Why Mixed Ages?

help-or-hinder

 

The Montessori philosophy believes in putting children of different ages together in the same class together. Many parents seem baffled by this idea probably because the current, mainstream education structure is different than this.

We believe that ALL children benefit from this arrangement and we have compiled a few news articles to help others understand our perspective.

The results for the younger children are clear: they have excellent role models to emulate and we all know that young children learn from example faster than any other way.

The effects for the older children are sometimes more difficult to observe, but if you look critically and closely enough, the positive results for these children are outstanding.

It is a well-known fact that academic skills alone do not account for success in life. There are many other skills, traits, and characteristics that hold the keys to success in life. The good news is that these skills, traits, and characteristics can be learned and developed.

For the older children in a mixed-age group, these “non-academic skills” as they are called in the following article develop faster than ever.

 

Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?

May 28, 2015 7:03 AM ET
ANYA KAMENETZ

 

More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics.

But no one agrees on what to call that “stuff”.

There are least seven major overlapping terms in play. New ones are being coined all the time. This bagginess bugs me, as a member of the education media. It bugs researchers and policymakers too.

“Basically we’re trying to explain student success educationally or in the labor market with skills not directly measured by standardized tests,” says Martin West, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “The problem is, you go to meetings and everyone spends the first two hours complaining and arguing about semantics.”

West studies what he calls “non-cognitive skills.” Although he’s not completely happy with that term.

The problem isn’t just semantic, argues Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation. She wrote a paper on what she called “Skills for Success,” since she didn’t like any of these other terms. “There’s a lot of different terms floating around but also a lack of agreement on what really is most important to students.”

As Noah Webster, the great American lexicographer and educator, put it back in 1788,“The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head.

Yet he didn’t come up with a good name, either.

So, in Webster’s tradition, here’s a short glossary of terms that are being used for that cultivation of the heart. Vote for your favorite in the comments — or propose a new one.

21st Century Skills

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a research and advocacy group, these include the “4Cs of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity,” as well as “life and career skills” and “information, media and technology skills.”

The problem, says West, is that “if anything, all the evidence would suggest that in the closing decades of the 20th and 21st centuries, cognitive skills became more important than ever.” So this term, although it’s often heard in business and technology circles, doesn’t necessarily signal the shift in focus that some researchers want.

Character

Character education has a long history in the U.S., with a major vogue in the 1930s and a revival in the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning a few years ago, the KIPP charter schools in New York City started to emphasize a curriculum of seven “character strengths”: grit, zest, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.

“We’re not religious, we’re not talking about ethics, we’re not going to give any kind of doctrine about what is right from wrong,” says Leyla Bravo-Willey of KIPP Infinity in Harlem. “But there are some fundamental things that make people really great citizens, which usually include being kind.”

West argues that the use of “character” is inappropriate in research and policymaking because of its moral and religious connotations.

“We’re not religious, we’re not talking about ethics, we’re not going to give any kind of doctrine about what is right from wrong,” says Leyla Bravo-Willey of KIPP Infinity in Harlem. “But there are some fundamental things that make people really great citizens, which usually include being kind.”

West argues that the use of “character” is inappropriate in research and policymaking because of its moral and religious connotations.

Grit

Grit is a pioneer virtue with a long American history — think of the classic western True Grit. When Angela Duckworth was working on her dissertation in the mid-2000s, she chose the term to encapsulate the measures of self-control, persistence and conscientiousness that she was finding to be powerful determinants of success. It quickly caught on — maybe too quickly, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist says.

“I’m grateful for the attention, but that gratitude and amazement was quickly replaced by anxiety about people thinking that we had figured things out already.” She’s worried that grit is being overemphasized: In a recent paper, she argued that grit measures aren’t ready to be incorporated into high stakes accountability systems. “I’m also concerned that people interpret my position to be that grit’s the only thing that matters.”

Larry Nucci at UC Berkeley, who has studied moral development and character education for 40 years, has stronger words for grit. “I think it’s flavor of the month. It’s not very substantive, it’s not very deep.”

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, the Stanford University psychologist, chose the term mindset in 2007 for the title of her bestselling book.

“Growth mindset” is the belief that positive traits, including intelligence, can be developed with practice. “Fixed mindset” refers to the idea that intelligence and other talents are set at birth.

“In my research papers I had some very, very clunky scientific-sounding term for the fixed and the growth mindset,” she says. “When I went to write the book I thought, these will not do at all.”

Mindset has caught on tremendously in both the business and education worlds. But Dweck’s concern is that it’s being used willy-nilly to justify any old intuition that people might have about positive thinking in the classroom.

“When people start thinking, ‘I’ll make the kids feel good and they’ll learn,’ that’s how something like the self-esteem movement gains traction,” — a 1980s trend that led to lots of trophies but little improvement in achievement.

Non-cognitive Traits and Habits

This term is most strongly associated with the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman. He analyzed large data sets to show that attributes such as self-discipline and persistence — not just academic achievement — affected education, labor market and life outcomes.

This term is “ugly, broad, nonspecific,” argues Carol Dweck — and she’s a fan. “I’m the only person who likes the term,” she says. “And I’ll tell you why: It is a very diverse group of factors and the reason it’s been hard to come up with a name is that they don’t necessarily belong together.”

Martin West at Harvard uses this term himself, but he says he’s always careful to acknowledge that it can be “misleading.”

“Every skill or trait is cognitive in the sense that it involves and reflects the processing of information of some kind in our brains,” he says. And West adds that traditional academic skills more often than not are complements, not substitutes, for the attitudes and personality traits captured by the term “non-cognitive skills.”

