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Re: [xmca] Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?

I am pushed to get ready for classes monday, Ageliki.
I would be glad to discuss the issue I referred to as re-framing within the
context of the discussion of learning sciences and vygotsky just to keep it
in the bounds of time constraints-- have you read that discussion? Otherwise
my comments will make no sense.

Within that context, I might start with executive functioning as a
"neuroscience term," the discourse on 0-3 and ways to make babies brains
develop more quickly (see xmca discussion of brain and education),and the
linkages to no-child-left behind. Seems a long way from Kharkov in the late
1930's, or 1990's, or the recent (to the NYTimes) discovery of Vygotsky.

Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 9:15 AM, Ageliki Nicolopoulou <agn3@lehigh.edu> wrote:

> Hi Mike,
>  Can you explain a bit what you mean by re-framing and why you see it as an
> issue of re-framing?
> Thanks,
> Ageliki
> --
> **********************************************
> Ageliki Nicolopoulou
> Professor
> Department of Psychology, Lehigh University
> 17 Memorial Drive East
> Bethlehem, PA  18015-3068
> Personal Webpage:      http://www.lehigh.edu/~agn3/index.htm<http://www.lehigh.edu/%7Eagn3/index.htm>
> Departmental Webpage:  http://www.lehigh.edu/~inpsy/nicolopoulou.html<http://www.lehigh.edu/%7Einpsy/nicolopoulou.html>
> **********************************************
> mike cole wrote:
>> Thanks Peter-- I was just about to forward this story. Apart from its
>> considerable intrinsic interest to members of this group, it seems
>> relevant
>> to the prior discussion the origins of learning sciences and the ways in
>> which re-framing can operate to change the terms of discourse.
>> mike
>> On Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 7:36 AM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:
>>> September 27, 2009 The NY Times Magazine Section
>>> The School Issue: Preschool
>>> Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?
>>> "Come on, Abigail."
>>> "No, wait!" Abigail said. "I'm not finished!" She was bent low over her
>>> clipboard, a stubby pencil in her hand, slowly scratching out the letters
>>> in
>>> the book's title, one by one: T H E. . . .
>>> "Abigail, we're waiting!" Jocelyn said, staring forcefully at her
>>> classmate.
>>> Henry, sitting next to her, sighed dramatically.
>>> "I'm going as fast as I can!" Abigail said, looking harried. She brushed
>>> a
>>> strand of hair out of her eyes and plowed ahead: V E R Y. . . .
>>> The three children were seated at their classroom's listening center,
>>> where
>>> their assignment was to leaf through a book together while listening on
>>> headphones to a CD with the voice of a teacher reading it aloud. The book
>>> in
>>> question was lying on the table in front of Jocelyn, and every few
>>> seconds,
>>> Abigail would jump up and lean over Jocelyn to peer at the cover,
>>> checking
>>> what came next in the title. Then she would dive back to the paper on her
>>> clipboard, and her pencil would carefully shape yet another letter: H U
>>> N.
>>> .
>>> . .
>>> Henry fiddled with the CD player. Like Abigail and Jocelyn, he was a
>>> kindergarten
>>> <
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/e/education_pr
>>> eschool/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier<
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/e/education_pr%0Aeschool/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier
>>> >>
>>>  student in Red Bank, a small town
>>> near the New Jersey shore. The students at the elementary school came
>>> mostly
>>> from working-class and low-income families, and, like the town itself,
>>> the
>>> student population was increasingly Hispanic. Jocelyn, with flowing dark
>>> hair, was the child of immigrants from Mexico; Henry was Hispanic with a
>>> spiky haircut; Abigail was white and blond.
>>> "Abby!" Henry said. "Come on!" He and Jocelyn had long ago finished
>>> writing
>>> the title of the book on their lesson plans. They already had their
>>> headphones on. The only thing standing between them and the story was the
>>> pencil clutched in their classmate's hand.
