Reva Klein reports on findings from the American Educational Research Association's annual conference in San Diego
LOOK BACK WITHOUT ANGER
Children living in violent communities can learn to be non-aggressive, a study of black and Latino boys has shown.
Cynthia Hudley's study of 400 boys in four inner-city primary schools in southern California focuses on the BrainPower programme, a scheme to help aggressive children control their anger.
Previous studies had found that highly aggressive children often wrongly attribute hostile intentions to their peers. The BrainPower programme trains children to make less hasty judgments about a stranger's intentions, instead of assuming, for example, that a passerby has deliberately pushed them in the street.
The study looked at the boys' responses to the training programme in the context of the kind of neighbourhoods they came from. Boys were chosen for the programme on the basis of teachers' and peers' assessments of them as being either aggressive or non-aggressive. All were black or Latino boys aged between eight and 11 who came from four distinctly different neighbourhoods, ranging from areas with high rates of violent crime to middle-class, low-crime areas. A follow-up was conducted 18 months later.
For the study, teachers were asked to assess the boys' social skills. What they found was that all four socio-economic groups benefited initially from the BrainPower programme. In the follow-up assessment, there was only a marginal sustained improvement among the children from the most violent neighbourhoods. But those from an economically-depressed, working-poor area - which had the second highest incidence of violent crime among the four groups - continued to show strong, positive benefits from taking part in the programme. The least influenced were those from the safest neighbourhood.
Overall, the data attests to the positive effects of a cognitive-based programme such as BrainPower on primary school boys fromethnic minorities.
Changes in Aggression in Elementary School Students: Differences by Neighborhood, Cynthia Hudley University of California,Santa Barbara
CLUBS WITH MORE CLASS
After-school clubs are only as good as the people who lead them. This is the conclusion of a study of eight non-profit and commercial after-school providers in the state-run Dallas Public School District.
Looking at data from 2,793 pupils taking part in various after-school programmes, most of them African American and Hispanic five to eight-year-olds, researcher Katy Denson found that - compared to their peers - there was a small but significant improvement in school attendance and their reading and maths grades. Since only one of the programmes places an emphasis on reading and maths, it is likely that the small increase in grades is because all of them provide a space where children can complete their homework, with "tutoring" if requested.
While all the programmes - except two - used Dallas public school teachers, four also used "other staff" and volunteers, sometimes to stand in until the teachers arrived from their full-time jobs. However, some schools within the same programme were observed to be better organised, have a wider range of activities and better interaction between staff and pupils.
The calibre of staff is the over-riding factor in the efficacy of these clubs. Even the amount of money spent on the facilities and the range of "fancy" activities on offer are secondary considerations compared to the quality of the teachers.
Do After-School Programs Make a Difference? by KatyDenson, Dallas Public Schools
Some children do better-quality science at home than at school. A Canadian study, based on interviews with 29 five and six-year-old girls and boys in Edmonton, Alberta, found that most children watched science television programmes, read books and magazines, engaged in hobbies, made careful observations, asked questions and were involved in community activities related to science, nature or technology.
Boys watch almost four times as many science programmes as girls, but parents read science-related materials to girls twice as often as they do to boys. Whether this is because girls ask to be read to more often is unclear. Gender made no difference to the frequency of other science-based activities, such as simple experiments with parents or hobbies.
Although the sample was small, the researchers suggest that their findings should be taken into account by teachers, who may underestimate how much their pupils know.
What Did You Learn Outside of School Today, by Connie Korpan, Gay L Bisanz, Jeffrey Bisanz (University of Alberta) and Mervyn Lynch (Edmonton Catholic Schools)