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Volume 3 Number 10

"Everybody loves hummingbirds, and they are wonderful tools to excite students about learning."

That quote from a classroom teacher is the basic premise of Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project...

Meet our Antarctic Guide - A conversation with
USCG LT Marshall Branch
by Kathleen Carpenter, Editor in Chief
The Responsive Classroom: A Practical Approach for Teaching Children to Care by Dr. Belinda Gimbert
Attitudes Toward Numbers Through History by Daniel Chang
Classroom Photos by Members of the Teachers.Net Community
How Many Environments Does a Child Have? by Judith Rich Harris
The Hurried Child, Book Review by Sonja Marcuson
There IS a Printer and a Xerox Machine in Your Classroom That You Can't See! by Dr. Rob Reilly
What's Your Name? by Joy Jones
The funny thing about control: Or to gain control you have to give up control by Karin Ford
Through the eyes of a child - Reflections on teacher and student motivation by Sheree Rensel
Non-Conventional Techniques in Teaching Science by P R Guruprasad
Word Wall Tips from the 4 Blocks Mailring
Teaching Gayle To Read (Part 8) by Grace Vyduna-Haskins
Operation RubyThroat by Bill Hilton Jr.
Dear Old Golden Rule Days, Chapter 4 - Creative Writing by Janet Farquhar
Simple Science Center Ideas from the Early Childhood Mailring
The Freedom Box, Technology for the Blind and Visually Impaired by Dave Melanson
Librarians, Deaf Students and Hearing Students by Linsey Taylor
Pumpkin Math and Writing Activities by Michele Nash
Take Home Literature Activity Bags by Paulie
Favorite October Activities for the Classroom from Teachers.Net Mailrings
Fun Facts
October Columns
October Regular Features
October Informational Items
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Judith Rich Harris...

Judith Rich Harris was born February 10, 1938, and spent the first part of her childhood moving around with her family from one part of the country to another. Her parents eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona, where the climate permitted her father (invalided by an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis) to live in reasonable comfort. Harris graduated from Tucson High School and attended the University of Arizona and Brandeis University. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis in 1959 and was awarded the Lila Pearlman Prize in psychology. In 1961 she received a master's degree in psychology from Harvard University.

Harris has been married since 1961 to Charles S. Harris; they have two daughters, born in 1966 and 1969, and three grandchildren, born in 1996, 1999, and 2001. Before her children were born, Harris worked as a teaching assistant in psychology at MIT (1961-1962), and as a research assistant at Bolt Beranek and Newman (1962-1963) and the University of Pennsylvania (1963-1965).

Since 1977, Harris has suffered from a chronic autoimmune disorder that has been diagnosed as a combination of lupus and systemic sclerosis. The disorder has affected several different organs, most recently her heart and lungs.

While bedridden for a period of time in the late 1970s, Harris worked out a mathematical model of visual search; this work was published in two articles in the journal Perception and Psychophysics (see publication list below). From 1981 to 1994 she was a writer of textbooks in developmental psychology. She is the senior author of The Child (Prentice-Hall, 1984, 1987, 1991) and Infant and Child (1992).

In 1994 Harris had begun work on a new development textbook, without a co-author this time, when she had an idea that led her to formulate a new theory of child development. She abandoned the textbook and instead wrote an article for the Psychological Review. Work on The Nurture Assumption began in 1995 and was completed in 1998.

Harris is a member of the American Psychological Society, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, the Society for Research in Child Development, and Phi Beta Kappa. In 1998 she received the George A. Miller Award from the American Psychological Association for her article entitled "Where Is the Child's Environment? A Group Socialization Theory of Development" (Psychological Review, 1995). This award is given to an outstanding article, particularly one that makes linkages between diverse fields of psychology.

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Teacher Feature...

How Many Environments Does a Child Have?
Harvard Education Letter, Volume 15:3 (May/June 1999), pp. 8. Copyright (c) 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission

by Judith Rich Harris

The persistent focus on parents as the primary source of influence on children has left major gaps in our understanding of why children turn out the way they do. Too much emphasis has been placed on the parents and not enough on the other people in the child's life--teachers, for instance. Too much attention has been paid to the home and not enough to the child's other environments.

My book, The Nurture Assumption, has been widely attacked because I had the temerity to suggest that parents lack the power to shape their child's personality (See Jerome Kagan's essay, "A Parent's Influence Is Peerless," HEL, November/December 1998.) I supported this counter-intuitive view with evidence from anthropology, sociology, and several subfields of psychology. But what has been overlooked in the commotion surrounding my book is its positive message. If the parents' child-rearing style matters little in the long run, that doesn't mean that nothing matters in the long run. The conclusion I drew from my overview of a great deal of research is that people who are interested in the long-term effects of a child's environment should look not at the home, but at the world outside the home. And the most important part of that world is the school.

Here's what I said in The Nurture Assumption: "If, in this book, I seem to rob parents of much of their power and responsibility, I cannot be accused of perpetrating the same crime against teachers. Teachers have power and responsibility because they are in control of an entire group of children. They can influence the attitudes and behaviors of the entire group. And they exert this influence where it is likely to have long-term effects: in the world outside the home, the world where children will spend their adult lives."

An important premise of my theory is that children learn separately how to behave in their various environments--they do not assume that what works in one place will work somewhere else. That is why parents are often surprised by what they hear from their child's teacher. The differences in behavior may be subtle in a child from a "typical" home. They are most noticeable in the one whose parents belong to a different culture from the others in the neighborhood--the child of immigrant or deaf parents, for instance. Such children quickly pick up the language and culture of the world outside their home and, as they get older, leave the language and culture of their home behind.

How do children learn how to behave in the world outside the home? I believe they do it by identifying with a group of others they see as similar to themselves. Our society conveniently provides them with such a group: their classmates. In fact, all societies provide children with such a group, but in some parts of the world children associate chiefly with their agemates, in others with a group that spans a range of ages.

As educators are well aware, children's group associations influence their attitudes toward schoolwork. A study by Thomas Kindermann showed that 5th-graders who belonged to a clique of high achievers had more positive attitudes toward schoolwork than members of other cliques. No surprise here. The interesting part is what Kindermann discovered about children who switched cliques: their attitudes toward schoolwork shifted to match those of their new companions. They still had the same parents--their IQs probably hadn't changed, either--but within a single year their attitudes toward schoolwork had been revised.

Groups can be influenced from within or without; a talented teacher is a leader who can influence a group without being a member of it. There are teachers--for example, "Miss A," whose lasting influence on her first-grade students was documented by Eigil Pedersen and his colleagues in a 1978 Harvard Educational Review article--who can change their students' lives.

Outstanding teachers like Miss A seem to have a remarkable ability to form their students into a single group of motivated learners. One characteristic of their classrooms is the way the better students act toward the slower ones: instead of making fun of them, they cheer them on. When a poor reader shows signs of progress, the whole class celebrates.

How do these teachers work their magic? I don't know. But I'm hoping my book will inspire the kind of research that can answer such questions. Researchers have spent far too much time, with far too little to show for it, looking at the home environment. It's time they noticed that the child has a life outside the home, and other environments that, in the long run, may be more important.

Judith Rich Harris is author of The Nurture Assumption and co-author of The Child: Development from Birth through Adolescence.

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