Research Briefing Paper for Schools, Settings and Services
Bianco, F. & Lecce, S. (2016). Translating child development research into practice: Can teachers foster children’s theory of mind in primary school? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 592-605.
Summary by Kirstie Summers, Assistant Educational Psychologist
Translating research findings into practice should be one of the objectives of developmental psychology. This study aimed to do this, by translating the results of recent experimental studies on theory of mind (ToM) interventions into primary-school teachers’ practices.
ToM is defined as the ability to acknowledge the existence of mental states and to use this knowledge to predict, explain, and affect social behaviour. Research in this area has demonstrated the existence of individual differences in ToM during middle childhood that are crucial for children’s academic and social adjustment. ToM supports children in building positive relationships with friends and peers, and in achieving better academic results. Given the importance of ToM for children’s adjustment, researchers have investigated the possibility of helping primary school-aged children by developing ToM training programmes. Prior research has assessed the efficiency of such training programmes when delivered by an external researcher, however, no research has looked at whether ToM training programmes can be delivered by teachers within a classroom context. This study aimed to address this gap, and examined whether a ToM training programme, based on conversations about mental states, can be effective under real-world school conditions and if it can be translated in such a way that it becomes suitable for primary-school teachers.
Seventy two 8-to 9-year old children took part in the study. A total of four classes were recruited and randomly assigned to the experimental (34 children, 18 boys) or to the control condition (38 children, 18 boys). The ToM group and the control group were matched at pre-test for age, ToM, socio-economic background, verbal ability, working memory, and planning. Teachers were trained in four teacher-training sessions, the classroom- training programme was delivered by teachers in four sessions (each 50 min long). Children were assessed before the intervention, after the end of the programme, and 2 months later.