Friday, December 7, 2012

Deborah Meier on ' How children succeed ' - character education


In my blog post on Paul Tough's ' How children succeed'  I said that trying to promote the 'non-cognitive ' skills such self control, grit and self discipline not in the context of community and cooperative learning,, addressing needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness , using intrinsic motivation and passion to drive learning and solve problems in a collaborative way taking into account kids concerns as well , all we end up is promoting docility and compliance.
I came across Deborah Meier's response on the Dianne Ravitch's blog post on the book.  
The blog post and comments focused mainly on Paul Tough's important contribution on the education and poverty debate and ignored the issue of character education as reflected in KIPP schools. Deborah Meier's insightful comment is on character education.
'Good points re Tough. Diane. But I worry that so many, Tough too, miss the special character strengths that the poor (and stressed) often bring with them to school. Their very strengths (especially if they are males) are seen as weaknesses, including their indomitable feistiness, their independence, their networking, etc. They are seen as traits to be “broken”, and then remade in another image. Kids fight back. And in doing so they are seen as incorrigible! I saw it all the time in 4 and 5 year olds–and, of course, 14-18 year olds. . But instead of encouraging them to hold onto their self-respect, we put it down as a sign of lack of character.
It’s a big subject, and I think you are on the same trail–as has become usual for us–as I am–to see what this “grit” term means when it comes to schooling, and then–who needs to change? The kids or the way the schools (and the larger society and media) respond to them?
I learned a lot just from sitting in the park and watching kids in the sand box–of a most diverse type–and how the adults responded to them and their behavior. Ah well, more another time.'

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How Children succeed - Paul Tough


     In   How children succeed - Paul Tough   argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control and grit. Instead of focusing on cognitive academic skills , schools should focus on character.

I have just read about the book, listened to a few podcats and my first reaction was to think of Alfie Kohn. Besides the importance of attachment parenting and the negative impact of poverty on kids brains , I think Paul Tough gets it wrong on a few accounts.

He talks about self control and grit in an econtalks podcast –' And so grit was this idea that Angela Ducksworth came up with; it certainly involved a lot of self-discipline but also involved a large degree of passion. She defined it as perseverance in pursuit of a passion. So, it's somebody who has a very strong goal and does not let obstacles get in the way; does not give up; does not get distracted. And so she now feels like grit is the more important and more predictive of these non-cognitive skills.'

In the podcast the discussion ignores the crucial element of passion , a possibility of intrinsic motivation fuelling the self discipline and focuses on motivating kids on achievement and the long term pay offs of working hard and having self discipline. In a note - article ' why is self discipline over-rated ' AK says the  limitations of grit itself, as  a concept is  that it ' ignores motivational factors (that is, why people persevere), thus conflating genuine passion for a task with a desperate need to prove one’s competence, an inability to change course when appropriate, and so on. '

What comes across from what I have heard and read is that kids do not see the ' learning in itself ' as something meaningful and worthwhile , they are just focused on achievement and being successful.

So as Ak says , talk about grit, self control and self discipline is more about getting kids to meet adult expectations and be compliant. Character education is less about meeting kids needs for autonomy , competence and relatedness but about meeting adult expectations and getting kids to listen and do what they are told.

Character education has to given in the context of cooperative learning, community and a place where problems are solved in a collaborative way taking into account both adult and kids concerns. Kids should be helped to reflect on how they impact on others and at the same time get their needs met and support others.

This cannot take place in a competitive environment and where a discipline code uses rewards and consequences and ignores kids' concerns.

Paul Tough says schooling focuses on cognitive skills, whereas kids need qualities that  have more to do with character which he calls non-cognitive skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control and grit.

He fails to understand that we use cognition all the time. Just like in academic learning kids need to be active in constructing meaning , kids need to be pro-active and make meaning of their socio-moral learning.

The self -control displayed by kids in the marsh mellow test was more about thinking, problem solving and finding ways to distract oneself from eating the marsh mellow than from good -old fashioned self control.

We would go along way in helping kids acquire grit etc by trying to help them develop a passion for learning and make meaning of what they are doing. Life is a process , not just achieving goals and then moving onto the next goal.

One of the reasons that Paul Tough thinks that cognitive skills are not worth much is that he and kids don't see any value in the learning itself. If there is value in the learning itself then both the cognitive and non-cognitive skills come together.

I recommend Paul Tough and all to read the following articles







Monday, November 26, 2012

ADHD - self control , CPS and mindfulness


I recently read an article on ADHD interventions which can be described as mindfulness in action. 

This is a lot different from the traditional Barkley interventions of rewards, consequences etc which are supposed to compensate for the lack of intrinsic motivation, but essentially don't teach any skills and in the long run they  ( rewards ) undermine intrinsic motivation.

