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CHAPTER 9: PHYSICAL AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN MIDDLE CHILDHOOD

 

Learning Objective Questions (items marked *** are required objectives)

After completing Chapter 9, students should be able to:

9.1               What kinds of physical changes occur during middle childhood?

9.2               ***In what ways does the brain change during these yeas?

9.3               ***What are the three most important health hazards for 6- to 12-year olds?

9.4               How do vocabulary and other aspects of language change during middle childhood?

9.5               ***What cognitive advantages do children gain as they move through Piaget’s concrete operational stage?

9.6               What is horizontal decalage, and how does Siegler explain concrete operational thinking?

9.7               ***How do children’s information processing skills improve during these years?

9.8               What should be included in an effective literacy curriculum?

9.9               How do bilingual and ESL approaches to second-language instruction differ?

9.10            ***Why do schools administer achievement tests and what kinds of items do they include?

9.11            ***What kinds of group differences in achievement have educational researchers found?

9.12            ***Why is the term “learning disability” controversial?

9.13            ***How does attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affect a child’s development?

 

PHYSICAL CHANGES (pp. 246-250)

Growth and Motor Development

 

9.1       What kinds of physical changes occur during middle childhood?

 

The growth patterns established in the late preschool years continue, with two to three inches in height and about six pounds added each year.  Large muscle coordination continues to improve, so that children increase in strength and speed.  The school-age child’s increasingly good fine motor coordination makes writing possible, as well as the playing of most musical instruments, drawing, cutting, and many other skills.

 

Girls in this age range are ahead of boys in their overall rate of growth as well.  By age 12, girls have attained about 94 percent of their adult heights, whereas boys have reached only 84 percent of their eventual stature.  Girls have slightly more body fat and slightly less muscle tissue than boys.  Sex differences in skeletal and muscular maturation cause girls to be better coordinated, but slower and somewhat weaker than boys.  Still, the sex differences in joint maturation rate, strength, and speed are small at this age, and the distributions overlap a great deal.

 

The Brain and Nervous System

 

9.2       ***In what ways does the brain change during these years?

 

Two major growth spurts happen in the brain during middle childhood.  In most healthy children, the first takes place between six and eight, and the second between ten and twelve.  Both spurts involve the development of new synapses as well as increases in the thickness of the cerebral cortex. 

§         The primary sites of brain growth during the first spurt are the sensory and motor areas.  Growth in these areas may be linked to the striking improvement in fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination that usually develop between six and eight.

§         During the second spurt, the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex become the focus of developmental processes.  Logic and planning, two cognitive functions that improve dramatically during this period, are located primarily in the frontal lobes.

 

The continued myelinization of the frontal lobes,  reticular formation, and the nerves that link the reticular formation to the frontal lobes are of particular importance.  These connections are needed to take full advantage of improvements in frontal lobe functions because the reticular formation controls attentions.

§         It seems likely that myelinization of linkages between the frontal lobes and the reticular formation work together to enable six- to twelve-year-olds to develop a particular kind of concentration called selective attention.  Selective attention is the ability to focus cognitive activity on the important elements of a problem or situation.  As the nerves connecting the reticular formation and frontal lobes become more fully myelinated between six and twelve, children begin to function more like adults in the presence of such distractions.

§         The neurons of the association areas—parts of the brain where sensory, motor and intellectual functions are linked—are myelinized to some degree by the time children enter middle childhood.  From six to twelve, however, the nerve cells in these areas approach complete myelinization.  Neuroscientists believe that this advance in the myelinization process contributes to increases in information processing speed.  Such increases in processing speed probably contribute to improvements in memory function.

 

Another important advance in middle childhood occurs in the right cerebral hemisphere with the lateralization of spatial perception, the ability to identify and act on relationships of objects in space.  Perception of objects such as faces actually lateralizes before age six.  Complex spatial perception, such as map-reading, isn’t strongly lateralized until age eight or so.  A behavioral test of spatial perception lateralization that neuroscientists often use involves relative right-left orientation, the ability to identify right and left from multiple perspectives.  Lateralization of spatial perception may also be related to the increased efficiency with which older children learn math concepts and problem-solving strategies.  In addition, it is somewhat correlated to performance on Piaget’s conservation tasks.  The development of spatial perception is more than just a physiological process, however.

