Sunday, December 18, 2011

Temper Tantrums - a CPS/SDT collaborative problem solving and Self Determination theory perspective

Behaviorists view temper tantrums as ' manipulative ' behaviors by kids to get attention, get what they want and avoid demands placed upon them. They have learned that this  behavior works for them. 

Don't we all try to get attention, get what we want and try to avoid doing things we don't like ? Don't kids have legitimate needs ,  a need for autonomy and other concerns ?  Should we not try to see their world through their  eyes and acknowledge their frustration as genuine rather than calling it manipulative?  Why call having a tantrum in a mall because mom won't buy you a toy as just trying  to push buttons and get mom to give in rather than kid  being frustrated and falling apart.

Parents are advised to distinguish between tantrums caused by frustration in doing a task or difficulty in verbalizing stress , in which case kids need support- and the manipulative tantrums which are attention seeking, task avoidance and getting what you want. The latter would demand interventions - consequences like time-outs, grounding kids, loss of privileges etc . Being supportive and giving ' relationship' would be considered as rewarding ' bad behavior ' -  kids get relationship by acting badly.

These techniques may be effective in getting ' behavior ', but come at a cost of commitment to the underlying values and strain trust and  relationship with the parent. Relationship   is made conditional and used against kids to leverage good behavior. Kids usually abandon the idea that their parents will ever understand them, and offer support.

The CPS/SDT  - collaborative problem solving / self determination  theory view is that parents must focus on meeting their kids' needs ( not wants). Kids who exhibit tantrums have unmet needs and concerns -  autonomy, competence and relatedness. Kids exhibit high levels of emotional intensity- anger / frustration, driven by the fight/flight hormones, overwhelmed by stimuli, explode and have their meltdowns. People and kids don't decide to be manipulative and throw a tantrum to get you something.You need to have your buttons pushed and feel incredibly frustrated, angry and helpless. Even if parents do give in , which is very different from meeting their needs , kids are not going to learn to throw a fit , because throwing a fit pays.

Tantrums are ' symptoms of underlying problems. Behaviorists focus on the symptom, CPS/SDT focus on the whole child and the underlying conditions/problems giving rise to the tantrums.

There will be times where kids do things that are absolutely unacceptable and parents must thwart their intentions and compromise their autonomy. If we try to ensure that our interventions are not experienced as punishment and the relationship is not damaged we are in a good position to deal with the underlying issues and problem solve when the kid is calm.

The best way to deal with ' temper tantrums' is to avoid them  ' out of the moment ' by working on ' unsolved problems ' which reliably and predictably cause kids to look bad and fall apart. Finding realistic and durable solutions is not easy but one can permanently solve the actual problem. In addition to solving problems, using the  CPS process kids acquire many cognitive skills. If we can teach kids to ' think straight ' and problem solve they won't have to deal with frustration in the first place.

 Here we support the kid's autonomy in that he participates in finding mutually satisfying solutions, and his concerns are being addressed. We support his need for competence by solving actual problems and teaching skills and finally most important support the need for relatedness – being understood, experiencing support and  trust.

Helping kids to deal with frustration is in a way dealing with the symptom, rather than solving the problem causing the behavior. However in the moment , if we are good at observing our kids and picking up on their cues ,  we can help them monitor their emotions, the cues the body offers, recognize and name the frustration, disappointment, fear or sadness before it escalates to fury. We can  help them calm down, take a break, get some 'space ' exercise – repetitive physical motion ( we can talk how the exercise effects our bodies ),  breathing , meditation , go to their ' comfort corners' and chill down. We can validate feelings or more important needs and offer alternatives and choices in which they can experience autonomy and compensate for the loss of autonomy they have just experienced.

