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The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control

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Helping students developing a greater capacity for self-control is an on-going effort (and challenge) in some of my classes.

I’ve written quite a bit about how I have attempted to apply recent research on the subject to my classroom practice. I’ll be including a piece on this in my upcoming third book, which is on classroom management and instructional strategies.

I thought, though, that it might be useful for readers if I collected all of my related posts in a list. I was prompted by see a new video (about one of the studies I’ve written about) on the Fast Company website. Why Change Is So Hard: Self-Control Is Exhaustible with Dan Heath is a nice, short video that I’ll be using with my students next year in a new lesson (I’ll post the lesson plan over the summer).

Be It Resolved is a useful column in the New York Times by John Tierney. It talks about strategies to use in sticking to New Year’s resolutions, but it’s helpful for any kind of increased effort towards self-control.

You might also be interested in:

My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students

My Best Posts On Students Setting Goals

Here are My Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control:

“I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)

Giving Students “Reflection Cards”

“Self-Control As A Limited Energy Resource” In The Classroom

Here’s Yet Another Possible Self-Control Strategy — And I Really Like It…

Another Self-Control Strategy?

Better Self-Control = Better Grades

Another Way For Students To Strengthen Self-Control?

One Way To Help Students Who “Shut Down”?

Self-Control Can Be Contagious

More Research On Self-Control

Want To Know What’s Happened Since My “Marshmallow” & “Visualizing Success” Lessons?

Helping Students Develop Self-Control

This last one is not necessarily related to student self-control, but deserves a mention, anyway:

Would Arne Duncan Have Eaten The Marshmallow?

Great New Video on “Marshmallow” Test

“Inner Voice Plays Role in Self Control”

Everything In Moderation, Including Self-Control

Another Useful Study On Self-Control

Study Says Self-Reporting On Our Behavior Tends To Be “Positively Biased” – How I’ll Use This In The Classroom

Some Good Resources On Self-Control

Thoughts That Win talks about a new study on the use of postive self-talk. I was particularly struck about its finding that this kind of self-talk is particularly effective in when doing tasks that require endurance, which relates to self-control.

Here’s A Video On Self-Control I’m Showing My Students First Thing Next Week

“Self-control in childhood predicts future success”

Emphasizing Pride, Not Shame, In Classroom Management

Self-Control & Working Memory

Follow-Up Study To Famous “Marshmallow” Experiment Released This Week

These aren’t really “my posts” but they are new useful studies.

Think Healthy, Eat Healthy: Scientists Show Link Between Attention and Self-Control comes from Science Daily. I’m not going to explain the experiment the article describes (you can read about it there if you’d like), but it basically reinforces the strategy that the famous marshmallow experiment found — that distracting yourself with other thoughts (and in the lesson plan in my book I emphasize positive distracting thoughts, like “Instead of throwing that paper wad at John I’m going to think about how I enjoy playing basketball with him) is an effective self-control strategy.

Personality Plays Role in Body Weight: Impulsivity Strongest Predictor of Obesity is another interesting study on self-control. It says that people with little self-control “are likely to go through cycles of gaining and losing weight throughout their lives.” I could see how this would be a nice addition to my self-control lessons, and just another reason why some students might want to work on self-control now.

‘Simon Says’: Preschool-Age Kids in Different Countries Improve Academically Using Self-Regulation Game is yet another report on a self-control related study. It says that “children who regularly participated in a Simon Says-type game designed to improve self-regulation — called the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task — may have better math and early literacy scores.” I didn’t feel like paying to view the entire study, but I assume the task is the one which I have seen videotaped (links to the videos are elsewhere on this list) where children are told to, say, touch their toes when the teacher actually puts her hand on her head. I’d suggest it’s not just for young children — my high school students loved doing it again, especially when they could lead it.

A new study reinforces the strategy that many of use in the classroom to help students develop self-control: “partition the quantity of resources to be consumed into smaller units.” In other words, asking a student, for example, to see if he/she could focus on class work for the next ten minutes and then, the next day, try for twenty, etc.


High Self-Control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success

More On The Marshmallow Experiment

More On The Marshmallow Test

Does impatience make us fat? is an article in the Washington Post pointing out another negative result of not having self-control.

