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?