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Teaching Trumps Genetics, Researchers Find

April 23, 2010

While genes can and do play an important role in a child’s ability to learn, a new study emphasizes that good teachers can help struggling pupils and poor quality ones can hurt a genetically gifted one–and instructors can even affect the academic performance of twins, according to a new study.

Researchers at Florida State University (FSU), led by associate professor of psychology Jeanette Taylor, studied more than 1,500 total first grade and second grade classrooms. Of those, 550 had at least one identical twin, while the others had at least one fraternal twin.

According to Associated Press (AP) reporter Donna Gordon Blankinship, “Among the identical twins, 42 pairs out of 280 pairs showed significant differences in reading improvement during the year studied”¦ In each case, the teachers also had significantly different quality scores. Twins with similarly good teachers got similar scores.”

“The study shows teacher quality is one reason for the differences between the achievements of twins, but it cannot explain the whole difference,” she added. “[But] the researchers believe their results showed the best teachers made the biggest difference in learning achievement. Genetic differences between students seemed to disappear in classrooms taught by less effective teachers, because children don’t reach their potential,” the researchers found.

The FSU team’s conclusions, according to information in an April 22 Reuters article: “In circumstances where the teachers are all excellent, the variability in student reading achievement may appear to be largely due to genetics. However, poor teaching impedes the ability of children to reach their potential.”

Taylor and her colleagues published the findings of their research, which was sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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