The you tube –  The Anatomy of a Tantrum

describes the 3 phases of a tantrum.  The tantrum begins with 
   1   yelling and screaming expresses lots of anger and frustration
   2 physical actions like throwing or pushing furniture
   3 crying , whining, whimpering

It is not a good idea to try and talk to kids during a tantrum or ignore them , but be there and give them some space. If we imagine how this looks from a kids point of view , there is a good chance that the kid is likely afraid of the own rage and terrified of being out of control, so better not to ignore them or to punish. Touching , or holding kids escalates things so we should try to use physical contact to a minimum to ensure safety.

Part of the tantrum is a result of kids having their autonomy thwarted. I see the physical actions as an attempt to experience some autonomy. It may appear to be pretty provocative. Parents should be careful not to fall into the trap and respond to these ' provocations' and let the tantrum play itself out.

The only intervention I have seen to work in the middle of a tantrum is the kid smelling a fragrance – that seems to reset the brain and produce dopamine that makes a person feel good .

After the tantrum is over , kids will seek to reclaim some dignity and sense of autonomy and potency. They will ask or try to be more autonomous. We can try to compensate their loss of autonomy and sense of self determination in one area by giving them more autonomy in another area. Alfie Kohn calls this ' compensatory autonomy support'.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Beliefs and the language of parenting

In my previous blog article I suggested that parenting styles depend a lot on the language of parenting parents have been exposed to.

Beliefs etc also play an important role here.

'You can also reverse the order of causality here. I think that parents' intentions, their values and beliefs, determines how much they will respect their children, try to satisfy their needs, thus influencing t the kind of language they use.'

What is the relationship between beliefs and the language of parenting ?

Most parents share the same long term goals for their children - independent, caring, responsible, inquisitive, confident, happy, self –reliant, kind, thoughtful etc. The question is why parents adopt conditional and controlling strategies when they have negative effects on relationships, social and moral learning and intrinsic motivation. What is holding parents back?

Alfie Kohn talks about  4 ( overlapping ) categories - what we see and hear , what we believe ,what we feel and as a result of all those , what we fear.

What we hear and see  -   I call this the language of parenting that we pick up from our parents, how we were raised, their influence today calling on us to give children limits, boundaries and enforce them with firm discipline and consequences.

 Most parenting books focus on how to get your kids to comply without you even asking them.

Doctors prescribe medication and tell you to treat the symptoms with behavior modification techniques.

 The alternative to authoritarian parenting and punishments is called  ' authoritative parenting – warm and loving with firm limits and boundaries. Dianne Baumrind has described 3 parenting styles – authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. Authoritarian and authoritative parenting is essentially the same ' doing to ' approach. Punishment is not so popular these days , so we use 'consequences' a nice euphemism for punishment , language which is  more palatable, especially if they are natural or logical. 'Honey catches more flies than vinegar ' so use praise and rewards and not punishment.

' Doing to strategies are pretty easy  and can be very effective in the short run in gaining compliance ( the negative impact in the long term – not do obvious )while ' working with children asks a lot from us.

Most parents believe they love their children unconditionally and behave towards them in a respectable way.

What about beliefs – how we regard children, their capabilities, and how they should be treated  etc ? 

'The immediate consequences , or surface appeal , of traditional approaches to raising children can explain a lot, as can the influence of people around us. But I think we also have to consider some widely shared beliefs and values that make people more rexeptive to those approaches.  '   Alfie Kohn

The way I see it – what we hear and see provides us with the language of parents , our beliefs make us either comfortable or uncomfortable by how we parent.

Those parents who feel uncomfortable and then discover another language of parenting – collaborative problem solving, children do well if they can and not children do well if they want to ,  and children do well if their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are met will be relieved and will embrace a different style of parenting.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Language of Parenting

It is possible to distinguish parenting styles by the language used. 

Do we talk about rules , limits and boundaries , compliance or the needs of children ,expectations and guidelines, collaborative problem solving or consequences, rewards or intrinsic motivation, understandings, perspectives and concerns or adult – child contracts.

 The differences can be summarized as a ' working with ' approach or a ' doing to ' approach, placing the locus of control on the kid or on the adult. Are we interested in compliance or meeting the needs of our kids ?

