Students who have struggled in school, whether they have a diagnosed learning difference or not, often struggle to keep working when they face a challenge. They may not understand the importance of persistence, or they may not believe that they will be succesful.
A study funded by the John Templeton Foundation may have found a novel approach to encouraging young students to persist. In the study, a group of four- to six-year-olds were asked to complete a repetitive task for at least 10 minutes, but they were given the option to take a break and play a fun video game instead.
Older students worked longer than younger students, but the students who worked the most engaged in something called “self-distancing.” These students took a third-party perspective on their work. The most successful students impersonated a hero, such as Batman.
By assuming the character of an ideal role model, students can work through the negative emotional experience that may be attached to difficult academic tasks. This experience can also help the students develop a more positive academic self-concept, helping them to believe in their ability to succeed and more accurately judge their true areas of strength and challenge.
In the SMARTS Executive Function program, we begin our lesson on metacognition, or self-awareness, by having students analyze the areas of strength and challenge faced by a celebrity or well-known fictional character. This allows them to practice similar skills, helping them see that everyone, even their heroes, have strengths and challenges that must be acknowledged to be successful. After all, Batman has had his share of setbacks and challenges, but he puts on the cape and fights for justice. And if he can keep fighting the good fight, then so can we.
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director