>>> G R Y. . . .
>>> "O.K., we're starting," Jocelyn announced. But they didn't start. For all
>>> their impatience, they knew the rule of the listening center: You don't
>>> start listening to the story until everyone is ready.
>>> "Oh, man," Henry said. He grabbed his face and lowered his head to the
>>> desk
>>> with a clunk.
>>> C A T E R. . . .
>>> "Let's begin!" Jocelyn said.
>>> "I'm almost done!" Abigail was hopping up and down now. "Don't press it!"
>>> She bounced from foot to foot, still writing: P I L. . . .
>>> "I'm pressing it!" Henry said. His finger hovered over the play button on
>>> the CD player . . . but it did not fall, not until Abigail etched out her
>>> last few letters and put on her headphones. Only then, finally, could the
>>> three of them turn the pages together and listen to "The Very Hungry
>>> Caterpillar."
>>> When the CD finished, each child took a piece of paper and drew three
>>> pictures to illustrate what happened at the beginning, in the middle and
>>> at
>>> the end of the book. Then they captioned each one, first drawing a series
>>> of
>>> horizontal lines under the pictures, one for each word, and then writing
>>> out
>>> each word, or an approximation thereof: For "butterfly," Abigail wrote
>>> "btrfli." Their language skills were pretty impressive for kindergarten
>>> students. But for the teachers and child psychologists running the
>>> program
>>> in which they were enrolled, those skills were considered secondary - not
>>> irrelevant, but not as important as the skills the children displayed
>>> before
>>> the story started, when all three were wrestling with themselves,
>>> fighting
>>> to overcome their impulses - in Abby's case, the temptation to give up on
>>> writing out the whole title and just submit to the pleas of her friends;
>>> for
>>> Jocelyn and Henry, the urge to rip the pencil out of Abby's hand and
>>> start
>>> the CD already.
>>> Over the last few years, a new buzz phrase has emerged among scholars and
>>> scientists who study early-childhood development, a phrase that sounds
>>> more
>>> as if it belongs in the boardroom than the classroom: executive function.
>>> Originally a neuroscience term, it refers to the ability to think
>>> straight:
>>> to order your thoughts, to process information in a coherent way, to hold
>>> relevant details in your short-term memory, to avoid distractions and
>>> mental
>>> traps and focus on the task in front of you. And recently, cognitive
>>> psychologists have come to believe that executive function, and
>>> specifically
>>> the skill of self-regulation, might hold the answers to some of the most
>>> vexing questions in education today.
>>> The ability of young children to control their emotional and cognitive
>>> impulses, it turns out, is a remarkably strong indicator of both
>>> short-term
>>> and long-term success, academic and otherwise. In some studies,
>>> self-regulation skills have been shown to predict academic achievement
>>> more
>>> reliably than I.Q. tests. The problem is that just as we're coming to
>>> understand the importance of self-regulation skills, those skills appear
>>> to
>>> be in short supply among young American children. In one recent national
>>> survey, 46 percent of kindergarten teachers said that at least half the
>>> kids
>>> in their classes had problems following directions. In another study,
>>> Head
>>> Start teachers reported that more than a quarter of their students
>>> exhibited
>>> serious self-control-related negative behaviors, like kicking or
>>> threatening
>>> other students, at least once a week. Walter Gilliam, a professor at Yale
>>> <
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/y/yale_un
>>> iversity/index.html?inline=nyt-org<
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/y/yale_un%0Aiversity/index.html?inline=nyt-org
>>> >>
>>> 's child-study center, estimates that
>>> each year, across the country, more than 5,000 children are expelled from
>>> pre-K programs because teachers feel unable to control them.