Parents of troublesome teens and especially those who are returning from a stay in a residential or therapeutic treatment center are encouraged   to make a behavior contract with their kids . These contracts  state very clearly house rules and the consequences /punishments to be imposed when these rules are broken. The message given to kids is that this is my home and if you want to stay here, you need to keep to the rules. The approach does offer kids a clear picture of parent will and a certain predictability of what will happen, however it is flawed .

Kids concerns are not voiced but ignored and even parents' concerns, their  underlying concerns behind the rules are not shared. Kids just hear a rule and not the concern and value underlying the rule.  Rules are essentially solutions to problems or concerns. If discussion does take place, the family is creating a  contract which is more suitable for an economic relationships  , like one  between a boss and employee. Discussion  usually is in the form of negotiating the rules, rather than each party explaining their concerns   and giving their perspectives.  

If a rule is broken , the inevitable response is a consequence or a punishment. When we talk about expectations not being met , our response is not to impose a consequence or ask how can we motivate the kid but to ask what is getting in the kid's way  and how can I help.

Rewards and consequences give the message that we don't trust the kid to do well and make a contribution without the threat of a consequence or a bribe. Relationships are based on understandings , sharing concerns and perspectives and then collaborative problem solving.  Consequences undermine relationships , and instead of dealing with a problem , create  new problems and issue s– the imposition of the consequences and all that surrounds them.

A  'working with'  relationship as opposed to a 'doing to ' relationship  places the locus of control on the child . The limits and boundaries are intrinsic to the child and are an expression of his values and personality.

'' The question - Thomas Gordon , the author of P.E.T – Parent Effectiveness Training says is not whether limits and boundaries are necessary but the question is who sets them ? Is it parents unilaterally imposing limits on their children or are parents and kids working together to figure out what makes sense?

The question then becomes what kinds of limits and boundaries are we talking about - how specific or behavioral should they be as opposed to broadly conceived guidelines that can inform a lot of our activities - a limit on not hurting other people , addressing the needs of others etc 

Don't we want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need ? If so, then our coming up with limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act and I will be guided by that my whole life , not just internalized but it's about what's between me and the other I come across.

An example would be the different thinking a kid would have when faced with a bowl of cookies and would love to eat all of them because ' I am hungry and I love cookies '. When the parent imposes a limit – ' You can take only one cookie ' = I cannot take more because mom said I can have only one or else , or where the kid thinks ,' I would love to eat all the cookies but there are others kids around too and they are also hungry so I will make sure that everyone has cookies too.' When parents say ' you must share because I said so' and follow up with a patronizing pat on the head ' good sharing ', the wrong message gets internalized. I am sharing because mom says so and because I will get a verbal reward for sharing. ''    Alfie Kohn  interview 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Olweus Anti-bullying program

I have been looking into the Olweus anti-bullying program. The information could be outdated.

T:   'Olweus has developed quite a bit in the last 20 years.  Most schools are attaching and aligning this program to their school-wide climate and positive behavioral support systems including instruction of specific skills for social and emotional development and learning including intrinsic motivation.'

AK:  I have been searching the internet - see the link below - to get an understanding of the Olweus  bullying program. The education world link below shows that the program stands on 2 legs – a discipline code with rules and consequences and strategies for improving the school climate.

I appreciate that schools can't overnight move completely away from rewards and consequences , it is a process .

What's happening in schools -  According to Dr Ross Greene – there is a growing appreciation  that zero tolerance policies are failing , but schools still do not know what to do .   There is an attempt to move away from punishment – towards ' logical consequences '  and positive behavioral support systems which rely heavily on praise , rewards etc  - control by seduction.

T : Because bullying is a safety issue there HAS TO be some external regulation of these behaviors.

Olweus supports a response system of what happens after these behaviors - including building relationships, empathy, skills and understanding of those exhibiting the bullying behavior, bystanders and those who are the recipients of those behaviors. 