Barkely sees ADHD as ' self-control or self inhibition disorder. If I understand him correctly the ability to inhibit response enables the 4 executive functions ,- nonverbal working memory , verbal working memory= privatization of speech, privatization of emotion which is the source of intrinsic motivation , and playing with ideas-problem solving. 

ADHD kids lack the ability to privatize emotion , the source of intrinsic emotion and need to be compensated by extrinsic motivation. He says cognitive therapy does not work because it assumes the presence of verbal working memory=privatization of speech. 


Others disagree with Barkley. Dr Ross Greene shows that how engaging kids in the collaboration problem solving process many of the kids lagging skills such as executive functions, social skills, language processing skills, cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation skills are taught in an indirect way in a dynamic environment and in the context of real problems.

Attention and self talk skills can be taught in a more direct way by teaching ' mindfulness for children'. In this way kids become more reflective rather than impulsive.

In an article by Dr Ofer Timna , a kid with ADHD is taught to eat chocolate in a mindful way , taking his time by reflecting on taste, texture, smell etc and delay swallowing the piece of chocolate.

Blowing up balloons helps a kid learn to be attentive and monitor his actions and avoid popping the balloon. The balloon could be used to animate how his friends react to his irritating behaviors.


We see from here that self control and inhibition has less to do about self discipline and delaying gratification but more about activating the prefrontal lobe and get the kid into a thinking, reflecting  and problem solving mode.
This is also what Walter Mischel found about kids who participated in his famous "Marshmellow experiment.
Four decades ago, in the Stanford University laboratory of Walter Mischel, preschool-age children were left alone in a room after having been told they could get a small treat (say, a marshmallow) by ringing a bell at any time to summon the experimenter -- or, if they held out until he returned on his own, they could have a bigger treat (two marshmallows).  As the results of this experiment are usually summarized, the children who were able to wait and exert good old fashioned self control , scored better on measures of cognitive and social skills about a decade later and also had higher SAT scores. 

What mostly interested Mischel wasn’t whether children could wait for a bigger treat – which, by the way, most of them could – and whether waiters fared better in life than non-waiters, but how children go about trying to wait and which strategies help.  It turned out that kids waited longer when they were distracted by a toy.  What worked best wasn’t “self-denial and grim determination” but doing something enjoyable while waiting so that self-control wasn’t needed at all.
http://tinyurl.com/cy2n8ye     - mindfulness for children

ADHD - self control , mindfulness and collaborative problem solving

I recently read an article on ADHD interventions which can be described as mindfulness in action. This is a lot different from the traditional Barkley interventions of rewards, consequences etc which are supposed to compensate for the lack of intrinsic motivation, but essentially don't teach any skills and in the long run they  ( rewards ) undermine intrinsic motivation.

Barkely sees ADHD as ' self-control or self inhibition disorder.
If I understand him correctly the ability to inhibit response enables the 4 executive functions ,- nonverbal working memory , verbal working memory= privatization of speech, privatization of emotion which is the source of intrinsic motivation , and playing with ideas-problem solving. ADHD kids lack the ability to privatize emotion , the source of intrinsic emotion and need to be compensated by extrinsic motivation. He says cognitive therapy does not work because it assumes the presence of verbal working memory=privatization of speech. 

Others disagree with Barkley. Dr Ross Greene shows that how engaging kids in the collaboration problem solving process many of the kids lagging skills such as executive functions, social skills, language processing skills, cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation skills are taught in an indirect way in a dynamic environment and in the context of real problems.

Attention and self talk skills can be taught in a more direct way by teaching ' mindfulness for children'. In this way kids become more reflective rather than impulsive.

In an article by Dr Ofer Timna , a kid with ADHD is taught to eat chocolate in a mindful way , taking his time by reflecting on taste, texture, smell etc and delay swallowing the piece of chocolate.

Blowing up balloons helps a kid learn to be attentive and monitor his actions and avoid popping the balloon. The balloon could be used to animate how his friends react to his irritating behaviors.


We see from here that self control and inhibition has less to do about self discipline and delaying gratification but more about activating the prefrontal lobe and get the kid into a thinking, reflecting  and problem solving mode.
This is also what Walter Mischel found about kids who participated in his famous "Marshmellow experiment.
Four decades ago, in the Stanford University laboratory of Walter Mischel, preschool-age children were left alone in a room after having been told they could get a small treat (say, a marshmallow) by ringing a bell at any time to summon the experimenter -- or, if they held out until he returned on his own, they could have a bigger treat (two marshmallows).  As the results of this experiment are usually summarized, the children who were able to wait and exert good old fashioned self control , scored better on measures of cognitive and social skills about a decade later and also had higher SAT scores. 

What mostly interested Mischel wasn’t whether children could wait for a bigger treat – which, by the way, most of them could – and whether waiters fared better in life than non-waiters, but how children go about trying to wait and which strategies help.  It turned out that kids waited longer when they were distracted by a toy.  What worked best wasn’t “self-denial and grim determination” but doing something enjoyable while waiting so that self-control wasn’t needed at all.
http://tinyurl.com/cy2n8ye     - mindfulness for children

Monday, November 12, 2012

Collaborative Problem solving - Cps and Timing


'  Bad Timing ' is one of the most likely causes that makes the Collaborative problem solving process difficult and unsuccessful.

