Sunday, 27 March 2016

Why disciplining kids can be so tricky for parents and teachers

Disciplining works if it is not over the top and children understand the point of it.

Highlights magazine’s annual State of Kids survey found that a majority of children appreciated being disciplined and believed that it helped them behave better.

What children disagreed with were the strategies that were used by their parents – the most common ones being time-outs and taking away electronics. The report suggests that disciplining strategies work better when they open up communication and strengthen relationships among friends or siblings or between kids and adults.

However, my own work as an education professor and researcher who works with schools and families shows that disciplining is becoming a major issue at schools too, taking up more and more of the school day. So, why are schools imposing severe disciplinary measures?

What’s going on in schools?

Let’s first look at what disciplining looks like in schools.

Many schools now have lines on the floor that students must walk on to get anywhere. Some schools even have tape on the ground to show where students should walk in the classroom. Hallways have stop signs at each corner and schools enforce zero noise zones.

Children are told to hold air in cheeks like a bubble when walking in the hallways or when they are supposed to be listening to instructions or storytime. They are told to walk straight, not touch anyone, keep their hands to themselves, sit on an X mark on the floor, raise a hand before speaking, keep eyes on the teacher, use only one piece of paper, follow directions and be quiet.

Over the past 10 years, strange discipline measures such as red, yellow and green lights, where green means well-done and red means bad behavior, have become commonplace. Children can get their recess taken away or be put into an isolation room. Or, increasingly, even the police can be called.

Discipline is not only constant but also public. Just last week, I was in a class where a child’s name was on the board. Children at my table pointed it out to me and explained that the kid gets in trouble a lot. They told me that the teacher writes his name on the board and then when he is good, he gets one letter erased. When they are all erased, he can have free time.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

How do children decide what’s fair?

Should a teacher reward a whole class for the good deeds of one student? What about the other side of the discipline picture: should a whole class be punished for the misdeeds of just a few students?

As adults, we care a lot about whether people receive their fair share of benefits, and whether those who commit offenses receive a fair degree of punishment. (Think, for example, about the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in the U.S., which popularized the slogan “We are the 99 percent.” This movement has widely been seen as a movement that worked to highlight unfair distributions of benefits or rewards.)

As we know, children also care about the way rewards and punishments are allocated. I study how children think about fair punishment and reward, and how that thinking changes as children develop and gain more experience in the social world. Understanding how children view fair allocations of punishments and rewards can give parents and teachers more insight into how children of different ages may react to common discipline practices.

Children’s views on fair distribution

Much of the research in this area has focused on how children think about fair ways to distribute rewarding items or consequences. For example, in a series of studies I conducted a few years ago with Peter Blake, a researcher at Boston University, and Paul Harris at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, three-to-eight-year-old children were given four stickers and had the chance to share any number they wanted with another child. Any stickers they didn’t share, they kept for themselves.

We found that the seven-to-eight-year-olds tended to share the stickers equally, while the younger children tended to keep most or all of the stickers for themselves. However, one finding was common to the preschoolers and the older elementary school children alike: all asserted that the stickers should be shared evenly.

We concluded that from an early age, children are aware of local norms related to fair sharing, but it’s not until age seven or eight that they consistently follow such norms. This was further corroborated by findings from another study that also shows that by around age eight, children in the U.S. follow norms of fairness even when it means having less for oneself.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

How to promote good mental health among teachers and students in your school

Discuss mental illness regularly, incorporate more exercise and encourage honest dialogue, suggests the government’s mental health champion for schools.

We all know the basic requirements to maintain good physical health. We know we must eat well, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, alcohol in moderation etc. These golden rules have been impressed upon most of us since we were old enough to comprehend them.

When it comes to mental health, however, we’ve been taking a different tack; most of us wait for mental illness symptoms to arise before giving the health of our minds any consideration. It’s a strategy that’s been disastrous for an entire generation of British people (and in particular those under the age of 25).