I would argue that rather than "in contrast" to this program you consider that this is often in partnership with identification or integration of the value of being considerate and respectful toward others.

AK : I have said that change is a process and needs to be done slowly. Because an issue is a safety issue imho I don't think there has to be external regulation – it depends on what's happening on the ground. What are the external regulations -  supervision , rules and consequences.

Supervision has to be minimal , otherwise we can get a prison atmosphere and even if it is not quite like that , if kids have the feeling that they are being watched , the presence of external control undermines integration and commitment to social values.

'Olweus supports a response system of what happens after these behaviors '

  - but how are the behaviors themselves , the incidents dealt with.

Are consequences imposed on the bully , does he HAVE to pay for the damages he has done or do we follow the CPS – collaborative problem solving path -  first engage in problem solving addressing the bully's concerns – not behavior – putting the victim's /our concerns  on the table and then find mutually satisfying solutions . After that is done and the bully and victim have a vision of the future , the bully can be invited to engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , instead of the school imposing logical consequences on him.

Many schools discipline codes  have tier / level systems. For most of the school ,traditional discipline relying on external control ' works ' for most kids. Challenging kids are dished out PBS , positive behavioral supports – plenty of praise, rewards and top down skills training.

IMHO schools should be using collaborative problem solving with all kids, also empowering the 'victims' to solve their problems -  and inviting them to engage in restitution in an autonomous way. If the school models problem solving by giving consequences , it thus creates a ' structure ' that undermines kids commitment to values of caring and responsibility.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bullying - Self Determination Theory , Collaborative problem solving

Bullying in schools can be explained by the fact that the needs of kids for autonomy, competence and relatedness are not being met.  Traditional approaches to bullying focus on behavior  - the symptoms of the underlying problems  - instead of  lagging skills and unmet concerns and needs of bullies , their victims and the student body as a whole.

The needs for competence can be addressed by using collaborative problem solving. Many cognitive skills are taught indirectly when using CPS.  Problems are solved in the context of the child's concerns and when he participates in finding mutually satisfying solutions . The process also supports the autonomy of the child. Traditional social skills training is top down skills training and ignores the 'concerns' of the child. Bullies are lacking the skills to have their needs being met and rewards, punishments and other consequences won't teach them lacking skills.

Relatedness  -  It is not enough to avoid external control and motivation and have trusting relationships between teachers and kids , schools need to move away from compliance and focus on  building a caring community of learners.  This framework supports kids' autonomy – being connected to their true inner selves , competence and relatedness. The fact that bullies were often bullied themselves , means that the need for relatedness was not being met , instead they were being emotionally tormented.

 According to Po Bronson – Nurtureshock 

 ' The science of bullying has shown that bullies feed off of bystanders’ reactions. While we might wish bystanders intervened, in fact all they have to do is turn their backs and stop rewarding the bully with their attention, because it’s attention that bullies seek. The worst thing bystanders can do is be a rapt audience'

It appears that the bully is using ' relatedness ' of other kids to support him in bullying the victim.

  Alfie Kohn          'Another reason why social skills training is unsuccessful is that social skills are taught ,' but not the traits of generosity , caring and altruism. Schools are rather competitive with no cooperative learning , kids ranked one against another, and academic and sports achievement glorified with award ceremonies. Schools themselves are under pressure of high stakes standardized testing and little time is left for promoting socio-moral learning or building a caring community of learners. We can't expect kids to internalize conflict resolution skills and values of community when the ' structure ' of school - the competitive nature and zero tolerance discipline policies go against collaborative solving of problems and cooperative learning needed to create a caring community of learners. In fact , since the introduction of zero tolerance discipline policies behavior problems have increased and kids feel less safer in schools. 

