Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dr. Michael G. Thompson: Helping Parents Raise Their Sons

Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D. is a psychologist and school consultant who has made the study of boys and their development the focus of his career.  He is the author or coauthor of many books on this subject, including,  “It’s a Boy!: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Eighteen” (with Teresa Barker, Ballantine, 2008), the New York Times bestseller, “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys”, (with Dan Kinlon, Ballantine, 1999)  “Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions about Raising Sons” (Ballantine, 2000) and “The Pressured Child: Freeing Our Kids from Performance Overdrive and Helping Them Find Success in School and Life”(with Teresa Barker, Ballantine, 2004).

Dr. Thompson has been talking with teachers, school administrators, and parents for years about the national problem of boy underachievement, which results in boys falling behind in school and fewer young men graduating from college.  In his latest book, “It’s A Boy!: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Eighteen”, Dr. Thompson offers his top ten reasons for the relative underachievement of boys in school, which include such interesting concepts as “Schools are hostile environments for boys”, as the demands for sitting still, paying sustained attention, and verbal production are tougher for boys to follow; and the notion that “Girls have been getting a more consistent, encouraging message from their parents and teachers for the last thirty years” since educators began focusing on the math and science gap between girls and boys in the seventies.

Also in “It’s a Boy!”,  Dr. Thompson includes “Insider Tips from Educators: What Teachers Want Parents to Know”.  Here he offers teacher’s suggestions to parents, collected over years of consulting, as to how parents can best support their son’s development in a school setting.  These thoughtful and practical suggestions are as follows:

  • Listen to your son.  There is value in almost everything a boy will tell you.
  • Don’t look over your son’s shoulder at every movement he makes and every change of circumstance that happens to him.
  • Be generous with honest praise.
  • Focus on his gifts and talents, instead of trying to create a boy in the image you want him to be.
  • Let your son grow.  Be patient with the process, the valuable steps of progress and failure that will shape him.
  • Don’t make excuses for your sonBoys desperately need to take ownership of their own lives.
  • Create realistic expectations, but let your son fail and figure out how to succeed on his own.
  • Model responsible communication for solving problems.  If your son complains of a bad teacher or course, contact the teacher in a collaborative way to learn more, and show your son how to engage in that process of fact-finding and, if necessary, respectful conflict resolution.
  • Set limits and stick to them.
  • Never say, “My son would never do that.”

GCP will be interviewing Dr. Thompson in the coming weeks.   We encourage you to take a look at his books and discover, if you don’t know already, the valuable resources that he provides.  If you have any questions you would like us to ask during our interview with Dr. Thompson, please include them with your comments on this post.

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Summer Planning

Although it’s only the week before Easter, before you know it school will be out for the summer.   When we were young many of us spent our summers hanging out with friends on stoops, in the park, at the beach or community pool, or, only if our parents or teachers insisted, in summer school.  Today there is a dizzying array of summer programs available for enrollment for day, weeks, or months.  These programs can help children improve academic, artistic or sports skills, enable them to travel globally, or give them the opportunity to perform community service locally and abroad.  There are also many traditional sleep away camps that cater to every interest. Faced with so many choices, the impulse to throw up your hands and send your children out to play for two months can be strong.  But now is the time to focus on what your children will be doing this summer, and lock in their plans.

While it may be tempting to let your children wile away the summer, studies show that the learning loss which occurs during summer breaks can have a tremendous impact on their progress when they return to school in the fall.  According to the National Summer Learning Association at Johns Hopkins University, all children lose about 2.6 months of math computational ability over the summer when they do not engage in summer learning activities.  Similar findings have been made with respect to the loss of reading skills over the summer.  The loss is greater for children from a lower socio-economic background and alone accounts for half of the achievement gap between students from lower and higher socio-economic backgrounds.

An easy way to avoid this loss in reading skills is to ensure that your children read lots of books over the summer.  Local public libraries often sponsor summer reading groups and reading contests in house and on line to encourage children with summer reading.  For example, the New York Public Library has a website, www.summerreadingnys.org, filled with fun reading related activities for toddlers through teens.  This site also includes resources for parents to help children keep reading throughout the summer.

Summers are also good times to let your children explore areas of interest in greater depth. In an earlier GCP post, Dr. Tammy Mann, Executive Director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at the United Negro College Fund, described using summer programs to encourage her children to explore areas (both academic and artistic) in which they’d shown an interest during the school year.  Alternatively, your child can use a summer program to try things he or she has never tried before.  Mann notes that researching these programs for your children takes time and effort:  “It takes a lot of work—you have to look around to see what is out there and make sure that your children are able to take advantage of whatever opportunities exist.  Knowing your children, and being tuned in and attentive to what will spark their imaginations are key.”