 

It appears that visual experience plays an important role in this aspect of brain development.  Differences in visual experiences have been postulated to explain sex differences in spatial perception and a related function, spatial cognition, the ability to infer rules from and make predictions about the movement of objects in space.  From an early age, boys score much higher than girls, on average, when asked to perform spatial tasks.  Proponents of this view suggest that boys’ play preferences, such as their greater interest in video games, help them develop more acute spatial perception and cognition.

 

Health and Wellness

 

9.3       ***What are the three most important health hazards for 6- to 12-year-olds?

 

Most school-aged children are very healthy; however, they continue to benefit from regular medical care. 

 

Head Injuries

Head injuries accompanied by some kind of change in level of consciousness (ranging from mild lethargy to a total loss of consciousness) are more common among school-aged children than any other age group.  Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of head injuries in children, but bicycle accidents are another important cause.  Research suggests that wearing a helmet while riding reduces the chances of head injury by more than 85 percent.  The vast majority of children who experience head injuries recover fully and experience no long-term effects.  The effects, however, can by subtle and may not be apparent immediately after the injury.  Physicians say that every child who experiences a head trauma should receive medical attention and be monitored for several days.

 

Asthma

The most frequent cause of school absence for six- to 12-year-olds is asthma, a chronic lung disease in which individuals experience sudden fatal attacks of breathing difficulty.  The disease typically appears between ages five and seven and is believed to be caused by hypersensitivity to allergens such as dust and animal hair.  When children who have asthma encounter these irritants, their bronchial tube linings become inflames.  In response, large amounts of mucous are produced, the airways become blocked, and the child gasps for air.

 

Doctors use a “step” approach to treating asthma in which education is the first line of defense. 

§         The first step is to help children identify and avoid irritants that trigger attacks.

§         The next step involves daily medication.  Medicines used at this step, however, can have detrimental effects on children’s cognitive development, so health professionals try to avoid using them when possible.

 

As children grow and their lung capacity increases, asthma attacks decrease in both intensity and frequency.  About half of children with asthma, however, continue to experience symptoms throughout their lives.

 

Excessive Weight Gain

The Most serious long-term health risk in middle childhood is excessive weight gain.  It is a pattern in which children gain more weight in a year than is appropriate for their height, age, and sex.  Health care professionals use a measure called BMI-for-age, a variation in the body mass index (BMI) that applies to adults.  Children whose BMIs fall at the 95th percentile (the top 5%) are considered overweight, and those whose BMIs fall between the 85th and 95th percentiles are classified as at-risk-for-overweight

 

Overeating, or eating too much of the wrong foods, causes excessive weight gain in children just as it does in adults.  Both twin and adoption studies suggest that it probably results from an interaction between a genetic predisposition and environmental factors that promote overeating or low levels of activity.  A cultural pattern involving decreased levels of physical activity and increases in the consumption of high-calorie convenience foods have led to the current epidemic of overweight children in the U.S.

 

Weight-loss diets for children can be fairly risky.  Because they are still growing, the nutritional needs of overweight children differ from those of adults.  Consequently, overweight children require special diets developed and supervised by nutritional experts, and increasing the amount of exercise children get is just as important as changing their eating habits.

 

COGNITIVE CHANGES (pp. 250-256)

Language

 

9.4       How do vocabulary and other aspects of language change during middle childhood?

 

By age five or six, virtually all children master the basic grammar and pronunciation of their native language.  They have, however, much more to learn to reach an adult-like language.  During middle childhood, children learn to maintain the topic of conversation, create unambiguous sentences, and to speak politely or persuasively.  All of these improvements contribute to the school-aged child’s emerging mastery of conversation.

 

They continue to add new vocabulary at the rate of 5,000 to 10,000 words per year.  The largest gain occurs in knowledge of the type of words called derived words:  words that have a basic root to which some prefix or suffix is added.  By age eight or nine, the child shifts to a new level of understanding of the structure of language, figuring out relationships between whole categories of words, such as between adjectives and adverbs or between adjectives and nouns.  Having understood these relationships, the child can now understand and create a whole class of new words and her vocabulary increases rapidly.