>>> There is a popular belief that executive-function skills are fixed early
>>> on,
>>> a function of genes and parenting, and that other than medication,
>>> there's
>>> not much that teachers and professionals can do to affect children's
>>> impulsive behavior. In fact, though, there is growing evidence that the
>>> opposite is true, that executive-function skills are relatively malleable
>>> -
>>> quite possibly more malleable than I.Q., which is notoriously hard to
>>> increase over a sustained period. In laboratory studies, research
>>> psychologists have found that with executive function, practice helps;
>>> when
>>> children or adults repeatedly perform basic exercises in cognitive
>>> self-regulation, they get better at it. But when researchers try to take
>>> those experiments out of the lab and into the classroom, their success
>>> rate
>>> is much lower. Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of
>>> <
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers
>>> ity_of_pennsylvania/index.html?inline=nyt-org<
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers%0Aity_of_pennsylvania/index.html?inline=nyt-org
>>> >>
>>>  Pennsylvania, has spent the
>>> last seven years trying to find reliable, repeatable methods to improve
>>> self-control in children. When I spoke to her recently, she told me about
>>> a
>>> six-week-long experiment that she and some colleagues conducted in 2003
>>> with
>>> 40 fifth-grade students at a school in Philadelphia.
>>> "We did everything right," she told me: led the kids through self-control
>>> exercises, helped them reorganize their lockers, gave them rewards for
>>> completing their homework. And at the end of the experiment, the students
>>> dutifully reported that they now had more self-control than when they
>>> started the program. But in fact, they did not: the children who had been
>>> through the intervention did no better on a variety of measures than a
>>> control group at the same school. "We looked at teacher ratings of
>>> self-control, we looked at homework completion, we looked at standardized
>>> achievement tests, we looked at G.P.A., we looked at whether they were
>>> late
>>> to class more," Duckworth explained. "We got zero effect on everything."
>>> Despite that failure, Duckworth says she is convinced that it is possible
>>> to
>>> boost executive function among children - she just thinks it will require
>>> a
>>> more complex and thoroughgoing program than the one that she and her
>>> colleagues employed. "It's not impossible," she concludes, "but it's damn
>>> hard."
>>> Which is why Abigail, Henry and Jocelyn are potentially so important.
>>> They
>>> and their classmates are enrolled in Tools of the Mind, a relatively new
>>> program dedicated to improving the self-regulation abilities of young
>>> children, starting as early as age 3. Tools of the Mind is based on the
>>> teachings of Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist who died of
>>> tuberculosis
>>> in 1934, at age 38, and whose educational theories and methods were,
>>> until
>>> recently, little known in the United States. Over the past 15 years,
>>> Deborah
>>> Leong and Elena Bodrova, scholars of child development based in Denver,
>>> have
>>> turned Vygotsky's philosophy into a full-time curriculum for
>>> prekindergarten
>>> and kindergarten students, complete with training manuals and coaches and
>>> professional-development classes for teachers. Tools of the Mind has
>>> grown
>>> steadily - though its expansion has sped up in the past few years - and
>>> it
>>> now is being used to teach 18,000 prekindergarten and kindergarten
>>> students
>>> in 12 states around the country. Leong and Bodrova say they believe they
>>> have found the answer to the problem that has bedeviled Duckworth and
>>> other
>>> psychologists for so long. Their program, they say, can reliably teach
>>> self-regulation skills to pretty much any child - poor or rich; typical
>>> achievers as well as many of those who are considered to have special
>>> needs.
>>> (They make the claim that many kids given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. would not
>>> need Ritalin
>>> <
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/diseasesconditionsandhealthtopics
>>> /ritalin_drug/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier<
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/diseasesconditionsandhealthtopics%0A/ritalin_drug/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier
>>> >>
>>>  if they were enrolled in
>>> Tools of the Mind.) And if Leong and Bodrova are right, those improved
>>> self-regulation skills will lead not only to fewer classroom meltdowns
>>> and
>>> expulsions in prekindergarten and kindergarten; they will also lead to
>>> better reading and math scores later on.
