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January 25, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Another Useful Study On Self-Control

“Childhood Self-Control Predicts Adult Health and Wealth” is the headline reporting on a new study on self-control (here’s a much more extensive analysis of the study and yet another analysis — this one is from TIME Magazine). Here’s an excerpt:

A long-term study has found that children who scored lower on measures of self-control as young as age 3 were more likely to have health problems, substance dependence, financial troubles and a criminal record by the time they reached age 32.

I think I’ll incorporate a short read aloud from this report or the study itself into my lesson on self-control, specifically on the famous marshmallow study.

I’m adding this link to My Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control.

January 24, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Everything In Moderation, Including Self-Control

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….

September 18, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
3 Comments

Report On This Week’s Lessons On The Brain & Self-Control

The school year is off to a fast start, and it’s going very, very well. One of the many elements I’m excited about is the fact that I’ve refined, developed and expanded a number of lessons on “life skills” that I’ll be teaching and will be including them in my upcoming book, Student Self-Motivation, Responsibility, and Engagement:Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges (it will be published by Eye On Education next spring). I’ve posted about a few of them in this blog already, but they’ll be a lot more in the book.

This past week I taught my lessons on the “Brain Is Like A Muscle” and on self control (you can see earlier versions of those lesson plans at Reading Logs — Part Two (or “How Students Can Grow Their Brains”) and at “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One). They went very well, and several days after the lessons were done I asked students to write down what they thought was the most important thing they learned and why they thought it was important. I thought readers might be interested in hearing how some of the students responded.

I taught these lessons in my double-period ninth-grade English class, my advanced ninth-grade English class, and my Intermediate English class (I’ll be teaching versions of them in my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class, but not until we begin studying Human Science). One of the other exciting things for me this year is that twelve of us at my school will be teaching these lessons (approximately one every other week), so I can get feedback from them about how it went and hear their suggestions for improvement. So far, everybody has been quite pleased.

I was struck by the fact that students in my double period class clearly took the lessons much more to heart than the advanced students.  Unprompted by me, many double period students made personal connections to what they learned from the lessons, and some obviously found the lessons to be quite significant.  The advanced class tended to look at it much more intellectually.  My suspicion is that the advanced students don’t lack for confidence in their academic ability, and have probably seldom had their intelligence challenged.  I also suspect they’ve had fewer self-control issues.  I want to put some more thought into how I might modify these lessons for them in the future.

Here are examples of what students wrote:

What was the most important thing you learned from the brain lesson? Was it interesting? If yes, why? If not, why not?

The main thing I learned about the brain was that the brain will get stronger th more you exercise it. The most interesting thing I learned was that even if you’re dumb you can become smarter by learning more.

The most interesting thing I remember from the brain lesson was that if you study and practice your brain will get stronger, and that’s interesting because you learn new things everyday.

The main thing I remembered about the brain lesson was that if you’re born stupid you can still be smart. This lesson was interesting because anyone can be smart even if you were born different.

I learned that the more you challenge your brain the more it learns.

What was the most important thing you learned from the self-control lesson? Was it interesting? If yes, why? If not, why not?

The main thing I remember about the self-control lesson is how the little kids failed and ate the marshmallow. Yes, it was kind of interesting because it was about how you have weakness and how you could get over your weaknesses.

I learned that if you are patient you will get more success.

I learned that with patience you are more likely to better succeed.

I’ll continue to report how future “life skills” lessons go…

June 3, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

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

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

Feedback is welcome.

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April 19, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

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

Minutes after writing my last post about self-control, I learned about another study suggesting yet another potential effective strategy. And I think this one is particularly intriguing….

In post titled “Thinking About Tomorrow,” Jonah Lehrer writes about a study that apparently shows that thinking about the future — even for a brief time — enhances self control:

While most techniques for fighting off errant impulses focus on reducing our emotional attraction to the reward – that’s why, for instance, Walter Mischel teaches kids to draw a picture frame around the marshmallow – this new research suggests that an even more effective approach involves activating vivid, episodic associations about future events. In other words, before we decide whether or not to make a big purchase, or take out a mortgage, or make a donation to a 401(k), or contemplate a policy devoted to climate change, we should spend a few minutes thinking about what we’re doing tomorrow.

I’ve been writing a lot about how I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with my students on goal-setting activities this school year, and how successful it has appeared to be with most of my students.

