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Schools, Technology and Television

Schools and the media consume a great portion of children's daily lives and exert strong influences over their development.


Schools help children acquire an abstract, symbolic orientation to the world. Moral values and aspirations may also be changed. The movement for higher standards is intended to improve student learning and achievement, especially in high-poverty schools.


School Size

School size determines the extent of involvement in extracurricular activities; students in small high schools are more likely to participate. Although there are fewer dropouts from small schools, academic achievement is unaffected by school size.

Age Groupings: What About Junior High?

The way grade levels are combined can affect children's social and academic learning and achievement. The widespread use of three-year junior highs and three-year senior highs has had a negative impact on some preadolescents.

Class Size

Class size may determine the extent to which they participate in classroom activities. Participation is higher in smaller classrooms.

Classroom Organization

Studies of different classroom organizations found that students generally prefer a group-centered or open classroom in which they are allowed some opportunity to participate in the decision making. Children in these classrooms are more cooperative, more self-reliant, and better behaved. The academic benefits are less clear, however, and some children thrive in the more structured, traditional classroom.


Teachers Expectations and Academic Success

Teachers' early impressions and expectations concerning a pupil's probable success can affect the child's academic progress. A self-fulfilling prophecy, or Pygmalion effect, is evident: children succeed when teachers believe they will do well and perform poorly when teachers expect them to fail.

Classroom Discipline and Operant Reinforcement

Applications of behavior modification techniques were found to be successful in controlling children's classroom behavior especially when they used material or token reinforcers for shaping appropriate behavior. Caution in the use of external rewards is necessary, because children's intrinsic interest in school activities may, under some conditions, be undermined by external reinforcers.


Cooperative Learning

In cooperative learning, small groups of students work together to master material. This method often enhances children's self-esteem. Two students may work in peer collaboration, a technique that allows students to complete tasks that they could not complete alone.

Peers as Teachers

Peers may function as assistant teachers in peer tutoring, which is often combined with other techniques, such as cooperative learning. Both the tutor and the other child can benefit from this arrangement. In the jigsaw method, members of several small groups learn segments of a task and then teach what they've learned to the other members of their groups. Peer tutors generally receive instruction and assistance from teachers.

Textbooks and Basic Skills

Textbook publishers have made efforts to present material in an unbiased fashion, but girls and minority group members are still often inaccurately represented. The whole-language versus the phonics approach to reading continues to be debated in many school districts, but a middle-of-the-road, literature-based approach is gaining adherents. Classrooms that use this approach are often open, and teachers emphasize collaborative group work.

Computer Technology

Computers are now found in most classrooms, although there are rarely enough for every child to use a computer for a substantial task. Children benefit by being able to practice previously learned material with computer-assisted instruction. Simulating such things as scientific laboratories and outer space, computers can contribute to science learning. Word processors aid children's writing skills, and graphics programs can foster artistic creativity. Students are also using computers for homework and research. Contrary to expectations, computers increase rather than decrease social interaction among children in the classroom.


How Emotions, Beliefs, and Self-Esteem Affect Achievement Motivation

Children's intellectual performance is influenced by their own achievement motivation, the emotions they associate with learning tasks, the ways they view themselves and their abilities, and their responses to success and failure.

In one approach to understanding motivation, children who see themselves as helpless tend to give up easily or show deterioration when working on hard problems. Other, mastery-oriented children use failure feedback to maintain or improve their performance. Helpless children may hold an entity theory of intelligence, whereas master-oriented children may hold an incremental theory. Research indicates that these kinds of motivational differences may characterize even young preschool children.

Can Social Class Affect Motivation to Achieve?

Parents of different social classes may exhibit parenting styles and behaviors that encourage or inhibit their children's approach to schooling and their motivation to excel. Lack of knowledge about school systems as well as language barriers may prevent many lower-social-class parents from helping their children achieve as they would like them to.

Academic Context and Achievement

Changes in the contexts in which children perform are just as important as the other factors discussed. For example, the change in school context that occurs during the transition from elementary school to junior high tends to result in motivational declines for most students. This may be due to a mismatch between children's needs and the contexts in which they must perform.


Special factors mitigate against the success of the lower-class child in school, including parental attitudes and behavior, peer contexts, and teacher attitudes and behavior.

Desegregation has not always improved race relations, and ethnic cleavages increase across grades, partly as a result of varying curricula and the lack of opportunity for children of different racial and ethnic groups to spend time together. Instead of desegregation, efforts are now being made to equalize financial and educational standards across school districts. These efforts have met with limited success so far.

Trends toward desertion of affirmative action policies may reflect some current theorizing that African Americans have made greater social progress than has been thought. Other thinkers believe that U.S. society still has a long way to go toward true opportunity for all.

Complex issues confront social scientists and others, who must ask questions such as: "When are integrated programs most helpful and when are segregated methods of instruction more useful for children?"


Children with special needs, such as those who are mentally retarded, often require assistance. The controversy over the policy of inclusion continues, although there are some indications that programs designed especially for such children may be of considerable benefit.


Television plays a huge role in socializing children. TV viewing starts early in life and viewing time gradually increases until adolescence.

How Much TV and What Programs Do Children Watch?

Children watch a variety of programs. Boys prefer action-adventure and sports programs, and girls prefer human social dramas. However, many TV programs, especially children's cartoons, contain considerable aggressive and violence content.

Do Children Understand What They Watch?

Although the very youngest children often display magic window thinking, as children's cognitive skills develop they become increasingly able to comprehend what they watch-to understand cause-and-effect relationships and to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Usefulness of TV: Its Educational Benefits

TV has beneficial effects, as indicated by the positive impact of educational programs such as "Sesame Street" or "The Electric Company" on children's cognitive development. Such programs are especially useful when children view them in a supportive home or school environment.

Negative Effects of TV

Television viewing has many negative effects. Heavy viewing is correlated with poorer reading comprehension. It tends to displace other activities, such as participation in sports and other forms of recreation and social and community events. Minorities are only beginning to be fairly represented on TV, but TV programs can strengthen existing racial stereotypes. Exposure to aggressive and violent action on television may lead to aggressive behavior in children, and consumers with heavy TV viewing habits may become inured to real-life violence.

Advertising often engenders children's preferences for foods and toys that are not healthy and that can even be dangerous.

How Can Parents Modify the Effects of TV on Their Children?

Parents can modify the effects of TV by serving as interpreters of TV messages and managers of program selection.

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