 

Piaget’s Concrete Operational Stage

 

9.5       ***What cognitive advantages do children gain as they move through Piaget’s concrete operational stage?

 

By age six, most children have begun to show some signs of the concrete operational stage.  This stage is devoted to the construction of schemes that enable children to think logically about objects and events in the real world.

 

The stage takes its name from a set of immensely powerful schemes Piaget called concrete operations.  The operations include mental processes such as decentration (the opposite of centration—thinking in terms of single variables).  Thus decentration is thinking that takes multiple variables into account.

 

Preoperational children exhibit irreversibility (the inability to think of some transformed object as it was prior to the transformation).  In contrast, concrete operational thinkers display its opposite, reversibility, the ability to mentally undo some kind of physical or mental transformation.  Piaget thought that reversibility was the most of all concrete operations.

 

Piaget also proposed that during this stage the children develop the ability to use inductive logic, going from her own experience to a general principle.  Elementary school children are not yet good, however, at deductive logic.  Based on hypothetical premises, deductive logic requires starting with a general principle, and then predicting some outcomes or observation.  Responding to a question such as, “What would you do if you were President of the United States?” requires deductive logic.  This task is difficult for six- to twelve-year-olds because they must imagine things they have not experienced.  The concrete operations child is good at dealing with things she can see and manipulate or can imagine seeing or manipulating—that is, she is good with concrete things.  She does not do well with manipulating ideas or possibilities.  Thus, children respond to deductive problems by generating ideas that are essentially copies of the things they know about in the concrete world.

 

Direct Tests of Piaget’s View

 

9.6       What is horizontal decalage, and how does Siegler explain concrete operational thinking?

 

Piaget understood that it took children some years to apply these new cognitive skills to all kinds of problems, a phenomenon he called horizontal decalage.  Other developmentalists have explained both inconsistencies and inconsistencies in school-aged children’s reasoning as a result of their ability to use rules to solve problems.

 

Horizontal Decalage

Researchers have generally found that Piaget was right in his assertion that concrete operational schemes are acquired gradually across the six- to twelve-year-old period.  Studies of conservation consistently show that children grasp conservation of mass by about age seven, they generally understand conservation of weight at about age eight, but they do not understand conservation of volume at age eleven.

 

Studies of classification skills show that at about age seven or eight the child first grasps the principle of class inclusion, the idea that subordinate classes are included in larger, superordinate classes.  Bananas are included in the class of fruit, and fruit is included in the class of food, and so forth.  Preschool children understand that bananas are also fruit, but they do not yet fully understand the relationship between the classes.

 

Concrete Operations as Rules for Problem-Solving

Other psychologists have conceptualized performance on concrete operational tasks in terms of rules for problem-solving.  Robert Siegler argues that cognitive development consists of acquiring a set of basic rules that are then applied to a broader and broader range of problems on the basis of experience.  There are no stages, only sequences, and he proposes that the new strategies emerge directly from experience—from repeated trial and error experimentation.

 

Siegler performed a test with a balance scale and a series of pegs on either side of the center.  The child is asked to predict which way the balance will fall, depending on the location and number of discs placed on the pegs.  A complete solution requires the child to take into account both the number of discs on each side and the specific location of the discs.  He discovered that four rules will develop.

§         Rule I is basically a “preoperational” rule taking into account only one dimension.

§         Rule II is a transitional rule.  The child still judges only on the basis of number, except when the same number of weights appear on each side.

§         Rule III is a concrete operations rule.  The child tries to take both distance and weight into account simultaneously, except when the information is conflicting.

§         Rule IV involves the understanding of the actual formula for calculating the combined effects of weight and distance.

 

Virtually all children perform as if they are following one or another of these rules, and the rules seem to develop in the order given.  Progression from one rule to the next depends heavily on experience.  Siegler, then, is attempting to describe a logical sequence children follow, but he shows that the specific step in this sequence for a particular child depends on the child’s specific experience with a given set of materials.

 

Advances in Information-Processing Skills

 

9.7       ***How do children’s information-processing skills improve during these years?