CPS should be pro-active and ' not in the moment'. When we are in the midst of a problem – in the moment -and the heat is on , our kids are agitated and frustrated,  their ability for clear thinking is limited , we and our kids are not in the right ' thinking mode' to engage in CPS. This is not the time to try to teach a kid a lesson or try to engage him in cps in order to find a permanent solution to the problem. At most we can try and redirect , calm the kid down and take out the back-up plan. A back-up plan is always a great thing to have.

We should have a list of unsolved problems with which we approach with plan C.  We acknowledge that this is not the ' time' to deal with these problems and let-go . We let go of our expectations for the time being. We can only really  deal with 2-3 problems at the same time. We need to prioritize and put some problems on the back burner. This helps reduce negative interactions, the kids intensity and relax the atmosphere.

We should try to make a regular fixed time to discuss with our kids  -how thing are going, a time to deal with problems the CPS way , and a time to review how solutions are working out. Even if we do ' CPS' out of the moment, the surprise of a cps discussion makes kids less open. If we have a regular time for talking, we can tell a kid ahead of time ,that we want to discuss a certain problem in the next talking session.

Solving problems is something that takes time, sometimes more than one session or discussion.  When we get stuck  on a problem or the kid is becoming restless or agitated, we can always take a break and come back to it later.

A CPS discussion should be preceded with some time just bonding with the kid, finding out how he is feeling in general ,and if possible in the discussion getting him to agree with you. This sets the stage for him being open and actually ' hearing you'.

Teachers can do CPS during the time they would normally deal with academic problems on a one to one basis, which is usually before or after school , recess , or time when teaching is not frontal. Kids must feel comfortable with the time set for CPS.

If we encourage our kids to share their perspectives and thinking, input and we focus on being  good listeners , they become more interested in their own thinking and sharing their concerns with us. This is so much more easier for the non-emotive stuff and helps kids navigate the more emotive problems solving sessions.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Approaching teachers with CPS


'My son finally transitioned from self contained classroom to regular inclusive classrooms, This occurred last year, when he started high school. But this year he is having a difficult time with the teachers. His remarks are offending them that he is sent out of the classroom and doesn't have to do the work.

 He also has had a lot of change in his life. His father found someone at his work and asked for a divorce. The divorce became final a year and a half. Before that I moved him into an apartment and his older brother stayed with their father. Six months after the divorce was finalized his dad married the girlfriend and her two children moved in part time. He also has had to deal with my breast cancer diagnosis and my being laid off my job.

He does well when working with his in home therapists and when working with teachers one on one. His teachers either like him and can see that he has a lot to offer or they can't see past the outbursts and can't wait to get rid of him. These are the special ed teachers that he is upsetting. I don't know what to do about the behavior. Since I don't want him going back to the self contained classroom.'


I agree that our goal should be to have a kid in a regular classroom  ,  but we have to ask where are kids needs being addressed the best. 

 The new challenges for him at home due to your divorce and other problems are something that the school can't work on to help your child at school. In the home , you can try and put your relationship with him first , promote his competence and foster autonomy, try and connect him with positive young adults or older teenagers who can ' mentor ' or be a friend of his. You can also use CPS to solve problems in the home and focus on perspective taking, identifying   people's concerns , seeking mutually satisfying solutions – in a word – help your son understand that ' living ' is all about ' relationship' . We need to develop in kids an awareness of relationships – parent- child, family, friends, class mates, teacher- student .


At school -  I would try to build a cooperative relationship with his teachers by doing CPS with them  by taking into account their concerns as well. We first want to help them wear the lenses -  children do well if they can -  your kid is lacking essential skills in the areas of frustration tolerance, flexibility and adaptability. Share with them a list of lagging skills – see the CPS sites – and then ask them to identify the conditions your kid is displaying his skill deficits , in other words -  unsolved problems.

Your kid's offensive responses and remarks are not the unsolved problems. They are behaviors . They are merely the symptoms of lagging skills in the context of  unsolved problems. Trying to give him ' replacement behaviors '  in the form of more appropriate language is unlikely to help him as the underlying problem is not being addressed. The lagging skills will be addressed indirectly by the CPS process itself. The process is so important as it uses and promotes so many cognitive skills.

The question whether he can control himself is irrelevant because the problem will be solved only we have a good idea what his concerns are about , and we need his input.  Extrinsic motivation , certainly removing him from the classroom and even trying positive behavioral supports like rewards or praise is not going to solve problems or teach skills.

Any approach must address the kid's need for autonomy – getting his input, his concerns and his ideas on a mutually satisfying solution , competence – life and problem solving skills and relatedness -  a sense of belonging and support
I also recommend a peer mentor , buddy-tutor and older brothers.

