It’s no surprise to readers here that I’m a big believer is helping students develop self-control (see The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control) done in the context of helping students develop intrinsic motivation in a student-centered classroom. My posts, my practice, and my books reflect that perspective.
I’ve also been very critical of those who — in the name of “character education” — would twist the idea of using the idea of self-control into a harmful class discipline strategy (see my Washington Post column, “Why schools should not grade character traits.”
It’s this kind of misuse, I think, which generates over-the-top diatribes against teaching self-control like the one that appeared in The New Republic this week (American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How In defense of the wild child).
Fortunately, Sarah D. Sparks over at Education Week, as she is prone to do, has unearthed some new research and insightful analysis to bring important clarity to a controversial issue.
In her new post, Is Self-Regulation Lost in Translation?, Sarah shares the yet unpublished research of Joanne Wang Golan, who studied character education at a “no excuses school” that sounds like a KIPP or KIPP-like institution. Here’s an excerpt:
During months of observations, Golann found “self-control was the topic I heard most about: The teachers talked about self-control, the students talked about self-control.”
In practice, though, Golann found “self-control” was primarily taught through classroom discipline practices, involving many detailed rules and rapidly increasing sanctions for breaking them.
She recalled one 5th grade student, “Darren,” who explained his view of it this way: “Self-control is when you’re able to talk, when you know to talk at the appropriate time. And it’s important because you can get a really bad consequence, and I do, I really show self-control, because I don’t talk at all in class. When the teacher tells me to talk in class, I do, to answer a question, and otherwise I don’t talk at all in class.”
Overall, Golann found the school’s approach to teaching social-emotional skills led to orderly classrooms and students with good study and work habits associated with high self-regulation—but not the sort of autonomy, self-motivation, and goal-setting also associated with self-regulation and grit.
In other words, they taught the words, but not the music….