 

Across the middle childhood years, children are able to remember longer and longer lists of numbers, letters, or words.  In fact, their memories function well enough that their testimony about events they have witnessed is usually accurate enough to be regarded as reliable in judicial proceedings

 

Processing Efficiency

Processing efficiency, the ability to make efficient use of short-term memory capacity, increases steadily with age, a change that most developmentalists now see as the basis on which cognitive development occurs.  The best evidence that cognitive processing becomes more efficient is that it gets steadily faster with age.  Robert Kail has found virtually the same exponential increase with age in processing speed for a wide variety of tasks, and he has found virtually identical patterns of speed increases in studies in Korea as well as the United States.

 

Automaticity

One of the most important ways in which processing efficiency grows in middle childhood is through the acquisition of automaticity, or the ability to recall information from long-term memory without using short-term memory capacity.  Automaticity is critical to efficient information-processing because it frees up short-term memory space for more complex processing.  Researchers have found that elementary-school children who have automatized basic math facts learn complex computational skills more rapidly. 

 

Automaticity is achieved primarily through practice, and it is important throughout the lifespan.  It is in middle childhood, however, when children seem to begin automatizing large quantities of information and skills at a fairly rapid rate.

 

Executive and Strategic Processes

Metacognition—knowing about knowing or thinking about thinking—is part of a large group of skills known as executive processes:  planning what to do and considering alternative strategies based on a basic understanding of how the mind works.  Such skills improve a great deal during middle childhood.  One of the advantages of having good metacognitive and executive processing skills is that they help us devise methods for remembering information called memory strategies.  For the most part, these memory techniques first appear between the ages of six and twelve.

 

Expertise

A great deal of research shows that the amount of knowledge a person possesses makes a huge difference in how efficiently the information-processing system works.  Children and adults who know a lot about a topic categorize information in that area in more complex and hierarchical ways.  They are also better at remembering and logically analyzing new information on that topic.  Additionally, children’s capacity for creativity appears to greatly depend on how much knowledge they have about a topic. 

 

Even the typical age differences in strategy use or memory ability disappear when the younger group has more expertise than the older.  Using advanced information-processing skills in their areas of expertise doesn’t seem to help children’s general memory and reasoning abilities.  For this reason, many information-processing psychologists now believe that an individual’s information-processing skills may depend entirely on the quantity and quality of relevant information stored in long-term memory.

 

SCHOOLING (pp. 256-266)

Children all over the world begin school at age six or seven.  Because of its academic focus and the amount of time that children spend in school, formal education is one of the most important influences on the cognitive development of 6- to 12-year-olds.

 

Literacy

 

9.8       What should be included in an effective literacy curriculum?

 

In the industrialized world, literacy, the ability to read and write, is the focus of education in the six- to twelve-year-old period.  The skills children bring to school from their early childhood experiences may influence early reading as much as formal instruction.  Phonological awareness is especially important.  Advocates of the balanced approach to reading instruction point out that teachers must move beyond basic phonics.  In guided reading sessions, teachers work with small groups of children on reading books that are somewhat challenging for them.  Teachers explain reading strategies to all the children in the group.

§         Beginning readers gain a significant advantage when they achieve automaticity with respect to identifying sound-symbol connections.

§         Once children have learned the basic reading process, learning about meaningful word parts helps them become more efficient readers and to better understand what they read.

§         Comprehension strategies, such as identifying the purpose of a particular text, also help children become better readers.

§         All along the way, children need to be exposed to good literature, both in their own reading and through being read to by teachers and parents.

 

Some of the strategies used to teach reading also help children learn to write, the other component of literacy.  Instruction in sound-symbol connections helps children learn to spell as well as to read.  Good writing also involves instruction and practice, just as reading does.  Children need to learn about writing techniques such as outlining and paragraph development to become good writers.  They also need to learn about language mechanics, such as grammar and appropriate uses of words, as well as how to edit their own and others’ written work.

 

Despite educators’ best efforts, many children fall behind their classmates in literacy during the early school years.  In general, poor readers have problems with sound-letter combinations.  Thus, many children who have reading difficulties benefit from highly specific phonics approaches that provide a great deal of practice in translating letters into sounds and vice versa.  Curriculum flexibility is also important in programs for poor readers.  Programs that combine sound-letter and comprehension training have proven to be highly successful in helping poor readers catch up, especially when they are implemented in the early elementary years.  Consequently, teachers need to be able to assess the effectiveness of whatever approach they are using and change it to fit the needs of individual students.

