I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.
Lately I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about willpower — how individuals build or lose focus and self-control. In the past, I’ve approached willpower as someone wanting more of it, willing myself to exercise more and eat well. But just as intriguing for literacy teachers is the research on how people lose focus and control. Sometimes that is exactly what we are after in classrooms and schools. Teachers deal with students who get stuck on the same author or genre; literacy leaders guide colleagues who stay focused on using the same lessons year after year. It’s our job to break through months or even years of resistance to change.
What marketers have discovered is that the body can lead the brain when it comes to weakening willpower. Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, writes:
Your brain knows that when something is pleasurable, your body is going to approach it. And when something is yucky, you’re going to avoid it. So when the brain perceives the body approaching something, it starts to recalculate the value of that object or experience.
If you decide to approach something, even when you’re feeling less than enthusiastic, your attitude can shift as you get closer to consuming it. On the other hand, literally walking away can convince the brain that you don’t really want something.
Everyone knows the simple translation of this principle for dieters — keep the potato chips out of the house so you can’t put your hands on them. Teachers can turn this principle on its head. If the body leads the mind, then it’s our job to get students closer to what’s being resisted.
That’s why book passes in classrooms are so valuable — once students physically handle new books and genres, their minds can’t help but spark with interest. Showing slides of terrific new nonfiction resources in a professional development setting isn’t nearly as valuable as taking five or ten minutes to silently pass, browse, and note interesting features together. Suddenly teachers who have no time to add more nonfiction reading to their classrooms are holding a book or two with irresistible teaching possibilities.
If you’re starting a new unit on poetry (a nose-wrinkler for many students), how about beginning with a book pass of poetry collections, with individual crowd-pleasing poems marked with post-its in each book? Up close and hands on, a poem can become a potato chip — no one can taste just one after they’ve had that first nibble.
This week’s newsletter highlights resources for transitions of all kinds. Plus more as always — enjoy!
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Here are two essays from the Choice Literacy archives with strategies for helping students in transition.
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan consider how important it is to slow down when Putting the “Gradual” Back into Gradual Release of Responsibility:
Young readers in transition are eager to dive into chapter books, whether they are ready for them or not. Series are a smart choice for these students, because they have familiar and repeated characters and plots. Franki Sibberson has suggestions of appropriate texts in Hooked on Series: Great Series Books for Transitional Readers:
If transitions between activities are getting a little ragged with your students, you might enjoy video examples of transitions from Responsive Classroom:
You can read more of Kelly McGonigal’s work on willpower at Psychology Today. In this essay, she writes about how individuals can experiment with making smarter, healthier choices:
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We have a pair of articles this week from elementary and middle school teachers who worked together to make the transition to middle school easier for their students.
Maria Caplin shares how and why she began to collaborate with Gretchen Taylor, a sixth-grade teacher who would soon be the middle school teacher for some of her students:
Gretchen Taylor explains her role in observing Maria’s fifth-grade classroom, and then building a relationship with students and their families:
Keri Archer makes the most of the time her kindergarten students spend transitioning into her classroom with her Question of the Day:
If you tell students Transitions Are Like Underwear, they sit up and pay attention. Heather Rader uses the analogy to help students analyze and improve the transitions in their writing:
In this week’s video, Mandy Robek uses a simple two-minute flashcard activity to wake up her kindergartners’ minds and help them transition to literacy workshops:
Finally, we have a bonus video. Katie Baydo-Reed confers with eighth grader Mike, who is making two transitions in her reading workshop. Mike is using an ebook reader for the first time, and moving from a favorite series to a new text:
That’s all for this week!