I have a lot of respect for the work of David Yeager around Social Emotional Learning research and, in fact, he contributed to a recent Education Week column I did on a growth mindset (see Applying a Growth Mindset in the Classroom). I also hope he will be contributing to future columns, too.

He’s the lead author of a new study released this week finding that students, particularly ones coming from challenging backgrounds, are more likely to have success in college if they hear stories from older students about how they surmounted college problems that newer students might be facing. The paper is titled Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale and isn’t behind a paywall. You can read a summary of the research at Eureka Alert, and here’s an excerpt from it:


In many ways, these researchers expanded on an earlier study I’ve wrote about where older students on a panel shared their experiences in overcoming challenges (they also cite that earlier research). One key difference is that this study seems to have worked with larger numbers of students and the older students’ stories were read online.  It seems like it could be very useful to colleges around the country.

In fact, I, too, was inspired by that earlier study to apply a somewhat similar online intervention to my high school students. Instead of college success, however, I focused on self-control and other behavioral issues and shared that lesson in my most recent book on student motivation, Building A Community of Self-Motivated Learners.

You can see the stories my Juniors wrote for my Freshmen to read here, Challenge I Overcame.

Okay, you may be thinking, what’s this “question” Ferlazzo is referring to in the headline of this blog post?

Here it is – after this prelude:

One of the very attractive elements of the earlier study was that it explicitly had students discuss the role of class issues and how they contributed to the challenges faced by students. I made that an important part of the lesson I do with my students and that I included in my book by using materials found at The Best Articles About The Study Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough, including ones pointing out that self-control issues don’t cause poverty – it is more likely to be the other other way around.  I combined that point with research about strategies that individuals can take to increase their self-control, including reading those older students’ stories.

I didn’t see any explicit discussion of class issues in this new study though, admittedly, my eyes tend to glaze over while reading research papers and I might have missed it.  So my question is:  Was there any mention and discussion of those class issues with students in this study as there was in the previous one?  If not, why not?

I’m sending this question over to David Yeager and hope he will respond – and would love to share it here.

It’s important to me because one of the dangers of Social Emotional Learning, as I’ve said repeatedly, is some advocates tend to put the onus on the individual without acknowledging the broader institutional challenges facing our students. I believe that we, as educators,  have to help equip students with the tools and skills to confront those inequities, along with what the Council of Chief State School Officers call the individual SEL “skills and dispositions.”

I am certainly not putting David Yeager into that former category.  I’d just be very interested in hearing his thoughts, and would be very open to hearing that I’m missing something – which wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) time that happened 🙂