I’ve also been trying some more intensive goal-setting with a couple of students who are having particular challenges with self-control and focus. However, I’ve typically been working with them on much more immediate goals — what are they going to accomplish today. This has proven to be less-than-successful.

I’m thinking of continuing to try and have them each day think about their goals. But, instead of asking them think about what their goals are for that day, ask them to write about ones that are longer-term — this school year, a couple of years out, post-high school. I suspect the results can’t be worse than what I’m getting now.

I hope Lehrer is right:

We can’t always get what we want, but if we think about the future first, sometimes we can get what we need.

April 19, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Another Self-Control Strategy?

Another study came out today that might be useful in helping students enhance their self-control.

The article about the study, and the study itself, was a little hard for me to follow. However, the useful part related to people doing good things, or even imagining themselves doing good things, enhances self-control. Here’s what the article says:

“Gandhi or Mother Teresa may not have been born with extraordinary self-control, but perhaps came to possess it through trying to help others,” says Gray, who calls this effect “moral transformation” because it suggests that moral deeds have the power to transform people from average to exceptional.

Moral transformation has many implications, he says. For example, it suggests a new technique for enhancing self-control when dieting: help others before being faced with temptation.

“Perhaps the best way to resist the donuts at work is to donate your change in the morning to a worthy cause,” Gray says.

It may also suggest new treatments for anxiety or depression, he says: Helping others may be the best way of regaining control of your own life.

The key part of the famous marshmallow experiment was kids developing strategies to distract them from eating the marshmallow. This might just be one more way to accomplish that distraction.

April 15, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

What Can Students Learn About Self-Control From President Obama?

Readers know I’ve been working to help my students develop a greater capacity for self-control (see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)).

I just read today’s column by Washington Post columnist David Broder, and think I might be able to use parts of it in another lesson on this topic.

It’s titled Obama and the challenge of slow change.

Here are a few excerpts:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments…

For a nation whose culture has produced a psychology demanding instant gratification, this politics of deferred satisfaction is something not easily learned….

But a president who is not driven by a compulsion to provide instant gratification for his constituents must also cultivate adult patience in them.

I think that excerpts from this column might be a nice read aloud, accompanied by asking students to write a response to something like “When was the last time you waited to get something bigger and better instead of grabbing something you could get immediately?” I could certainly preface it by saying it’s just one columnist’s opinion, and they shouldn’t take it as fact. But President Obama is thought of so highly by so many of my students, I wonder if it might be worth a try.

I’m sure there are better writing prompts, but I’ve got a lot of things on my plate right now. Please share your ideas in the comments section. Feel free to also say if you think this would be — or wouldn’t be — an appropriate column to use in the classroom.

April 2, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Better Self-Control = Better Grades

I’ve been writing a lot about strategies to help students develop more self-control.

Here’s yet another study that demonstrates the positive pay-off for students.

High Self-Control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success is the title of the study written by June P. Tangney , Roy F. Baumeister, Angie Luzio Boone. It’s very lengthy, and you have to pay for it. I’ve purchased and reviewed it, and will be adapting small sections for students and, when I do, will post what I’m using here.

But here’s their abstract:

What good is self-control? We incorporated a new measure of individual differences in self-control into two large investigations of a broad spectrum of behaviors. The new scale showed good internal consistency and retest reliability. Higher scores on self-control correlated with a higher grade point average, better adjustment (fewer reports of psychopathology, higher self-esteem), less binge eating and alcohol abuse, better relationships and interpersonal skills, secure attachment, and more optimal emotional responses. Tests for curvilinearity failed to indicate any drawbacks of so-called overcontrol, and the positive effects remained after controlling for social desirability. Low self-control is thus a significant risk factor for a broad range of personal and interpersonal problems.

March 26, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

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 17, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

“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?

January 28, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

Self-Control Can Be Contagious

Jonah Lehrer, the writer who produced The New Yorker article on self-control that I use in my lesson (see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)), has just written about a new study on self-control that shows it can be “contagious.” In other words, the more people see other people exhibiting self-control, the more they will do the same.

Lehrer writes that the study shows that:

…the spread of self-control is mostly driven by the “accessibility” of thoughts about self-control. When we see someone resist the cookie, we’re cognitively inspired, and temporarily aware that resistance is possible. We don’t have to surrender to impulse.

Of course, this is nothing new to teachers who see when a potentially disruptive student enters a class of focused students, he/she will often tend to be more cooperative.

