Professor, Applied Psychology and Teaching and Learning
"[Through INSIGHTS] the kids are taught to become more empathetic towards each other and to use a problem solving technique when they encounter dilemmas."
Sandee McClowry spends more time than you might expect playing with puppets. Four of them, to be exact: Gregory the Grumpy, Coretta the Cautious, Frederico the Friendly, and Hilary the Hard Worker. The puppets are the cast of characters that McClowry uses to introduce the concept of temperament to kindergarten through second graders.
They are an integral part of McClowry’s INSIGHTS project, which teaches children, parents and educators how to recognize temperament and to use that knowledge to create more positive interactions both in and out of the classroom.
Temperament can best be understood as a person’s particular behavioral style; it remains relatively constant throughout one’s life. Understanding temperament often brings enormous relief to educators as well as parents. “It takes away some of the energy that goes into struggling with children, which by school-age years has become very embedded in interactions,” McClowry explains. “You can actually see a physical change among parents and teachers when they recognize that you can’t change temperament. Instead, you change strategies to work with the child; you change yourself, essentially.”
McClowry has long been interested in the different ways children react when faced with similar situations -- from stressful hospitalizations to routine classroom interactions. She was drawn on the study of temperament as a way to explain some of the differences in behavior that children exhibits.
INSIGHTS is a collaborative project that owes its success to the efforts of faculty and students from several different fields. McClowry is a nurse. Her collaborators, NYU professor Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, and director of the Yale University Consultation Center, David Snow, are both psychologists. NYU students from programs as diverse as nursing, drama therapy, applied psychology, and teaching and learning have lent their talents to McClowry’s research.
The project has been ongoing for about ten years and has had more than $5 million from the National Institute of Nursing Research. INSIGHTS participants include students, teachers, and parents from in elementary public schools in Harlem.
The results are compelling and are demonstrated in multiple ways. “The kids are taught to become more empathetic towards each other and to use a problem solving technique when they encounter dilemmas,” says McClowry.
She cites one memorable example in which a child described how the INSIGHTS “think and plan” strategy helped him regain control during an angry outburst in the classroom rather than throwing his desk around the classroom. The parents report significant improvements in their children’s behavior.
In addition, the teachers describe being energized by the program because it helps them see their students in a different way and provides them with new strategies to enhance classroom management.