Good morning CW News readers! After a rather interesting and slightly controversial special needs story yesterday, I thought we would take a break to look at some other news in education. Our friend David Ginsburg (aka Coach G) is back and has some excellent advice for all teachers about the role of discipline versus diagnosis when it comes to classroom behavioral management. Next, a new Education Week blogger describes a great study about how the youngest among us begin to acquire language. For teachers in the early childhood field as well as those teaching foreign languages, the lessons about lip reading may be especially helpful. Finally, more slavery is in the news. This time, middle school students were asked to imagine their lives as slaves. One parent, who is biracial, objected to the assignment citing that the exercise unfairly targets students of color who may feel “humiliated or downcast.” With all the controversy over slavery-related lesson plans lately, how do you feel is the proper way to address this sensitive topic? Stop Disciplining, Start Diagnosing From David Ginsburg, writing for Coach G’s Teaching Tips Doctors don't prescribe drugs or reach for a scalpel the moment a patient reports symptoms. Doctors diagnose first, and treat second. Coaches don't cut players from the team every time they're in a slump. Coaches determine what's wrong with a player's shot or swing or stroke, and then work with that player to fix it. In myriad other settings, experts similarly identify the sources of problems before deciding how to address those problems. One place, however, where this doesn't always happen is school, especially when it comes to students' misbehavior. Writing students' names on the board. Moving their seats. Giving them detention. Calling their parents. Suspending them. These and other common punitive responses rarely if ever improve students' behavior. And a big reason for this is that they fail to assess--much less address--the causes of students' behavior. Martin Haberman spoke to this in his book, Star Teachers, when he wrote, "Star teachers act only in terms of the most appropriate response to a particular child, after they determine his motive. They never respond as if there is a universally correct teacher response to a child's misbehavior without first knowing that child's motivation." As for what that motivation may be, Haberman cited the work of Rudolph Dreikurs, who identified four goals of children's misbehavior: attention, power, revenge, and avoidance of failure. And based on my experience--as a teacher, sports coach, instructional coach, school leader, and parent--these are indeed main motives of children's misbehavior. I've provided illustrations in previous posts that can help you identify three of these four motives--attention, power, and avoidance of failure--along with suggestions for addressing them proactively. Still, kids are going to misbehave at times no matter how proactive you are, so be sure to determine why they're misbehaving before you decide what to do about it. To discipline students before diagnosing the causes of their behavior would be like operating on patients before diagnosing the causes of their symptoms. Babies Read Lips while Learning to Speak, Researchers Find By Lesli Maxwell, writing for Education Week: Early Years A fascinating new study published online yesterday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that babbling babies—starting as early as four months old—pay close attention to the mouths of adult speakers. The little ones are studying our mouths, say the researchers, to figure out how to shape their own to make a particular sound. As the baby babble gives way to actual syllables and first words, the little ones stop studying lips and return their gaze to adult eyes, say psychologist David Lewkowicz and psychology graduate student Amy Hansen-Tift, both of Florida Atlantic University. The researchers tested 179 infants from English-speaking families who were 4, 6, 8 or 12 months old and used special devices to track where the babies looked when they were shown a video of a female English speaker and a female Spanish speaker. The 4-month-old babies tended to look into the eyes of both speakers, but those who ranged from 6 months old to 10 months, focused on the mouths of both English and Spanish speakers, they found. The babies who were closer to 12 months old and were budding talkers, spent more time looking into the eyes of the English speaker, but continued to focus on the lips of the woman speaking the unfamiliar language of Spanish just like the younger infants. Researchers said those babies still needed to study the mouth of the speaker of the unfamiliar language to figure out how to make those sounds. This study seems to underscore, once again, the importance of parents talking, talking, talking to our little ones. Fallout continues over 'pretend slave' assignment By Lori Higgins and Elisha Anderson, writing for the Detroit Free Press A parent's objection to a recent lesson on slavery, in which students were asked to pretend that they are slaves, illustrates the often tricky role teachers must play when discussing sensitive topics: How to engage students while avoiding being offensive or creating discomfort? "There are a lot of sensitivities around the issue, so you have to be cautious. But it's a topic that's in the curriculum," said Michael Yocum, executive director of learning services at Oakland Schools, the intermediate school district for Oakland County. Experts say the type of lesson a teacher assigned at Strong Middle School in the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Public Schools is common—an attempt to have students empathize and think about what life might have been like for slaves or anyone in a historical context. The teacher told students to pretend they were slaves and asked them to answer questions such as describing what the slave area and plantation were like and whether anything extraordinary had happened in their lives as slaves. Parent Jessica Gibson, who is biracial and whose son is black, objected to the assignment and said no child should have to pretend to be a slave. School and district officials did not respond to requests for comment from the Free Press on Monday or Tuesday. Gibson now says she may sue the district. "It's not about money. This is about civil rights and freedom of speech," she said Tuesday. Peggy Altoff, a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies and a retired school district coordinator, said the questions asked in the assignment are legitimate. "The questions are what you would want a student to learn about slavery," she said. Although asking students to imagine themselves in a historical setting is a popular teaching method, Altoff and Yocum said it might not be the most effective method. Both suggest teachers instead use primary documents, such as diaries and first-person accounts to engage students. Bob Pettapiece, an assistant professor in K-12 social studies at Wayne State University, said while the topic may be sensitive, schools must teach slavery in a way that students understand. Gibson said her son didn't attend school Tuesday and may not return next year. "I don't want him to be in a school where he feels different, or humiliated or downcast," Gibson said.
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