BLOG 5: CHILDHOOD…DEPRESSION? DON’T BE SILLY… (Video Talk)

Occasionally feeling sad is commonplace. Curiously, it is an emotion that can make life more interesting, with lots of art, music and poetry having been inspired by sadness. Depression, on the other hand, is more serious, with the number of people living with depression in the UK rising by nearly half a million in just three years. In this blog I will explore how children manifest depression, how teachers and school psychologists gauge the severity of the disorder and whether depressed children qualify for special education programming.

According to Axis I: Clinical Syndromes within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-Revised (DSM-IV-TR, 2000), children manifest depression in a manner analogous to adults, with some developmentally appropriate differences i.e. decreased school performance, and age-specific differences i.e. separation anxiety. Childhood depression is not easily alleviated and it will become apparent in a few moments that it is more than just a single symptom of sadness: it comprises a multitude of symptoms that reliably co-occur (Carlson & Cantwell, 1980). We can divide these symptoms into categories also used to describe depression in adults: affective, cognitive, motivational, physical and vegetative symptoms (Davidson & Turnbull, 1986).

So, how do children manifest these symptoms of depression? (A brief list):

EMOTIONAL SYMPTOMS

  • Dysphoric (Sad) Mood – feeling “crumby”, “empty”, “blue” and “down” – this symptom is not specific to childhood depression, however, what may distinguish the experience of this symptom from other disorders is the severity, frequency and duration of the sadness.
  • Angry or Irritable Mood – a highly problematic symptom, a common emotion among depressed children (Kashani et al. 1995); anger has been found to be extremely resistant to therapeutic change (Turner, Holtzman & Mancl, 2007).
  • Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure from enjoyable experiences) – Case Study: M.G. smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, however, he experienced such severe anhedonia and a lack of motivation that he chose not to go outside to smoke a cigarette when he had the option to (Luna, 2002).
  • Loss of Mirth Response – depressed children are less capable of responding to humour.

COGNITIVE SYMPTOMS

  • Negative Self-EvaluationsKendall, Stark and Adam (1990) show that depressed children negatively evaluate their performances, abilities and other personal qualities.
  • Difficulty Concentrating – becoming lost in a world of negative thoughts; Kashani, Barbero and Bolander (1981) reported that 77% of depressed children had difficulty concentrating and making decisions.

SOCIAL SYMPTOMS

  • Social Withdrawal – child declines invitations to play.
  • Decreased Academic Performance – 71% of a sample of depressed children had academic difficulties (Brumback, 1977); 62% of Kaslow et al.’s (1984) sample were experiencing a decrease in academic performance – connected to negative self-evaluations.

PHYSICAL/VEGETATIVE SYMPTOMS

  • Fatigue – differentiated from lack of sleep in having no energy, impacting upon the child’s daily activities
  • Change in Appetitie/Weight – anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa.
  • Aches and Pains – in Brumback’s (1977) sample 50% of the depressed youths experienced somatic complaints.
  • Sleep Disturbance – insomnia, hypersomnia, circadian reversal, non-restorative sleep.

GAUGING THE SEVERITY OF DEPRESSION: There are three key concerns surrounding the way in which depression in children is gauged/diagnosed by parents, teachers and school psychologists. The first is that because children’s externalising or disruptive behaviours attract more attention and are more readily expressed, compared to a child with internal, subjective suffering – depression is sometimes overlooked, might not be recognised, might not be assessed (Hammen & Rudolph, 2003). Secondly, due to the high level of comorbidity in childhood depression, with particular reference to conduct and other disruptive behaviours, it is often believed that depression is ‘masked’. Thirdly, some features of the symptoms of depression –such as irritable mood, difficulty concentrating and fatigue – are more likely to be typical of children than of adults, meaning that age-specific modifications of the diagnostic criteria are needed in order for school psychologists to recognise a child suffering from depression.

SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMMING: DO DEPRESSED CHILDREN QUALIFY?: Depression is overlooked in the special education population, as it frequently co-exists with at least one other disability, such as a conduct or attention deficit disorder (Heller, Holtzman & Messick, 1982). However children can ‘qualify’ for special education if their depression is severe enough.

Children can enter special education through two different routes: Medical Referral and Psycho-Educational Assessment Referral (Bussing et al., 1998). Medical referral usually takes place at an early age and those children usually exhibit the following types of disabilities: sensory (hearing/visual impairments), physical (orthopaedic impairments), medical (chronic illnesses) or mental (cognitive disabilities).

Children who enter through the second route tend to do so later on in their educational careers, perhaps presenting the following types of disabilities: specific learning disability, other health impairment (ADHD), autism, emotional disturbance (pervasive levels of depression) or speech and language impairments.

