About Dr. Marie C. White

Educational Psychologist, College Professor, Social Emotional Learning Specialist, Researcher, Author

Barbie would never pass the marshmallow test!


My youngest granddaughter and I were watching a Barbie dream house movie where everything happens instantly. Cupcakes pop out of toaster like appliances fully decorated, the closet dresses her, and her barbecue produces perfectly assembled hot dogs and hamburgers. The only thing Barbie is lacking is glitter, and that becomes the quest: searching for glitter.

I said to Reese, “Would Barbie pass the marshmallow test?”  Remembering her own experience with the marshmallow challenge, the five-year old giggled and responded “Oh no! Never!”

What is the marshmallow test? I recommend watching the youtube video with Joachim de Posada sharing his landmark experiment on delayed gratification (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWURnHkYuxM) and how it can predict future success. Included in his short talk is a video of youngsters trying their hardest not to eat the marshmallow. What I find most interesting is the strategies they use to remain focused on the goal to not eat the marshmallow even when they are very tempted to have instant gratification. What is remarkable is the studies that followed the children collected evidence of the lifelong value of delaying gratification.


So while Barbie has her instant gratification lifestyle, Reese has her Nana reminding her that everything is a process and how much better it is to save our money for a trip to Target than to spend it on the candy placed strategically at the checkout counter. Delaying gratification is a self-regulatory strategy. I am wondering if the common core is attempting to teach  young students to strategically approach learning, using tools and strategies to take difficult tests and as a result, raise their self-efficacy for future testing (Regents, SAT, ACT).

Warning…….Going In Reverse!!!

Someone needs to tell the thousands of adults sitting at their dining room table with children who are frustrated with their homework, that not everything is covered in class before it is sent home for homework. Homework has become preparation for what is to be learned in a future class.


Homework is now actually challenging and often the first exposure to the problem. Polya,the great mathematician, said problem solving must be a struggle, and he provided a sequence of steps to problem solve. Many schools offer parents and caregivers extra help to make homework the discovery of new ideas in preparation for instructional segments.

Backwards planning, or the flipped classroom has come into practice without telling the most important participants, the parents! Educators have found that the process of stepping back for the old model of using class time to expose students to new material has been a successful motivational factor in learning. Devoting class time to interactions rather than lectures takes students beyond content and into the stimulating world of problem solving and critical thinking.

So don’t be surprised if your student comes home with a challenging new task. It is okay to discover together that learning is a journey and our goal is to learn to ask the right questions not necessarily finding the correct answer until class time. Knowing how to ask questions is a goal of the common core and a significant part of the learning process….Self-regulated learners are help-seekers, asking for hints and moving on with their inquiry is a key motivational factor as well as a means towards building self-efficacy.

Why Morphemes?

Can 4th graders infer meaning from context clues and morpheme clues?


Self-regulation of vocabulary acquisition includes linking learning process goals and encouraging self-recording of individual progress (Zimmerman 2008; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1999).  The CCSS for K-5 invites students to confront challenging words or phases by making several attempts to arrive at a viable approximation of the meaning, rather than skipping over them or making one attempt and moving on (Caulkins, Ehrenworth, & Lehman, 2012). It is suggested that texts with spiraling like content in increasing complexity can be an effective means for both students and teachers to become engaged in constantly building a transferable vocabulary.

No Skipping! Infer Meaning From Context Clues and Morpheme Clues

Words Have Parts!

A working knowledge of academic language is foundational for learning concepts and processes taught at the middle and high school level. Without a working knowledge of an academic vocabulary, readers and writers most likely will struggle in classes across the curriculum.

  • Teachers cannot possibly teach all of the words students need to know directly, however, providing students with tools and strategies for learning words on their own, one such strategy being morphology (Kieffer & Lesaux, 2010).
  • Students from grades 1-6 have evidenced success in word reading and reading comprehension through training in some aspects of morphology (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon (2010)
  • Morphology provides a key to developing both word knowledge and high quality mental representations and that knowledge and contributes to word reading and to reading comprehension (Nagy, Berninger, & Abbot, 2006; Nunes & Bryant, 2006).

VTRIX is a combination of a reading passage aligned with morphemes and their meanings. As the student reads through a passage, he/she is self-monitoring while using an Outside/Inside word attack strategy by first attempting to define the word from context, and then from the available morpheme definitions. I made adaptations to a well known Vocabulary Tricks derived from Baumann and his colleagues (2003) by adding self-regulatory vocabulary learning instruction strategies, calling it VTRIX. Learner’s use the Outside/Inside approach to look both inside and outside a word in order to read a challenging passage. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4   Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone

Are the revised common core standards still standards?

Yesterday I went to Costco to get apples, There were sixteen varieties of apples, yet they were all a type of apple. Now, an apple expert would immediately know that some were good for baking, others of eating, and still others represented a variety of flavors. However, none of the apples could claim to be oranges!

