Innovative pre-school programme helps disadvantaged kids do better in school

November 30th, 2007 - 6:03 pm ICT by admin  

Washington , Nov 30(ANI): A research has suggested that an innovative curriculum for preschoolers may improve academic performance, reduce diagnoses of attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and close the achievement gap between children from poor families and those from wealthier homes.

The research was led by a Vancouver neuroscientist, Dr. Adele Diamond, who is an expert on the development of the cognitive functions that depend on the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, called executive functions (EFs).

She led the first evaluation of a curriculum called Tools of the Mind (Tools) that focuses on EFs.

These functions include resisting distraction, giving a more considered response instead of your first impulse, working with information you are holding in mind, and the mental flexibility to think outside the box.

The program was developed over the last 12 years by educational psychologists Deborah Leong and Elena Bodrova and has been used in several U.S. states. Its value in improving EFs has not been determined until now.

EFs are critical for success in school and life. These skills are rarely taught, but can be, even to preschoolers. It could make a huge difference, especially for disadvantaged children, said Diamond.
The recent explosion in diagnoses of ADHD may be partly due to some children never learning to exercise attentional control and self-discipline.

Although some children are strongly biologically predisposed to hyperactivity and wouldnt benefit from training, others may be misdiagnosed because what they actually need are skills in self-regulation, she added.

She said that it has been shown through previous researches that EFs are stronger predictors of academic performance than IQ.

According to Diamond, children from lower-income families enter school with disproportionately poor EF skills and fall progressively farther behind in school each year. These facts are inter-related and correctible.

Helping at-risk children improve EF skills early might be critical to closing the achievement gap and reducing societal inequalities. We showed EFs can be improved in preschoolers without fancy equipment and by regular teachers in regular public school classrooms, she said.

Most interventions target consequences of poor self-control rather than seeking prevention at an early age, as does Tools.

Early intervention heading off problems before they develop — costs far less and achieves far better results than trying to correct problems once they have developed, said Diamond.

She added, If throughout the school-day EFs are supported and progressively challenged, benefits generalize and transfer to new activities. Daily EF exercise appears to enhance and accelerate brain development much as physical exercise improves our bodies.

The research team included, investigators from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey , evaluated 147 five-year-olds in a low-income, urban U.S. school district.

They compared Tools with a balanced literacy curriculum (dBL) that covered the same academic content as Tools but without a focus on EF.

Both programs were new, instituted at the same time and used identical resources.

Children and teachers in Tools and dBL were randomly assigned and teachers had equivalent levels of education and teaching experience.

The children in both curricula were from the same neighborhood and ethnic group, and from families with very similar levels of income and parental education. Children received either Tools or dBL for one to two years.

Two computerized tests were involved in evaluation that measured EF. None of the children had done these tasks before. Better performance by children in Tools shows that they were able to generalize and transfer their EF skills to new situations. Tools encourage out-loud self-instruction and dramatic play.

Preschool teachers are under pressure to limit play and spend more time on instruction but social pretend play may be more critical to academic success, said Diamond.

The study is published in this weeks issue of Science. (ANI)

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