In preparation for the talk, I am attempting to identify three key and essential research studies that provide robust explanations as to why the achievement gap persist. One of the studies that I've been reviewing is the Betty Hart and Todd Risely study that was done in Kansas in the early 1980s trying to understand if there were differences in language use in the homes of professionals, working class, and poor families. Hart and Risely followed preschool aged children around their homes with tape recorders and recorded every sound, utterance, word, and sentence. The core finding of their study is sometimes knows as the The Early Catastrophe: The Thirty Million Word Gap by Age 3, which refers to the gap between the vocabularies of welfare and professional families by age four. This number came from the data that showed welfare children heard, on average, 616 words per hour, while children from professional families (essentially children with college educated parents) heard 2153 words per hour.
While reading up about the study, I came across a well-done NPR report that interviewed Betty Hart about her work. The reporter quoted Betty Hart describing how she felt after she had crunched the numbers,
"And personally, Hart says, seeing those numbers staring back at her on the page made her more than demoralized. "Horrified might be a better word," she says. "Horrified when you see that the differences are so great, and you think of trying to make up those differences. I mean, the image that you have is of running after a train. You just look at it and say, you know, 'it's hopeless.'"
The reporter then asks, "But is it hopeless?" The report then turns to describing a research project conducted by Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.
Mendelsohn's study is brilliant and relevant to Project Coach. Essentially, Mendelsohn reviewed countless studies that attempted to teach parents how to provide poor children with language-rich environment. This includes flooding the home with books and toys, to giving parents workshops on reading to children, to modeling what good practice looks like. All these work -- sort of, but not really. What Mendelsohn did was videotape mothers with their children. The mothers watched themselves and analyzed their modes and frequency of interaction with their children. Here is the transcript from the NPR Report:
The first was a video taken with a mother and her baby early on in the program. On the screen, a mother and her 2-month-old were given a mirror to play with. The mother patiently held the mirror to the child, but didn't say much.
"The mother is holding the mirror up to the child, but is not really paying that much attention to the child," Mendelsohn says. "She's not talking to the child. She's not looking to see when the child is interested."
And so, after making a video like this, the child development specialist will show it to the mother herself and suggest ways that she might behave differently: Use the mirror to talk to the baby about reflections, or the color of eyes, use the mirror to engage the baby.
Following Words With Actions
It is these micro-behaviors that add up to macro-differences, Mendelsohn says. To all the millions of words Betty Hart's children were missing, he points to the study's results.
"Mothers had roughly a doubling in the amount of certain kinds of labeling activities," Mendelsohn says. "And a 50 percent increase in the degree to which they reported that they talked about the events in the child's life ... and what was going on in the surroundings of the child." (Here is a link to Mendelsohn's full study "Primary Care Strategies for Promoting Parent-Child Interactions and School Readiness in At-Risk Families The Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy, and Education Succes."
In Project Coach we use videotape with out teen coaches. If we want them to be getter communicators there is no better tool then them seeing themselves communicating: projecting, mumbling, or somewhere in between. We have never tested our hypthesis, but I believe that the video analysis provides the effective tool we have for changing behavior and providing a pedagogy to build skills around these capacities such as attitude, communication, initiative-taking, and more. As Mendelson said so beautifully, "these micro-behaviors that add up to macro-differences."
Here is a quick video of a coach running a post-game huddle. The quality is flat out crappy, but when you get past the absurdly bad videography, there is much to mine for meaning. Our process-- when we do it right-- involves showing it to the coach and to the other coaches. We'll sometimes use rubrics and ask the coaches to appraise their colleague's work. Other times we'll use a simple protocol:
a. Find something you want to celebrate. What good is going on? NOTE: This question provides affirmation, but there is something analytical that happens when you have to identify a positive quality and put into words.
b. Find something specific that you think the coach needs to work on to get better the next time?