You can share with your school the various CPS books especially ' Lost at school '-http://www.lostatschool.org/answers/index.htm  and the CPS sites  http://livesinthebalance.org  - , there is also a radio talk  blog program for educators  , , http://thinkkids.org   , and this blog 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Secrets of Discipline - Ronald Morrish - a CPS/SDT perspective


I tend to judge parenting/teaching books that focus on behavior through the eyes of Ross Greene's CPS – collaborative problem solving approach and the  Self Determination theory. 'The secrets of discipline for parents and teachers' by Ronald Morrish seems promising  by teaching lagging skills and avoiding rewards and punishment , but  Morrish's book about discipline is just a more sophisticated version of imposing your will and getting compliance by ' doing to kids '.

Moorish suggests 3 important building blocks to sound discipline – Train compliance, teach skills, and manage choices.

He talks about ' training compliance ' so kids out of habit comply with adult directions, rules and limits. This is done by using your parental presence and authority, insisting and persisting, direct instructions and supervision to get compliance, forcing do-overs and if that does not work punishment or consequences.

Behavior management is done by managing the choices of kids. Most parenting books say if you want compliance – give choices. This is still plan A – imposing adult will. Do what I say - A, B, or C.

Children are encouraged to reflect on the outcomes of their actions, whether they were appropriate and successful. Now a successful outcome won't be measured by the reward or consequence given for the kid's compliance or not as Moorish does not recommend rewards and punishment but rather the reward or punishment is more subtle , in the form of parental approval, displeasure or disappointment. As he recommends parents to ask the misbehaving kid – would you have made the same decision if I had been standing next to you? Then why do you need me to stand next to you ? You should be doing what I want without me asking you.

Parents can also disguise punishment in the form of natural consequences. Where a kid has been lying or stealing etc or acted inappropriately , the parent can limit the kid's freedom by saying he cannot be trusted or not responsible enough. According to Moorish and many others being responsible is a kid knowing how to follow instructions and comply.

Skills are taught in a top-down manner again in order to get compliance.

The Self Determination theory says that when the 3 basic needs of kids – autonomy, competence and relatedness are met, kids become self determined, intrinsically motivated and internalize values and their behavior becomes meaningful rather than one of habit. They tend to ask what type of person do I want to be, does this reflect my values.

By focusing on compliance Moorish ignores fostering the kid's autonomy. When limits are set together with parents and problems are solved in a collaborative way kids internalize limits and with the help of parental guidelines rather than rules, kids actually learn to create limits themselves.

Kids show responsibility not by following instructions but by 'generating ' choices and articulating their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Kids learn to express and get their concerns met in appropriate ways in the context of the needs of the family, friends or classmates. They also learn to take perspectives and to actually appreciate and understand the reasoning behind a parental, teacher or a friend's request.

Parenting is more about kids being able to trust parents, to see them as a help, as somebody who understands their concerns and cares about them. It is about relationship. Moorish sees relationship as serving discipline and blows kids concerns off the table and trust being the responsibility of the kid – you can be trusted with the freedom I give you as you don't follow instructions.

Moorish talks about teaching skills like  resolving conflict, working and playing with others and being cooperative. If the parental focus is on compliance, plan A= imposing adult will ,where is the parent modeling and teaching collaboration and conflict resolution skills.

From the experience of RDI – relationship developmental intervention therapists skills need to be taught in a constructivist way using parental guided participation to encourage kids thinking and autonomy in the learning process. The  most important skill being taught is ' relationship' , not compliance. The CPS – collaborative problem solving approach teaches skills indirectly by solving problems in a collaborative way. The purpose of teaching skills is not to get compliance but to promote intrinsic motivation and relatedness.

Moorish's parenting/teaching practices fail children badly by ignoring their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness.

 here are 2 summaries of the book 









Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Plan B , dismissal time/runningin the classroom


An example: Friday waiting for dismissal there were 4 students in my room. My 5th grade student of concern, let's call him Han, started going in circles around the room narrating what he was doing: "walking, running, walking, running." The other 5th grader was confused and scared and the 2nd grader with ADHD joined in with the running. Plan A doesn't work. Plan B (or something emergency Plan B-ish) like, "Han, you running in the classroom is not good for the rest of the kids" is met with "I don't care." In general, Plan B with him is met with "I'm not talking to you," "It's fun," or "I don't care."



In the moment is not the best time to do Plan B , so it is more about being creative in trying to distract the child and then redirect him. Think of things you could ask him to do and he  would be willing to do – for eg  send him on an errand – you could make a plan with the secretary , principal , resource teacher etc that in order to distract the kid , you will send him with a note etc . Another distraction is to practice a mindfulness technique by asking the kid to focus on something and then tell you what he sees and then have some kind of conversation   as you wait for dismissal time.