The finding that schools become less safe as a result of adopting zero-tolerance policies will sound paradoxical only to those readers who believe that threats and punishment can create safety. In reality, safety is put at risk by such an approach. A safe school environment is one where students are able to really know and trust – and be known and trusted by – adults. Those bonds, however, are ruptured by a system that’s about doing things to students who act inappropriately rather than working with them to solve problems. “The first casualty” of zero-tolerance policies “is the central, critical relationship between teacher and student, a relationship that is now being damaged or broken in favor of tough-sounding, impersonal, uniform procedures. '   Alfie Kohn

Po Bronson says that bullies are not lacking skills. In fact being a bully requires some sophisticated social skills. – see below

I still contend that they lack the skills to assert their leadership talents in appropriate ways. Bullying is also not an expression of autonomy , being connected to your true inner self and self worth.  The bully is not  acting like an autonomous subject giving to the world but rather taking from others.

Po Bronson
'What about negative interactions between peers?  It appears that being too protective can also have a negative effect.  A policy for "zero tolerance" (toward bullying at school) found that it had a negative effect on children.  Although bullying should not be accepted as a normal part of childhood, implementing a policy for "zero tolerance" is not the solution.  This is because children are young and they make mistakes.  Inflicting severe, automatic responses for these mistakes erodes their trust in authority figures.  The children end up being more fearful of "accidentally" breaking the rules which increases their anxiety.
There is a complex relationship regarding bullying among children.  Ironically, most of the meanness, cruelty and torment are not inflicted by the "bad" kids or those most commonly labeled as bullies.  They are mostly inflicted by the popular, well-liked, and admired children.  Contrary to the idea that non-aggressive children were simply being "good" children, it was theorized that these children merely lacked the savvy and confidence to assert themselves as often. 
Aggressiveness is used to assert dominance to gain control and protect status.  It is not necessarily the mark of a child who lack social skills but the contrary - it often requires a child to be extremely sensitive to his/her peers.  To be able to attack in a subtle and strategic way, the child has to be socially intelligent - the child needs to know just the right buttons to push to drive his/her opponent crazy. 
So if the popular kids are more aggressive, then why are they admired and held in such high regard?  Because they are seen as being independent and older because of their willingness to defy authority. Children who always conform to adult expectations are often seen as wimps.  However, this doesn't make the popular children worse.  These children not only use antisocial tactics for controlling their peers, they are adept at pro-social skills.  They cleverly deal the right balance of power (kindness and cruelty) to achieve what they want.
.  Peer aggression alone is not an accurate measure of social development.  By lumping children of a similar age together, we are forcing them to socialize themselves.  We have created an environment that drives children to seek peer status and social ranking and this sometimes involves the use of aggression.'    Po Bronson

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Education/Parenting - preparation for the real world

One of the concerns that parents and educators have with a ' working with ' approach which supports kids  autonomy is that in the real world you have to learn to take the consequences of your actions, be accountable and adaptive to the demands of the society. The home and school should be preparing kids for the real competitive, unsafe and not empathic world , by giving them coping skills, and not trying to see the world through the eyes of their kids but focusing on compliance so that they will be able to comply with the demands of a future boss. Etc

Schools thus justify competition, -the world outside is a competitive one-, give grades, awards, honor rolls, rank students, standardized testing, and  rewards, punishments, consequences  to get compliance.  The home should have clear rules and when rules are broken and infractions committed, there should be immediate consequences that fit the crime.  Privileges and love should be earned. There is a reciprocity, you need to give in order to get. In this way we are preparing kids for the real world.

John Dewey said that education is not a preparation for life , but life itself. Becoming a LLL – a life long learner with a growth mindset promises one a different quality of life. So we should focus on what it means to be well-educated.

Which kids are more well equipped to cope with the outside world -  those who know how to be compliant and follow instructions or those whose needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met and they have good communication and collaborative problem skills.

 The world today is less 'control and compliance ' orientated than it was in the past. But even if kids end up in a controlling environment, it is those with collaborative problem solving skills who will cope better than a person who is just compliant. Competitiveness is no longer considered an asset in the business world. It is those people who can 'work with' and collaborate with others , learning and gaining from others while making a contribution, end up achieving the most in business.  It is those people who support the autonomy, competence and relatedness of others who are able to lead and inspire.