>>> At the heart of the Tools of the Mind methodology is a simple but
>>> surprising
>>> idea: that the key to developing self-regulation is play, and lots of it.
>>> But not just any play. The necessary ingredient is what Leong and Bodrova
>>> call "mature dramatic play": complex, extended make-believe scenarios,
>>> involving multiple children and lasting for hours, even days. If you want
>>> to
>>> succeed in school and in life, they say, you first need to do what
>>> Abigail
>>> and Jocelyn and Henry have done every school day for the past two years:
>>> spend hour after hour dressing up in firefighter hats and wedding gowns,
>>> cooking make-believe hamburgers and pouring nonexistent tea, doing the
>>> hard,
>>> serious work of playing pretend.
>>> Over the last decade or so, the central debate in the field of
>>> early-childhood education has been between one group that favors what you
>>> might call a preacademic approach to prekindergarten and kindergarten and
>>> another group that contends that the point of school in those early years
>>> is
>>> not to prepare for academic study; it is to allow children to explore the
>>> world, learn social skills and have free, unconstrained fun. The
>>> preacademic
>>> camp began to dominate the debate in the late 1990s, drawing on some
>>> emerging research that showed that children's abilities at the beginning
>>> of
>>> kindergarten were powerful predictors of later success. If a child
>>> reached
>>> his 5th birthday well behind his peers in measures of cognitive ability,
>>> this research showed, he would most likely never catch up. The good news
>>> in
>>> the research was that if you exposed struggling children to certain
>>> intensive reading and math interventions in prekindergarten and
>>> kindergarten, when their minds were still at their most pliable, you
>>> could
>>> significantly reduce or even eliminate that lag. And so the answer, to
>>> many
>>> scholars and policy makers, was clear: there was no time to waste in
>>> those
>>> early years on Play-Doh and fingerpainting, not when kids, and especially
>>> disadvantaged kids, could be making such rapid advances in the critical
>>> cognitive skills they needed.
>>> More recently, though, a backlash has been growing against the
>>> preacademic
>>> approach among educators and child psychologists who argue that it misses
>>> the whole point of early-childhood education. "Kindergarten has ceased to
>>> be
>>> a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and distress,"
>>> warned
>>> a
>>> report released in March by a research group called the Alliance for
>>> Childhood, which is advised by some of the country's most esteemed
>>> progressive-education scholars. There is now too much testing and too
>>> little
>>> free time, the report argues, and kids are being forced to try to read
>>> before they are ready. The solution, according to the report's authors,
>>> is
>>> a
>>> return to ample doses of "unstructured play" in kindergarten. If kids are
>>> allowed to develop at their own paces, they will be happier and healthier
>>> and less stressed out. And there will still be plenty of time later on to
>>> learn how to read.
>>> On the surface, Bodrova and Leong would seem to belong to the second
>>> camp.
>>> They say, after all, that play should have a central place in
>>> early-childhood classrooms. And they do find fault with the academic
>>> approach, arguing that in practice, many of the early-childhood academic
>>> initiatives that have been introduced in the No Child Left Behind
>>> <
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_lef
>>> t_behind_act/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier<
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/no_child_lef%0At_behind_act/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier
>>> >>
>>>  era have failed to produce
>>> any significant improvement in academic skills. At the same time, they
>>> don't
>>> agree that the solution is unstructured free play. The romantic idea that
>>> children are born with flowering imaginations and a natural instinct for
>>> make-believe is simply wrong, they say. Especially these days, they
>>> contend,
>>> when children spend more time in front of screens and less time in
>>> unsupervised play, kids need careful adult guidance and instruction
>>> before
>>> they are able to play in a productive way.