The starting point in Plan B is the neutral statement  - Han , I have noticed when we are waiting to be dismissed , you like to start walking and running and talking out what you are doing , what's up ?  - we want Han to do the talking and we do the listening.

We can reassure him – I am not going to tell you what to do , I just want to hear you , get your perspective/ view point of what is happening .

If he says – I am not talking to you – we can say ' OK'  , so you don't want to talk to me about it , can you tell me more ?

So the plan B conversation is now dealing with his concern – he does not want to talk about ….  .

You might need to take a break from the conversation and make another time with him for the discussion.

Sometimes it is better to engage in connecting activities before a Plan B conversation or small chat where he essentially is  agreeing with you.

If he says – I don't know – you can make some tentative hypotheses /suggestions about possible concerns -Bored, nothing to do – just wait , restless , cannot sit still, struggling to be patient  etc

You can then try to drill down for more information with questions like – can you tell me more , I don't fully understand , see my blog for articles on ' drilling down for concerns '

After he has stated a concern, we can ask –tabling - if we can find a solution for this concern that you like, do you think there are other things that could bother you?

Once we have a clear picture of his concerns and he feels understood, we can put our concerns on the table. I am worried , concerned that if you are walking or running in the classroom , the other kids will be distracted.

If he says – I don't care, your response could be – I am sure you care enough to find a solution to the problem which you will like , and that's what is important.

Next we have the Invitation step  -  I was wondering if we could brainstorm some solutions which would address both your concern – being bored , restless when waiting for dismissal and my concern that the other kids are not disturbed or distracted.

We can brainstorm solutions which are realistic, durable , can be implemented by the kid and mutually satisfactory. This could also be in the form of some ' procedure ' that you have both worked out to give dismissal time some structure. We also agree to revisit the problem and see how our solution is working out and if necessary try to come up with a better plan.


In addition you could engage in pro-social activities, talk in the plural – we , perspective taking, identifying the concerns of others , see CPS as TLC – we talk , listen and care.

Kids often answer – because it is fun -   ' I agree it is fun, let's try to think of a better time to have fun, when I am not talking to the whole class or the other kids are working on something or settling down to leave .

I also highly recommend ' Mindfulness for children '  to help them calm down and be more attentive.

Also check out   Marshall's 'Discipline without Stress '  hierarchy of behaviors. This is not about problem solving but is a good discipline tool to help redirect behavior. Kids are taught  A= anarchy, B = bullying, bossing,  C= compliance , D= democracy , doing the right thing. So when a kid is running in the classroom , he is asked to  reflect on  his behavior  whether it  is A, B, C, or D.





Thursday, September 13, 2012

Keep away from Data



While most data is collected on children deals with their learning , the damage is even greater when data is collected  refers to behavior  and used to give kids diagnoses and labels if he does certain things  x times during the last 6 months or used to assess  static skill level.

Back in the 50s, a prominent psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz characterized psychopathology as “problems in living.”  A child's behavior has to be seen in a dynamic environment where the compatibility or incompatibility between parent , teacher and child can be explored and whether the child is developmentally on target with his life skills.




Rachelle Sheely a RDI – Relationship development intervention expert for challenging kids, especially those on the autistic spectrum says in her blog  that we should understand the difference between static –intelligence data and dynamic intelligence  Rachelle Sheelely RDI letter - Data
'Let me begin by saying that there seems to be a strong correlation between high test scores and doing well in school when the basic curriculum is designed for the tests. This makes sense; if you teach that Austin is the capital of Texas and you then ask on as test, "what is the capital of Texas", the group scores in the classroom will indicate that it has been taught and that the children can answer the question.  

Like tests of content mastery, standardized IQ scores also find a place in predicative correlations for large groups of people. But what does each of these measure? They measure static skills - what you know; not how you approach a problem or use the information to approach new problems, how you figure out how to answer a question or what you will do with the information once you know it. Like many of you, I have my own history of cramming and forgetting.

This brief blog today, then, is a warning to be suspicious of the implied meaning of scores. RDI™ is interested in education with a different twist; experience-based learning as it relates to Dynamic Intelligence. We are interested in how persons on the spectrum approach and solve problems and whether or not they can think. While a quantifiable analysis may be difficult to construct, not so difficult is a snapshot of experiential interactions.

Especially important to this discourse is that with very few exceptions, standardized tests don't predict an adult quality of life for a person on the spectrum. Dynamic Intelligence, related to experience based learning and dynamic decision making, much more so. In the end, we concern ourselves with our children's future selves-their executive functioning, self-management, organization, focus and volition.'


Quotes on data from http://joebower.org  blog

Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." He hung this sign above his desk at Princeton University.


Data is very limiting mostly because it tends to conceal more than it reveals.

