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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

‘Nudging’ aims to change habits

Image result for Latino mother reading to preschool child

Text-messaged “nudges” can help parents support their children’s learning, writes Daisy Yuhas, citing research at Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) Labs.

Three times a week, researchers from CEPA Labs send parents and other caregivers suggestions on how to support children’s literacy, numeracy and social and emotional skills. Bath time, walks in the park and familiar household interactions become opportunities for children to learn and practice concepts they will later use in school. For example, a Monday message might flag an important domain (“children need to know the letters to learn how to read & write”); a Wednesday text might provide a related learning activity (such as asking a child to find the first letter in his or her name on signs or labels); and a Friday message might offer encouragement (“Keep pointing out the letters. You’re preparing your child 4 K [Kindergarten]!”).

After eight months of messages, San Francisco “teachers noted that text-receiving parents asked more questions about their child’s progress than other adults, and the kids themselves improved their literacy skills,” writes Yuhas.

Nudging is being tried at all levels, reports Yuhas. A study in West Virginia found that “keeping parents in the loop, through texting, as to their child’s absences and grades could cut course failures for middle and high school students by nearly 40 percent.”

Ariel Kalil, who co-directs the University of Chicago’s Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab, said nudging helps parents form new habits. Kalil and co-director Susan Mayer gave low-income parents tablets preloaded with more than 500 children’s stories.

Half of participating parents were asked to set weekly goals for how much time they would spend reading to kids, and then received texts with reminders of those targets, progress reports on meeting the aims and even notification when they spent the most time reading of any parent in the study in a given week. The other families received a tablet but no additional reading prompts. At the end of the intervention, the adults who had received the extra nudges spent more than twice as much time reading each week with their kids – a difference of 89 minutes on average. . . . three months after their experiment had wrapped up and the tablets had been taken away, the parents who had received nudges were still spending twice as much time reading to their kids.

Colleges are using nudging to keep students on track. Georgia State raised the no-show rate for incoming students — “summer melt” — by sending text messages with deadline reminders and advise on completing paperwork, writes Kevin Mahnken on The 74.

Personalized text messages improved the persistence of STEM students at community colleges, another study found.

Text messaging is much, much cheaper than higher counselors.

However, nudging students may be counter-productive in the long run, writes Jay Greene. He worries about nudging reluctant students to enroll in college. He’s seen drafts of research suggesting that “students who didn’t think they were ready for college but were pushed into attending may have difficulty finishing and other students who enroll later may be better prepared at that point to succeed, causing the overall effect of these nudges to be null or even negative.”

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