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Everything In Moderation, Including Self-Control

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I’ve written quite a bit about about how I help my students develop more self-control, and write even more about it in my upcoming book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Solutions To Classroom Problems. You can see all my previous posts on the this topic at My Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control.

Several of those posts relate to a lesson I do on the famous marshmallow experiment, where children were given a marshmallow and told if they could wait until the adult returned they would get a second one. The most well-known result of the study was that those who were able to wait were found to have much higher SAT scores years later than those who did not.

Ian Ayres, a professor of law and economics at Yale, wrote an column in The New York Times this weekend where he made some interesting and useful points about the study (and about other things).

The main point that struck me was that it is a mistake to view this study, and the idea of delayed gratification, as an all or nothing issue. In his analysis of the study, he found that children who ate the marshmallow, but were able to just wait five minutes, showed substantial SAT gains years later.

And then he wrote this:

The KIPP schools have taken this possibility to heart. At the KIPP academy gift shop you can even buy a t-shirt with the exhortation “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow.” I worry that this t-shirt metaphorically suggests a kind of delayed gratification that is too extreme for my taste. Are they really suggesting that you shouldn’t ever eat the marshmallow? I want my kids to eat a few along life’s path.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and causes me to want to make this point clear with my students when we do the lesson again, and during the times we reflect on it periodically during the year — it’s not a question of having to show complete self control all of the time. It’s more a matter of showing it more often than not….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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