If we want to reclaim data, and we do need to, we need to stress that real learning is found in children not data. The best teachers never need tests to gather information about children's learning nor do they need grades to share that information with others. They know that there is no substitute for what a teacher can see with their own eyes when observing and interacting with students while they are learning, and any attempt to reduce something as magnificently messy as real learning will only ever conceal more than it will reveal. I might go so far as to say that the best educators in the 21st Century understand that "measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning" except that this has been true in every century. 

This kind of data will only lead teachers to better predict a kid's chances of passing or failing a test  than actually knowing the kid as a human being - as a learner.

There's a reason why Gerald Bracey once said:

There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all.

The greatest failure of trusting test scores more than teachers is that teachers might know more about how to improve a student's test score than they know the student.

Data is dehumanizing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First CPS , then do RT - restorative justice


Exposing teachers to the Self Determination theory of motivation can be very helpful in moving teachers away from a focus on 'compliance' where teachers rely on rewards and punishments ,  to a focus on community , a commitment to values and solving problems in a collaborative way.  

SDT posits that when a child's needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are met , he will become a responsible , competent and  a caring student.  Rewards , consequences and punishments  not only don't  teach lagging skills – competence  or solve the underlying problem , but impact negatively on ' relatedness ',  and the intrinsic and autonomous  motivation of a student to engage in collaborative problem solving and restitution.

Some schools have been moving away from punishments and adopting a ' restorative justice system ' approach to discipline.  Schools that still see accountability as having a student pay a price or make amends tend to still impose  ' restitution ' and making amends  in a top-down manner .  

When we frame accountability as a commitment to values , the focus is firstly on actually solving the problem in collaborative and durable way which is the ultimate of accountability , and then the kid can engage in an autonomous way in the act of restitution and make  amends.  Making amends may indicate that the student is remorseful and does not want to repeat the behavior , but as Dr Greene says – if we don't come up with a mutually satisfying solution to the underlying problem , the kid will be ' making amends ' over and over again.

The question is what comes first – CPS collaborative problem solving or making amends / restitution. ?

The Jewish new  year – Rosh Hashanah is also the day of judgment. About 10 days later we have Yom Kippur , where Jews fast and pray for atonement for their sins over the past year.

The obvious question is -  should we first not try to deal with the past and atone for our sins before the day of judgment , should not Yom Kippur come before Rosh Hashanah ?

The answer is that true accountability means coming up with a better plan, solving problems and creating a vision for the future. We have to free ourselves from the past which can inhibit our vision and  keep us  tied down when we try to create our vision. Only then , after creating our vision  can we deal with the past . On Rosh Rashana we stand before God as people with a new vision or new plan. We say we are not the same person , we have changed, judge us according to our new vision and commitment. On Yom Kippur we deal with our pasts , and atone for our sins.

The same goes for CPS. We have to free the kid from the negativity of fixing the past and making amends  and first focus on his concerns. In restorative justice we first focus on the victim's concerns. In CPS , we start with the kid's concerns and his vision.

Once he comes up with a solution for the problem that also addresses his concerns and has a new vision of the future,  he will be in a better position to autonomously engage in restitution etc. The quality of restitution and making amends after CPS will be totally different than when RT – restorative justice precedes CPS.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Parents Do Matter - They are the primary therapists for children


Parents Do  Matter -  

This reminds me of what Alice Miller said about parental love for kids, love is important ,but more important is ' how they love their kids'  - conditionally , love them more , shower praise and get excited when they perform well using ' love ' as a reinforcer. Or when kids screw up use love withdrawal, timeouts and emotional expressions of disapproval and disappointment, telling kids you love them but not their actions – kids, in fact nobody can separate the two. The alternative is that you can love your kids unconditionally for who they are without strings attached, try to see their world through their eyes, collaboratively solve problems and offer neutral feedback and encouragement.

Traditional behaviorist parenting books say that Parents matter too. Challenging kids are described as attention-seeking, manipulative, coercive, unmotivated, and limit-testing. They are the products of permissive, passive, inconsistent, non-contingent discipline.

 Challenging behavior is treated with medication, skills are taught in a top-down, drill 'n skill way using rewards by (ABA) therapists and the symptoms are treated with a behavior plan. Parents need to be firm, consistent, contingent, warm and loving parents whose focus is compliance reinforcing good behavior and not rewarding bad behavior.  

These parents are spending lots of money on therapy and remedial education etc , instead of seeing themselves and the  home as the primary resources for teaching  skills in a dynamic way, in the natural environment, nurturing the parent child-relationship and the fostering the autonomy of the child. 

The focus on compliance and motivation at best may help the kid look good as long as the ' reinforcers' are in place, but the rewards and consequences – Plan A etc more often than not  just create more tension, conflict and problems.

The neuro-scientist Dan Siegel explains that kid's brains grow in a nurturing positive environment. Pathways in the brain are created when kids are happy, thinking, reflecting, communicating and solving problems in a collaborative way with their parents and care givers. 

