In psychology, intelligence is not the primary predictor of success. It is the ability to persevere in hardship, persist and learn after failure, and have a resilient spirit in the face of obstacles. Intelligence is a gift that can be developed and nurtured, but continuing on a difficult path when the gratification is far away? That is an invaluable skill for all of us to learn.
Even though resilience is partly a genetic trait, you can teach this skill in the classroom. It is imperative that you do, because many lessons and concepts require days, weeks, and months of practice before your student will feel that warm feeling of satisfaction. In a world filled with streaming Internet and fast food joints on every corner, you’re going to have to deliberately make it a topic point.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. End of the day reward
Set up simple (and frequent) opportunities for your students to practice delayed gratification. If you have young children in the classroom, it can be something as simple as an end-of-the-day reward. If your students had a good day, offer them a token that goes towards a free homework pass (10 tokens = pass). Most kids will want to take that token and start building their cash flow, but offer something a bit better if they wait.
For example, if they forfeit the free homework pass each day for a week, at the end of the week, the kids who did get an extra 15 minutes of recess. You’ll quickly see who likes the immediate gratification and who is willing to wait it out.
2. Visual savings
Use a jar of marbles or some sort of visual so your students can watch it get filled up as they perform tasks, help each other, and showcase good behavior. A full jar can equal an ice cream party or some other special reward.
3. Math fact practice
If your goal as a teacher is to have your student fill out 100 multiplication facts in five minutes, use it as an opportunity to teach resilience. Rather than waiting until you’re sure they can meet the goal easily, set up a chart for practice and growth. Explain to them that you don’t expect them to meet the goal, but to simply record the time it takes to do the 100 problems.
First time around, it may take the student 15 minutes. Have him/her write it in the chart. Each day or week, have them redo the exercise and record the time – watching as it slowly gets lower and lower as the days pass. When he/she finally reaches that 5-minute mark, there will be tremendous sense of accomplishment.
4. Break down big projects
First, you need to make sure your students are engaged in a long-term project. Just like running, athletes train very differently for a sprint than a marathon. The long project will help them to learn about process, mini-goals, and step-by-step persistence to a final destination.
5. Give an assignment that isn’t meant to have a perfect ending
In other words, once in awhile it will benefit your students to give them a problem or worksheet that they cannot complete perfectly. Warn them ahead of time that the goal of this exercise is simply to try – not to succeed. At the end, hand out a reward or grade that is dependent on their effort, not the aptitude.
6. Group assignments
Nothing promotes learning how to “grit your teeth” and get through it more than group work. In these situations, kids must not only produce a product or presentation, they must also learn to work with other students and use teamwork to accomplish the goal.
7. Create a classroom bank
If you have the time and motivation to set up a classroom bank, you can teach all sorts of delayed gratification lessons. In one corner of the room, set up a store. You can sell homework passes, pencils, Chapstick, etc. Each child starts out the year with a certain amount of classroom cash. They can earn more throughout the year doing various things, but as you add new and better “items” in your store, the students will have to forgo the immediate reward in order to save up for the item they really want.
8. Use educational simulation computer games
The Oregon Trail is a classic example of this type of game. You have to get your family to the West Coast safely, and budget your supplies and money accordingly. The same principle works in games like SimCity, where the student is master over a domain and must learn how to manage his/her resources.
9. Group competitions
If you have the students’ desks arranged in groups, have them participate in friendly competitions. For example, to encourage healthy snacking, have each team earn a point every day the whole group brings in a healthy snack. The reward will be something that happens in the future (like an ice cream party or movie). In this case, students will have to be mindful of their snack each morning at home when they pack it.
10. Offer positive distractors to help during difficult tasks
During long state mandated testing or big tests, offer the students the chance to chew gum, something that isn’t normally allowed but might help with focus and/or concentration. The same goes for listening to music in earbuds (provided you can trust them to not cheat).
11. Play-it-out visual exercises
When children can imagine and follow through with a scenario in the mind, it is easier to make a decision that delays gratification. For example, if you are offering a child a free recess instead of a chip in a jar, walk through with them how it will feel on that day when the sun is beating on their arms and the smell of fresh grass signals spring. Engage the senses to they have motivation to wait it out.
12. Delayed gratification in physical education
Sports like golf and cross-country running help develop an appreciation for long-term rewards.
13. Write down goals and hang them up
If the children have a concrete reminder of what it is they are reaching for, they are more likely to wait it out. When you are helping your students assess their goals, have them decorate a paper and keep it in front of the room or in their cubby. It should be seen daily.
14. When a student doesn’t show grit, offer a time of reflection
Help him/her to see how it feels when the immediate reward wears off. Usually a disappointment sets in because it wasn’t part of the ultimate goal. If they can remember that feeling, it might deter them in the future.
15. Avoid the “all or nothing” disease
Children can see things in black and white. If they haven’t gotten a 100 on a test, it might as well be a zero. It helps to model a positive attitude of progress. Getting some right is better than nothing.
16. Don’t test willpower to the point of exhaustion
These sorts of activities mentioned above must be balanced with positive reinforcement. Just like dieting can induce binge eating, you want to make sure the stress isn’t going to lead to a pendulum swing in the opposite direction. A good mixture of delayed and immediate rewards are the best way to keep a student motivated.
This post was originally published on opencolleges.edu.au; image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks