Thursday, February 21, 2008

Childhood Play, Today's Toys, and Executive Functions

If you've been a teacher for several years, you've noticed the changes in children. As I've visited early childhood education programs, I've seen countless Show-and-Tell (or as I like to call it, "Bring-and-Brag") sessions devoted to children holding up the latest toy—you know, the one causing shoving matches at the local We-Be-Toys store—with almost nothing to say about it. It's evident what the toy "does" or the role that it is supposed to fill in a child's unstructured time. What's disheartening is that a look around the classroom often reveals a cache of similar toys. (And don't even get me started on church nurseries!) What's wrong with toys that serve a limited purpose?

If you didn't hear the report "
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills" on NPR this morning, it is worth a listen. (You can click the link to connect to the webpage featuring the report.)

When I was in college, one of my professors advocated much closer cooperation between educators, parents, and medical professionals. She suggested that we consider establishing relationships with local pediatricians and spend time educating them on the importance of things like reading to children and childhood play. She also suggested we make materials for parents
available in the doctor's office (e.g., pamphlets) that emphasize these same ideas

I'm not trying to be "Chicken Little" here, but if the research clearly indicates what this report suggests, we may want to give that professor's suggestions some serious thought. Like I said, if you've taught long enough, you've seen these changes—and they're not educationally good for our children.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Better Feedback, Increased Learning

I came across an interesting blog posting this morning. It details the thinking behind a charter school working with students who have significant educational challenges.

Review my blog posting "
Framing Feedback for Continued Learning"

and then check out the summary of this school’s approach and results: The First Step Is Failure.

They are finding that “A classroom environment that welcomes error as a gateway to learning contributes to better feedback responses,” and better feedback increases learning!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Hands-on" Thinking

The current edition of Scientific American Mind summarizes a fascinating finding. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that children who used gestures while explaining how they approached a math problem developed new problem-solving strategies and became more responsive to additional instruction. Talking “with their hands” prompted new thinking and prepared subjects for new learning.

This is an intriguing finding. Researchers have believed for some time that connections between the cerebellum, which coordinates physical action, and other brain regions may play a role in coordinating thought. Imagine watching a figure skater just learning a new move contrasted with a figure skater who has performed that same move for years. The smoothness with which the veteran performs the move is due in large part to the cerebellum. So, if smoothness of physical movement and fluidity of thought share neural geography, it would not be surprising to find one positively influencing the other.

However, what’s fascinating here is the increased receptivity to additional instruction. Gesturing actually influenced learner motivation and eagerness for additional teaching. Makes me want to ask students to show (with their hands) and tell more often. Apparently, “hands-on thinking” has its advantages!