Traditional schools don't foster collaboration and cooperation skills. As Alfie Kohn says they teach kids to stand alone in a crowd, instead of learning how to work with and benefit from others. 
Docility, compliance , following instructions is valued.

 Responsibility is taught by allowing kids to make decisions , not by following instructions. Traditional schools ignore the whole child and instead of integrating learning into a multi-disciplinary framework , everything is compartmentalized into separate subjects.

 In real life we spend very little time with people of our own ages , progressive schools encourage interactions with kids of different ages. Progressive schools learn not only through discussion but also by doing and constructing modern knowledge. Students take responsibility for their learning and are intrinsically motivated rather than driven by grades and credentials. In their personal interactions and certainly in the work place they will be business leaders and managers who support the autonomy, competence and relatedness of their employees.

In any case the work, home and school environments are different and serve a different purpose. The home should be a safe haven of unconditional love and acceptance and relationships should not be ' contractual or reciprocal ' like those in a work environment. The learning environment focuses on the process , the work environment focuses on results and achievement.

If we see school and the home as place where kids are being prepared for their economic role , educational policies that put emphasis on test scores and a narrow curriculum, those espoused by politicians and business people ,will be the order of the day.  The truth is that education that promotes autonomy, competence and relatedness will not only foster LLLs, life long learners and responsible and caring people, but also creative and cooperative people in the work environment.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Child Obesity - Unconditional Parenting and SDT self determined theory

In an article on childhood obesity Dr Arya Sharma quotes Whitaker RC (2011). The childhood obesity epidemic: lessons for preventing socially determined health conditions. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine.

 He says that childhood obesity is a reflection on societal norms and values. The current way of living, consumerism-advertising, fast food and sweets diet ,  lack of community, and multiple stresses  contribute to obesity. Instead of following the conventional wisdom and target 'prevention' measures at kids when they are young, we need to change societal norms and values.

There is a lot of stress in the lives of kids. It is well known the connection between  stress and weight gain. The hormone cortisol converts muscle into fat to help us deal with stress, so strict dieting and exercise alone won't help if we do not change our  life styles  and reduce stress.

We also need to examine certain structures in society that contribute to consumerism and obesity.  The unlimited expose to advertising and unhealthy foods , especially sweets makes it very difficult for kids to make better and healthier choices .  Naomi Aldort says it is not about teaching kids to make better choices but rather creating an environment where kids can make choices.

'Choosing sugar is shaped by the addictive nature of sugar; it is not a free choice. When free to choose, the child knows what he needs. However, a child who “needs” candy or a movie is not free; the experience of candy or TV has created the illusion of a need. That which chooses is manipulated by the choice. The industry does a great job of manufacturing a sense of need.'

 In order to address the problem of obesity Dr Sharma quoting the  article  says ' both children and adults need to find purpose and meaning in life , which requires lifelong growth and development … autonomy , competence, mastery, self-acceptance, positive relations with others and transcending self through commitment or connection to something or someone.'

These words resonate with me , but I am afraid that one would need to read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting in order to put into practice  his suggestions.

AK in his UP book quotes Deci  and Ryan. Kids have the ability to make decisions in a way that meets their needs , they are equipped with a gyroscope of natural self regulation. When we control kids excessively – by using rewards and praise to get compliance- they start to become dependent on external sources of control. The gyroscope begins to wobble and they lose their ability to regulate themselves. Food consumption is a very literal example of this.

A parenting style that does not support ' autonomy ' will promote obesity in their kids, even if we provide   kids with restricted food choices and teach them about healthy eating. 

If we observe the eating patterns of kids over time, we notice how some days they hardly eat and then suddenly put away huge portions. If they eat something fattening, they will tend to eat less, or something   less caloric, afterward.  In terms of how much they eat then, children seem to have a remarkable capacity for self-regulation. Unless, that is , we try to run their bodies for them. 