A person’s mental health cannot be seen and there is still a significant stigma attached to discussing mental health problems something which, in my capacity as the government’s mental health champion for schools, I am working hard to change.

Statistics tell us that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental illness each year. Yet we all have a brain and, therefore, a mental health. What if we gave consideration to how we might make lifestyle choices, and create an environment and society which is conducive to good mental health?

It was from this starting point that our Self-Esteem Team lessons for teenagers were born. We wanted to give young people the mental equivalent of their five-a-day; simple tips which improve self-esteem, promote positive body image, reduce stress and nurture the wellbeing of their minds.

Here are some tips for promoting good mental health in schools:

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Fomo, stress and sleeplessness: are smartphones bad for students?

Phones can have nasty side effects, but there are ways to minimise their impact on students.

As with all technology, mobile phones can have their pros and cons,depending on how they are used. At their best, they can be useful tools for staying in touch, finding out new information and co-ordinating social activities. At worst, they can negatively affect concentration, communication and sleep, or increase fear of missing out, procrastination and stress.

These potential negative consequences are especially important to consider for teenagers. Their brains work differently to those of adults: they are more susceptible to peer pressure and have less self-control.

The dangers
Reduced concentration

A study on the science of distraction found that each time an office worker was distracted (say from a text message or email), it took them up to an average of 25 minutes to refocus on the original task at hand. That’s what makes students doing their homework with their mobile phone nearby so problematic. It is a myth that most people can multitask. In truth, it takes up a lot of time, energy, effort and focus to switch between two tasks.

Students don’t even have to be on their mobile phone for it to distract them. For tasks that require attention and cognitive demands (ie homework), researchers have found that the mere presence of a mobile phone may be sufficiently distracting to damage attention.

Reduced face-to face, quality communication

In a fascinating study, researchers asked strangers to talk to each other for 10 minutes. Half the participants had the conversation with their mobile phones on the table; the other half had a notebook instead. The results? Those who chatted in sight of their mobile phone said they were less likely to be friends with their partner and reported feeling less close to them.

What was particularly interesting was that the participants were not aware of the effect that having their mobile phone out had on them. Mobile phones can affect the quality of face-to-face communication even if you don’t consciously know it.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

When do children show evidence of self-esteem? Earlier than you might think

 The belief in being good at certain concrete skills could be different from a more general sense of self-worth or what scientists call “positive self-esteem.” For example, at early ages, children can report “I’m good at running” or “I’m good with letters.” But preschoolers might not be able to answer questions about their overall sense of self-worth.

So, when do kids develop a sense of self-esteem and how can we measure it?

Our research has developed new ways to study what kids think about themselves. Parents, make a note: our results show that most kids develop a sense of self-esteem – feeling good or bad about oneself – as early as age five, before they even enter kindergarten.

Measuring self-esteem in young children

Measuring children’s self-esteem can be challenging because it seems to require a certain level of introspection and verbal abilities. We found a way of getting around this by measuring children’s deeper and more implicit sense of self-esteem, something that did not require answering verbal questions.

For example, in adults, self-esteem is often measured by asking people to rate their agreement with statements such as, “I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others,” or “I take a positive attitude toward myself.”

But preschoolers have difficulty answering such verbal questions. Cognitive and verbal skills required for such answers do not develop before age eight.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Laughter and Learning: Humor Boosts Retention

E.B. White famously quipped, "Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process." At the risk of committing some sort of "humor-cide," a type of scientific dissection must take place if teachers are to consider harnessing the powerful effects of humor, not only to increase joy and enhance the classroom environment, but also to improve learner outcomes.

The Funny Bone Is Connected to the Sense of Wonder

Teachers understand that humor is inherently social. How many times have you heard that same "Orange who?" knock-knock joke spread through your classroom? The contagious nature of humor naturally builds a sense of community (PDF, 731KB) by lowering defenses and bringing individuals together. If the brain is faced with an inconsistency, then laughter is the response when it is resolved in an unexpected way. This sentence, "Memorization is what we resort to when what we are learning makes no sense," may make us smile as our brains resolve its inconsistency.

