students working together

I am currently enrolled in an on-line certificate program called Developmental Therapy-Teaching (DTT). The course was created by Dr. Mary Wood of the University of Georgia, and it is based on her book, Teaching Responsible Behavior. I have to admit that I don’t love the title of the textbook – I get a little hung up on the word “responsible” – but I think the content is wonderful.

No, fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who lives or works with children. It doesn’t matter whether your job title is “teacher.” If you interact with kids, please read on.

Before I attempt to describe DTT, I want to emphasize that I am just learning; I am by no means an expert in this area. With that said, here is my take on it.

Developmental Therapy offers a structured approach for parents and teachers, or anyone who deals with children, to understand the sequence in which children learn specific skills in four areas: Doing, Saying, Relating, and Thinking. DTT divides a child’s development into five stages. Each stage is defined by an overall goal for development as well as specific competencies in each of the four areas. With this understanding, adults can begin to recognize gaps in a child’s development and help the child to fill in those gaps using positive, nurturing approaches. They can also tailor activities, at school and at home, to promote development without pushing a child to jump ahead before he or she is ready.

The course comprises four modules, as follows.

  • Module 1: A Developmental Approach to Classroom Teaching
  • Module 2: Developmental Assessment for Curriculum Planning and Instruction
  • Module 3: Emotions and Behavior in the Classroom
  • Module 4: Getting Started in Your Own Classroom

I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first module, and I’ve learned quite a bit. Keep in mind that my background is engineering, not teaching, so most of this is new to me. Even so, I have the sense that the approaches taught in this course will be new to some teachers and many parents.

One idea that I’ve found practical application for already is that children are generally not ready for competition until Stage 4, which starts at about age 9 for typically developing children. So for some of my tutoring students, and in the Math Games program that I host at the local library, I am finding ways to reduce emphasis on competition and increase emphasis on teamwork. Here are a couple of examples.

I often play checkers with my individual students. Each square contains a math problem that can involve anything from fractions to division. When a player lands on a square, he or she must solve that problem. What I’ve changed is that we no longer play until one of us wins; we stop at some other predefined point, such as whenever someone gets “king”-ed. This may sound like a subtle difference, but it’s not. One student, in particular, used to have hurt feelings whenever he lost. Before studying DTT, I thought I was helping him by teaching him to be a “good loser.” I was wrong! This student is 10 years old, but he has developmental challenges, and he is not ready for competition. Now there is no loser. Someone gets “king”-ed and we move on to another activity.

Fractions are fun with the Pizza Fractions Fun gameI have made similar changes for the Math Games group. When we play Buzz, instead of having a student who says a wrong answer sit out the remainder of the game, he or she gets to stand back up when his or her turn comes around again. We just play until we get to 50. When we play Pizza Fractions, we play until a certain number of pizza sandwiches have been created, independent of how many sandwiches any individual has made. Again, this takes the emphasis away from winning or losing, and keeps the focus on learning. Next week I’m going to change this one again by challenging the students to see how many pizza sandwiches they can make as a group in 10 minutes.

I realize that some readers may believe in the importance of individual competition at a young age. After all, it’s a tough world out there, right? My response to this is that DTT does not intend to eliminate competition; it just presents it when each student is ready. Before kids are ready for individual competition, they need to learn to interact successfully in a group. One way to introduce competition is to have a team of students compete against their own team record. This presents the same kind of challenge as other competitive activities, without resulting in a “winner” and a “loser.”

I am only focusing on the competition aspect of DTT because it has directly influenced my tutoring approach when it comes to games. There are many, many competencies in each of the four areas (Doing, Saying, Relating, Thinking) and each of the five stages of development.

At this point, I can highly recommend Module 1 for all parents, and you can sign up for just one module if you choose. I’ll let you know about the others as I progress. If you are interested in learning more about DTT, please visit the University of Georgia web site.

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