Neuroscience and the classroom – approach with caution or advance with excitement?

Speaking at the Girls’ School Association (GSA) annual conference in Manchester on the 20th November ’17, Professor Bruce Hood (Developmental Psychology, University of Bristol) has stated that scientists are only just beginning to understand the brain and that nothing can be said about how research in neuroscience might impact on education. “There is no one discovery from brain science that changes the way education works”

He also stated that “There has been a real explosion of interest in neuroscience. There has also been a corresponding increase of neuro-nonsense, neuro-myths or neuro-bollocks.”

“We don’t really know anything yet” he said, stating that scientists are only just beginning to understand the brain and how it works. He suggested that neuroscience can’t add anything meaningful to something “as complex as education…Teachers want to improve but they are being fed a diet of misconceptions and neuroscience nonsense.”

What are your thoughts about neuroscience and education? Has any research in neuroscience impacting on your work with children and young people?

TES call for writers

Do you work in a school? Do you have worries that are keeping you awake at night? Want to share your view as a psychologist or teacher working in schools?

Check out this call for writers on the topic “What keeps me awake at night” from Helen Amass at the TES. Simply write your piece and email her at Helen.amass@tesglobal.com. Helen has confirmed that she would be interested in hearing the views of psychologists working in schools as well as teachers, support assistants and other people involved with teaching and learning.

What Gender? Educational Psychology, Transgender and Gender Fluidity

Were you aware that we are in the midst of Transgender Awareness Week?

The term ‘transgender’ refers to people who’s sense of their own gender is different from the sex characteristics that they were born with. Gender identity issues appear to have grown exponentially in the last few years. The Tavistock and Portman Trust Gender Identity Development Service published figures this year that indicate the number of referrals of young children aged between three and seven years old to the clinic has increased from 20 (2012-13) to 84 (2015-16). In 2016, they experienced an unprecedented increase in referrals of children (aged under 18 years) of 100% up from 697 to 1,398.

If you are a psychologist, the British Psychological Society provide published guidelines (click here) for working therapeutically with sexual and gender minority people. This extensive resource was published in 2012 and includes ethical standards and responsibilities for practitioner psychologists, a literature review (which could probably do with updating) and advice regarding the education, training and professional needs of psychologists.

In addition to encouraging psychologists to recognise the impact of the environment, socio-political context and attitudes towards children and young people, this document also encourages psychologists to recognise the diversity of developmental pathways for gender minority children and young people, recognise the needs of these children and young people, as well as their vulnerabilities and risks, and are encouraged to support self-determination in the people that they are working with.

A more updated piece of research in this area was published in September’s issue of the BPS DECP journal – Educational and Child Psychology. Bowskill (2017) carried out an interesting piece of small-scale research including twenty-five semi-structured interviews with both transgender adults and professionals who have worked with transgender young people. From this work, she concluded that educational settings need to develop a greater understanding of gender, and suggests that this would reduce gender stereotyping and reinforcement of gender binary. Specifically she recommended educational professionals use appropriate language, have an individualised and flexible approach to children and young people, be proactive in their responses, and made further practical suggestions to ensure a trans-friendly educational environment such as changing the child or young person’s name on the system (where possible), referring to the Tavistock and Portman Gender Identity Development Service and using statutory information such as the Equality Act to justify decision making. This piece of research highlighted the role of Educational Psychologist (EP) in challenging negative systems within schools, training school staff to better understand transgender and gender identity issues, exploring next steps in school and giving reassurance. Additionally, Bowskill suggests that EPs might be able to help coordinate action, signpost information and link with external agencies.  She states that EPs can also play an important role in gathering the child or young persons views and work with the school to meet their needs. However, this research also highlighted that some EPs may not yet “be educated enough in this area” and states that this could impact on the effectiveness of EPs work. As yet, there are no specific guidelines for EPs working with transgender and gender fluid children and young people and it is not necessarily an area that EPs would cover in training.

Are you an Educational Psychologist or professional working with transgender or gender fluid children and young people? What are your thoughts?

