Monday, December 21, 2009

Parents - Trust Your Own Analysis About Your Children

Parents should trust their own analysis of their children's learning capabilities. I can still remember being told to hold my son back a year in preschool for no other reason than he was a boy and on the young end of the curve for other children in his grade. It had nothing to do with his ability to learn, comprehend or socialize. I am very happy I did not listen to the well-intentioned advice. He now is in his 4th year of engineering school and doing fine in all aspects of his life.

The quotes below from a recent article summarizing recent cognitive neuroscience research illustrate the capabilities many young children have that teachers of preschool and grade school age children may completely miss because of their own education which has created blind spots to what is possible.
Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.

But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.

“You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here,” he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. “That’s it. See?”

For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.

Educated, observant and interested parents are in the best position to see what their children are capable of learning and then should provide the experience their children need. If a parent waits for school to provide the teaching they may wait forever. Most teachers do not have the knowledge of new research and you will find many teachers just burned out to the point they are going through the motions of teaching.
The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science. In several cities, including Boston, Washington and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain scientists to help children overcome dyslexia.

And schools in about a dozen states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, improving self-control in class.

“Teaching is an ancient craft, and yet we really have had no idea how it affected the developing brain,” said Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard. “Well, that is beginning to change, and for the first time we are seeing the fields of brain science and education work together.”

This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many “brain-based” commercial products on the market. But there are others, like an early math program taught in Buffalo schools, that have a track record. If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.

From my personal experience the feelings of frustration with adults when I was a child are still vivid. I could not understand why the adults thought me incapable of learning certain subjects when I was questioning them about those concepts and thus must be interested and capable - how can you ask the question if you are not capable?

Beyond Counting

In a typical preschool class, children do very little math. They may practice counting, and occasionally look at books about numbers, but that is about it. Many classes devote mere minutes a day to math instruction or no time at all, recent studies have found — far less than most children can handle, and not nearly enough to prepare those who, deprived of math-related games at home, quickly fall behind in kindergarten.

“Once that happens, it can be very hard to catch up,” said Julie Sarama, a researcher in the graduate school of education at the University at Buffalo who, with her colleague and husband, Doug Clements, a professor in the same department, developed a program called Building Blocks to enrich early math education.

“They decide they’re no good at math — ‘I’m not a math person,’ they say — and pretty soon the school agrees, the parents agree,” Dr. Clements said.

“Everyone agrees.”

If a child's parents are not educated a situation arises where the child will get behind and probably never catch up. Thus ignorance perpetuates ignorance.

That brings up the question of societies responsibility to children and where to draw the line. What do we do in our own country? What is our responsibility to the world?

We see the results of ignorance and minds that never developed and thus very easily corrupted and/or mislead in the news everyday. It translates to crime and terrorists and fundamentalist and closed-minded attitudes in our country and around the world.


Jeff Sr said...

Interesting piece, and it is true. Which is why teachers who teach the kids in the beginning grades need to be better trained. To expand on what this author is saying, I believe our country, our system is dropping the ball on education because we are not holding everyone to a higher standard. This no child left behind (NCLB) is in no way the answer. Instead it is contributing to the problem.

Also, the kids today are unmotivated and lazy. I have always blamed the parents. But this article brings up some good points about early childhood development. I don't ever get to see this in practice. I only see the end result of it as I teach high school and get the kids after they have been screwed by the system. I still put some of the blame on the parents. It seems a lot of them are too busy or lazy to pursue what is best for their kids. You did and look at the result. It paid off, and your son is doing great. On top of all of it, parents today are not parenting their kids, rather it is the kids who run the show at home, parents and schools don't want to hold the kids accountable...It is very sick!

Sojka's Call said...

I agree with you that the parents shoulder the primary responsibility and that in most cases of developmentally challenged kids the parents were either incapable completely, were too lazy or prioritized other life activities ahead of the children.

It makes me think that when kids are about two years before entering kindergarten that the parents should have some kind of compulsory education themselves so they learn how to support their kids properly. The compulsory education could be very flexible and, of course, if someone wanted to get around it they could, but, it would at least provide a direction for parents. For instance, you could just have to show you had read some books, attended some kind of training (on-line or live), etc and be able to converse with the kindergarten teacher intelligently about what you have done. The teacher could in turn suggest other things you could do. If done in a spirit of cooperation for the benefit of the child it could be a very powerful and enriching way for a family to start their schooling experience.