 

Second-Language Learners

 

9.9       How do bilingual and ESL approaches to second-language instruction differ?

 

Worldwide patterns of population growth and movement have led to tremendous increases in the number of children who attend school in English-speaking countries whose home language is not English.  Educators use the term limited English proficient (LEP) to refer both to non-English-speaking immigrant children and to native-born children who do not speak English.

 

Some LEP children, mostly those whose first language is Spanish, participate in bilingual education programs.  Bilingual education, however, is logistically impossible for most LEP children.  If a school system has only a handful of students who speak a particular language, it is not financially feasible to establish a separate curriculum for them.  Additionally, it may be impossible to find bilingual teachers for children whose language is spoken by very few people outside their country of origin.  For these reasons, most LEP six- to twelve-year-olds in the U.S., about 76 percent, are enrolled in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs.  In ESL programs, children spend part of the day in English language classes and part in academic classes that are conducted entirely in English.

 

Research has shown that no particular approach to second-language learning is more successful than another.  Programs which include a home-based component, such as those that encourage parents to learn the new language along with their children, may be especially effective.  It seems that any structured program fosters higher achievement among non-English-speaking children rather than simply integrating them into English-only classes (an approach called submersion).

 

With respect to achievement, LEP students’ performance in school is very similar to that of English-speaking children; there is no evidence that a child who enters school with limited English skills has any greater risk of failure than native-born students.  One cautionary note, however.  An LEP student does not have an increased risk of failure as long as (1) the school provides some kind of transition to English-only instruction and (2) school officials take care to administer all standardized tests in the language with which the child is most familiar.  The first is necessary to optimize the LEP child’s potential for achievement, and the second ensures that non-English-speaking children will not be misclassified as mentally retarded or learning disabled because of their limited English skills.

 

Achievement and Intelligence Tests

 

9.10     ***Why do schools administer achievement tests and what kinds of items do they include?

 

A standardized test is one in which each individual’s performance is determined by comparing his or her score to the average score attained by a large sample of similar individuals.  Most school systems in the U.S. administer standardized tests to students many times during their educational careers.  The tests are generally of two types, achievement tests and intelligence tests.

 

Types of Tests

Achievement tests are designed to assess specific information learned in school.  Scores are based on the comparison of an individual child’s performance to that of other children in the same grade across the country.  Critics of achievement tests point out that we think of achievement tests as indicators of what children learn in school, but they are very similar to IQ tests.  They suggest that comprehensive portfolios of children’s school work may be better indicators of actual school learning than standardized achievement tests.

 

Most U.S. schools also require students to take intelligence tests at various points in their educational careers.  These tests are given to large numbers of students at the same time, and some critics say they are not as accurate as the individual tests you read about in Chapter 6.  Others object to their use because they often result in the misclassification of children in minority groups.  Nevertheless, IQ tests are often used to group children for instruction because they are strongly correlated with achievement test scores.

 

Theories of Intelligence

Some developmentalists say that the problem with relying on IQ tests to predict achievement is that they fail to provide a complete picture of mental activities.  Howard Gardner proposed a theory of multiple intelligences.  This theory claims there are seven types of intelligence.

§         Linguistic:  the ability to use language effectively.

§         Logical/mathematical:  a facility with numbers and logical problem-solving.

§         Musical:  the ability to appreciate and produce music.

§         Spatial:  the ability to appreciate spatial relationships.

§         Bodily/kinesthetic:  the ability to move in a coordinated way combined with a sense of one’s body in space.

§         Naturalist:  the ability to make fine discriminations among plants and animals of the natural world or the patterns and designs of human artifacts.

§         Interpersonal:  sensitivity to the behavior, moods, and needs of others.

§         Intrapersonal:  the ability to understand oneself.

Gardner’s theory is based on observations of people with brain damage, mental retardation, and other severe mental handicaps.  He points out that many individuals with mental deficits have remarkable talents.  Critics claim that Gardner’s view, while intuitively appealing, has little empirical support.

