Ideas & Findings

November 30, 1994 3 min read

A report in the September 1994 issue of Developmental Psychology reveals the complexities behind how children develop the ability to identify sentence subjects.

As part of the reading study, the university researchers spent two years following 48 5-year-olds. At the start of the study, half of the children were a few weeks too young to enter kindergarten, and the other half were able to start school. Over the course of the study, the researchers periodically asked the children to identify subjects in as many as 96 sentences.

The results: Even before they started school, most of the children could name a simple subject in a sentence. They had trouble, though, when the subjects were pronouns or when they consisted of a string of words.

By age 7, however, most children successfully picked out the pronoun subjects--regardless of whether they were in 1st grade or kindergarten.

“Whatever factors are responsible for this specific difficulty with pronouns seem to exert less effect as children become older, not as they become more schooled,” conclude the authors, Michigan State University’s Fernanda Ferreira and Loyola University at Chicago’s Frederick J. Morrison.

By contrast, the children’s ability to nametwo- and three-word subjects did improve with schooling.

Music lessons--and even simply listening to music--can enhance spatial-reasoning skills. That conclusion comes from a set of small, ongoing studies under way at the University of California at Irvine. Researchers there observed 33 3-year-olds enrolled in two Los Angeles County preschools. They gave 19 of the children weekly 10- to 15-minute keyboard lessons and daily 30-minute singing sessions. The rest of the children received no special interventions.

At the end of four months, the children who had music lessons were already outscoring their peers on tasks that required them to rearrange pieces of a puzzle to make a picture. And those gains continued to improve over the course of theeight-month study.

However, the study shows, the two groups performed similarly well on tasks that did not require such skills.

In a previous study, the researchers--Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw--also found that listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart piano sonata increased the spatial i.q. scores of college students.

Spatial-reasoning skills are critical for scientists and engineers, the researchers write in a paper presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting last summer. “We hope our research will help convince public school administrators of how crucial music instruction is to all children,” they said.

News for education reformers: Students in restructured high schools are learning more than their counterparts in more traditional settings.

Researchers Valerie E. Lee and Julia B. Smith based their study on an analysis of data collected from 820 secondary schools that participated in the National Education Longitudinal Study. The researchers used the federally funded study to track the progress of 11,704 students from 1988 to 1990 as they moved from 8th grade to 10th grade.

For the purposes of their study, Lee and Smith defined restructured schools as those that had engaged in one or more practices that departed significantly from conventional practice. Such reforms included having students keep the same homeroom throughout their high school years, using interdisciplinary teaching teams, setting up smaller schools or “houses” within a larger school, and arranging for parents to volunteer in schools.

After controlling for socioeconomic and other differences among schools and students, the researchers discovered that the students in the restructured schools had made greater gains in mathematics, science, history, and reading achievement--at least according to survey data and standardized-test scores.

“Not only were student-achievement gains in the first two years of high school significantly higher in the restructuring schools than in the traditional schools, but those gains also were distributed more equitably,” the researchers write in a paper published by the University of Wisconsin’s Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools. The study also found that students in smaller schools were more successful.

Considered separately, Lee and Smith warn, none of the reforms appeared to have a particularly strong effect. However, all the reforms were aimed in some way at making schools less bureaucratic and more communal. And that, the researchers say, may be the key.

“Schools with this form,” they write, “have more meaning for their members.”

--Debra Viadero

A version of this article appeared in the November 30, 1994 edition of Education Week as Ideas & Findings