I’ve written in my new book, Self-Driven Learning, about how I use “descriptive norms” in the classroom, and The New York Times today published a lengthy column on the same topic (though they called it “social norming”).

Here’s a portion of what I wrote in my book:

“Descriptive norms” are what people think are the common forms of behavior in a particular situation. A study on this concept found that in a hotel, people were far more likely to keep their towels for an extra day if a sign said “75 percent of the guests who stayed in this room (room 313)” then if it contained a general appeal to save the environment.

Using this idea occasionally in the classroom (in a truthful and not deceiving way) may help students want to try new things. For example, a teacher could introduce a book to a student by explaining that it was one of the more popular ones in your class during the previous year.

I go on to mention how I use it in discussing goal-setting and visualization in the context of sharing with “new” students the specific positive impact some of the things we’re going to do had on previous students.

As I mentioned, I think it needs to be used very selectively, and The Times’ article discusses some of its potential pitfalls.

Have you used “descriptive norms” in your classroom? If so, what did you do, and what were the results?