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

Thanks, Mike. I can now see why you see it in terms of re-framing. I just wasn't sure which side you were seeing as re-framing the issues. (And yes to some degree I have followed the Learning Sciences and Vygotsky discussion).--Ageliki

mike cole wrote:
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 <mailto: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?


-- **********************************************
    Ageliki Nicolopoulou
    Department of Psychology, Lehigh University
    17 Memorial Drive East
    Bethlehem, PA  18015-3068

    Personal Webpage:      http://www.lehigh.edu/~agn3/index.htm
    Departmental Webpage:

    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.
        On Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 7:36 AM, Peter Smagorinsky
        <smago@uga.edu <mailto: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?

            By PAUL TOUGH

            "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
            the book's title, one by one: T H E. . . .

            "Abigail, we're waiting!" Jocelyn said, staring forcefully
            at her
            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
            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

             student in Red Bank, a small town
            near the New Jersey shore. The students at the elementary
            school came
            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

            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
            horizontal lines under the pictures, one for each word,
            and then writing
            each word, or an approximation thereof: For "butterfly,"
            Abigail wrote
            "btrfli." Their language skills were pretty impressive for
            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
            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;
            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
            traps and focus on the task in front of you. And recently,
            psychologists have come to believe that executive
            function, and
            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
            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
            in their classes had problems following directions. In
            another study, Head
            Start teachers reported that more than a quarter of their
            serious self-control-related negative behaviors, like
            kicking or
            other students, at least once a week. Walter Gilliam, a
            professor at Yale

            '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
            a function of genes and parenting, and that other than
            medication, there's
            not much that teachers and professionals can do to affect
            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,
            psychologists have found that with executive function,
            practice helps; when
            children or adults repeatedly perform basic exercises in
            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

             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
            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
            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

            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,
            Leong and Elena Bodrova, scholars of child development
            based in Denver,
            turned Vygotsky's philosophy into a full-time curriculum for
            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
            (They make the claim that many kids given diagnoses of
            A.D.H.D. would not
            need Ritalin

             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
            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
            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
            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
            not to prepare for academic study; it is to allow children
            to explore the
            world, learn social skills and have free, unconstrained
            fun. The
            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
            a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and
            distress," warned
            report released in March by a research group called the
            Alliance for
            Childhood, which is advised by some of the country's most
            progressive-education scholars. There is now too much
            testing and too
            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
            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

             era have failed to produce
            any significant improvement in academic skills. At the
            same time, they
            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
            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
            chaotic free-for-alls.

            Bodrova and Leong had both studied Vygotsky, and they
            discussed whether
            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
            control their reactions or direct their interests,
            responding to whatever
            shiny objects are put in front of them. Accordingly, the
            most important
            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
            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
            (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
            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
            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.
            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
            that showed that children acting out a dramatic scene can
            control their
            impulses much better than they can in nonplay situations.
            In one
            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
            able to stand at attention for more than four minutes. In
            experiment, prekindergarten-age children were asked to
            memorize a list of
            unrelated words. Then they played "grocery store" and were
            asked to
            a similar list of words - this time, though, as a shopping
            list. In the
            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
            improve children's self-control, they used the principles
            of behaviorism,
            reinforcing good and bad behaviors with rewards and
            punishments. The
            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,
            to train children by praising them for their positive
            self-control ("Look
            how well Cindy is sitting!") and criticizing them for
            their lapses. And in
            most American prekindergartens and kindergartens,
            behaviorism, in some
            is still the dominant method. But Bodrova and Leong say
            that those
            reinforcement systems" create "other-directed regulation"
            - good behavior
            done not from some internal sense of control but for the
            approval of
            to avoid punishment and win praise and treats. And that,
            they say, is a
            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 -
            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
            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

            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,
            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
            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
            and jigsaw puzzles, there are also a few activities that
            seem not just
            grown-up but protocorporate, borrowed directly from the
            modern office.
            morning, before embarking on the day's make-believe play,
            each child takes
            colored marker and a printed form called a play plan and
            draws or writes
            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
            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
            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
            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.
            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
            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
            University of Minnesota

             who studies executive function,
            told me she is impressed with what she has seen so far of
            Tools of the
            But, she pointed out, "it's a really heavy-hitting
            approach, and there are
            lot of different techniques used during the course of the
            day. What we
            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
            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
            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
            is effortful and difficult and involves some amount of
            constraint doesn't
            mean it can't be fun."

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Ageliki Nicolopoulou


Department of Psychology, Lehigh University

17 Memorial Drive East

Bethlehem, PA  18015-3068

Personal Webpage:        http://www.lehigh.edu/~agn3/index.htm

Departmental Webpage:  http://www.lehigh.edu/~inpsy/nicolopoulou.html


fn:Ageliki  Nicolopoulou
tel;work:Department of Psychology
note;quoted-printable:********************************************** =
	Ageliki Nicolopoulou =
	Associate Professor =
	Department of Psychology, Lehigh University =
	17 Memorial Drive East =
	Bethlehem, PA  18015-3068 =
	Personal Webpage:      http://www.lehigh.edu/~agn3/index.htm =
	Departmental Webpage:  http://www.lehigh.edu/~inpsy/nicolopoulou.html =
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