Ideas & Findings

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Drug-education materials are better at turning off teenagers than they are at turning teenagers off to drugs, a new study suggests.

Three researchers from the National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy asked 297 students from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to review more than 100 brochures and handouts from national and local drug-prevention agencies.

Students found much of the material ethnically insulting, condescending, and "hokey," say the researchers, Karen A. Schriver, John R. Hayes, and Ann E. Steffy. One brochure was panned by all 90 students who read it. Among their criticisms: The pictures made the brochure seem "too kiddy"; the images were out of step with current styles; and the graphics were "insulting" to blacks.

Another unpopular pamphlet purported to give teenagers "snappy answers" to offers of alcohol and drugs. But students ridiculed comebacks such as: "I'd rather not. I'm too special."

"A deeper understanding of the audience is crucial if writers are to be effective in anticipating how members of culturally diverse audiences may construct messages directed at them," the researchers write in a project brief published by the center.

Teachers should quiz their students on the fairness of the motivational practices they use in their classrooms.

So says a study published in the December Journal of Educational Psychology. For their study, investigators from the University of Illinois and the University of Washington interviewed 93 children, ages 7 to 12, in two public schools. One of the schools was a Montessori school where teachers encouraged children to take charge of their own learning. The other, a more traditional school, used a variety of motivational practices, including some extrinsic rewards.

"In the two different environments, kids came up with similar approaches," says Susan B. Nolen, one of the authors. While the largest group of children agreed that giving encouragement was an equitable and effective way to motivate students, a fair proportion of students in both schools also favored giving awards for superior performance or for effort. Others said teachers should provide work that was meaningful and challenging.

The students' choices, the researchers found, were linked to the way they viewed learning--in other words, whether they saw school as a duty, a job for which they should be paid, or a place for learning new ideas.

"Teachers would be in a really good position to discuss these things with students," says Nolen, "rather than assume there is one approach for everybody." The other authors are Theresa A. Thorkildsen and Janice Fournier.

Teachers and advocates have clashed for years over the best way to ease non-English-speaking students into the mainstream. A study published last month in The Elementary School Journal offers new fodder for the debate.

Researchers Russell Gersten of the University of Oregon and John Woodward of the University of Puget Sound conducteda seven-year-long study of 228 native Spanish-speaking students in El Paso.

Slightly fewer than half of the students took part in a transitionalbilingual-education program in which they were given content-area instruction in Spanish until their English skills were up to par. The remaining students were in a bilingual-immersion program in which they received content-area lessons in English but were also able to use Spanish when the need arose.

Unlike other studies, which tracked children until about 5th grade, Woodward and Gersten followed the pupils to 7th grade--several years after the English-instruction programs had ended.

They found that even though the immersion students had entered the mainstream earlier, both groups of students had comparable achievement test scores in 7th grade.

"Had our longitudinal evaluation ended at 5th grade," they write, "a different and entirely incorrect conclusion might have been drawn."

--Debra Viadero

Vol. 14, Issue 23

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