As a researcher, I’m interested in children’s self-regulation.  It’s an important part of their development, impacting their relationships with their peers and families, their school readiness, their academic success, and a number of other important outcomes.  You might recognize one popular measure used in this literature, the Marshmallow Delay, which challenges children to wait patiently in order to earn more marshmallows for later.  It’s hard for kids, but it’s infinitely entertaining.  Check it out!

Personally, I look into how this development relates to children’s temperament, their language abilities, and the development of the frontal lobes of their brains.  If you’re so inclined, you can check out my master’s thesis  to learn more than you could ever want/need to know about my research

As you can probably deduce from the fact that I’m a nerdy graduate student, I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about the subject.  What’s funny, though, is that I’ve never really spent the time to think about how it applies to ME.  Nor have I really considered how it applies to my students

Academics necessarily possess a great deal of self-control.  It’s not natural to stay up late into the night grading, only to wake up early the next morning to read articles.  Nor is it normal to spend years pursuing a PhD knowing that the fate that we face, the fate that we are EXCITED to face, is one of low pay and long hours, becoming experts on absurdly narrow topics that only a handful of people will ever care to learn about.  Yet, we routinely make sacrifices to reach this goal, because we are energized about our futures and we possess the self-control to pursue this future wholeheartedly.

As a result, a common problem that I face is one of connecting with students who don’t necessarily possess this unnatural amount of self-control.  Because I get so excited about psychology, it’s sometimes difficult to understand students who aren’t this excited, students who prefer parties to textbooks and bars to papers.  Knowing the complex contributors to a person’s self-regulation, I don’t expect to be able to induce this control in my students over the course of one semester.  I do, however, expect to make the material I teach exciting enough to compete with the many exciting things in their lives.  In this way, some of my students may, one day, also become absorbed in the subject, becoming nerdy, over-regulated graduate students, too.

Weimer makes a comparison to an old analogy that I absolutely love.   As the adage goes, we can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make him drink.  We can, Wiemer argues, put salt in the oats to make the horse a bit more thirsty, though.


What are some strategies that you use to make your material interesting to your students?  What is your salt?

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