In conclusion, children manifest depression in a similar manner to adults, however, consideration must be taken regarding developmental and age-specific manifestations. Children suffering with depression may not be recognised due to a ‘masking of their depressive symptoms’ and such features being more typical of children than adults.

Sadly, depression alone is usually not enough to warrant special education programming, however if it is accompanied by other disabilities then a child may qualify for such programming.

Below is my corresponding talk:

BLOG 4: EMOTION IN LEARNING: Stress & Examinations

Hello fellow bloggers! Welcome to my fourth blog. We are now beginning to narrow down our blog topics and my broader topic area will be related to what effect emotions and personality have on learning. Today I’m going to address what emotions are involved in assessments, with particular reference to stress.

As put by Bower (1992): emotion is evolution’s way of giving meaning to our lives. So what is emotion? In psychology and philosophy, emotion is the generic term for subjective,conscious experience that is characterised primarily by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions and mental states. A mood, on the other hand, is an emotional state, differing from emotions in that it is less specific and have either a positive or negative valence.

Students regularly experience a variety of stress-related situations, many of which are daily hassles relating to teachers, classmates or workload. Our educational careers also provide major life events such as the transition from school to university, building new social networks and graduation (Boekaerts, 1999). With regards to stress-related situations, assessments and examinations profoundly influence an individual’s future, regularly inducing high amounts of psychological stress.

In exam periods, a negative emotional state can be regarded as a response to the anticipation of exam stress – as it peaks before the exam – and can be down-regulated within a short timespan (Carver & Sheier, 1994). Many people only associate negative emotions with examinations (Pekrun , 1992), while there is evidence from Spangler, Pekrun Kramer and Hofmann (2010) that in addition to anxiety, the values of hope are already at a high level before the exam, indicating an anticipatory response also for this positive emotion which may provide motivational functions for the student during an exam. Their study looked into what emotions students felt before, during and after an exam, with negative emotions (hopelessness/anxiety) most prominent before exams and decreasing rapidly afterwards. Positive emotions (joy/hope) were found to increase during the exam and peak afterwards. These positive emotions can be viewed as a response to the termination of the stressful situation.

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The stress system relies on two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline works in the short term while cortisol has a large momentum and works in the long term. Regarding examination stress, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated over time leading to a build up of cortisol. In the study by Spangler et al, students with high trait anxiety and hopelessness also had high cortisol responses. Whereas there was a significant cortisol increase during the exam in highly anxious students, a significant decrease was observed in low anxious students. Thus, while in low anxious individuals the adrenocortical response has already peaked before the exam, in highly anxious individuals this activation continues and reaches its peak afterwards. Adrenocortical activation seems to be regulated by the individual’s characteristics affecting emotional responses to the situation, which could provide supplementary information about emotion regulation (Hellhammer, Heib, Hubert & Rolf, 1985).

Can stress be beneficial in education?

Emotions can be a powerful tool; upon the activation of a given emotion in a given situation, a collection of memories and a repertoire of action plans will be activated. We often find that we remember unpleasant memories more readily than pleasant memories; from a biological and evolutionary point of view this makes sense, as we need to remember something that hurt or threatened us. During an examination period, the stress we feel could be put towards good revision, as the stress hormones cause changes to our brain cells that can help memories to be stored more efficiently, if only we could see it that way!

The positivity or negativity of an individual’s mindset can greatly influence how one processes information; if you are experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety it can influence how you continue to interpret information you are presented with. Regarding examinations, this negative affect could either help or prevent you from remembering information: if the stress is too great, then the brain goes into an override mode making memory formation less efficient. However, with the right amount of stress, and possibly the right mindset, stress can enhance our control of learning and the process of memory.

BLOG 3: CSR & “WHAT MAKES A GOOD TEACHER?” (Video Talk)

Throughout my schooling I experienced small class sizes: an average class in my primary school taught 13 pupils, at A Level my largest class was five and my smallest had just two, besides the teacher. Coming to university I have met a host of others who had 30+ in their classes and this led me to think how this difference in education may have affected our learning. Subsequently, I pondered over evidence showing that good teachers make a clear difference in student achievement: the problem we face is that we don’t really know what makes a good teacher. This blog will discuss how class-size reduction (CSR) may affect children’s learning and whether you can define a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ teacher.

Research in the state of Indiana found that students in smaller class sizes scored higher on standardised tests than those in larger classes (Bain & Achilles, 1986); it has also been noted that smaller class sizes reduce behavioural issues and the teachers themselves reported more efficiency and productivity within the classroom. But how effective can these smaller class sizes really be? Bain and Achilles established that smaller class sizes require potentially large scale costs for additional classrooms and teachers, which may be why more schools do not take this approach to learning.

