Friday, June 12, 2009

21st Century Skill: Delayed Gratification (and the Marshmallow Test)

Another TED presentation to look at, and a fascinating one at that. Joachim De Posada looks at early childhood students and their ability to delay gratification. He gave students a marshmallow and promised them if they could resist eating it, they would get an additional marshmallow in 15 minutes.

Looking longitudinally, those that were able to resist were much more successful (he uses the astounding figure of 100% being successful at school), while those that were not able to resist were overwhelmingly not successful at school. This finding was reproduced in many cultures.

Delayed gratification is not a new concept for educators, but it perhaps doesn't get its due. What in the Iowa Core addresses this? And yet, students who can delay gratification are much more likely to be driven by intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation, display more creativity in their projects, and are more willing to take risks.

The question we have to ask ourselves is how, as educators, do we build students' ability to delay gratification? Again, eliminating grading is the elephant in the room. But while De Posada briefly mentions it, the strategy of distraction is a tangible outcome that we could use. In a nutshell, students that are successful distract themselves from the temptation; they think of other things, they play with their hair or tap their toes or start singing. Anything to distract themselves from the instant gratification.

My wife mentions that with her kindergarten students, it is a constant task to persuade them they don't have to be first in line. Let others go first; you can sing a song or remember the colors of the rainbow we just learned. To teach students to be patient, to not rush, to enjoy the beauty of many moments while others gorge themselves on the rush of an instant is a fine art, a 21st century skill if ever I saw one.

After all, according to De Posada, there is a 100% correlation between delayed gratification and success. I vote for the marshmallow test to be used in the ITBS.

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