But it is an interesting study. My students clearly have been impacted by the self-control lessons we’ve done, and have spent time thinking about how they can apply it to themselves. I believe that sharing this study with them might help them see that their discipline can also have a positive effect on others. It might provide a little added incentive as they consider their behavior in class, with their friends, and with their families.

December 26, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

More Research On Self-Control

I’ve written in the past about classroom lessons I’ve done to help students develop more self-control (see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)).

The Wall Street Journal has just published an article today about this very topic — Blame It on the Brain:The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach.

The article reinforces what other resources in my lesson plan say:

“…that people who are better at delaying gratification don’t necessarily have more restraint. Instead, they seem to be better at finding ways to get tempting thoughts out of their minds.”

It also cites research that supports what common sense tells us — it’s better not to make multiple changes of behavior at the same time. Instead, focus on being successful in one change first and that accomplishment will increase the chance of additional successful changes. Teachers can recognize this by encouraging students to target one thing at a time — whether it’s related to classroom behavior or writing improvement.

According the article, it’s necessary to use these strategies because of the part of our brain responsible for willpower just has too many other responsibilities — it can only handle so much more:

The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions. For instance, scientists have discovered that this chunk of cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems.

December 20, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Intriguing Study On Self-Control

There’s a column in today’s Los Angeles Times about a study that was done to see what young people needed to have more self-control in their spending habits — Break bad shopping habits to avoid a debt hangover.

There were two things in particular that I thought would be applicable to my classroom — support from friends and the role of rewarding yourself.

As readers know, I’ve been working with my students on goal-setting. In thinking how I could apply the results of that study to this effort, I came up with two ideas:

* The study highlights the important role of having a friend who gives “emotional support” to your achieving your goals. Each Friday, students share their goals for the week and how they’ve done in the previous week. I’m thinking I should be more strategic in how that time is spent, and maybe have students choose their own partners. Perhaps the time should go something like this:

1) Share your goal from last week and if you met it. Share what you did to meet it, if you had any problems achieving it, and what you did or might do to overcome those challenges.

2) Provide positive feedback to your partner (I’d obviously have to do some teacher modeling on this point) on his/her goal and what they’re doing to achieve it. Offer helpful suggestions, too.

* The same study also talks about the importance of rewards, but in a very different way than how they’re often discussed in schools. The author of the study suggests that people “bribe” themselves with a reward, ranging from a bubble bath to giving yourself permission to “slack off later.” Joseph Grenny goes on to say:

“By declaring intentional goals and giving yourself an award for achieving them, you increase your chance of success. The one place where incentives always go right is when you are incentivizing yourself.”

After explaining it a bit, I wonder what my students would come up with how they could reward themselves?

Any other ideas on how to apply this study to the classroom, or even if it’s applicable, are welcome.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

September 26, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
6 Comments

Helping Students Develop Self-Control

The success of my lessons on learning’s physical impact on the brain has prompted me to think of creating similar lessons that might encourage students to see how learning can more directly benefit them beyond the schoolhouse door.

I’ve begun developing a lesson on the importance of having self-control. Studies show that the ability to have self-discipline (also known as self-regulation) can result in tremendous learning and life benefits.

I’ve just begun to think about it, and am open to hearing ideas.  I’ll be posting what my final plans look like.  Here are the resources I’m reviewing now:

A TED Talk by Joachim de Posada focused on the lessons from famous marshmallow experiment. A marshmallow was put in front of children, the researcher left the room after telling the child he/she would be back shortly and if the child could resist grabbing the one marshmallow she/he would get more upon the researcher’s return. Years later, those who showed self-control were much more successful in their lives.

I briefly explained this study to a joint class we were training to use a web tool to make a slideshow yesterday. The application requires that students email their final creation to themselves in order to obtain the url address of the finished product, which in turn students can then post on our class blog. After taking a minute to summarize the researchers findings, I talked about how tempting it would be once they went to their personal email to open-up other messages from friends in addition to the one from the slideshow site. But I wanted them to “remember the marshmallow.”

These students actually do work for our English classes in a different computer applications class. I spoke to the teacher after school, and he told me that — as far as he could tell — no students did anything other than open up the one email from the slideshow site.

Three other excellent resources on this topic are:

DON’T: The Secret of Self-Control
from The New Yorker magazine.

Self-Regulation Supports Student Learning and Achievement
by Kevin Washburn

Just today, The New York Times published Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?