PROJECT STAR: Mosteller began a three-phase project, the first entitled Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) in 1985, obtaining results from kindergarten, first, second and third grade. Students and teachers were randomly assigned from approximately 80 schools to three different size groups in order to investigate the effect of class size on learning development:

  1. Small – 13-17
  2. Regular – 22-25 (with paid aide)
  3. Regular – 22-25 (no aide)

Curriculum-based tests were used to assess and compare the performance of the 6,500 students. The results showed a substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies in those smaller class sizes. Interestingly, the initial achievement of pupils from minority groups was double that of the majority children, however this levelled out in later years as the majority group caught up.

LASTING BENEFITS STUDY: Four years later Mosteller (1989) began the second phase of the study, observing the progressive performance of the children when they were returned to regular sizes. Students who were originally enrolled in the smaller class sizes continued to perform better than those who had experienced larger classes.

 PROJECT CHALLENGE: The third and final phase of the project funded 17 of the economically poorest school districts to provide smaller class sizes for kindergarten, first, second and third grades. Their mathematics and reading end-of-year standing from within 139 districts was improved from below average to above average.

Given that most teachers are trained to teach in larger classes of children, Stecher et al. (2001) have highlighted the importance of teacher personal development for the successful implementation of CSR.

On the other side of the scale, a meta analysis conducted by Glass and Smith (1979) found that reducing class sizes from 40 pupils to 30, and even to 25 showed little gain in student performance. However reducing it to as little as 15 pupils did yield a higher level of achievement.

It seems clear that class size does affect the performance of students, with smaller class sizes producing higher levels of achievement; however the reduction of such classes must be substantial in order to see such an increase in performance.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD TEACHER: Regarding teacher performance and characteristics, Sanders and colleagues found that the effectiveness of teachers has more of an influence on student achievement than any other schooling factor. The researchers placed the teachers into effectiveness quantiles based on the students’ growth in achievement. Teachers who fell into the first quantile – the least effective teachers – were found to elicit an average of 14 percentile points per year for student gains. The most effective teachers elicited an average 52 percentile points for student gain.

One can see that the teacher you have is incredibly important to your learning; if you have a ‘bad’ teacher for a subject you do not like, then you are less likely to succeed in that subject than if you had a ‘good’ teacher. However, you cannot choose your teacher and while good teaching is important, it is not clear what makes for a good teacher. Most measures used by school systems to screen candidates for teacher quality look at certification, experience and education level, however there is little definitive evidence to suggest that these characteristics are associated with higher student achievement (Goldhaber, 2002). There is some evidence that experienced teachers are more effective with students, (Darling-Hammond, 1999) but the benefits of additional years of experience appear to level off early in a teacher’s career. Measures of teachers’ academic skills, such as their verbal ability (Peterson, Marx & Clark, 1978), may more accurately predict their effectiveness, but there is far less evidence on this issue, and these findings are also not conclusive.

Interestingly, the effects of a teacher’s quality persists for years after the student has a particular teacher which could either be detrimental or beneficial, depending on which teacher you get stuck with!

Bringing these two topics together, one can see that a large class size coupled with a bad teacher can create a negative learning environment, compared with a smaller class size and a good teacher.

Below is my corresponding talk:

BLOG 2: LEARNING TO TRUST ONE ANOTHER

“Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”

Stanley A. McChrystal

Teachers should let pupils fail in a safe environment, letting them pick themselves up, so they come out on the other side having learned with feelings of pride about what they achieved. There is an element of trust in such a relationship, however, and not all teachers will help you if you fail. The bottom line is that we don’t learn when we don’t trust: it is a crucial aspect of information exchange and negotiation (Rettinger, Nickles & Tresp, 2007).

That said, trust is not a given; trust has to be earned and not just by the teachers, but the pupils also, otherwise the relationship that is supposed to be facilitating learning, becomes stagnant.

The education system must have a shared purpose and consciousness if it is to progress and succeed; yet we all have different life experiences making us who we are. In terms of digital media, children have different skill sets and quite different vocabulary, in comparison with older generations, yet we still need to have a shared sense of trust in each other, something that is lacking in the current system (Gregory & Ripski, 2008).

Nowadays, there are so many changes in the lower levels of technology – using books, computers or a state-of-the-art tablet – that suddenly things that the teachers grew up doing are not what children are doing todayHow can a teacher still credibly and legitimately teach a class when they themselves haven’t trained in the aspects of learning that their pupils already know and understand? There is an inversion of expertise.

