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Does This Big New Study On The Importance Of Social Skills Become A New “Marshmallow Test”?

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You have probably heard about the big new study that has been in the news over the last twenty-four hours that traced the social skills (or lack of them) demonstrated in kindergarten to positive (or not-so-positive) life outcomes twenty years later. In many ways, it’s similar the how the famous Marshmallow Test worked to measure the long-term impact of early self-control (see The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control).

Twenty years ago, kindergarten teachers rated children on these criteria:

●Resolves peer problems on his/her own.

●Is very good at understanding other people’s feelings.

●Shares materials with others.

●Cooperates with peers without prompting.

●Is helpful to others.

●Listens to others’ point of view.

●Can give suggestions and opinions without being bossy

Twenty years later, children who had been rated “well” in most categories were much more likely to have graduated high school, graduated from college and had good jobs – among other measurements.

I think this study could provide the nucleus of a useful lesson for my students, and fits into the research I already share with them about how “teaching others” has been identified by researchers as an important quality of a good language learner (and a good learner, in general).

As Dr. Walter Mischel, creator of the Marshmallow Test, repeatedly emphasizes, his test is not indicative of destiny, and as long as that is communicated to students strongly, I think it couldn’t hurt for them to hear about this new study’s results.

As one commentator said:

The study provides a hopeful message, because it’s possible to improve social skills throughout childhood, said Lieser, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ council on early childhood, who wasn’t involved in the study.

And here’s what the study’s author said:

“Some people might look at this and say, ‘Well, if my child measures low on a scale like this, does this mean my child is doomed or … they are sentenced to all these terrible outcomes?’ ” said Jones, who is a research assistant professor of health and human development at Penn State.

The answer is no, he said, pointing to all the effective ways to address and help children develop good social and emotional skills, whether through schooling or parenting.

“The research greatly shows that these are the type of skills that are malleable, in fact much more malleable than say something like IQ or other things that are more likely traits that are more ingrained.”

Here are some samples of recent media coverage of this new study:

If you want your children to succeed, teach them to share in kindergarten is from The Washington Post.

Stow the flash cards mom and dad: Social skills better for your kids is from USA Today.

Study: Behavior in kindergarten linked to adult success is from CNN.

Good NY Times Column On Social Emotional Learning This Morning

I’ll be adding this post to The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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