Friday, October 28, 2016

Mental Shift 8: The Rush to Get Ahead Leads to Failure in Early Intervention

To remind you of the context for this mental shift: Some months ago, I proposed that 12 "mental shifts" were needed to advance our practice and study of early intervention for children 0-5 and their families:

1.       All the intervention occurs between visits.
2.       Whose child is it anyway?
3.       Children are learning from their caregivers, whether you want them to or not.
4.       Anyone spending time with the child has the opportunity to teach the child.
5.       Passing judgment on parents or other caregivers is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
6.       Parent failings don’t exist; only professional ones.
7.       What matters is how children function in their everyday lives. Function = participation = engagement = learning.
8.       The rush to get ahead leads to failure in early intervention.
9.       It’s about getting children engaged, independent, and in social relationships.
10.   It’s about helping families feel confident in their competence with their children.
11.   Too many cooks spoil the broth.
12.   Teamwork can work through collaborative consultation.

 The rush to get ahead leads to failure in early intervention.


Three ways of getting ahead have had a negative impact on our field: (a) rushing children into academics or meaningless activities, (b) rushing to help parents, and (c) rushing to compete with the big boys and girls in research. In 1981, the first edition of David Elkind’s classic book, The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (Elkind, 2007) alerted parents to the dangers of hurrying children through life.

In early childhood education, various forces compel teachers and parents to push children into academics, when they could be learning equally or more effectively through play, exploration, and the arts. One force is the concept of “school readiness” or “readiness for kindergarten.” As though children should show up in kindergarten already knowing the rudiments of the three Rs! Another force is societal competition and status, with some parents wanting their child to be ahead or at least not behind the neighbors’ and friends’ children. Yet another force in some places, especially large cities, is being able to get into tony private schools, where a criterion for admission is the display of academic prowess. Researchers who should know better haven’t been innocent: The reading and writing researchers don’t understand why we shouldn’t be using direct instruction to give children an early start. The hurried-child atmosphere makes it difficult for children with disabilities to fit in, whereas a more play-based environment has more latitude in the kinds of activities and child engagement that adults encourage.

In early intervention/early childhood special education (EI/ECSE), we sometimes rush children into boring, meaningless tasks in the belief that these activities are good for them. Examples are isolated work stations in classrooms, task baskets, discrete-trial training, passive therapy, and noncontingent therapy. This rushed approach to early intervention decreases children’s motivation for learning, decreases sophisticated engagement, and takes away opportunities for children to enjoy being children. 

We rush to help parents by giving suggestions too early, rather than asking plenty of questions before making a suggestion. Before we give suggestions, we need to know context, such as what the parent has already tried, what time of day the parent wants the child to display the skill, what the child usually does, whether the child shows interest in the skill, and so on (this is my Hoosiers Rule). If we take the time to get this background, (a) our suggestion is more likely to be helpful and (b) we’ll have come up with the solution with the parent instead of for him or her. I’ve blogged about this before!

For the past decade, the research the federal government has funded in our field has been randomized control trials and little else. This began with Russ Whitehurst’s determination, when Commissioner of the Institute of Education Sciences, to improve the quality of educational research. Unfortunately, this determination was born out of a contempt for other kinds of research and of the field of educational research. Now, the same people are getting funded over and over; they have either cracked the code or achieved favored status. Regardless, the rich history of funded field-initiated and even student-initiated research has gone down the drain. We succumbed to the gold rush—the rush to the gold standard of randomized control trials.

I do not advocate slowing down. There’s so much to do, and the kids are growing up fast. But we need to stop rushing ahead heedlessly.

Elkind, D. (2007). The hurried child: Growing up too fast too soon. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.



1 comment:

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