Cooperative behaviour between students and staff is important in facilitating a high-functioning classroom, where students trust teachers and feel able to actively engage in their work. If you go to a teacher with questions about an exam, and the help given turns out to be inapplicable, you feel a sense of disappointment. You have put yourself (and possibly your grades) on the line by trusting their expertise and it has come to nothing. Many adolescents reject teachers’ authority and expertise (Franse, 1990) because they have been let down; we need to rebuild that trust, working towards a sense of shared purpose towards educating the future generation. The trust I speak of could be referred to as role-based trust, where it is the role of the person and the system of expertise which they belong to that you trust, as opposed to the person themselves (Kramer, 1999).

If children are raised and educated in a system that doesn’t trust one another, then what does that teach them about the real worldLee (2007) examined the student-teacher relationship regarding trust, and highlights that this relationship is positively correlated with school success, academic motivation and academic performance, emphasising just how important trust within the education system really is.

Trust is important not just between pupil and teacher, but also between teachers, parents and the board of directors.  Bryk and Schneider (2003) found that social trust between these parties improves the workings and routine of the school. Relational trust among teachers also gives an imperative to reform and develop their teaching. Teachers with high relational trust were also found to go the extra mile for the children. The researchers found that schools with high relational trust were more likely to demonstrate marked improvements in student learning. Of course, this trust takes time to form; a simple workshop will not initiate trust within an entire staff body, it has to be earned and worked at through day-to-day social exchanges. Results of da Costa and Jose (1995) indicate that trust and respect between teachers is a prerequisite to effective collaboration, and that without trust and respect, collaboration is futile.

CHALLENGE FOR TEACHERS: be more willing to be reverse-mentored by the children.

Both parties learn when they can input into a discussion equally.

There must be a new kind of leadership where there is an element of trust within the teacher-child relationship, which could hold this system together.

BLOG 1: ELIMINATING THE DRONES OF THE WORKFORCE

Most people experience an education in which they are taught the skills that are supposedly necessary for going on to succeed in life. You can ask anyone, and they will tell you that they had an ‘interesting education’. In his TED talk Sir Ken Robinson makes the point that we all have a vested interest in education – as it is this schooling that helps children’s and our futures too.

STIGMATISING MISTAKES: Dulling Our Minds

When a child is unsure of how to proceed with a task or does not know an answer they will have a guess, as they are not afraid to be wrong. But after only a little time being schooled this positive trait of creativity is educated out – mistakes are denigrated. The world of work stigmatises blunders, faux pas and punishes such mishaps instead of promoting creativity and individuality. So, one may wonder why we intentionally squander and quash young people’s minds from a young age, moulding them into unimaginative and uninspired drones of the workforce. What is it about education that dulls individuals’ minds?

HOW DO WE LEARN?

Today I am going to focus on humanising the classroom/lecture theatre. Let us start with the structure of classes. You must all remember sitting down in a lesson amongst all your buddies, facing forwards (when not misbehaving) towards the teacher: the Font of all Knowledge. In these classes, much like lectures in university, the teacher waffles on about one topic or another, and expects you to have learned and memorised it by the time exams come round. But is this technique of teaching adequate? We are taught about math, science and literacy but not about how to actually learn such content. Think back, and I’m sure you can’t recall a time where you were given strategies for learning and taking notes, yet you are expected to sit exams and know how to learn. When you have an end of term test, it doesn’t matter what score you get – 40%, 70%, 95% – the class moves on to the next big thing. Even the student with 95% – what didn’t they know? As it currently stands the system does not expect mastery of each subject; it penalises you for failure and creativity in experimentation instead of encouraging mistakes that would inevitably aid your learning experience, and push you forward towards mastering each subject.

A LITTLE BIT OF RESEARCH

Giles et al. (2009) report that the level of recall in a lecture is based on when during the lecture information is presented; information given within the first 15 minutes of the lecture is unlikely to be recalled, however content provided from 15-30 minutes of the lecture is more readily recalled. Indeed, Kiewra et al. (1991) found that students actively assess what information they deem as important, and focus on remembering it as such; unfortunately, this means that most of the lecture is expendable, as most students will not remember all details that the lecturer churns out. A strategy for such an issue could be for the lecturer to provide a copy of their own notes to be available as a review for the students. However, why should we waste time with lectures if they are not going to be useful in the first place?

MAN OF THE HOUR: SALMAN KHAN

I would like to introduce you to Salman Khan, who founded the Khan Academy, and who maintains that homework should be done in class and videos and lectures should be seen outside the classroom. Khan suggests that by removing the “one size fits all” lecture to allow students to have a self-paced lecture at home; and by letting them come into school to review their work and ask questions to the teacher and actually interact with their peers about the work, it turns education into a human experience with interaction. Interacting with others about the topic and sharing ideas helps cultivate understanding in an environment that is suited to them, at their own pace.

If we really do have a vested interest in all our futures- shouldn’t we utilise aspects of Khan’s Academy, to see how our children’s learning can benefit during the mainstream education system?