In an experiment observing 77 kids between the ages of 2 and 4 and their parents, it was discovered that those parents who insisted their kids eat only during meal times rather than when they were hungry or who encouraged them to clean their plates, even when they obviously were not hungry, or who used food – especially deserts as a reward wound up with kids who lost their ability to regulate their caloric intake. Kids who had few opportunities to learn to control their own food intake came to stop trusting their bodies ' cues about when they were hungry . One result – many of them were already starting to get fat.    – Alfie Kohn  Unconditional Parenting

This claim – that people have lost the ability to self regulate -  to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full – is the basis against traditional dieting. One does not learn to self regulate – eat when hungry and stop when full.

Another problem is that parents will bribe or 'incentivize '  kids in order to eat healthy food. In the Kefir drink experiment  ' good jobs '  and promises of reward  got kids to drink many glasses of this health drink .Some time later the kids were offered the drink without an incentive or praise  attached. Those kids who were previously praised for every time they downed a glass , now  did not touch the drink , those who received a reward had a limited interest , whereas those who did not receive any reward or praise gladly showed  interest in the drink and enjoyed themselves having the drink. The kids who did not receive any reward or verbal praise developed some intrinsic satisfaction and  motivation or a taste for the drink. Those kids who received rewards or praise initially drank a lot, but then lost interest in the drink.  – Alfie Kohn – Punished by Rewards

 In order to promote intrinsic motivation for healthy eating we should avoid any forms of reward, and  let kids participate not only in choosing food items but also help to prepare meals.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Libertarian Schooling and SDT

It is quite clear that traditional schools that focus on extrinsic motivators like grades to drive student learning ,  and rewards, consequences and punishments to deal with discipline problems and get compliance do not promote the autonomy, competence and relatedness needs of students. The transmission model or DI – direct instruction of teaching does not focus on students ' constructing ' their own knowledge and making meaning of their world as constructivist education does, ignoring the need for autonomy in learning.

The question is what about ' homeschoolers', ' un-schoolers,' non-traditional schools that have a libertarian bent.? Are they consistent with SDT principles?

Historically, education has been the responsibility of parents and kids were educated in a mainly informal way. Kids, from their early teens either worked in the home or with their parents or became apprentices and learned vocations while on the job. Kids that were academically gifted became scholars. More than 2000 years ago in Israel ,compulsory elementary schooling was introduced for kids from the ages of 6-7 in order to compensate for parents and address the more complex educational needs of kids. This means that schools are now partners with parents. Parents can focus more on informal learning.  See the kitchen as a classroom  -

Homeschooling is an alternative for a very small minority in the community. Homeschooling communities provide lots of opportunities for constructivist and cooperative learning and lots of social activities too. Some challenging kids do much better in this environment than in school.

Public education is the mainstream and people who are concerned with all children should not being doing their own thing , creating alternatives , but trying to become mainstream.

The alternatives have in common a distaste for traditional education , but what do they have in common?

Alfie Kohn finds a lot about ' libertarian ' education inadequate . I also think that  kids needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are not addressed  adequately.

Alfie Kohn talks about the '  Trouble of Pure Freedom '  and the focus on the individual kid's learning , and  the lack of community – cooperative learning, that characterize libertarian schooling.

The libertarian worldview sees adult involvement as an authoritarian  restriction of personal autonomy. Total autonomy is not developmentally appropriate . Kids need guidance and many of them need structure at the same time that they need the opportunity to learn how to make good decisions.   –

In an essay on student choice , and the need to sometimes limit student choice.
AK says   ……….. on closer examination, however, it seems clear that what must occasionally be restricted is not choice but individual choice. (It is an interesting reflection on our culture that we tend to see these as interchangeable.)-  to affirm the importance of community does not at all compromise the right to make decisions, per se, or the importance of involving everyone in a class or school in such a process. In fact, we might say that it is the integration of these two values, community and choice, that defines democracy

We see from the above that a libertarian approach comprises ' competence ' , autonomy ' and relatedness.