Hearing No and other stressful words from parents in fact destroys pathways. For sure there are times we say No, but when the No is accompanied by a reason and an alternative plan, the thinking becomes exploratory and positive.  When focused on a reward, the brain switches off those areas   associated with voluntary or self-initiated activities.

Parents matter when they promote their children's autonomy, competence and relatedness needs. When the focus is on collaboration and not compliance we promote thinking.

CPS, the Collaborative problem solving approach and RDI – Relationship development approach use guided participation to solve problems and engage in informal learning that the home environment provides.

These approaches are not easy and messy, but there is learning taking place all along the way. Education is a process, CPS and RDI are working with, not doing to processes, and they are not techniques.

'Doing to' kids using reinforcements is easier than CPS or RDI and they can make a kid look good. CPS and RDI is hard work.

Dr Rachel Sheeley, a RDI expert encourages parents -


'One characteristic of autism is that the young child does not bring enough to the table and this disrupts the guiding relationship. Imagine attempting an interaction without a reliable feedback loop and embed these in hourly occurrences that stretch out over days and you get a feel for the reasons parents find themselves questioning their competence as guides; why they fall back on teaching skills without functions, becoming expert entertainers.'

In the same way it is so easy for parents to fall back on Plan A= compliance and doing to with rewards and punishments.

Parents do matter – they can make things much better or worse


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

PBL - student is creative , lousy teacher


Fifteen-year-old high school student Jack Andraka has created a pancreatic cancer test that is 168 times faster and more than 1,000 times less expensive than the gold standard in the field. He has applied for a patent for his test and is now carrying out further research at Johns Hopkins University in the US city of Baltimore.
And he did it by using Google.
He said the idea came to him when he was "chilling out in biology class".  He was reading an article instead of working on an essay. His teacher came along, reprimanded him and confiscated the science journal.
His teacher must really feel ( awfully ) great now.
If all kids were supported by teachers to ask questions , do the research as part of project-based learning there would be more Jack Andrakas and more fulfilled teachers.

Reinforcers - Collaborative problem solving and SDT - self determination theory



Reinforcers -  I believe we must differentiate between reinforcers that are intrinsic – the process is rewarding or there is goal identification – the end product , rather than some extrinsic reward that parents offer.

We should be guided by the questions ? –how does my intervention impact on my kid's needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness- SDT and how my interventions will meet both kids and parents concerns and solve problems - CPS .

 If the kid feels he needs some extrinsic motivation, I would first clarify his goals – for eg practicing piano 5 times a week and  see how some extrinsic motivation will help him achieve his goal. Here he wants to meet his goal,  the reward is there just to help him get there. What happens in practice is that kids are willing to suffer  - practice or do homework for a price.

Competence -  If a kid is reluctant to engage in an activity and needs to practice to acquire a skill , extrinsic motivation on the one hand can promote competence, but impacts negatively on autonomy and relatedness. A CPS approach is likely to uncover other concerns of the kid and unsolved problems other than motivation. When the reward is self determined , it is not controlling and the reward has less impact on intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic reinforcers  may be useful with tasks that are manual and require little thinking as they tend to narrow focus.  The promise of a pay-off or a reward interferes with higher levels of thinking and creativity  which are  exploratory or ' wider in  focus'.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI),a study showed that entirely different areas of the brain are activated by the same task depending on whether a person anticipates a payoff or not. When focused on a reward, the brain switches off those areas   associated with voluntary or self-initiated activities. '

Pairing an intrinsic reward -  the value expressed by the behavior with an extrinsic reward converts the behavior – a social norm into an economic norm -  so by giving a kid a reward for helping or befriending a lonely kid – a social norm has been given economic value ,  this is what I get for doing that. The internal pride and intrinsic reward of being able express one's self and values gets lost.

The problem with praise is not the quantity – over praising but praise itself- its judgmental nature  . Instead we should use  neutral informational feedback and questions that help kids self asses and reflect on how they impact on their world. Behavior or sticker charts are rather different to a kid self assessing and monitoring his behavior without external forms of control in place.

Extrinsic reinforcers may be helpful in the short –term but like medication I doubt whether any parent would like to see them as a long term solution. They also undermine intrinsic motivation and internalization of values, don't generalize and if their effect is lost when rewards are withdrawn.  They get the kid to ask – what will I get or what is in it for me , instead of asking  and reflecting   -  what type of person  do I want to be , do my actions reflect on my values ?






