Saturday, January 28, 2006

Guided by Voices

Nutmeg can do "voices" now. This morning, when we were cuddled on the couch with a little red bear and a book, she held the bear in front of the book, made her voice very deep, and said, "Harry the Dirty Dog." Which was indeed the book the bear was "reading." This 1950s-era dog (thanks, Aunt Nicole!) is her obsession de la semaine. Then in the tub, she with gusto washed "Harry the Dirty Frog," and did the deep, "I'm an animal" voice again, to say, "ribit. ribit."

I'm wading into Jane Healy's "Endangered Minds." She has an interesting chapter early on about how kids develop verbally -- by back and forth conversation -- and how traditional classrooms, including preschools, provide so little of what kids need in this area. It made me think back to how much I disliked school as a young gradeschooler. My parents talked with me all the time, and I was very well developed in this area by the time I arrived at school. I met some more nice adults, all these teachers, and naturally I expected to have lots of great conversations with them too. But no. I kept getting told to be quiet, to listen. And I kept getting in trouble, and by third grade I just tuned out and sat there reading my book in class.

Healy's hypothesis is that the one-way style of traditional education was not that big of a problem when kids were getting plenty of conversation time with parents, siblings and friends outside the classroom. But now that kids spend so much of their time watching television (and attending outside lessons, and doing organized sports), teachers may need to change their style if kids are going to learn to express themselves and think coherently. Of course, since this book came out in the 90s, American education has veered even more strongly toward turning classrooms into data input assembly lines, so I guess no one's listening to this lady.

Also, here's another study doubting the lasting benefits of preschool: UC study examines preschool benefits By third grade, no difference shown among students (the story is by one of the Chronicle's new family issues reporters). I'm still voting for Rob Reiner's universal preschool thing, though. To me, it just means one lousy year of free daycare for overburdened parents, and we can use all the help we can get.


Notta Wallflower said...

First of all, I love "Harry The Dirty Dog" - what a great choice of books. That's so cute that Nut is doing voices.

The book you're reading is interesting. I agree with what you've read so far - that the best way to develop verbal skills is to actually facilitate and encourage kids to converse. It's part of why I do what I do (besides the fact that I love working with kids). In the educational system, there are a couple of problems. First, I still work with teachers who are "old school" and they think there is only one way of teaching. Secondly, there are a lot of students out there in general education classrooms who, because they don't have the basics in verbal development, they don't know how to be appropriate in how they express themselves. If you don't "contain" them somewhat, due to large class sizes, a teacher can spend a lot of time getting a class "back on track". Also, there has to be a time to encourage verbal interaction and a time to listen. Otherwise, teachers would never be able to teach the skills needed in order for kids to both pass to the next grade and also pass the standardized testing. Also, this is an important part of verbal communication - learning when to express yourself and when to listen to what is being said and using knowledge to form your own opinions about it. I think this is sad that teachers are required to "teach towards tests" - it didn't used to be this way when we were in school. So, I guess what I'm saying is that, while I agree with Healy's hypothesis, I understand why a shift hasn't happened in classrooms. The kids to learn the back and forth of verbal communication are the ones who get specialized services (so, they are the ones who qualify for special education) because they are in an individual or small group setting.

It's too bad that your school experience was not a good one. I hate hearing about when kids "check out" because I know it still happens too often. I don't trust the UC studies - I hate seeing "research" results offered up on the news or in the newspaper without knowing more of the particulars. Everything I know about child development says that early intervention works. They didn't pull the term "critical years of development" (which is birth to 5) out of nowhere. I too, support Reiner's intiative because I believe wholeheartedly in early intervention. It will be interesting to see what happens since Arnie doesn't want to raise taxes.

Carrie said...

Yeah, I thought you would have an interesting perspective on that. I haven't gotten to Healy's recommendations yet, but she makes it clear that she (a teacher) is not about attacking teachers or really blaming anyone in particular. It's more like she's observing that kids aren't showing up at school as prepared to think as they used to, and she's wondering what could be done about that.

Notta Wallflower said...

Personally, I think parents need to take some ownership of educating their children and not expecting teachers and other school staff to be the end-all and be-all of their child's learning. That is not to say that schools don't need to improve/change their way of doing things. But, school wasn't ever meant to be a cure-all and I work with (and have worked with over the years) several parents who just "don't have time" for their kids. Some have had the audacity to tell me exactly that in meetings when I suggest things they could do at home. That attitude is inexcusable and I have no patience for that mindset.

Regardless of our differences in opinions on various subjects, I see you and Epu with Nut and I can't think of any child who is more lucky - to have parents so involved in her development and well-being.