Any other suggestions of resources or ideas are welcome.

March 17, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

Here’s One More Small Thing I’m Doing To Help Students See The Importance Of Social Emotional Learning

'learn' photo (c) 2008, F Delventhal - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As an advocate of helping our students develop Social Emotional Learning skills (as well as a critic of SEL manipulation), I’m also looking for new ways to reinforce them.

Today, I tried something new and it seemed to go pretty well.

I invited students in my mainstream ninth-grade English classes to do an extra credit (yes, I’m not a total believer in intrinsic motivation) project researching up to three potential careers they might be considering.

There’s a “twist” to it, though.

Along with some of the usual info you’d expect in such a report — school/training requirements, potential salary range — I’m also asking students to write about if and how they see the SEL and literacy skills that we’ve had specific lessons about this year (Self-control; grit; being a good leader; being a good writer and reader; taking personal responsibility) might be useful to them in those careers (You can download the student hand-out and instructions here).

Students asked for an example, and I started talking about what would happen if you want to be an Ultimate Fighter and you lose control in the ring. One student interrupted me and shared how he had gotten kicked off his boxing team after he lost control in the ring — it was perfect!

Quite a few students expressed interest in doing it. Even better, most of them were students who most need to have those SEL skills reinforced.

I’ll share what they come up between now and the end of the year….

February 26, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

February’s Best Posts From This Blog

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I regularly highlight my picks for the most useful posts for each month — not including “The Best…” lists. I also use some of them in a more extensive monthly newsletter I send-out. You can see older Best Posts of the Month at Websites Of The Month (more recent lists can be found here).

Here are some of the posts I personally think are the best, and most helpful, ones I’ve written during this past month (not in any order of preference):

Another Study Demonstrates The Ineffectiveness Of Extrinsic Motivation, But Also Something More….

Using “Dvolver Moviemaker” With English Language Learners

Learn About Comparatives & Superlatives At My Latest NY Times Post For ELLs

Quote Of The Day: Have You Ever Wondered How Many Decisions We Teachers Need To Make Each Day?

Excellent Wash. Post Piece: “You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.”

This Looks Interesting, Though I Have Some Concerns: Angela Duckworth Creates “Grit” Organization

How My ELL Students Evaluated Me At The End Of First Semester

“Reading Is a ‘Means to Bigger and Better Things’”

My New BAM! Podcast: “How Can We Reduce Teacher Attrition at High-Poverty Schools?”

“Sea Of Liberty” Looks Like An Excellent U.S. History Site

Let Them Eat Character

“Ways To Develop Life-Long Readers”

Great Chart: “the differences between teaching writing and teaching writers”

Tweets From My “Integrating Social Emotional & Brain-Based Learning Into Instructional Strategies” Workshop

If You Weren’t Able To Attend Our Workshop On “Developing A Self-Motivated Student Culture,” These Tweets Have It Covered

An Olympics Performance Perfect For A Lesson On “Grit”

Some Very Interesting Info On Self-Control Research

“Thinglink” Announces Free Virtual Classrooms

“Why Do Teachers Leave High-Poverty Schools?” Is My Latest Nine-Minute Podcast

I Began This Blog Seven Years Ago: Here Are My All-Time Most Popular Posts

“The Maker Movement Can Give Students ‘A Story To Tell’”

The New “Connect With English” Site Has Got To Be One Of This Year’s Best New Sites For ELLs

Here’s My NY Times Post On Valentine’s Day, PLUS A “Video Bingo” That Didn’t Get Included!

Very, Very Impressive New Interactive Site On Climate Change

I Doubt Teachers Will Find A More Useful Resource On The Olympics Than This: “How Olympians Stay Motivated”

“How Do We Help Our Students Become Better Readers?” Is My New Podcast — With Donalyn Miller!

“Assessing English language learners” Is My New Post At TeachingEnglish

School Sets Dance For Straight-A Students – Some Others Can Come Later & Hundreds Not At All

A Collection Of #EvaluateThat Tweets

‘Character Is Not Compliance Out Of Fear’

Quote Of The Day: “We Must Always Take Sides”

Creating Instagram Video “Book Trailers” With English Language Learners

How To Turn A Negative Consequence Into A Positive Classroom Management Strategy

My Latest NY Times Post For ELLs: Learn The Progressive Tense & Create A Future Family Tree

February 16, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Let Them Eat Character

We-need-to-remember-that

I am a big supporter of educators helping students develop many of the qualities highlighted in the concept of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) — perseverance (or “grit”); self-control; personal responsibility, etc.   I apply it regularly in my classroom, write in my blog about practical ideas on implementing SEL lessons in schools, and have even authored two books on the topic (and will have a third one published next year).