Sunday, August 12, 2012

Modeling Behavior is behaviorist - Not SDT or CPS


Parents or teachers mistakenly think that if they are not giving rewards or consequences, but merely modeling appropriate replacement behavior or language they are using ' gentle or positive discipline and certainly not being ' behaviorist'.
The Self Determination Theory - SDT teaches that if kids needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met , kids become committed , intrinsically motivated , competent and caring people.
Teaching replacement behaviors by modeling as Alfie Kohn shows below ignores the whole child – autonomy , the context of the behavior and values- relatedness.
CPS – collaborative problem solving does not focus on behaviors but  on the concerns of kids in the context of unsolved problems. Teaching replacement behaviors instead of focusing on concerns and problems , the context, fails to address the kid's need for competence.
Here are 2 excepts from Alfie Kohn on Modeling behavior
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/challenging.htm

It’s widely accepted that, in order for children to learn to be good people, they should be shown how to act. Parents in particular try to set an example by the way they treat others. And, indeed, some studies suggest that children are more likely to donate to charity if they’ve watched someone else do so. On the other hand, modeling doesn’t always work on its own. In fact, there is evidence that “exposure to paragons of helpfulness may undermine the intrinsic motivation to help.”[3]  Young adults who watched highly helpful people came to view themselves as less altruistic.
Part of the problem is that modeling is a concept rooted in behaviorism. It began as a refinement of the principles of operant and classical conditioning. Those principles couldn’t account for the fact that people sometimes learn from what they’ve observed, acting in ways for which they themselves received no reinforcement. But modeling, like reinforcing, is just another technique for getting someone to behave in a particular way; it doesn’t necessarily promote a dedication to, or an understanding of, that behavior. Because mere imitation doesn’t achieve those more ambitious goals, we need to supplement the showing with telling — the precise inverse of what I’ve proposed for academic instruction in classrooms.
It may make sense not only to use explanation as a separate strategy alongside modeling, but to combine the two approaches into what might be called “deep modeling.” Here, we not only set an example for children but try to make it clear to them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Verbalizing is a familiar strategy to many of us, from self-talk therapies to the technique known as “think aloud” that’s intended to help students comprehend more of what they read. Deep modeling is different in that the narration is coming from someone else.
Consider the challenge of real-world ethical conundrums. It’s fine for parents to try to model honesty and compassion for their children, but what happens when those two values seem to pull in opposite directions – for example, when telling the truth may hurt someone’s feelings? Similarly, it’s easy to say that kids should look out for other people’s interests, but to what extent must they give up something they enjoy so that someone else will benefit?
We can let children know how we think (and feel) our way through similar dilemmas by describing to them the factors that we consider in making such decisions: the relevance of our previous experiences, the principles from which we’re operating, and all the thoughts and emotions that we take into account. From watching and listening to us, kids not only learn more about how we try to live a moral life; they also figure out that morality is rarely cut-and-dried.
Deep modeling might be thought of as a way of taking children “backstage.” To that extent, it’s very much like writing — or conducting an authentic science experiment — in front of them. They’re able to experience what happens before (or behind or beneath) the ethical decisions that adults make, the essays they publish, and the scientific principles they discover — all of which are usually presented to children as so many faits accomplis.
From http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/behaviors.html

But any time educators (or parents) frame the issue in terms of the need to change a child's behavior, they are unwittingly buying into a larger theory, one that excludes what many of us would argue are the things that really matter: the child's thoughts and feelings, needs and perspectives, motives and values -- the things, in short, that result in certain behaviors. The behavior is only what's on the surface; what matters is the person who does the behaving... and why she does so.
Here are two students in two different classrooms, each of whom just gave half his lunch to someone else. The first student did so in the hope that the teacher would notice this and praise him: "Isn't that a nice thing to do! I'm so proud of you! I really appreciate your sharing like that!" The second student did so without knowing or caring whether the teacher saw him: He was simply concerned that the kid sitting next to him might go hungry.
The two behaviors are identical. What matters are the reasons and feelings that lie beneath. Discipline programs can (temporarily) change behavior, but they cannot help people to grow. The latter requires a very different orientation in the classroom: the ability to look "through" a given action in order that we can understand the motives that gave rise to it as well as figuring out how to have some effect on those motives.
Consider, then, a very specific contrast between two ways of responding to a child who shared his lunch. The teacher who is preoccupied with the behavior -- and who seeks, in this case, to produce more of it -- would probably resort to praise. A different approach, derived from Martin Hoffman's work on "inductive discipline," would be to help the child attend tto how his decision to share has affected someone else (in this case, the recipient of his food). "Boy, would you look at Jaime's face! He is one happy guy now that he has enough to eat, isn't he?"
The message of praise is: I [the person with the power] approve of what you did, so you should do it again.  It is a way of reinforcing a behavior and, in the process, probably strengthening the child's dependence on adult approval. "Look at Jaime's face," on the other hand, is concerned with helping the sharer to experience the effects of sharing and to come to see himself as the kind of person who wants to make other people feel good -- irrespective of verbal rewards.
Even when this particular response isn't used, our goal should be nothing less than assisting children in constructing an image of themselves as decent people. Programs or practices that focus on behaviors -- even on promoting "positive" behaviors -- can't achieve that goal. In fact, they make that result less likely, partly because of how rewards tend to undermine people's interest in whatever they had to do to snag the reward, and partly because a behavioral focus in itself is both limited and limiting.