 

Emotional Intelligence

Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence proposes three components of human intelligence. 

§         Contextual intelligence has to do with knowing the right behavior for a specific situation.  In general, IQ tests measure how familiar a child is with “school” culture.  Thus, children whose cultural background is different perform poorly because they are unfamiliar with the context of the test, and their poor performance is often mistakenly interpreted to mean that they lack intelligence.

§         Experiential intelligence is also measured by IQ tests.  It involves learning to give specific responses without thinking about them.

§         Componential intelligence is a person’s ability to come up with effective strategies.  To Sternberg, this is the most important component of intelligence.  He claims that intelligence tests put more emphasis on “correctness” of answers than on the quality of the strategies people use to arrive at them.

 

Both Gardner’s and Sternberg’s theories have become important in helping educators to understand the weaknesses of IQ tests.  Moreover, psychologist Daniel Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence has also added to our understanding of intelligence and achievement.  Emotional intelligence has three components:

§         Awareness of our own emotions.

§         The ability to express our emotions appropriately.

§         The capacity to channel our emotions into the pursuit of worthwhile goals.

Without emotional intelligence, it is impossible to achieve our intellectual potential.  Indeed, research on the relationship between self-control (the third component of emotional intelligence) in early childhood and achievement in adolescence suggests that Goleman’s view is correct.

 

Group Differences in Achievement

 

9.11     ***What kinds of group differences in achievement have educational researchers found?

 

Group differences have been found across gender, ethnic groups, and cultures.

 

Sex Differences in Achievement

Comparisons of total IQ test scores for boys and girls do not reveal consistent differences.  It is only when we break down the total score into several separate skills that some patterns of sex differences emerge.  On average, studies in the U.S. show that girls do slightly better on verbal tasks and at arithmetic computation, and that boys do slightly better at numerical reasoning.  Environmental explanations have proven to be more useful than biological theories in discussions of the sex differences in mathematics or verbal reasoning.  Especially in the case of mathematics, there is considerable evidence that girls’ and boys’ skills are systematically shaped by a series of environmental factors. 

 

Both teachers and parents seem to believe that boys have more math ability than girls. They are more likely to attribute a girls’ success in math to effort or good teaching; poor performance by a girl is attributed to lack of ability.  In contrast, teachers and parents attribute a boy’s success to ability, and his failure to lack of application.  Children appear to internalize these beliefs which, in turn, influence their interest in taking math courses and beliefs about their likelihood of achieving success in math.  The cumulative effect of these differences in expectation and treatment show up in high school, when sex differences on standardized math tests usually become evident.

 

Whether these differences can explain the greater percentage of boys than girls who show real giftedness in mathematics is not so clear.  One possibility is that because tests of mathematical ability involve at least some items that require mental rotation ability, very high scores on such tests are less likely for girls.

 

Ethnic Differences in Achievement

Most developmentalists believe that the same factors that contribute to IQ differences—poverty, access to prenatal care, family stability, and so on—also produce ethnic differences in measures of school performance such as grades and achievement test scores in American schools.

Psychologists have learned that children who use an analytical style define learning goals and follow a set of orderly steps to reach them.  These children are well organized, good at learning details, and think of information in terms of “right” and “wrong.”  Other children use a relational style.  These children focus attention on the “big picture” instead of individual bits of information.  Racial groups in the U.S. differ in the percentage of children who use each style.  A higher percentage of Asian-American and European-American students are analyticals.  In contrast, a higher percentage of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American children are relationals.  Thus, achievement test scores and school grade differences among these groups may be due to the different percentages of analyticals and relationals.

 

Achievement differences may also be due to philosophical beliefs that characterize some U.S. racial groups.  American culture tends to be individualistic—it emphasizes the achievement of individuals and encourages competition rather than cooperation.  Some U.S. sub-cultures place more emphasis on interdependence—an outlook that sociologists and anthropologists usually refer to as collectivist.  Educational practices in the U.S. may be well adapted to some groups but not others, thereby producing differences in achievement between groups for whom the educational system is a good cultural “fit” and those for whom it is not.

