Spring Staff Development Day

By Colin Johnson, Teacher

The quarterly Staff Development Day on April 26th was an excellent opportunity for the Bing teachers and administration to reflect on teaching practices, and to learn about new studies being conducted at the school this spring. Gathering in the beautiful Tower House, the group began the day with an exercise in teamwork, demonstrating the importance of trust and patience when working with colleagues, and setting the stage for the thoughtful discussions that followed. Next, teachers watched videos of children’s play that portrayed collaborative and creative scenes occurring each day in the classrooms at Bing. An exercise in detailed observation, reminiscent of sports teams reflecting on old play tapes, allowed each teacher to consider the many facets of learning that occur during children’s imaginative play, as well as to share perspectives and strategies for how to best support children in such significant play. The forum encouraged teachers to consider the play more objectively and to learn from the breadth of expertise available at our school.

As a laboratory school for the Psychology Department at Stanford University, research is an integral part of the school. This April, the staff learned more about some of the studies taking place at our school.

Taylor Holubar, now a second-year graduate student, presented on a project he began in the winter quarter of this year: “Knowing who Knows: Preschoolers’ Understanding of Adults’ and Children’s Differential Expertise.” Holubar began his project with the understanding that children tend to defer to trusted adults in their lives when they have a question regarding factual information on a given subject. Past studies have shown that children understand that different adults have varying expertise in specific domains and in some cases even defer to other children if they believe a peer knows more about a topic than an adult (VanderBorght and Jaswal, Who knows best? Preschoolers sometimes prefer child informants over adult informants. Infant and Child Development, 2009, volume 18, 62-71). Holubar has begun to explore differential expertise in more nuanced ways, asking whether children’s understanding can be applied to more subtle distinctions; for example, while children trust adults on factual/nutritional information about food, would they trust children more than adults to tell them if a food tasted good? Holubar looks forward to exploring this topic further and sees a range of future considerations, from a more detailed understanding of children’s evaluation and use of expertise to implications for healthy eating interventions.

Rodolfo Cortes, now a second-year graduate student, presented “Explorations in Socio-cognitive Development,” in which he discussed a number of current studies at Bing, including his examinations of children’s helpful behaviors. While a much-publicized recent study suggests that children’s desires to help others is innate, Cortes is working with psychology professor Carol Dweck, PhD, to explore strategies on how to “teach” helpfulness. Does the extent to which adults help children through difficult tasks—even in play—influence the extent to which children are willing to help

others? Can saying words like “we” and “ours” create a form of psychological togetherness that is more motivating than isolating words like “you” and “yours”?

Allison Master, now a sixth-year graduate student, who has presented a number of meaningful studies on children’s motivation, has also turned her lens toward preschoolers’ helpful behaviors. Master is working with postdoctoral scholar Christopher Bryan, PhD, building on Dweck’s landmark studies in motivation, in which she determined that praising a child’s person rather than their effort—labeling a child as a “good drawer”—can have adverse effects on motivation. Master has based her newest study on a distinction between labeling behavior with a noun (“Would you like to be a helper?”) rather than a verb (“Would you like to help?”) Recognizing that such labels have strong implications of children’s (and adults’) senses of identity, Master hypothesizes that children may be more influenced when thinking in terms of noun labels.