Competence is compromised by the lack of structure , teacher stimulation and guidance, cooperative learning, collaborative problem solving, social and moral learning within a community.

Autonomy is compromised by limiting choice – one has more possibilities within a community - . True autonomy is the ability  to be self determined within the context of a community and other peoples' choices.

Relatedness is compromised by the lack of cooperative learning within a caring community, and a lack of teacher involvement.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Comptence - Recognitions - SDT 2

In order to understand the role that recognitions play in meeting a kid's need for competence, and in general how we can promote competence in kids , I decided to share here Alfie Kohn on competence from his classic ' Punished by Rewards'.

When we give school kids ' recognitions' for their achievements we ought to boost interest in learning  tasks since 'recognitions ' offer evidence that a job has been done well, which makes the kid feel competent, which in turn is highly motivating .
According to the research however, 'recognitions' have a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. The problem is that they are judgmental and controlling. They are destructive of autonomy because not only control what kids can do but how well they have to do it.
 When we comment , compliment, or recognize what kids have done we need to keep in mind  2 principles .
 Self Determination

– do the comments help the kid feel a sense of control over his life, encouraging him to reflect and make his own judgments of what constitutes a good performance or are we attempting to manipulate his behavior by getting him to think about whether he has met our criteria?

Intrinsic motivation -

  Do our comments trigger kids to become more deeply involved in what he is doing – improving competence  or do they turn the task into something he does to win approval or prove his competence.?

The problem with feedback , -even when it is done right – informational in a neutral tone- , is that it can be interpreted as verbal praise when it is positive feedback ,or criticism when it is negative feedback. It is not easy to strip the information from its emotional weight and this is especially difficult for kids who are less intrinsically motivated. Instead of criticism, we can frame the interaction as cps – collaborative problem solving focusing on solving problems and finding ways to improve. Instead of kids using our positive feedback to experience a ' good feeling '  of perceived competence ( which in any case lasts only for 2 minutes ), we can help them regard feedback as information they can use in the process of learning.

The way to go is to bring kids in on the evaluation process that focuses on the learning process rather than achievement. They can participate in determining the criteria by which their learning can be assessed and have them do much of the actual assessment as is practical. Ak quotes Mark Lepper – that to a considerable one's perception of competence at an activity will depend on .. whether one has to succeed by his or her own standards or by someone else's.

It is important that kids get informational, non-evaluative feedback about their academic progress and classroom conduct but more important to motivation is to provide them opportunities to learn new skills, improve their existing skills and to acquire and demonstrate competence. Demonstrating competence is more about the process , proving competence is more about achievement , grades and awards. And of course the content – curriculum should try to be engaging, enjoyable, meaningful and relevant. Competence can be improved across many skills but having a variety of tasks that require different skills and provide the right amount of challenge. In this way we give kids an opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment. That feeling of having worked at something and mastered it , of being competent, is an essential ingredient of successful learning. And, as one researcher notes ' classrooms that provide a variety of concrete activities for many learning ability levels do not need reward stickers or praise to encourage learning.

I prefer that schools focus on helping kids improve and learn new skills- acquiring a  growth mindset ( rather than be busy proving competence ) ,  be given opportunities to give expression to these skills in meaningful ways and participate in assessing the process, their contributions and work.

The questions of self worth, esteem and accomplishment are relevant when they are missing. When they exist, we don't think about them and if we do , they are just moments of good feeling. Maybe it is also about a confidence that a kid with a growth mindset has when attempting new tasks and challenges but still it is focusing on me as a  process.

The important thing to note according to AK is that  it's true that recognition isn't always extrinsic, it's also true that competence doesn't always require recognition (from others) and the two ideas shouldn't be conflated.  We run the risk of that conflation when we overlook the substantial difference between recognition from others and from oneself.