How can you learn to resist temptation? reports on a new study that reinforces the importance, emphasized in follow-up reports to the marshmallow experiment, for people to prepare plans on how they are going to resist specific temptations. As I’ve previously written, I have students make these kinds of plans and draw, write, and them with classmates. I think one new aspect of this study highlights that it’s important to verbally repeat your strategy several times.

Newsweek recently ran long article on people lack of self-control in spending and saving. It provides a readable overview of research on self-control, though most of it won’t be new to readers of this blog or my books. It did information on something that most of us in the classroom know already from our experience, but I hadn’t seen research on it before: reducing anxiety increases self-control.

Seven ways to be good: 6) Form if-then plans is from BPS Research Digest and describes a study which found having a specific pre-planned strategy to deal with how you will respond to challenges to self-control increases the odds of successfully resisting temptation. Even though that seems fairly obvious to me, a little evidence can’t hurt. It reinforces the activity I have students do when we discuss the marshmallow plan — on one side of a paper they say and draw a potential temptation, and on the side they write and draw what they will do to distract themselves from following through on taking the action that know isn’t a good one.

Be It Resolved is a useful column in the New York Times by John Tierney. It talks about strategies to use in sticking to New Year’s resolutions, but it’s helpful for any kind of increased effort towards self-control.


The Willpower Trick
by Jonah Lehrer reports on a new study on self-control that seems to reinforce the conclusions by researchers in the original Marshmallow Experiment:

Mischel discovered something interesting when he studied the tiny percentage of kids who could successfully wait for the second treat. Without exception, these “high delayers” all relied on the same mental strategy: they found a way to keep themselves from thinking about the treat, directing their gaze away from the yummy marshmallow. Some covered their eyes or played hide-and-seek underneath the desk. Others sang songs, or repeatedly tied their shoelaces, or pretended to take a nap. Their desire wasn’t defeated — it was merely forgotten.

Mischel refers to this skill as the “strategic allocation of attention,” and he argues that it’s the skill underlying self-control. Too often, we assume that willpower is about having strong moral fiber or gritting our teeth and staring down the treat. But that’s wrong — willpower is really about properly directing the spotlight of attention, learning how to control that short list of thoughts in working memory. It’s about realizing that if we’re thinking about the marshmallow we’re going to eat it, which is why we need to look away.


Willpower and Desires: Turning Up the Volume On What You Want Most
is a report on a new study on self-control. It finds that making a conscious decision to “postpone” giving in to temptation can be an effective strategy in reducing a desire (in the study’s case, eating potato chips). This got me wondering if and how I might apply this strategy in my classroom and if I even have been doing it already. For example, one of my students has been constantly using her phone to text message during class. I didn’t want to take her phone away and, instead, I made a deal with her — she could use it openly in my classroom as soon as she entered the room until the bell rang, and she could use it openly when the lunch bell rang until she left (our school has strict rules about not using cellphones during the school day). Since we made that deal, she hardly ever uses her cellphone during class (her seat is right in front of me, so it’s hard for me to not to see her). But, even more significantly, she hardly ever uses her cellphone during the times we agreed she could, either.

What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control is a new publication by the American Psychological Association that gives a pretty thorough review of the research.

This somewhat rambling report highlights research on “ego depletion” and its effect on self-control. In summary, the study found that feeling socially rejected reduces one’s self-control ability. Yet another reason to develop more of a sense of community in the classroom.

Texting Becomes New Marshmallow Test

The significance of self-control is by Angela Duckworth and has lots of good annotations.

“It’s Not Simply That Life Does Things To Us…We In Turn Do Things To It,” Says Walter Mischel Of The Marshmallow Experiment

This Is — Literally — Your Brain On Self-Control

Using awareness to increase willpower is by Art Markman, who reports on an interesting study. Here is how he ends it:

What does that mean for you?

If you are in a situation where you have had a rough day, you should know that there is some chance that you will have difficulty resisting future temptations. To help you out, spend a few moments thinking about who you are and who you really want to be. This additional self-awareness will help to inoculate you against new temptations and make it more likely that you’ll use your willpower successfully.

