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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Middle-Schoolers : Teach Morals to Them

I’ll concede that I harbored this negative perspective of center school understudies—until I read some earth shattering examination on center schoolers that made me think: We have everything incorrectly.

To begin with, research lets us know that children have profoundly instilled moral impulses that give them a feeling of decency, of good and bad, great and awful—and they for the most part incline toward the great. For example, kids as youthful as six months who were demonstrated a manikin appear in which one manikin was a “partner” and another was a “hinderer” overwhelmingly played with the assistant, showing their capacity to make complex social judgments.

So what happens to this moral instinct when they reach middle school? Does it just shut down for a while? Not at all. In fact, research on moral development suggests that middle school is acrucial developmental period for these moral instincts to take root and grow. But because of where adolescents are developmentally, we need to practice very specific strategies for translating their moral instincts into moral behavior.

Why is this?

The answer can be found in research by human development experts Larry Nucci and Elliot Turiel, who have identified two important domains that play a role in the moral development of children: moral issues and societal conventions.

Moral issues focus on the effects students’ actions have on the welfare of others (e.g., hitting another child). Societal conventions, on the other hand, focus on norms or rules (e.g., talking in class). Children as young as two-and-a-half years old have demonstrated that they understand the difference between moral issues and societal conventions.

Nucci and Turiel stress that, when dealing with student misbehavior, teachers need to take bothareas into consideration.

Research suggests that even through adolescence, kids maintain a strong emotional response to moral issues where the direct effects on another person are clear—they still know it’s wrong to hit other people or pick their pockets, for instance.

Once they hit middle school age, however, they become less bound by societal conventions. This means that when their moral decisions have only indirect effects on other people, they become less likely to do the right thing. For example, even though they wouldn’t actually pick someone else’s pocket, they’re less inclined than younger kids to return money they find on the street. In that case, the indirect nature of the dilemma doesn’t stimulate their moral instincts, and we can’t count on them to adhere to societal conventions like they did when they were younger.

Think about it this way: Middle school students have just spent the first 11 or 12 years of their lives following the rules. All of a sudden, they wake up to the fact that these rules were set by adults and are somewhat arbitrary. Developmentally, they haven’t yet understood why these rules were developed in the first place: to protect the welfare of other people. They typically won’t make that connection until they’re about 15 or 16. So their behavior often falls in a moral gap between the fidelity to the rules they showed as young kids and the more complex moral reasoning they develop in their later teens.

So what can teachers do to help middle school students bridge this gap? Here are some developmentally-appropriate suggestions.

# When a student misbehaves, tell him or her whether the misbehavior broke a societal convention or a moral issue—and then talk about it.

In other words, if a student breaks a classroom rule, ask him/her to consider how the action impacts the smooth running of the classroom. If the misbehavior is a moral transgression against another student, explore how the action impacts that other student’s welfare. Researchers have found that teachers who match their discipline to the type of infraction (moral vs. convention) are considered more knowledgeable and effective by their students.

Talking about the misbehavior helps students realize the impact of their actions on others and understand why societal conventions are necessary.

# Discuss moral transgressions as they occur—and ask how they made students feel.

Students more deeply understand the impact their actions have on others when they discuss motives and consequences with each other.

It’s also crucial to include students’ emotions in the discussion. Research has shown that children have strong emotional reactions to moral situations because they’re about care and harm to other people rather than adherence to rules. For example, moral transgressions cause children to respond with anger, sadness, or empathy for the victim, while positive moral interactions foster emotions of happiness. The breaking of societal conventions, on the other hand, brings very little emotional response from children.

By discussing how they feel—and made other people feel—in moral situations, students become better able to identify and regulate their emotions in future moral dilemmas.

# Give students the opportunity to have input on classroom rules.

In setting boundaries for middle schoolers, schools often do exactly the opposite of what’s developmentally appropriate: greater teacher control and limited opportunities for students to practice decision-making and choice. Research has demonstrated that the mismatch between students’ need for autonomy at this age and schools’ greater wielding of control causes students to lose motivation and interestin school. Allowing students to craft societal conventions for school helps them understand the need for these conventions and keeps them engaged in the learning process.

The research is clear: Instead of clamping down on middle school students when they misbehave, we need to engage them in discussion. This is critical to their moral understanding—and research suggests it can even impact their long-term academic success.

Hopefully, we can turn some of those middle school tears into smiles for students and teachers alike.

Make Kids Less Self Absorbed Tips

I’ve been roused by late news stories of kids why should working have any kind of effect on the planet, resolved to ventures much greater than themselves. There’s Malala Yousufzai, the youthful backer for young ladies’ training in Pakistan; Craig Kielburger, who advocates for the abolishment of tyke work; and Ryan Hreljac, who raises cash to assemble wells in creating nations. The rundown continues endlessly.

In any case, there’s a flip side to these stories. Look into recommends that some youngsters in the United States are really turning out to be more self-retained and less associated with others.

A late study that analyzed the compassion levels of very nearly 14,000 college understudies somewhere around 1979 and 2009 found that understudies have turned out to be significantly less empathic throughout the years, especially since 2000.

Also, narcissism, which corresponds contrarily with sympathy, is on the ascent among college matured understudies. Narcissists, by definition, are to a great degree self-engaged and tend to see other individuals as far as their helpfulness as opposed to genuine companionship—not precisely a formula for sympathy.

What’s more, a 2006 survey showed that 81 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds think getting rich is an important goal, and 64 percent think it’s the most important goal. Sadly, only 30 percent believe that helping others in need is important.

