Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Duh" Research Strikes Again

Interesting piece in the New York Times this morning--The School Issue - Preschool - Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control? It's yet another in that long series of discoveries by researchers that kids learn better in ways that unschoolers have advocated for decades.

Researchers are coming to believe that impulse control and behavioral skills are more important than IQ, but they're finding that formal instruction in those skills is often ineffective. One program, called Tools of the Mind, is taking another approach:

At the heart of the Tools of the Mind methodology is a simple but surprising idea: that the key to developing self-regulation is play, and lots of it. But not just any play. The necessary ingredient is what Leong and Bodrova call “mature dramatic play”: complex, extended make-believe scenarios, involving multiple children and lasting for hours, even days. If you want to succeed in school and in life, they say, you first need to do what Abigail and Jocelyn and Henry have done every school day for the past two years: spend hour after hour dressing up in firefighter hats and wedding gowns, cooking make-believe hamburgers and pouring nonexistent tea, doing the hard, serious work of playing pretend.

I can't help but notice (again) that this program shifts the responsibility for learning to kids and away from teachers--that little matter of autonomy makes a difference every time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Super-Duh! (& more from Deci)

Nice little article from Alfie Kohn in yesterday's New York Times ("When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’") about the potential baleful effect of positive reinforcement:
Conditional parenting isn’t limited to old-school authoritarians. Some people who wouldn’t dream of spanking choose instead to discipline their young children by forcibly isolating them, a tactic we prefer to call “time out.” Conversely, “positive reinforcement” teaches children that they are loved, and lovable, only when they do whatever we decide is a “good job.”

Kohn goes on to describe research by Edward Deci (of Why We Do What We Do) and two Israeli researchers about the effects of using affection as a control mechanism:
Avi Assor and Guy Roth, joined Edward L. Deci, a leading American expert on the psychology of motivation, in asking more than 100 college students whether the love they had received from their parents had seemed to depend on whether they had succeeded in school, practiced hard for sports, been considerate toward others or suppressed emotions like anger and fear.

It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. But compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to a “strong internal pressure” than to “a real sense of choice.” Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived, and they often felt guilty or ashamed.

In a companion study, Dr. Assor and his colleagues interviewed mothers of grown children. With this generation, too, conditional parenting proved damaging. Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults. Yet despite the negative effects, these mothers were more likely to use conditional affection with their own children.

Go read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Oh, Noes?! Not So Much

Nifty little bit over at Wired (Clive Thompson on the New Literacy) on what the Stanford Study of Writing is showing about the effects of technology and the Internet on the ways people write.

Turns out all that fretting and moaning about Twitter and Facebook and texting destroying our kids' ability to write is all wrong. All that modern technology is creating a population that not only writes habitually but is accomplished at writing for many diverse audiences (and is--not surprisingly--relatively unenthusiastic about writing done solely for a grade).

Learning by doing, indeed.