 

Feelings of hopelessness on the part of some disadvantaged students may also be a factor.  For example, some African-American students in the U.S., discouraged by racism and a lack of opportunity, believe they will not be able to succeed economically no matter how much they learn in school.  Educators believe schools can affect these students’ beliefs by making sure textbooks and other materials accurately reflect the contributions of African Americans to American culture.

 

Cross-Cultural Differences in Achievement

Math and science achievement differences between Asian and North American children have been the focus of study and debate.  Over a 20-year period, studies have repeatedly shown that U.S. school children are significantly behind their peers in other industrialized nations.  Underlying cognitive developmental processes are very similar in Asian and North American children.  Developmentalists speculate that the differences result from variations in both cultural beliefs and teaching methods.

 

With respect to cultural beliefs, developmentalists have found that North American parents and teachers emphasize innate ability, which they assume to be unchangeable, more than effort.  For Asians, the emphasis is just the opposite; they believe that people can become more capable by working harder.  This theory claims that Asian parents and teachers have higher expectations for children and are better at finding ways to motivate them to do school work.  Presumably for these same reasons, Asian families spend more time teaching their children specific academic skills than North American parents do.

 

Teaching methods across the two cultures also vary.

§         Japanese and Chinese teachers approach mathematics and science by crafting a series of “master lessons,” each organized around a single theme or idea, and each involving specific forms of student participation.  These lessons are like good stories, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  In U.S. classrooms, by contrast, it is extremely uncommon for teachers to spend 30 or 60 minutes on a single coherent math or science lesson involving the whole class of children and a single topic.  Instead, they shift often from one topic to another during a single math or science “lesson.”

§         Researchers have also found striking differences in the amount of time teachers actually spend leading instruction for the whole class.  In the U.S. this occurred only 49 percent of the time; group instruction occurred 74 percent of the time in Japan and 91 percent in Taiwan.

§         Asian and American math instruction also differs with respect to computational fluency, the degree to which an individual can automatically produce solutions to simple calculation problems. 

 

§         Another difference involves the use of rewards.  Because of the influence of Skinner’s operant conditioning theory on education in the U.S., teachers commonly use material rewards, such as stickers, to motivate children.  Such rewards may be effective when they are unexpected and tied to high standards; however, when teachers use them to try to motivate children to do routine tasks, they clearly undermine both intrinsic motivation and interest in the tasks to which they are linked.

 

CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS (pp. 266-270)

Learning Disabilities

 

9.12     ***Why is the term “learning disability” controversial?

 

Some children are born with or develop differences that may significantly interfere with their education unless they receive some kind of special instruction.  In the U.S., 12 to 13 percent of all school children receive such services.  The largest group served by U.S. special educators have some kinds of learning disability, most often reading, despite possessing normal intelligence and no physical or sensory handicaps.  When reading is the problem skill, the term dyslexia is often used.  Technically speaking, however, dyslexia refers to a total absence of reading.  Most children with reading disabilities can read but cannot do so as well as others their age.  It appears that their skill deficits are specific to reading rather than the result of a general cognitive dysfunction.

 

How common such learning disabilities may be is still a matter of considerable dispute.  Some experts claim that only about five out of every 1,000 children has a genuine neurologically-based learning disability.  The remainders who are so classified are more appropriately called slow learners, or they suffer from some other difficulty, perhaps temporary emotional distress or poor teaching.

 

The term is used very broadly within school systems in the U.S., and it is common to label a grab-bag of children who have unexpected or otherwise inexplicable difficulty with schoolwork as learning disabled.  Nearly six percent of all children in the U.S. are currently labeled in this way.

 

Explanations of the problem are just as uncertain as are definitions.  One difficulty is that children labeled as learning disabled rarely show any sign of major brain damage on any standard neurological test. 

§         Current research suggests that a large number of small abnormalities may develop in the brain during prenatal life.  The growing brain compensates for the problems by “rewiring” around the problem areas.  These rewirings may scramble normal information processing procedures just enough to make reading or calculation or some other specific task very difficult. 

§         Alternately, some experts argue that there may not be an underlying neurological problem at all.  Instead, children with learning disabilities, especially reading disabilities, may simply have a more general problem with understanding the sound and structure of language.

