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Useful Writing Exercise For Helping Students Develop Self-Esteem


Nancy Flanagan has written another of her all-too-numerous to count insightful posts. This one is called I’m OK–You Have Self-Esteem. She approaches the concept of self-esteem in a thoughtful and balanced way, and it’s another of her “must-reads.”

In that post, she mentions a study that came out last year that, as she puts it, “dared to suggest that kids perform better when given the simple assignment of writing for fifteen minutes about their strengths, to re-affirm their competence.” I remember reading about it in the New York Times , and also remember thinking to myself that I needed to find out more about what exactly the researchers had the students do. That task has languished on my “to do” list until Nancy’s post prompted me to finally get around to doing some digging.

Here is my summary of what the researchers actually did (you can purchase the article here. I don’t think the article itself is very helpful, but the online addendum is).

They had students write three-to-five times during one school year about their values.

The first two times, students were given this list of values:

athletic ability, being good at art, being smart or getting good grades, creativity, independence, living in the moment, membership in a social group (such as your community, racial group, or school club), music, politics, relationships with friends or family, religious values, and sense of humor.

The first time, they were asked to circle one; the second time,they were asked to circle the two or three on the list that were most important to them.

Next, they were asked to think about times when those two or three values (the first time, they just wrote about the one they circled) were most important to them, and then to write a few sentences about why they were important to them.

Finally, students were asked to write if they agreed or disagreed with these statements (there were six levels of agreement/disagreement that students could check):

“These values have influenced my life”
“In general, I try to live up to these values”
“These values are an important part of who I am.”

In the third, fourth, and/or fifth times, researchers made minor changes such as giving a different list of values, or asking students to write about which values might be most important during a certain time period, like Winter Break.

Though the academic improvement among students wasn’t enormous, it was certainly measurable, and appeared to be sustained after they left the class.

The researchers started their experiment at the beginning of the school year, and spaced the exercises out every two or three months.

I’m certainly going to give it a try, and start now. I’m hopeful it will help, and reflecting on values is certainly never going to hurt. I’ll also have students share what they wrote with a partner, and invite class-wide discussion. We do reflective writing each Friday, so it should fit right in.

I’ll let readers know how it goes.

If you’ve tried something like this, or are now going to do so, please leave a comment now or in the future, too.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. What a fabulous idea! – Thanks

  2. Just wanted to say thanks for the post im going to print it out for an easier read 🙂

  3. Larry,
    I think you’re really on to something. Just wanted to share some info from the world of print to get on your radar. The technology is in place to be able to output these exercises in Print at a reasonable cost with not too much time on the teacher’s part.

    Many schools have web connected scanner/printers already in place. For those that don’t the new generation of copiers – in the Print biz – they are called MFP (Multi Function Printers are being sold very aggressively to the purchasing departments at schools all over the country.

    The point is that the software to combine these short “essays” into a form that could be printed is also available. They are available at very price points and with a little creativity can be cobbled together from open source and/or Software as a Service offerings.

    The easiest way in the long run might be if students were asked to write 140 characters on an enterprise safe twitter. I think using the blocking function on the public version could keep it safe for many schools. For others blogs or wikis would do fine. I read that PBWorks is getting traction in schools. From an announcement I saw at their site PBWorks has recently done a deal with Baltimore County for system wide implementation.

    Once the writing is in digital form, outputting in print is well defined. At twitter, I’m trying to get some global print companies interested in doing a demo to prove the concept at no cost.

    I have to believe that if this kind of writing were printed and distributed to students and teachers, the effects on self esteem would be much greater. The tech also exists to combine 140 chars of many students. My bet is that would create a school culture of something like “We are all stars and shine with our own special lights”

    @TBookz is able to take tweets and turn them into a book automatically. As a commercial service, it’s too expensive for education. But I bet that doing good to do well might be on their radar. They are a new company who very much needs visibility.

    Yesterday at twitter, I got this message:
    From @TBookz

    @ToughLoveforX those are great ideas, about using TweetBookz, let us know if we can help!

    If you or any other #edchat er is interested, I might be able to make the connection.

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