While these studies focused on university students and young adults, the findings suggest that somewhere in their earlier development, they weren’t cultivating the skills needed to connect with others.

So how can teachers help students avoid the joyless path of self-absorption and instead cultivate a life in which they feel part of something larger than themselves—one of the keys to a meaningful life?

There are, of course, many strong programs that have been designed to help students develop empathy and positive relationships.

But new research suggests another way: awe.

Very little is known about the experience of awe; however, several new studies, many conducted by the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner, have shown awe to be a potentially powerful positive emotion that might just help our students develop empathy.

Here’s how it works:

When we see a grand vista in nature such as Victoria Falls, or experience an inspiring work of art such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or Michelangelo’s Pieta, or ponder the phenomenal inner strength of a great soul like Gandhi who non-violently led India to independence, we often feel two things: 1) a sense of vastness that gives us 2) a new perspective on the world and our place in it. This is awe.

Dacher’s lab has found that awe makes us feel very small and like we’re in the presence of something greater than ourselves. We also may lose awareness of our “self” and feel more connected to the world around us.

Imagine the potential of this life-changing emotion for students—and, in particular, for our hyper-self-focused teens! Since adolescence is a crucial period for identity-formation, some researchers have suggested that adolescence is a particularly important time to experience awe—it could help them see themselves as deeply connected to the world around them, not the center of it. Inducing the uplifting experience of awe could also be a positive way to keep narcissism in check.

While scientists haven’t yet examined if this temporary loss of self-focus directly impacts empathy levels, they do know that awe makes people feel less impatient and more inclined to volunteer their time to help others—strong evidence that it makes them feel more connected and committed to something bigger than themselves.

So can teachers actually create awe-inducing experiences for their students?

Absolutely! In an experiment to see if awe could be elicited, Dacher and his team had one group of university students look at a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and another group look down a long hallway. On a follow-up survey, the only difference between the groups was that members of the T-Rex group felt like they were part of a larger whole—a defining feature of awe.

It’s probably not too difficult to imagine something that might induce awe in teens, or kids of any age; I’ve named a few examples above. Stories of exceptional modern-day figures such as Nelson Mandela (consider his ability to forgive) or pictures of the universe such as the birth of a star may be engaging and effective—especially if you find the subject matter to be awe-inspiring. Many teachers already bring content like this into the classroom, and this research on awe validates that approach and suggests it should be tried with more frequency and focus.

Here are two important points to remember if you want to expose your students to awe-filled experiences:

1) Not all students will get it. Dacher has found that some people are more prone to awe than others—usually the ones who are comfortable changing how they see the world. So, if you’ve got some students who seem immovable, don’t fret. If nothing else, they’re still learning about “awesome” art, music, nature, and people.

2) Help students process what they’ve experienced. Awe requires what psychologist Jean Piaget called “accommodation”—the process of changing our mental models to incorporate something to which we’ve recently been exposed. Discussing and writing about experiences of awe will help students understand and process at a deeper level what they’ve just felt.

Awe is not a term heard very often in schools, but its potential is vast. Think of the enthusiasm and wonder and joy that awe-filled experiences could bring to our students—experiences that could not only help them out of the narcissistic funk of adolescence, but also put them on a path to a life lived in compassionate connection with others. Awesome!

Help Kids Deal with Failure Tips

I’ve invested a ton of energy blogging about how we ought to laud our children, however somebody asked me a day or two ago if there is a right approach to censure them. Great question. Here are a few thoughts, several which I gathered from A Nation of Wimps by Hara Estroff Marano (Broadway Books, 2008).

On the off chance that you feel frustrated in a tyke’s execution, approach the theme valuably. To begin with, request that they assess their execution themselves with inquiries like, “Are you content with how you did?” and “Is there anything you’ll do any other way next time?” Ask them why they feel the way they do, and what they learned. Inquire as to whether there is anything they have to achieve their objectives that they aren’t at present getting. Maybe they have a feeling that they require a coach, to have more normal family dinners, or to make an arrangement to observe less TV.

# Make it clear that you see failure as an event, not an identity. If a child is disappointed in her performance or an outcome, empathize (“I can tell you are pretty upset about this”) and then help her strategize about how she can make things go differently next time. Try to engage them in what we used to call “Failure Analysis” in the product development industry—the process of collecting and analyzing available data to figure out what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. Failure analysis, by its very nature, is a way of embracing mistakes as a way to learn and grow. Leave the “I told you so” out of the discussion; this is the hardest thing ever for me. Just flows off the tongue for me to say things like, “I asked you a thousand times to put your homework folder in your backpack as soon as you were done instead of waiting until the morning.” Better to ask about times when things worked out well: “Yesterday you remembered your homework. What did you do then that you didn’t do today?” Teach kids that the way to do better next time is to understand which efforts pay off and which strategies work

# Never express anger when children make mistakes, or imply that you love them less. Mistakes are just mistakes; while they might need to be dealt with, they are never grounds to withdraw love.

# Accept that sometimes second best is good enough, and communicate this.

# Empathize when children make mistakes – ask them how they feel and then repeat that back to them. For example: “I can tell you are really disappointed” or “It sounds like you felt really embarrassed.” Don’t just replay how bad it feels – get to the part where having a failure doesn’t matter anymore: “It sounds like that was really hard at first but I’m glad to see that you can laugh at yourself now.”

Okay, so those five things aren’t really criticizing your kids – just constructive ways to react when you feel like criticizing. Do you think it is ever okay to out and out criticize your kids? If so, when and why?