At the same time, I am concerned that many proponents of Social Emotional Learning might not be aware of the increasing danger to SEL of being “co-opted” by well-heeled and well-known groups and individuals, ranging from “school reformers” to columnists like The New York Times’ David Brooks,  and converted into a “Let Them Eat Character” political strategy.   I fear those “Blame The Victim” efforts may  be used to distract from the importance of supplying needed financial resources to schools, providing  increased support to families by dealing with growing income and wealth inequality, and developing a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy.

Already, “school reformers” in Los Angeles are using SEL terms (they even call their report, True Grit) to justify pushing performance pay for teachers and rewards for students, as well as advocating for an increased emphasis on being data-driven (instead of being data-informed) through the use of  ”dynamic data.”   KIPP schools have begun the destructive strategy of grading character traits.  And, in a column last month, David Brooks proclaimed that Social Emotional Learning and training “average” parents to become better ones  will take care of everything.

Recent research reveals the toll that poverty takes on one’s ability to execute SEL skills.  People aren’t poor because they don’t have self-control or grit — poverty itself helps create a lack of those qualities.  The cognitive “bandwidth” required to deal with financial problems,  stress  and constant “trade-offs” (a healthy food for the family tonight or new school clothes) makes it more difficult to maintain the mental reserve needed for those SEL skills.

None of these concerns, however, mean that we shouldn’t help our students develop these SEL skills in ways that are healthy for them, for their families, for us and for our schools.   For example, in addition to the many related lessons I teach now,  my colleagues and I are developing  lessons that would help students become aware of some of that research explaining why they might be experiencing some of their self-control and perseverance challenges.  All too often, students tell me that they want to make changes in how they behave, and don’t know why they do some of the unhelpful things they do.  Of course, some of that confusion can probably be attributed to common adolescent challenges.    But just-announced research findings for college students show that discussing these types of social and economic class issues resulted in dramatically increased academic achievement.   Even though that study did focus on college students, there’s no reason to believe an effort with younger students would not meet similar success.

What these concerns do mean, though, is that we should be vigilant about who is doing what and why they are doing it in the name of Social Emotional Learning.   In my teacher advice column at Education Week Teacher, I recently published a chart using Google’s Ngram Viewer.  It searched all indexed books to identify how often the phrase “teaching character” was used since 1840.  The two peak years that phrase was used most often were at the depths of the Great Depression and our more recent Great Recession.   It could go without saying that “teaching character” is a less monetarily expensive strategy to responding (or, to pretend to be responding) to economic crises than other potential solutions.

All this also reminds us, yet again, that, though we teachers can have an important impact on our students’ lives, as all the research shows, we can only impact between ten and thirty percent of the factors that influence their academic achievement.  In addition to everything we do in the classroom on SEL and non-SEL skills, parent engagement is another important strategy to pursue to potentially affect some of those other influencing factors (for those interested, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers  offers one exceptional model on how to do it).

We need to remember that Social Emotional Learning has an important place in teaching and in learning.

It’s also critical to remember that it has to be kept in its appropriate place.

February 8, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

Research Studies Of The Week

'magnifying glass' photo (c) 2005, Tall Chris - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I often write about research studies from various fields and how they can be applied to the classroom. I write individual posts about ones that I think are especially significant, and will continue to do so. However, so many studies are published that it’s hard to keep up. So I’ve started writing a “round-up” of some of them each week or every other week as a regular feature.

By the way, you might also be interested in My Best Posts On New Research Studies In 2013.

Here are some new useful studies (and related resources):

A Simple Daily Intervention Decreases Employee Stress is from The Harvard Business Review. Here’s an excerpt:

Stress levels and physical complaints declined by roughly 15% after employees were directed to spend 10 minutes writing about three things that had gone well each day, says a team of researchers led by Joyce E. Bono of the University of Florida.

I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Learning About Teens & Stress.

Useful Science looks like a great website — it’s visually attractive and provides short summaries of recent research, along with links to the original research. The research is divided into categories, and education is one of them.