§         There is also some evidence that learning disabilities, especially dyslexia, may have a genetic basis.

One type of intervention that shows promise is an approach called reciprocal teaching.  Children with learning disabilities work in pairs or groups and each child takes a turn summarizing and explaining to-be-learned material to the others in the group.  Studies have found that the summarization skills and memory strategies of children with learning disabilities show improvement with reciprocal teaching.  Inclusive education is the general term for educational programs in which children with disabilities are taught in regular classrooms.

 

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

 

9.13     ***How does attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affect a child’s development?

 

Some children experience learning difficulties that do not seem to fit the typical special education categories.  For examples, three to five percent of U.S. school children have a mental disorder called attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Children with ADHD are more physically active and/or less attentive than their peers.  These characteristics often lead to both academic and behavioral problems in school.  ADHD is not itself a legally recognized special education category in the U.S.  Rather, it is a mental disorder that may cause a child to develop school problems that are so severe that she qualifies for services under one of the legally defined categories.

 

Causes of ADHD

The cause of ADHD is unknown. 

§         Some developmentalists suggest that children with ADHD are neurologically different from their peers.  Specifically, some have asserted that children with ADHD have functional deficits in the right hemisphere of the brain.  Others say that serotonin function is impaired in children with ADHD.  Some type of biological factor does seem to be involved as children who were born at 24 to 31 weeks gestational age are four to six times as likely to suffer from the symptoms of ADHD than peers who were full-term infants.  Others hypothesize that children with ADHD require more sensory stimulation than their peers; thus, they move around more in order to get the stimulation they need.

§         Cultural factors may also be important as the disorder is extremely rare outside the United States.  Critics suggest that the cross-national difference is the result of an overuse of the diagnosis in the U.S.  Others assert that other nations have failed to recognize the degree to which ADHD may be prevalent in their child populations.  Still others suggest that there is a very real cross-national difference of ADHD, especially the hyperactive/impulse type.

§         Psychologists are fairly sure that diet, environmental toxins, and brain damage do not cause ADHD.  Most experts believe that each individual case of ADHD is caused by a complex interaction of factors that are unique to the specific child.  These factors may include genetics, temperament, parenting styles, peer relations, the type and quality of school a child attends, together with stressors in the child’s life such as poverty, family instability, and parental mental illness.

 

Characteristics of ADHD

On many kinds of attention tasks, ADHD children do not differ at all from normal children—they seem to vary from their normal peers in activity level, the ability to sustain attention, and to control impulses.  The degree of hyperactivity ADHD children exhibit is unrelated to their performance on attention tasks, however.  This means that a child can be very physically active and still be good at controlling her attention.  Likewise, a child can be very calm while at the same time possessing little ability to sustain attention.  For this reason, there are now two types of ADHD:

§         The hyperactive type:  a high activity level is the main problem.

§         The inattentive type:  sustained attention is the major difficulty.

 

Most children with ADHD are successful in learning academic skills; however, their hyperactivity and/or inattentiveness often causes other kinds of problems. 

§         Children with both types of ADHD usually produce school work that is messy and filled with errors, causing them to get poor grades.

§         They may be disruptive in class.

§         They are often rejected by other children.

 

Treating and Managing ADHD

By the time many children with ADHD are diagnosed, usually when they enter school, many parents have lost confidence in their ability to parent.  Some cope with their child by being extremely permissive.  Others respond by becoming excessively harsh and, out of frustration, sometimes treat the child with ADHD abusively.  Thus, parent training can be useful in helping parents cope with children who have ADHD.  The goal of the training is to help parents regain a sense of control.

 

Many children with ADHD take stimulant medications, like methylphenidate (Ritalin).  Most of them are calmer and can concentrate better when they take these medicines; however, some studies show that the changes are due to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of teachers and parents.  Other studies suggest that the concentration skills of children with ADHD can be improved with training.  Medication does not always improve the grades of children with ADHD; it does, however, seem to reduce activity levels, help them control their impulses, and somewhat improve their social behavior.  These effects usually result in improvements in classroom behavior and peer acceptance.  The use of stimulant medications with children who have mild or moderate ADHD symptoms is controversial.