Social + Emotional Skils

Nobody I spoke with hates this term.

“Increasingly teachers who are on the front line say that it’s very important to teach kids to be more socially and emotionally competent,” says Roger P. Weissberg, chief knowledge officer of the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which promotes the concept and the term nationwide. “Teachers feel, and growing research supports, that it helps them academically, it improves school climate, it improves discipline, and it’s going to help them to be college and career — and life — ready.”

The only problem is that the “skills” part may not be seen as encompassing things that are more like attitudes or beliefs, like growth mindset. And the “social and emotional” part, again, may be seen as excluding skills that are really cognitive in nature.

This is tough, right?

Soft Skills

Employers commonly use “soft skills” to include anything from being able to write a letter, to showing up on time and having a firm handshake. Most of the researchers I spoke with felt this phrase downplays the importance of these skills. “Soft skills, along with 21st century skills, strike me as exceptionally vague,” says West. “I don’t know that there’s anything soft about them.”

So the struggle persists. Maybe one day there will be a pithy acronym or portmanteau to wrap all these skills up with a bow.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs

By Maanvi Singh

JANUARY 2, 2015

Thomas O’Donnell’s kindergarten kids are all hopped up to read about Twiggle the anthropomorphic Turtle.

“Who can tell me why Twiggle here is sad,” O’Donnell asks his class at Matthew Henson Elementary School in Baltimore.

“Because he doesn’t have no friends,” a student pipes up.

And how do people look when they’re sad?

“They look down!” the whole class screams out.

Yeah, Twiggle is lonely. But, eventually, he befriends a hedgehog, a duck and a dog. And along the way, he learns how to play, help and share.

These are crucial skills we all need to learn, even in preschool and kindergarten. And common sense — along with a growing body of research — shows that mastering social skills early on can help people stay out of trouble all the way into their adult lives.

So shouldn’t schools teach kids about emotions and conflict negotiation in the same way they teach math and reading? The creators of Twiggle the Turtle say the answer is yes.

Emotional Intelligence 101

Twiggle is part of a program called Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS. It’s designed to help young kids recognize and express emotions.

Matthew Henson Elementary is one of about 1,500 schools around the country using this program, which was first developed in the 1980s.

Every week, students get two 15- to 20-minute lessons on themes like self-control and treating others with respect. Especially for the youngest kids — in kindergarten and first grade — Twiggle often serves as their guide.

O’Donnell says his students are really taking to the lessons. They’re trained, for example, to “do the Turtle” when they’re upset. “That’s when they stop and cocoon themselves. They wrap their arms around themselves and they say what the problem is,” he explains.

O’Donnell’s kids do the turtle all the time — in the hallway and during class.

Right before class starts, for example, one little girl tells her friend, “I don’t like when you touch my hair, because it makes me sad.”

“Sorry!” her friend responds.

While most kids will eventually figure out such strategies on their own, or with help from their parents, O’Donnell says, the lessons help them learn more quickly.

And for some, especially those with troubled home lives, Twiggle is their first and only introduction to healthy self-expression, he says. “Some of them don’t have words to express how they feel before this.”

The Long Game

We previously reported on a national study comparing PATHS and other, similar programs showing positive effects in preschool. They are based on research showing that kids who act up a lot in school and at home — even very young kids — are more likely to have mental health problems and commit crimes years later as adults.

So Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Duke University, asked, “Could we do something about that to prevent those problems from actually occurring?” And he has dedicated his career to answering that question.

He and his colleagues launched the FastTrack Project to see if they could change students’ life trajectory by teaching them what researchers like to call social-emotional intelligence.

Back in 1991, they screened 5-year-olds at schools around the country for behavior problems. After interviewing teachers and parents, the researchers identified 900 children who seemed to be most at risk for developing problems later on.

Half of these kids went through school as usual — though they had access to free counseling or tutoring. The rest got PATHS lessons, as well as counseling and tutoring, and their parents received training as well — all the way up until the students graduated from high school.

By age 25, those who were enrolled in the special program not only had done better in school, but they also had lower rates of arrests and fewer mental health and substance abuse issues. The results of this decades-long study were published in September in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The findings prove, Dodge says, “In the same way that we can teach reading literacy, we can teach social and emotional literacy.”

Cost Versus Benefit

PATHS and FastTrack aren’t the only programs of their kind. A social-emotional learning program called RULER, developed at Yale University, has shown promising results, as well. And every year, the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning rates the top evidence-based emotional intelligence programs around the country.

So what’s the catch? Why don’t all schools offer emotional intelligence lessons?

Well, it’s expensive.

The full, intensive FastTrack program costs around $50,000 per student, over a 10-year period. Schools can also pick and choose elements of the program.

For example, the short PATHS lessons about Twiggle at Matthew Henson Elementary cost less — about $600 per classroom to start, plus an additional $100 a year to keep it running.

It’s pricey, but it does cost less per child than juvenile detention or rehab programs later on, according to Dodge. As a society, we spend a lot on remedial services — programs like PATHS are preventive, he says. “This is something that in the long run will save dollars.”

At Clark K-8 School in Cleveland, fifth-grader Tommy DeJesus Jr. says he thinks it’s been worthwhile.

DeJesus has been exposed to the PATHS curriculum since he was in kindergarten, and he says he continues to use the social skills he learned from good old Twiggle.

The other day, for example, DeJesus says, he was quick to step in when he saw that a friend was being teased. “They were making fun of his shoes and how he dressed. I said, ‘Just because you have shoes and he doesn’t, that doesn’t give you the right to bully him,’ ” he says.

And the cool thing was, they listened.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.