The following is excerpted from a report by Kimberly Pearce about her ground-breaking research into whether very young children (kindergarten through second grade) are cabable of learning about and using deliberative dialogue to communicate and problem solve.
I am beginning the second year of a multi-year research project in Hammond, Louisiana involving nine kindergarten through second-grade classes. The teachers in each of these classes are using a set of activities called CosmoKidz to engage the children in brief but daily conversations about their social worlds of sharing, teasing, making new friends, cheating, making decisions together, etc. The purpose of these conversations is to help the children develop communication skills that foster their social and civic intelligence. A hypothesis that I am testing is that these brief but daily conversations, done consistently over time, will help the children: empathize with others; handle conflict in productive ways; connect with diverse children who are not like them; name their own feelings and emotions and better manage their strong emotions; and, develop agency in their decision making. All nine classes are also participating in three modified deliberations during the school year on topics that are relevant to them and the classroom. An additional hypothesis is that their ability to weigh the pros and cons of various options will increase as they develop the aforementioned communication skills. Additionally, the research is involving parents through three parents and pizza nights during the school year. Parents have the opportunity to hear various students talk about the skills they are learning that help them become better citizens in their classroom and beyond.
The research results from last year were inspiring—children are learning the aforementioned social-emotional skills and applying them in their relationships with others, according to teachers and the parents of these children. In late May, the students had their last modified deliberation. A representative from the Louisiana Governor’s office attended one of the first-grade deliberations and was “blown away” (her words). She couldn’t believe that young children could have the kind of unscripted conversations that she was observing.
We are continuing last year’s research with the same group of children. They have completed their first modified deliberation and the children appear to be building on the skills they learned last year; they are able to discuss in some detail what they like and didn’t like about three different options.
At Mountain Vista School in Oracle, Arizona first-grade teacher, Amy McDonald, and second-grade teacher, Katrina Telles, have started a deliberation club for third- through fifth-grade students. They are using the club as a vehicle to build on the modified deliberations their students have learned in first- and second-grade. The students choose a school project, a community project, and a project that helps the world through a series of deliberations. Their most recent project was a school dance to raise money for breast cancer research (one of the students had a family member die from breast cancer). Through a series of deliberations, the students planned and implemented the entire event.
About Kimberly Pearce:
Kimberly Pearce is a retired Professor of Communication at De Anza College where she taught for more than 25 years. She is a cofounder of two non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations, the Public Dialogue Consortium and the CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution. These organizations are dedicated to co-creating better patterns of communication in private and public settings to help us achieve more compassionate, humane, and mindful social worlds. Additionally, the CMM Institute is the supporter, promoter, and connector of all things related to the communication theory, the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM).
Kim’s commitments as a practitioner and researcher involve the connections among Buberian dialogue, adult transformational learning, interpersonal neuroscience, and the Coordinated Management of Meaning theory as leverages for creating more inclusive, compassionate, and reflexive ways of being and acting in a globalized, postmodern world. She has authored two books, Compassionate Communicating and Public Engagement and Civic Maturity, a book of illustrated poetry, Nine Lives, as well as coauthoring, along with Barnett Pearce and Jesse Sostrin, CMM Solutions. Additionally, she has written and co-authored a number of book chapters and articles. Her work as a practitioner has included a number of projects in the United States, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, England, France, Greece, and Ireland. Her current passion is helping very young children develop mindful and compassionate communication skills and practices to enable them to be effective global citizens in the 21st Century.