More information: If you have questions about gender variance or gender fluidity, Mermaids.org.uk is a great charity that works with children, young people and their families to achieve “a happier life in the face of great adversity”. The aim to help reduce isolation and loneliness for children, young people and parents experiencing gender issues; empower people with the right tools to help them negotiate education and health services; reduce suicides and self-harm in children and young people experiencing gender issues; improve self-esteem and social skills in children and young people experiencing gender issues; and improve awareness, understanding and practices of GP’s, CAMHS, Social Services and other professionals.

Another useful resource is the “Supporting Transgender Young people: Guidance for Schools in Scotland” document (Click here)

What do I need to know? Mermaids factsheet for professionals working with young people under 18 years with gender variance (click here)

What is gender? (EACH UK) This video has been made by young people for young people.

Why is Gender Identity so important? TEDX talks

 

References

Bowskill., T (2017) How can educational professionals improve outcomes for transgender children and young people? In Emergent Topics in Educational Psychology, DECP Educational and Child Psychology, 34, 3.

Mindfulness & Meditation for children

There appears to be a real buzz on social media and the news at the moment about mindfulness and meditation for children. Yet, social media does not always provide the full picture and you may be left wondering what the research evidence says about the effectiveness of these activities.

Greenberg & Harris published an article reviewing the research that was available in 2011. At this time, they stated that the enthusiasm for promoting ‘contemplative practices’ (such as mindfulness) outweighed the evidence supporting them. But also stated that “interventions that nurture mindfulness in children and youths may be a feasible, and effective, method of building resilience…” In 2015, Schonert-Reichl and colleagues studied the impact of a mindfulness programme on children’s cognitive and social emotional development using a randomised control trial with ninety nine 9-11 year olds . They found that children who received the mindfulness program improved their scores in cognitive control, stress physiology, empathy, perspective-taking, emotional control, optimism, self-concept and mindfulness as well as decreasing their scores in depression, peer rated aggression measures.

Although the outcomes of this research are positive, an updated review article would appear to be helpful in synthesising all the new research studies carried out since 2011 to better enable teachers, school staff, parents, educational psychologists and other professionals to fully understand the potential impact of mindfulness and meditation based interventions. It does not yet seem clear whether the benefits outweigh the risks and costs, or what the long term impact is for children receiving such an intervention.

Please comment below with your thoughts and links to further research that you may have come across.

 

Free mindfulness and meditation resources for children:

 

Fun, interactive games from the Kids Activity Blog:

  • Blowing bubbles. Have your children focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.
  • Pinwheels. Use the same tactics from blowing bubbles to encourage mindful attention on the pinwheels.
  • Playing with balloons. Tell your children that the aim of this game is to keep the balloon off the ground, but have them move slowly and gently. You can tell them to pretend the balloon is very fragile if that helps.
  • Texture bag. Place several small, interestingly shaped or textured objects in a bag, and have each child reach in to touch an object, one at a time, and describe what they are touching. Make sure they don’t take the object out of the bag, forcing them to use only their sense of touch to explore the object.
  • Blindfolded taste tests. Use a blindfold for each child and have them experience eating a small food, like a raisin or a cranberry, as if it was their first time eating it.

 

Citations

Greenberg, T.M. & Harris, R.A (2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00215.x/full

Schonert-Reichl. KA et al., (2015)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25546595

Superheroes, six year olds and homework

Ever struggled to encourage a child to complete their homework or a task in the classroom? In an interesting article for the British Psychology Society (BPS) Research Digest, Christian Jarrett discusses recent research reported in the journal of Child Development which found that when 180 children aged 4-6 years pretended to be a popular fictional character such as Batman, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder or Rapunzel, it helped them to keep focused and resist distractions. The question that this research leaves us with is “Why?” – what do you think?

Check out the BPS article here: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/10/05/pretending-to-be-batman-helps-kids-stay-on-task/

Check out the research article here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.12695/abstract?campaign=woletoc