Psychology Prof. Fred Morrison presented what he believes to be the predictors of success in school and ways to help low-achieving students improve performance during a University of Michigan psychology talk Tuesday night at the Ann Arbor Public Library.

Morrison discussed past studies supporting his claims, which show variability in performance from a young age and how to respond to those findings, including what can aid development, inside and outside school.

“What we’ve learned, I think, over the past 15 to 20 years is that basically American students show great variability in their language, cognitive, social, academic and related skills,” Morrison said. “That predicts their success in school.”

Morrison focused on self-regulation and the importance of it in children. He defined self-regulation as children’s ability to inhibit appropriate responses, including self-control and self-management.

“We focus on reading, writing and arithmetic, but in most instances we really don’t focus on things like self-regulation,” Morrison said. “They’re supposedly learned on their own or maybe not learned on their own or they mature. But they really don’t see them as the object of instruction.”

The variability of self-regulation can be seen across gender and national origin. There are a group of boys in the United States who have been found to be lagging behind developmentally in terms of self-regulation. Morrison said this was the group that we needed to worry about.

Rackham student Sammy Ahmed said these findings could impact children both in school and at home.

“There could be implications for the timing and growth of these skills,” Ahmed said. “Some of the things that parents can do early on before school even begins that can give them an edge when they begin school,” 

The presentation focused on how to help the students who start school later, which is often indicator of success in the future. To find what students needed, Morrison said, researchers needed to examine what teachers were already doing.

“What we found essentially here is an example of how different kids need different kinds of instruction,” Morrison said.

Depending on ones’ IQ, students either needed more teacher-led instruction if they were on the lower side of the spectrum, or more personally driven activities if students were on the higher side of the spectrum.

To bring these findings into practice, Carol Connor of Arizona State University has developed an algorithm-based intervention program that computes the attention and activities each student needs.

“In essence, you have sub-groups of kids (in a classroom), somewhere around three or four sub-groups, that are clustered by their patterns of scores and then the computer program will actually generate the exact amount and types of instruction that that child needs to get in order to be at grade level,” Morrison said.

Ann Arbor resident Carlene Colvin-Garcia said she hopes that the findings discussed by Morrison will be implemented in the school systems.

“I’m really interested in the emerging philosophy and methodologies for education,” Colvin-Garcia said. “I’m hoping that it’ll have a significant impact on the training of teachers.”

Morrison included that parenting also plays an important role in development, including being a place where children can learn self-regulation.

“For example, when you are in bed reading to your child at night, in fact, it’s a perfect time for a child to learn self-control or cooperation,” Morrison said.

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