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

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.

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.