Friday, July 05, 2013

Nurture Shock: Teacher's Take

Reflection on Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Twelve books, 2009.

Nurture Shock, a digest of studies of child development performed in the past 20 years, gives a teacher in middle school some ideas.

Start School Later: 
School systems that started the school day an hour later saw immediate jumps of 100 points on SATs across the board.  Research over the past twenty years tells why:  Adolescents don't sleep the way adults do.  They need 8 - 10 hours. The serotonin that makes us sleepy doesn't kick in for adolescents until around midnight, regardless of their schedules -- it's a biological thing.  Sleep loss leads to loss of executive function, "perseveration," and irritability (34).  The initial period of a night's sleep, when the brain processes new concepts, lasts ten times longer in kids than in adults, and the fitfulness of that period of sleep has huge consequences on learning and mood, as kids have trouble remembering good things, while the amygdala retains visceral memories of bad emotions (35).  Lack of sleep cannot be made up on weekends, and deprivation is cumulative (44).  Most surprising to me, sleep deprivation leads to increased amounts of a hormone that stimulates appetite and decreased amounts of a hormone that suppresses appetite (40):  recipe for obesity.

Kids Lie to Please Their Parents:
Kids are more afraid of disappointing their parents than they are of punishment.  In the common situation, when the kid says, "I didn't do it," we adults say, "Don't lie.  Did you do it?"  sending the messages (1) we assume you're lying and (2) the misdeed is more important to us than honesty.  So the kids continue to lie about that misdeed.  An experiment reading different fables to different groups yielded surprising results:  The fact that the boy who cried "wolf" was eaten at the end did not affect the hearers of that story;  but there was a great change in behavior from the kids who heard Father Washington say to his son, "Learning that my son tells the truth is worth more to me than a hundred cherry trees."     A later chapter on teenagers tells us that arguing with a parent is a sign of respect and love, and "the opposite of lying," because the child confident in the parent's love and respect will risk arguing, while most kids will just pretend to do what the parents want (149).

Before third grade, tests  of intelligence and/or social behavior do not predict future performance.  The brains are simply too much in flux before age 8 or so.   I'm leery of predictions for any of the kids I teach, because kids who appeared hopelessly lost in 8th grade have gone on to be academic stars and class leaders.

No wonder teens often appear to be bored.  The "reward center" of the teen brain does not respond at "low doses" of pleasure:  If they don't win the whole prize, they don't feel any pleasure (144).  No wonder they're bored.  Making decisions, they can think abstractly, but they don't feel abstractly (146):  Young children and adults recoiled when asked to identify the "bad ideas" in a list that included walking the dog, eating a salad, biting down on a lightbulb, and jumping off a roof.   The teens took longer, and their emotional responses, measured by scans, were listless.  On the other hand:  Another chapter suggests that teen rebelliousness and teen angst aren't so prevalent; but teens do act like they despise their parents and siblings -- because they perceive that this is what teens are supposed to be feeling (154).

Play to learn.  As an arts teacher, I was gratified to see how important pretending, improvisation, and "getting into" a role was in a kindergarten program that has been successful in teaching young kids self-control and meta-cognitive learning.  The young students who've learned about fire stations take time with the teacher to plan a simulation.   For an hour, the kids concentrate, needing only the occasional reminder, "Is this part of your plan?"  (161).  At other times in their day, the kids pretend to read to each other, one the "reader," the other a listener; then they trade.  They pretend to write notes.   Instead of being corrected on their letters, they and partners identify their best attempts, and they get closer to the good model (168).  Kids are encouraged to narrate what they do; then to whisper it to themselves; then to internalize that self-monitoring voice (167).  Bottom line: The kids learn better during their playtimes than during a traditional class.  No competition involved!  This kind of pretend play exercises the kids' executive functioning (176).

Power in the Peer Pen:  "Unwittingly, we've put children into an echo chamber," where Middle Schoolers interact with peers all day long, with adults very little.  I heard a speaker on this phenomenon 35 years ago who said then that the boomers, not growing up in neighborhoods where adults were part of every day life, had only themselves as role models, and they graduated to giant kindergartens called college.  In this situation, the quest for status leads to both good and bad behavior: "kindness and cruelty are equally effective tools of power" with proper "balance" and "timing" (193). 

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