Essentially, humor activates our sense of wonder, which is where learning begins, so it seems logical that humor could enhance retention. A Pew Research poll showed that viewers of humorous news shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report exhibited higher retention of news facts than those who got their news from newspapers, CNN, Fox News, or network stations. When Stephen Colbert demands, "If we don't cut expensive things like Head Start, child nutrition programs, and teachers, what sort of future are we leaving for our children?", viewers laugh and also retain the knowledge of that specific budget issue.

A substantial body of research explains why we remember things that make us laugh, such as our favorite, hilarious high school moment or the details of that funny movie we saw last weekend. Neuroscience research reveals that humor systematically activates the brain's dopamine reward system, and cognitive studies show that dopamine is important for both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory, while educational research indicates that correctly-used humor can be an effective intervention to improve retention in students from kindergarten through college.

Foolishness as a Tool

What does "correctly used" mean? Let’s take a closer look at some of the classroom research to find out. In one study, researchers asked nearly 400 college students to document their teachers' appropriate or inappropriate use of humor, their effectiveness as teachers, and how students perceived the humor. The results of this study showed that related, appropriate humor resulted in increased retention, while inappropriate, cruel, or unrelated humor did not. The study also discovered that humor can be perceived and appreciated without improving retention -- essentially, the student can think a teacher is "funny" but not show an improvement in retention. So, just being silly may get your students' attention, but may not lead to better retention. These researchers concluded that for improved retention, appropriate, topic-related instructional humor is most effective.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Asian Countries Take the U.S. to School

A closer look reveals key differences in how they educate their students and offers valuable practical lessons in getting all children to achieve.

Closing the achievement gap between the United States’ disadvantaged students and the rest of our students has been the major focus of federal education policy since 1965, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed. Compared to the countries with more successful education systems in the world, how is the U.S. doing? The answer is not very well.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released a very revealing report on low-performing students in the countries that participate in the Programme for International Student Assessment survey. In places like Hong Kong, Shanghai, South Korea, and Vietnam, fewer than 5 percent of 15-year-old students performed below the basic-proficiency level in reading, mathematics and science. But, in the United States, 12 percent—half a million students—fell below the same level in all three subjects. The performance of the average student in the U.S. falls below the OECD average for all 64 countries in its survey, and far below the average for the major industrial countries. The proportion of our students who score below the OECD basic score is also well above the average for the major industrial countries. Equally troubling, the proportion of our students who score in the upper ranges of the OECD spectrum is also well below the average.

Some argue that the U.S.’s lagging behind has nothing to do with our schools: The U.S. has a much higher proportion of disadvantaged poor and minority students than higher-performing countries. But the data show that 37 countries outperform the U.S. in the degree to which socioeconomic status predicts low achievement. Both Vietnam and Latvia have far smaller percentages of low-performing students than the U.S. If it is poverty that accounts for the U.S.’s high proportion of low-performing students, it is hard to explain how these two countries are doing better than the United States. Vietnam’s average income,adjusted for purchasing power, stands at just one-tenth of the U.S. average, Latvia’s at less than one half.

The OECD also tracks the proportion of low-income and minority students who score at high levels on their assessment. This metric shows that the U.S. has a smaller proportion of low-income high achievers than all but a few of the countries studied.

It turns out that a number of East Asian countries, which account for the majority of nations with high-average performance, also have the lowest percentage of low-performing students. Indeed, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea all rank in the global top ten in terms of achievement as measured by OECD’s PISA, and each of these jurisdictions has less than 10 percent of its students scoring at the lowest levels. That makes it clear that improving the performance of the low performers does not require a country to sacrifice the performance of the average or top performers.