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March 26, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Another Way For Students To Strengthen Self-Control?

As readers know, I’m always on the look-out for new strategies to help my students get a better handle on self-control, and have often written about them. Many that I’ve tried have worked for some, but every student is an individual, so you can never have too many strategies!

I’ve written about previous studies have shown that self-control appears to be a limited reserve that needs to be replenished regularly. One way to do that is by ingesting glucose (some morning trail mix has worked wonders for one of my students).

Several new studies have just come out that there’s another way to replenish that supply of self-control — through self-affirmation.

You can read the details at the link, but, in short, study participants were able to refuel their self-control by writing about their core values — whatever was important to them (their family, friends, etc.).

I can see trying something like this with a student who is losing his/her self-control by asking him/her to put their head down for a minute, or to go outside, and think about something that is important to them.

It’s just one more tool for the toolbox….

March 20, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

One Way To Help Students Who “Shut Down”?

I try to keep current on research studies on behavior because I don’t think teachers in general, and teachers in inner-city schools in particular, can have enough potential tactics in “their back pocket” to deal with the many challenges students face. Many are worth a try, and many might work with one student, but not the other. I’ve also found that explaining to students what studies say so they understand what I’m doing or suggesting makes a huge difference.

For example, the snack idea I wrote about in “Self-Control As A Limited Energy Resource” In The Classroom is working like magic with one student, helping a bit with another, and not doing anything with a third. In that post I wrote about studies showing that the brain uses up more glucose than it often can replenish when showing self-control, and that I was going to try giving snacks to a three students who have a particularly hard time in that area. Of course, there is no telling if the snacks themselves are helping with the glucose (and the explanation of the study to the studies) is what is helping, or is it just that students see that an adult cares enough to try is what is doing the trick.

It’s not unusual for some of my students to seem unhappy about their lives, or to “shut down” at times and not want to learn. In fact, when my colleagues and I did the lesson on sleep I wrote about last month (“Will Sleeping More Make Me Smarter?” — A Lesson I’m Trying This Week), a surprising number wrote that they “felt down” or “very unhappy” a large portion of the time.

A study might provide one tool that I’m going to suggest to some of them to help in the classroom — and out. The researchers write:

“The recipe is simple. If you are feeling happy, focus on reasons why those feelings will last, and if you are feeling unhappy, focus on reasons why those feelings will pass.”

It’s not rocket science, but on Monday I’m going to share this idea with one student who periodically “shuts down” in class when he feels unhappy or angry. I’m hopeful that, after explaining it, he might remember the tactic sometimes when he’s feeling down, or will remember and be able to act on it when I remind him. Suggesting to him something like, “Put your head down for a minute and think about times when you’ve felt happy and successful” sounds better and more helpful to me (and, I hope, to him) than “Get back to work.”

Anyone have other strategies or tactics that work when this happens in class?

March 17, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

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

Regular readers might remember the lessons on self-control I’ve done with my students (see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)). I just learned about some related research that I’m going to try-out in my class.

I was very intrigued to read an article today titled Dogs Offer Clues to Self-Control. That article, I think, is actually a little weird. However, a link in it led me to a much more useful study called The Physiology of Willpower: Linking Blood Glucose to Self-Control.

Through various experiments — with dogs in the article and with people in the study — researchers found that people (and dogs) who had been put in a situation where they had to demonstrate self-control for a longer time would more easily give up trying a complicated task they would be given afterwards. They concluded that self-control is a “limited energy resource” that can get depleted.

Researchers connected that limited resource to a loss of glucose — the subject’s brain used glucose more quickly than it could be replenished when it was exerting self-control for that period of time. Researchers conclude that eating food that releases glucose over an extended period of time, like complex carbohydrates, could serve as an effective way to gain more glucose and, therefore, self-control.

Off-and-on, I keep graham crackers in my classroom for students to eat who have arrived too late to eat the free breakfast offered at our school. Of course, teenagers are always hungry — whether they ate breakfast or not. I’ve noticed that the students who tend to have the most self-control challenges are the ones who seem to ask for graham crackers the most. I haven’t really kept track of if they have bigger problems during the days when I don’t have crackers to give than when I do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case.

I’m going to try to be more intentional about having the crackers, along with peanut better and trail mix. If it can help stop a couple of my students from “bouncing off the walls,” then it will be well-worth the expense.

Any other suggestions of inexpensive complex carbohydrate food to have available?