Being Reminded Of The Consequences Of Losing Self-Control Doesn’t Help; Asking About Goals Does

What did heroin addiction during the Vietnam war teach us about breaking bad habits? is an interesting report on the importance of disrupting the environment in order to make change. Here’s an excerpt:

To battle bad behaviors then, one answer, Neal and Wood say, is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small change can help — like eating the ice cream with your non-dominant hand. What this does is alter the action sequence and disrupts the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.

“It’s a brief sort of window of opportunity,” Wood says, “to think, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ “

It’s just another reinforcer to the idea of making small changes in student environments. For example, changing a student’s seat if he/she is having self-control issues, even if they are not connected to the classmates around them.

New Study Reaffirms Marshmallow Experiment Findings On Self-Control

The Marshmallow Test Pays Off, 40 Years Later is from Slate.

Simon Says Don’t Use Flashcards is from The New York Times.

Self-Controlled Kids Prosper as Adults: ‘Fatalistically Depressing’? is from the PBS News Hour.

Video Addition To Marshmallow Lesson On Self-Control

Marshmallows & Trust

How having self-control as a kid can affect your health later is from The Globe and Mail.

Labs worldwide report converging evidence that undermines the low-sugar theory of depleted willpower
is from BPS Research Digest. I think the headline is a bit misleading, but the info in the article is interesting.

Improving Willpower: How to Keep Self-Control from Flagging is from TIME.

Study: More Power Equals More Self-Control & Less Power Equals — You Guessed It!

“Short Bouts of Exercise Boost Self Control” — Is That Your Experience With Students?

Being Sad Makes You More Impatient comes from The Harvard Business Review. It a study that found people who felt sad had great problems with self-control.

Texting & Marshmallows

Cute Video For Teaching Self-Control: “Chicken Or The Egg”

Video: “Disconnect To Connect”

Video: Cookie Monster Sings — I Kid You Not — About Self Regulation

Video: “I Forgot My iPhone”

PBS Releases Second Video Showing The Cookie Monster Learning About “Delayed Gratification”

These May Be Some Of The Most Important Passages About Self-Control That I’ve Ever Read

Study: Young People Respond Better To The Positive Than They Do To Threats

Study: The Benefits Of Saying “I Don’t” vs. “I Can’t”

This “Waiting Game” Video From Sesame Street Is PERFECT Follow-Up To Learning About The Marshmallow Test

Forget Delayed Gratification: What Kids Really Need Is Cognitive Control is an article in TIME that says we shouldn’t necessarily talk about “self-control.” Instead:

fighting off impulses is just one part of a much broader and more predictive mental skill, one that scientists call cognitive control or the ability to manage your attention.

That term is new to me….

Study: 80% of College Students Say They Text in Class is from The Atlantic. It’s perfect for my supplemental lesson related to the Marshmallow Test, which relates to texting.

This Is Exactly What I Mean By Connecting Social Emotional Learning & Literacy Instruction….

Quote Of The Day: “Does it take more strength to restrain yourself or does it take more strength to fight back?”

We Didn’t Eat the Marshmallow. The Marshmallow Ate Us. is from The New York Times, and makes some interesting points about the famous marshmallow experiment.

Some Very Interesting Info On Self-Control Research

Study: Gratitude Increases Self-Control

Dr. Walter Mischel, Creator Of Famous Marshmallow Test, Is Writing A Book

Feeling Impulsive? Head for the Forest is from The Pacific Standard. It reports on a study finding that people seeing pictures of nature increased their self-control. Maybe an idea for classroom decorations?

I’m a big fan of Duke professor, author and researcher Dan Ariely, and have written a lot about his work.

Here’s a video of a talk he gave on self-control (you can find the transcript here).

It’s really quite good. Unfortunately, I think most of the examples and stories he uses — which are great — would just be too hard for high school students to connect with, and apply to, their own situation.



Video: Donald Duck On Self-Control

Here are two of the most accessible, if not THE most accessible, pieces I’ve seen for students to read on the topic (both are from Fast Company):

6 SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN WAYS TO BOOST YOUR SELF-CONTROL

5 QUICK TRICKS TO BOOST YOUR WILLPOWER

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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