sketch, or take notes at will. (See You Tube for a demo.

In summary, if you have cash to burn and can afford to have multiple devices the Q550 might be worth a look. However, for the price the Q550 probably isn’t going to beat a simple PC or Mac laptop and a cheaper tablet or iPod Touch.

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To repeat or not to repeat? That is the question

January 25th, 2012

Towards the end of each school year, teachers and parents can find themselves faced with a vexing question: should my child repeat his/her school grade?  Some may be driven to this question on the basis of social immaturity while others may be driven by failures to achieve the academic standards set for each grade level. Although the prevalence of grade retention is far lower than in countries such as the USA, anecdotal evidence suggests that its use as an intervention method continues in Australia. This brief article will summarise the available evidence to assist teachers and parents in making a difficult decision.

Who is retained?

The characteristics of students who are retained in a grade are wide and varied and there is very little Australian-based literature. However, it is safe to say that those who are retained tend to be:


Experience academic failure or delay

Have poor classroom conduct

Display emotional immaturity

Perceived as being less competent by both parents and teachers.

Does grade retention improve student outcomes?

Academic achievement

There have been scores of studies conducted since the 1970’s on the issue of grade retention. Many of them, however, suffer from significant methodological and statistical flaws. One should be careful therefore in relying too much upon the data from a single study; particularly if one is not familiar with sound research and statistical methodology. Fortunately a number of reviews and meta-analyses have been conducted which obviate the need for interpretation of individual studies (e.g., Holmes, 1989; Holmes & Matthews, 1984; Jackson, 1975; Jimerson, 2001).

On balance, these reviews have indicated that grade retention either has a negative impact on academic achievement (relative to equivalent promoted peers) or that the effect is null. That is, using retention as an intervention tool has little effect on academic achievement. When positive effects on academic achievement are reported they tend to diminish over time. Indeed, any benefits on achievement are lost when the retained children and their equivalent promoted peers face new material (e.g., Jimerson, Carlson, Rotert, Egeland & Sroufe, 1997).

Mental health

Two studies have reported that older primary school children view grade retention as being in the top three stressful life events: along with losing a parent and going blind (e.g., Anderson, Jimerson & Whipple, 2005). Young children view retention as a punishment and experience sadness, fear and anger when not promoted. In the short-term retained children can face social isolation. For example, there is some evidence showing that peers choose younger same age peers with whom to play rather than the older retained child. In the longer-term retained students tend to experience poorer social adjustment and emotional health, including lower self-esteem and perceived competence, than equivalent promoted peers (e.g. Jimerson et al., 1997).

Student behaviour

The presence of behaviour problems is a predictor of grade retention. Yet the evidence suggests that retention in a grade actually exacerbates the problem (e.g., Jimerson et al., 1997). In male students, grade retention can have long lasting adverse effects on inattentiveness, oppositional behaviour and aggressiveness (Pagani et al., 2001). A similar ‘spike’ in disruptive behaviour is typically seen in female students; however, unlike their male counterparts females display these behaviours for just a short period.

Does timing of retention affect outcomes?

Some authors have argued that age and maturity are significant factors in early school success and that perhaps holding children back will lead to better academic outcomes. Despite the intuitive appeal of holding back a student seen as immature, the evidence does not support the practice. While retention in later grades may be more harmful than when conducted in early grades, the effect is relative and does not mean that early retention is useful or effective.

The alternatives

The most often quoted alternative to grade retention is grade (or social) promotion, where the student is promoted along with his or her grade-peers. While some studies have reported small benefits for promoted students over retained peers, both groups perform more poorly than control students (those without any learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties; Silbergitt, Jimerson, Burns, Appleton & James, 2006). In other words, in the best possible case the promoted student will do slightly better than the retained student. However, both will continue to experience significant difficulties within the areas of function identified as being impaired. Grade promotion on its own then is hardly an alternative to retention.

What is required is grade promotion coupled with intensive intervention methods designed to specifically target the identified weaknesses. Even before this occurs, schools can reduce the possibility of retention through a process of early identification of children ‘at-risk’ (e.g., of reading or other learning difficulties). Theoretically-driven and evidence- based early intervention programs (e.g.,direct instruction programs for word-reading and oral comprehension skills, social skills programs and teacher training in behaviour change) can prevent the failure that leads to the dreaded question of to repeat or not to repeat.


Anderson, G.E., Jimerson, S.R., & Whipple, A.D. (2005). Students’ ratings of stressful experiences at home and school: Loss of apparent and grade retention as superlative stressors. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 1-20.

Holmes, C.T. (1989). Grade-level retention effects: A meta-analysis of research studies. In L.A. Shepard & M.L. Smith (Eds.). Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention (pp. 16-33). London: The Falmer Press.

Holmes, C.T. & Matthews, K.M. (1984). The effects of nonpromotion on elementary and junior high school pupils.: A meta-analysis. Reviews of Educational Research, 54, 225-236.

Jimerson, S.R. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade-retention: Implications for practice in the 21st  century. School Psychology Review, 30, 420-438.

Jimerson, S. R. Carlson, E., Rotert, M., Egeland, B., & Sroufe, L.A. (1997). A prospective, longitudinal study of the correlates and consequences of early grade retention. Journal of School Psychology, 35, 3-25.

Pagani, L., Tremblay, R.E., Vitaro, F., Boulerice, B., & McDuff, P. (2001). Effects of grade retention on academic performance and behavioural development. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 297-315.

Silbergitt, B. Jimerson, S.R., Burns, M.K., Appleton, J.J. (2006). Does the timing of Grade retention make a difference? Examining the effects of early versus later retention. School Psychology Review, 35(1).


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Dragon Dictation

January 25th, 2012

Dragon Dictation uses voice recognition software to produce a speech-text app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. See Note that an external microphone is required for use with iPod Touch.

Unlike the computer-based version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, the Dictation app doesn’t require training. As long as students don’t mumble or have major speech impairments they can use the application. It isn’t perfect, particularly with unusual vocabulary or if you speak quickly. For example, I asked the app to write “King Henry VIII began as a benevolent king. However, he became more crazy with age”. The app suggested that Henry VII was a benevolent pudding!

Getting beyond these silly errors (that can easily be changed using the keyboard) Dictation can be asked to add all sorts of punctuation including full stops, commas and paragraphs. The text can be saved to the device or emailed to a computer. Warning, it does produce funky formatting when viewed on a computer but nothing Select All, Format Paragraph won’t fix.

I find that I struggle to dictate a coherent letter or report with Dragon because I can’t keep all of my ideas and writing structure in mind while talking and worrying about punctuation. Students have the same dififuclty. However, if they use mind mapping software to plan their story and Dictation to add small amounts of text to their plan they find it easier to create a first draft of essays using the speech-to-txt app. They can then come back and edit in a more conventional way for their second and third drafts.

A negative is that Dragon requires an Internet connection. This is not a problem on 3G enabled devices but for iPod Touch, the device most students have access to, the ability to use the app depends upon having a wireless connection in the classroom – something sadly lacking in many schools.

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