Learning To Think Outside The Box is an article in The New York Times about creativity. The article briefly discusses research, but an online test it provides for users to evaluated their own creativity is particularly interesting. It also has additional multimedia resources. I’m adding it to The Best Sources Of Advice On Helping Students Strengthen & Develop Their Creativity.

Multiple-Choice Tests Hinder Critical Thinking. Should They Be Used in Science Classes? is a report on recent research from Real Clear Science.

Why “Just Say No” Doesn’t Work is from Scientific American.

5 key things to know about meta-analysis is from Scientific American. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Understanding How To Interpret Education Research.

Understanding Educational Research is by Walt Gardner at Ed Week. I’m adding it to the same list.

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. I’m adding it to The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control.

January 27, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

How To Turn A Negative Consequence Into A Positive Classroom Management Strategy

'Let's talk about classroom management #ESL. #clilrocks,' photo (c) 2013, Lui Palacios - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Anyone who has regularly read this blog or my books know that I’m a big believer in “positive,” not “punitive,” classroom management strategies (see The Best Posts On Classroom Management).

At the same time, however, there are some occasions that negative consequences are called for — for “serious” offenses and for those times (and for those students) when all the positive classroom management tools in one’s toolbox aren’t working.

A key issue, though, is how — in those situations — can we maximize the chances of making a negative consequence part of a positive classroom management strategy….

I’ve written extensively about one way to do it — see a previous post (see Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”? and in my books where, in one, I devoted an entire chapter to that particular strategy).

Another way is doing what a number of teachers do — when an offense is committed, asking the student what consequence they think is appropriate.

Recently, though, I’ve tried a different version of that second strategy — instead of waiting for the offense to happy, engaging with students in advance about what negative consequence would get them to think twice about committing the offense.

Two of my students — good kids — have had a very difficult time controlling themselves. For months, I had tried every tool in my toolbox, but nothing seemed to work.

Then, in an individual and private conversation with each, I asked how much time out of our fifty-five minute class they felt they were focused on what we were studying. Each of them replied — quite accurately — about twenty minutes. We sort of repeated what we had gone over in previous meetings — talking about what they wanted to do in the future, how self-control and “grit” was important in making those future dreams happen, etc. I shared my frustration that we had tried many things in the past, including many of their suggestions — changing seats, stress balls, etc. — and nothing had seemed to work. I told them I wanted to continue to be flexible and positive, and it had also reached the point that I wanted to explore negative consequences.

I asked what would be a negative consequence that they thought would deter them from their typical misbehavior — what would they remember to keep in mind that would make them think twice about acting out in class? Both identified an immediate call to their parents, and we worked out how I would be able to get a hold of them. Then, I asked them what positive behavior interventions they thought had been more effective, and asked each to develop a sequence of escalating interventions. They each said they would like to try a permanent seat change (which we had tried before) to see if that would help, and they chose the seat. They said if they were acting out, they would want to be sent out of class for a few minutes, which I agreed to (though I told each that I would rather they took responsibility and went out on their own when they felt they were “losing it” instead of waiting for me to tell them).

If those didn’t work, they then said I should immediately call home and tell their parents how they were behaving.

Since that conversation, we’ve done the seat changes, and neither has chosen to go outside or had to be sent outside, and I’ve also not had to call home, either. It appears that it took them identifying a potential negative consequence in order for the positive strategies to work.

It’s not a strategy I would use all the time, but it’s just another tool in my teacher’s toolbox.

I guess in classroom management a positive plus a potential negative can sometimes equal a positive….

I know teachers have used this kind of process in developing class rules and consequences, but the idea of trying it in advance individually was a new one for me…

January 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
3 Comments

David Brooks Gets It Wrong Again

'David Brooks at the Miller Center Forum' photo (c) 2011, Miller Center - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

David Brooks, whose connection to reality magically leaves him just about every time he writes any column with the word “school” in it, did it again today in his latest one.

He begins his column sounding great — about how we’re putting too much weight on school reform to solve the ills facing out young people.

However, he then immediately falls into the trap of saying Social Emotional Learning and training low-income parents to be “average parents” will take care of things.

So forget about wealth inequality and poverty.

He exemplifies the growing danger of some people saying that SEL is the solution, despite the fact that studies show that poverty causes a lack of self-control and perseverance and it’s not the other way around.

He might also want to look at some of the recent research showing that single parents aren’t necessarily the problem he thinks they are….