delaying that gratification...

I’ve been reading the latest work of John Hattie and his colleague Gregory Yates combining Hattie’s research on learning and teaching with Yates’ expertise in neuroscience.  A great book, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, written in an easy to read way, fully referenced and structured in such a way you can jump in and read one chapter and then come back to another chapter.  No cover to cover reading required.  Its in 3 parts, Learning within Classrooms, Learning Foundations and Know thyself.

The chapter on self-control has resonated strongly with me, giving more credence to the need for the ‘soft skills’ to be developed explicitly in order for children to experience success as adults, success in its broadest meaning, completely inline with our NZ curriculum.  The following is some thoughts as result of reading this chapter.

The research suggests that those who have poor self control as kids will make less successful adjustments within the adult world.  Of really interesting note is that these effects were independent of the persons IQ and school performance.

Having to focus ones full attention on a demanding task for several minutes produces ego depletion
— Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn
  • High self control will predict ability to persist, strive and willingness to allocate time to worthy goals.  Conversely low self control is linked to substance abuse, criminality and impulse buying.  It is not suggesting that if you show one or other of these traits then you have high or low self control.  Rather it’s saying that self control is a ‘predictor’ of these things.
  • The evidence has shown that,  “one of the ‘costs’ of dealing with unfriendly people is the need to ‘be good to oneself immediately afterwards”.  So what are the implications of this for a school and a workplace?
  • I was introduced to the concept of ‘ego depletion’.  This is defined in the chapter as “Having to focus ones full attention on a demanding task for several minutes produces ego depletion”.  A person can experience subtle levels of depletion when having to focus like this.  The effect of this ego depletion on the performance of tasks following depletion is dramatic and will impact on someone’s energy, effort, persistence and self control.  Interestingly though this depletion has less of an effect when people have short breaks between tasks.
  • The other finding from the research that should interest and concern educators and leaders is the effect of depletion on the ability to think deeply.  Think about the impact this finding alone has for fully implementing our competency centric curriculum.

In summary; the ability of a child to have self control will be an excellent predictor of their success in life.  Self control is not something that can simply be ‘willed’ into being.  It can and should be taught, both implicitly and explicitly.  This is the responsibility of educators and parents.  The whole chapter is well worth reading and has significant implications for school leaders and teachers alike.



Hattie, John and Yates, Gregory. (2014). Chapter 26. Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. Routledge, London. 

Christian Long: Innovation And New Ideas In Education