• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 31st July, 2008

Dinosaur may rescue kids from tide of troubles

Poor children are more likely to have behavior problems and less likely to encounter teachers who can deal with their challenging behavior effectively. Behavior problems plus poor teachers are likely eventually to lead to skipping or dropping out of school, academic failure and continued adjustment problems.So poverty often leads to a cascade of problems and, as problems accumulate, turning around a child’s life becomes increasingly difficult. Short of ending poverty, is there a way to stem the tide of troubles for poor children? Could well-trained teachers armed with a potent curriculum (one that helps children develop the social and emotional maturity needed to function well in school) divert children toward more productive pathways? Such questions prompted a recent study led by Carolyn Webster-Stratton at the University of Washington in the US. One hundred fifty-three teachers and 1,768 students from schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Seattle, Washington participated in the study. Webster-Stratton and her colleagues compared teachers and children enrolled in Head Start, kindergarten, or first grade classrooms. Some were chosen at random to participate in the Incredible Years (IY) Teacher Classroom Management and Child Social and Emotion curriculum (a.k.a. Dinosaur School); others followed their regular curriculum.Dinosaur School teachers had four days of training on how to manage a classroom so that students and their parents felt encouraged and valued, and discipline was meted out in a structured way. Teachers then conducted 30 classroom lessons on problem solving, anger management and communication skills. The research team observed the teachers and students in action over the course of a school year and found that the Dinosaur School teachers used more positive classroom management strategies and that their students showed more social competence and emotional self-regulation and fewer conduct problems. Moreover, the students most in need of help seemed to benefit the most. Dinosaur School teachers also appeared to be more involved with parents than did the other teachers. Eradication of poverty would go a long way to preventing many of the problems of disadvantaged children. And although it remains to be seen how durable are the benefits of the Dinosaur School, the results from this study are promising. Well-trained teachers and a good curriculum might be strong enough to alter the course of many children for the better.[For more on Carolyn Webster-Stratton and the Incredible Years Program, see, for example Incredible journey for one Skinner pigeon! ]• Summary of “Preventing conduct problems and improving school readiness: Evaluation of the Incredible Years Teacher and Child Training Programs in high-risk schools” by Webster-Stratton C, Jamila Reid C M, and Stoolmiller M in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry May 2008, Volume 49, Issue 5, pp 471-488.

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