Fortunately, there are advisory services to help you sort through the choices of summer camps and enrichment programs.  Two such services recommended by GCP are The Summer Lady and Tips on Trips and Camps.   Ann and Dick Travis of The Summer Lady (www.thesummerlady.com) have relationships with hundreds of camp programs and can help you choose a program that best suits your child’s interests. Barb Levison and the other advisors from Tips on Trips and Camps (www.tipsontripsandcamps.com) can also help you choose from a wide array of programs to find the right one for your child.  Both services are free, and provide personal one-on-one advising to help you find the camp, pre college enrichment program, language immersion, community service, or other specialty program your child would enjoy.  These services contact the camps or programs which interest you and your child, arrange for them to send you additional materials, and advise you on making a choice.

The important thing is to be proactive and focus on it now, as even the local daily summer programs are beginning to fill up.  Many families begin the summer camp investigation as early as January to ensure the maximum number of options for their children. It is not too late to start, but it is time to get going.

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What Teachers Can Learn from Coaches

During the countdown to the Final Four, the NCAA ran a commercial touting the fact that African American NCAA athletes in Division I schools have higher graduation rates than African American male students who are not athletes. According to Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, this year the graduation rate for African American basketball student athletes is 59%, up 3% from last year’s rate.  The graduation rate for African American male students in Division I schools is only 38%, 21% lower than for the basketball players. Dr. Lapchick comments in this year’s report that “Presently, too many of our predominantly white campuses are not fully welcoming places for students of color, whether or not they are athletes.  There are lessons that our campuses could learn from athletics”.

One such lesson may be evident in the powerful 60 Minutes piece CBS ran a few Sundays ago on Coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, which can be seen here.  In the 40 years that Coach Hurley has coached this inner city parochial school’s basketball team, all but two of his players have graduated and gone to college.  For the past 17 years, the school has had a 100% graduation and college acceptance rate.  Over the years Hurley has coached 5 NBA first round draft picks and had about 150 boys go on to play in Division I schools.  But as he states in the 60 Minutes interview, it is the college acceptance rate of which he is most proud.

Hurley doesn’t recruit his players; they or their parents seek him out. The halls of St. Anthony’s are filled with talented kids whose parents somehow manage to pay the $5000 annual tuition, and who are committed to getting a college basketball scholarship.  What accounts for his continued success with the boys? “ I’m one of the most demanding people that the kids are going to come across,” he explains.  “I dictate everything.”  “You are dealing with adolescent males.  In order to get them to perform on a regular basis, you have to drive them.”

Young African American players respond when a coach insists on discipline and focus.  They are eager to learn and improve and will endure the hard work it takes to do so.  Why is it often so much more difficult for a teacher to command this respect and inspire these young men in the classroom?  In a recent discussion on this topic, an African American college admissions counselor who has selected from the country’s best and brightest for decades thinks that the answer may lie in combining the two forces.  He suggests, “Perhaps it is time to bring some of these motivators into the classroom as teachers”, noting that at many prestigious boarding and prep schools all varsity athletic coaches teach academic courses.  He imagines a coach/teacher at the front of a class filled with young black males, athletes and non-athletes.  The athletic students would already respect him, and the non-athletes would be encouraged by his commanding demeanor (and peer pressure from the athletes) to pay attention as well.  If the coach isn’t academically qualified to teach the class, perhaps he could team-teach with an established teacher.  A senior IBM executive who also participated in this discussion suggested that technology could be used to increase the reach of the coaches to multiple classrooms and also to help teachers integrate the “coach instructional model” into they way they teach their classes.

Researchers have previously explored the concept of bringing successful coaching methods into the classroom.  In 1974 university psychologists Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp studied renowned basketball coach John Wooden’s coaching and teaching of the UCLA team during the 1974-1975 season (and updated this study in 2004).  They wanted to determine if there were lessons in his coaching skills for all educators.  Wooden began his career as a high school English teacher, and much of his coaching practice was based on what he’d learned as a classroom teacher.  Gallimore and Tharp concluded that Wooden’s intense and diligent planning was the underpinning of a teaching /coaching strategy that included giving the students a lot of information, not much praise, and speaking briefly and succinctly at all times.  Swen Nater, who played for UCLA from 1970-1973, later teamed with Gallimore to write “You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices” (Nater and Gallimore, 2006, updated edition 2010).  Here Nater provides first hand accounts of the many lessons he learned from Wooden that he has applied to his own teaching career.  Nater fondly recalls Wooden’s emphasis on getting to know each player’s unique strengths and weaknesses, his focus on each player reaching his own potential rather than striving to be better than anyone else, and his demonstration of the great depth of knowledge required to deliver the curriculum.  All great qualities for a teacher of any subject to have.

The combination of the athletic and academic models in the classroom, whether it is by bringing in an actual coach, or by studying and employing a successful coach’s approach, could be just what is needed to motivate more students to seek academic wins.

References:

Gallimore, R. and Tharp, R. G. 2004. What a Coach Can Teach a Teacher, 1975-2004: Reflections and Reanalysis of John Wooden’s Teaching Practices.  The Sports Psychologist, 18(2), 119-137.

Lapchick, Richard. “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. March 14, 2001.  Web. April 8, 2011. http://i.bnet.com/blogs/2011_mens_bball_final.pdf

Nater, S., and Gallimore, R., 2010.  You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices.  Fitness Info Tech, West Virginia University.

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