>>> Bodrova and Leong began working together with early-childhood teachers in
>>> 1992, soon after Bodrova immigrated from Russia to be a visiting
>>> professor
>>> at Metropolitan State College of Denver, where Leong was a professor of
>>> child development. When they visited local classrooms, they were struck
>>> by
>>> how out of control things often seemed. It was a period when preschool
>>> and
>>> kindergarten teachers were taught to "follow the child's lead," to let
>>> children guide the learning process with their own interests and
>>> unfettered
>>> imaginations. In practice, Bodrova and Leong observed, classrooms were
>>> often
>>> chaotic free-for-alls.
>>> Bodrova and Leong had both studied Vygotsky, and they discussed whether
>>> some
>>> of his methods might help improve the climate of these classrooms. For
>>> Vygotsky, the real purpose of early-childhood education was not to learn
>>> content, like the letters of the alphabet or the names of shapes and
>>> colors
>>> and animals. The point was to learn how to think. When children enter
>>> preschool, Vygotsky wrote, they are "slaves to their environment," unable
>>> to
>>> control their reactions or direct their interests, responding to whatever
>>> shiny objects are put in front of them. Accordingly, the most important
>>> goal
>>> of prekindergarten is to teach children how to master their thoughts. And
>>> the best way for children to do that, Vygotsky believed, especially at
>>> this
>>> early age, is to employ various tools, tricks and habits that train the
>>> mind
>>> to work at a higher level. So Tools of the Mind students learn to use
>>> "private speech" - to talk to themselves as they do a difficult task
>>> (like,
>>> say, forming the letter W), to help themselves remember what step comes
>>> next
>>> (down, up, down, up). They use "mediators": physical objects that remind
>>> them how to do a particular task, like CD-size cards, one with a pair of
>>> lips and one with an ear, that signify whose turn it is to read aloud in
>>> Buddy Reading and whose turn it is to listen. But more than anything,
>>> they
>>> use play.
>>> Most of Vygotsky's counterparts in the field of child psychology,
>>> including
>>> influential figures like Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori, held that
>>> imaginary play was an immature form of expression, a preliminary stage of
>>> development. But Vygotsky maintained that at 4 or 5, a child's ability to
>>> play creatively with other children was in fact a better gauge of her
>>> future
>>> academic success than any other indicator, including her vocabulary, her
>>> counting skills or her knowledge of the alphabet. Dramatic play, he said,
>>> was the training ground where children learned to regulate themselves, to
>>> conquer their own unruly minds. In the United States, we often associate
>>> play with freedom, but to Vygotsky, dramatic play was actually the arena
>>> where children's actions were most tightly restricted. When a young boy
>>> is
>>> acting out the role of a daddy making breakfast, he is limited by all the
>>> rules of daddy-ness. Some of those limitations come from his playmates:
>>> if
>>> he starts acting like a baby (or a policeman or a dinosaur) in the middle
>>> of
>>> making breakfast, the other children will be sure to steer him back to
>>> the
>>> eggs and bacon. But even beyond that explicit peer pressure, Vygotsky
>>> would
>>> say, the child is guided by the basic principles of play. Make-believe
>>> isn't
>>> as stimulating and satisfying - it simply isn't as much fun - if you
>>> don't
>>> stick to your role. And when children follow the rules of make-believe
>>> and
>>> push one another to follow those rules, he said, they develop important
>>> habits of self-control.
>>> Bodrova and Leong drew on research conducted by some of Vygotsky's
>>> followers
>>> that showed that children acting out a dramatic scene can control their
>>> impulses much better than they can in nonplay situations. In one
>>> experiment,
>>> 4-year-old children were first asked to stand still for as long as they
>>> could. They typically did not make it past a minute. But when the kids
>>> played a make-believe game in which they were guards at a factory, they
>>> were
>>> able to stand at attention for more than four minutes. In another
>>> experiment, prekindergarten-age children were asked to memorize a list of
>>> unrelated words. Then they played "grocery store" and were asked to
>>> memorize
>>> a similar list of words - this time, though, as a shopping list. In the
>>> play
>>> situation, on average, the children were able to remember twice as many
>>> words. Bodrova and Leong say they see the same effect in Tools of the
>>> Mind
>>> classrooms: when their students spend more time on dramatic play, not
>>> only
>>> does their level of self-control improve, but so do their language
>>> skills.
