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Updated 10:00 AM February 5, 2007
 

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Scholarship & Creativity
No single strategy is best for teaching reading

For decades, a debate has simmered over the best way to teach children how to read. Proponents of phonics, the whole language and meaning approach, and other teaching methods long have battled for dominance.

In a report in the Jan. 26 issue of Science, U-M and Florida State University researchers argue that there is no single best method for teaching children to read.

The paper argues that individualized instruction, combined with the use of diagnostic tools that help teachers match each child with the most effective reading instruction, is vastly preferable to the standard one-size-fits-all approach to reading education that is the norm in many American elementary schools.

Among the researchers' findings: "The efficacy of any particular instructional practice may depend on the skill level of the student. Instructional strategies that help one student may be ineffective when applied to another student with different skills."

The trick, then, is to more precisely determine the skill level of each child and then find a way to cater the curriculum to each student's needs. While that may sound daunting to the typical first- or second-grade teacher, Carol Connor, assistant professor in the FSU College of Education, and a graduate of the U-M School of Education and former post-doctoral researcher in U-M's psychology department, has turned to technology to offer a helping hand.

Connor, along with U-M team members Fred Morrison, professor of psychology and education, and Barry Fishman, associate professor of education and information, have developed "Assessment to Instruction." A2i, as it is called, is a Web-based software program that uses students' vocabulary and reading scores and their desired reading outcome to create algorithms that compute the recommended amounts and types of reading instruction for each child in the classroom. A2i currently is being tested by about 60 elementary-school teachers in one Florida county.


Study builds connection between childbirth and muscle damage

An increase among women electing to have caesarean sections in recent years has been due in large part to a concern that giving birth vaginally will lead to a fallen bladder and uterus in later life, and the issue is hotly debated in the medical community.

New research from the U-M Health System establishes one of the strongest connections yet discovered between muscle damage that can occur during vaginal deliveries and pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that causes the uterus, bladder or bowel to fall down later in a woman's life. This is a very common problem and requires surgery in more than 200,000 women each year. Rates were particularly high when forceps had been used to assist the delivery.

Even so, the researchers caution against using these findings as support for more elective C-sections because that would result in numerous women having operations they do not need. Rather, they say, the study results should be used to help determine how to prevent these injuries in the first place.

The study—appearing in the February issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology—found major defects of the levator ani, an important muscle that supports the bladder and uterus, among 55 percent of women with prolapse and just 16 percent of women who don't have prolapse.

Researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynocology have joined with a colleague in the College of Engineering (CoE), James Ashton-Miller, who has helped to create the computer simulations needed to understand how the levator ani muscles are damaged.

The lead author of the study is Dr. John O. L. DeLancey, the Norman F. Miller Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical School and director of pelvic floor research. Senior author is Dr. Ashton-Miller, director of the Biomechanics Research Laboratories, research professor and distinguished research scientist, Mechanical Engineering Department, CoE, and senior research scientist, Institute of Gerontology.

Others involved with the study were Dr. Daniel Morgan, Dr. Dee Fenner, Dr. Rohna Kearney, Kenneth Guire, Janis Miller, Dr. Hero Hussain, Dr. Wolfgang Umek and Dr. Yvonne Hsu.


Europeans continue to despise what America represents

Anti-American sentiment by Europeans isn't a short-term reaction to President George Bush's policies since Sept. 11, 2001, but feelings that preceded the founding of the American republic, a U-M researcher contends.

The European antipathies toward America reach beyond the conventional confines of politics, said Andrei Markovits, the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies. Indeed, he says they manifest themselves in virtually every aspect of daily life, from sports to law; from education to health; from urban planning to affirmative action.

"Europeans are joining in an ever louder chorus of disdain for America," Markovits says. "Europeans deride America not so much for what it does, but because of what it is."

In his research highlighted in the book, "Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America," he says the atmosphere in Europe has been in anti-American overdrive, in part due to Bush's unilateral policies culminating in the war on Iraq. To many Europeans, Bush has become the ideal object of hate—the "ugly" American: Bow-legged, ill-spoken, aggressive, inconsiderate and uncouth, he says.

The feelings of resentment won't end economic ties or keep Europeans from buying American-made products, Markovits says. But Europe won't go out of its way to further its political or business alliances with the United States.

While Europeans are far apart in terms of their daily lives and shared experiences, not being American provides them with a powerful common identity—one that political leaders have already begun to harness in their quest to construct a unified Europe which is to rival America, he says.

Sleep problems get in the way of alcoholism recovery

The first few months of recovery from an alcohol problem are hard enough. But they often are made worse by serious sleep problems, caused by the loss of alcohol's sedative effects, and the long-term sleep-disrupting impact that alcohol dependence can have on the brain.

A new study gives further evidence that insomnia and other sleep woes may get in the way of recovery from alcohol problems. In fact, a person's perception of how bad his or her sleep problems are may be just as important as the actual sleep problems themselves, research suggests.

The study, published in the new issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, a team from the Department of Psychiatry reports results of a small but thorough evaluation of sleep, sleep perception and alcohol relapse among 18 men and women with insomnia who were in the early stages of alcohol recovery.

The study found that patients who had the biggest disconnect between their perception of how they slept and their actual sleep patterns were most likely to relapse, suggesting that long-term drinking causes something to happen in the brain that interferes with both sleep and perception of sleep.

The authors say their results show how important it is for alcohol recovery patients, and those who are helping them through their recovery, to discuss sleep disturbances and seek help. Sleep often is not discussed in alcohol recovery programs but it should be, they stress.

Lead author Deirdre Conroy, a fellow in the Addiction Research Center. and her former mentor, alcoholism researcher Dr. Kirk Brower, conducted the study in cooperation with researchers of the Sleep and Chronophysiology Laboratory, the Sleep Disorders Center, and Addiction Treatment Services.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, part of the federal National Institutes of Health. In addition to Conroy and Brower, the study authors are Roseanne Armitage, J. Todd Arnedt and Robert Hoffmann, of the Sleep & Chronophysiology Laboratory; Stephen Strobbe, Addiction Treatment Services; and Dr. Flavia Consens, of the Department of Neurology and Sleep Disorders Center.


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