‘Neighbor, Doctor, Senator, and Friend’: Challenging Children to Learn, and More

At the elementary school level, teachers who think about how-not just what-students learn often notice what cognitive researchers have also shown: Children learn best in a social context that supports them in a web of caring relationships. From the Developmental Studies Center (DSC) in Oakland, California, new curricula in reading and mathematics is available that explicitly links those subjects to the social, ethical, and emotional growth of the child.

In math class, that means grouping students in twos and fours to investigate problems that have multiple solutions, and asking them to talk and write about their thinking. Not only does students’ “number sense,”problem-solving, and mathematical reasoning improve with the approach, a DSC study showed, but their sense of confidence and enjoyment also rises significantly.

In reading class, the DSC approach uses 200 unabridged, original works of literature to build students’ skills as the same time as their values of caring, responsibility, and respect. Its literary themes, questions, and activities prompt kids to talk and write about the meaning they find in reading, and to compare it with the meaning others find, both in class and at home.

In addition, DSC publishes materials aimed at building community in the classroom and across the school and home front. One six-book set offers elementary school teachers and parents simple ways to build partnerships around children through “homeside,” not just “schoolside,” activities.

The link with the Ten Common Principles is clear: using minds well and acting with decency. “We aim to promote each child’s full development into the kind of person anyone would want for a neighbor, doctor, senator, or friend,” says DSC president Eric Schapps. A new partnership is currently on the drawing boards between DSC and Essential elementary schools and Centers, which seeks to augment the efforts of each group with the expertise and experience of the other.

For more information, contact the Developmental Studies Center, 2000 Embarcadero, Suite 305, Oakland, CA 94606-5300; tel.   510-533-0213    510-533-0213 ; fax 510-464-3670; Web address: http://www.devstu.org/.