>>> In the past, when psychologists (or parents or teachers or priests) tried
>>> to
>>> improve children's self-control, they used the principles of behaviorism,
>>> reinforcing good and bad behaviors with rewards and punishments. The
>>> message
>>> to kids was that terrible things would happen if they didn't control
>>> their
>>> impulses, and the role of adults, whether parents or preschool teachers,
>>> was
>>> to train children by praising them for their positive self-control ("Look
>>> at
>>> how well Cindy is sitting!") and criticizing them for their lapses. And
>>> in
>>> most American prekindergartens and kindergartens, behaviorism, in some
>>> form,
>>> is still the dominant method. But Bodrova and Leong say that those
>>> "external
>>> reinforcement systems" create "other-directed regulation" - good behavior
>>> done not from some internal sense of control but for the approval of
>>> others,
>>> to avoid punishment and win praise and treats. And that, they say, is a
>>> kind
>>> of regulation that is not particularly valuable or lasting. Children
>>> learn
>>> only how to be obedient, how to follow orders, not how to understand and
>>> regulate their own impulses. The ultimate goal of Tools of the Mind is
>>> not
>>> emotional or physical self-regulation; it is cognitive self-regulation -
>>> not
>>> the ability to avoid grabbing a toy from the kid next to you (though
>>> that's
>>> an important first step), but the much more subtle ability to avoid
>>> falling
>>> for a deceptively attractive wrong answer on a test or to concentrate on
>>> an
>>> arduous mental task. And those abilities are more difficult to affect by
>>> other-directed regulation. Because the abilities are more abstract, they
>>> are
>>> less likely to be elicited by rewards. Kids are rarely able to organize
>>> their thoughts better in order to get an ice-cream cone.
>>> As a result, many practices that most prekindergarten teachers consider
>>> essential are more or less banned from Tools of the Mind classrooms.
>>> There
>>> are no gold stars, no telling the class that they are all going to have
>>> to
>>> wait until Jimmy is quiet; even timeouts are discouraged. When there is a
>>> conflict - when, say, Billy grabs a toy from Jamal - the Tools of the
>>> Mind
>>> teacher's first questions are supposed to be: What was it in the
>>> classroom
>>> that made it hard for Billy to control himself? And what mediators could
>>> help him do better next time? The teacher does remind Billy that there is
>>> a
>>> rule and he broke it, but she doesn't make a big deal out of the
>>> incident.
>>> "We pretty much try not to use this whole concept of misbehavior,"
>>> Bodrova
>>> told me. "These kids are not born criminals. Even if they do something
>>> that
>>> is completely out of bounds, they do it because they can't stop
>>> themselves."
>>> There are not yet firm experimental data that prove that Tools of the
>>> Mind
>>> works. But two early studies that began in the late 1990s in Denver
>>> showed
>>> some promising results: After a year in the program, students did
>>> significantly better than a similar group on basic measures of literacy
>>> ability. And more recent studies, including one overseen by Adele
>>> Diamond,
>>> a
>>> professor at the University of British Columbia who is one of the most
>>> prominent researchers in the field of cognitive self-control, have shown
>>> that Tools students consistently score higher on tests requiring
>>> executive
>>> function. Angela Duckworth told me that when she read Diamond's report,
>>> which was published in Science in 2007, "I got very excited." Her failed
>>> 2003 study had persuaded her that the usual approach to self-control in
>>> early-childhood education, a brief intervention here or there, wouldn't
>>> work. But Tools of the Mind was clearly a different strategy. "It's an
>>> immersion approach," she said. "It's not that these kids are pulled out
>>> and
>>> they do self-control for half an hour a day. Everything is about
>>> self-regulation, every single moment. Everything about the culture that
>>> the
>>> classroom creates reinforces that."
>>> It's one of the reasons that visiting a Tools of the Mind classroom can
>>> cause moments of cognitive dissonance. While there's a lot of dressing up
>>> and playing with blocks, plenty of messing around with sand tables and
>>> Legos
>>> and jigsaw puzzles, there are also a few activities that seem not just
>>> grown-up but protocorporate, borrowed directly from the modern office.
>>> Every
>>> morning, before embarking on the day's make-believe play, each child
>>> takes
>>> a
>>> colored marker and a printed form called a play plan and draws or writes
>>> his
>>> declaration of intent for that day's play: "I am going to drive the
>>> choo-choo train"; "I am going to make a sand castle"; "I am going to take
>>> the dollies to the beach." At the beginning of prekindergarten, children
>>> are
>>> coached on dramatic play - called Make-Believe Play Practice - with the
>>> teacher leading the children, step by step, through the mechanics of
>>> pretending. (The training manual describes how a teacher might coach a
>>> child
>>> to feed a baby doll: "I'm pretending my baby is crying. Is yours? What
>>> should we say?") In kindergarten, every student carries around a
>>> clipboard
>>> with the day's activities on it - that's what Abigail was writing on at
>>> the
>>> listening center - and each Friday, every child has a 5- or 10-minute
>>> "learning conference" with his teacher, a mini-performance review in
>>> which
>>> the children discuss what they accomplished in the last week, where they
>>> fell short and what skills they want to work on in the week to come. All
>>> of
>>> these practices, along with plenty of others that fill the day, are
>>> designed
>>> to reinforce habits of self-control.
>>> This comprehensiveness creates an extra level of complication for
>>> researchers examining Tools of the Mind. There are now four separate
>>> large-scale long-term experimental studies under way across the country.
>>> But
>>> even if the researchers do find, in a few years, that the program has
>>> long-term effects on executive function and school performance, they
>>> still
>>> won't know exactly which techniques in the Tools of the Mind package are
>>> the
>>> most useful, or whether they all need to be employed in concert in order
>>> to
>>> have an effect. Stephanie M. Carlson, a professor of child psychology at
>>> the
>>> University of Minnesota
>>> <
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers
>>> ity_of_minnesota/index.html?inline=nyt-org<
>>> http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/univers%0Aity_of_minnesota/index.html?inline=nyt-org
>>> >>
>>>  who studies executive function,
>>> told me she is impressed with what she has seen so far of Tools of the
>>> Mind.
>>> But, she pointed out, "it's a really heavy-hitting approach, and there
>>> are
>>> a
>>> lot of different techniques used during the course of the day. What we
>>> don't
>>> know is what the secret ingredient is." It might be all the dramatic
>>> play,
>>> but it also might be the literacy practice, or the learning conferences,
>>> or
>>> something else entirely.
>>> In the end, the most lasting effect of the Tools of the Mind studies may
>>> be
>>> to challenge some of our basic ideas about the boundary between work and
>>> play. Today, play is seen by most teachers and education scholars as a
>>> break
>>> from hard work or a reward for positive behaviors, not a place to work on
>>> cognitive skills. But in Tools of the Mind classrooms, that distinction
>>> disappears: work looks a lot like play, and play is treated more like
>>> work.
>>> When I asked Duckworth about this, she said it went to the heart of what
>>> was
>>> new and potentially important about the program. "We often think about
>>> play
>>> as relaxing and doing what you want to do," she explained. "Maybe it's an
>>> American thing: We work really hard, and then we go on vacation and have
>>> fun. But in fact, very few truly pleasurable moments come from complete
>>> hedonism. What Tools does - and maybe what we all need to do - is to blur
>>> the line a bit between what is work and what is play. Just because
>>> something
>>> is effortful and difficult and involves some amount of constraint doesn't
>>> mean it can't be fun."
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