As states begin to individually revise approaches to implementing the common core the essential skills needed to be college ready remain unchanged. Learning achievement requires a common core of learning goals that emphasize college readiness and self-regulated learning.

When not being politicized, the common core initiative can be viewed as an excellent set of guidelines for curriculum, instructional planning, and good teaching. The old saying that states, “If you aim at nothing you will hit it everytime!”, has not been the problem with our educational system. In reality, aiming at mixed sets of goals and curriculum planning has led to poor learning outcomes.

As educators we need to embrace the concept of common standards. Educational excellence is the goal of all those involved in teaching and learning, although approaches to achieving the goals are varied, we are all headed in the same direction.

A dinner party with pizza?

pizza     You know sometimes it comes down to resetting our goals in the moment. Self-regulation informs our decision making almost “on-the-go”… For example, if I am planning a dinner party with many guests and find that I have run out of time to cook all the food I need (or wanted) – why not have pizza?

Self-regulation is a life skill and it applies to entertaining as well as the classroom setting. Sometimes our reach exceeds our grasp (especially during the holidays), and the grasp of our students, meaning we set goals without a realistic time frame. In last week’s class we discussed the hazards of lesson planning, and how to set attainable proximal goals that raise self-efficacy. Like the dinner party with a three course meal, I had not taken into consideration I would not have time to cook the meal – when I thought ….PIZZA – I was able to maintain the “look” of the dinner party (decorations, table cloth, dinnerware, cutlery), the only thing that was adjusted was the menu which did not make me look like Martha Stewart but neither did it make me cancel my party. The next time I will set more realistic goals which will include time management.


My take on this is that we need to be realistic with what can be accomplished in one lesson or group of lessons. If we adjust goals we are doing it in the interest of raising self-efficacy. An “It Can Be Done” motto is better than not doing it at all. Eventually we will get to better time management but for now working with what we have, praising every proximal goal attained is one way to create a successful learning environment and increase student learning. The common core standards are a spiral staircase encouraging a meaningful progression towards attainable goals not an immediate run to the top.

Progress should be SEEN and heard!


What is progress monitoring and why do we think it is essential to learning? Remember the days when only the teacher and parent knew how well the student was doing? That was back when we would get a test or assignment returned to us and stare in disbelief at the grade —- wondering how did that happen????

Self-regulation and the common core moves the learner into the key position of measuring his or her own progress in a specific area of study.

A fourth grade teacher (Bronx, NY) reported how graphing practice test goals and results helped her students track their progress for state exam preparation…….

As part of our 4th grade test prep we give students practice tests 3 different times (January, February, and March) before the state exam. After they take their practice test they record their score on a graph and create a realistic goal for the following practice test to aim higher. Several of my students were highly motivated with this graphing system, because they saw the numbers and knew that is not the score they wanted. They wanted to aim higher so they worked very hard by getting tutoring, asking for additional practice, asking questions etc. As a result, the students saw their growth and felt extremely proud of themselves which took off lots of anxiety for the state test because they knew they had been working hard to prepare themselves for the test.” This teacher later reported the outcome of individual progress monitoring…….All of my students passed the state exam! Not only was our grade the highest scores in the entire school but not one of my students failed. Our overall percentage of 75% in ELA and overall 89% in math!

Graphs, checklists, charts, all provide simple ways for students to SEE their progress. When proximal goals are set (and NOT distal), students can see their accomplishments even if they are “baby steps” toward accomplishing a greater goal. Seeing one success at at time leads to increased self-efficacy in that specific area.  Students love to enter data, especially when it reflects hard word that has led to improved scores. Teachers who provide extra help, tutoring, and support can show students how taking advantage of extra help can lead to improved performance!

Self-Regulating Me!

This summer I am writing a book with a colleague about self regulation and the common core.  This blog began as book notes and now that I am nearing the end of the project I realized I have not been able to find the time to blog.  I cannot complain, I have had great work space and time, maintained focus, and approached each writing session with self-set goals and self-instructions.  However, I should have set aside time to blog…….


Self instruction is the way we focus our attention on the task at hand.  I think we all do it at times, some call it “self talk” others call it “self-verbalizations” – however, training in self-instruction is critical for even our youngest learners.

I find that before I begin a day I self-instruct with a plan of action, make a list, and check the list to evaluate my progress.  If I have made significant progress and am satisfied with my performance, self-efficacy goes up! If I have struggled to find a resource, citation, or idea for a new chapter, my self-efficacy goes down. The self-instruction helps me manage my self-efficacy beliefs when I taking a closer look at my progress and I can attribute success or failure to a particular behavior.  When I add a comment next to each of my goals that attributes my behaviors to whether or not I accomplished the goal, I can realistically evaluate my progress.  At that point, I know what to do, what to change, and how to reset my goals to make those I did not attain manageable and realistic, to try again.

images (1)

So today’s self-instruction included blogging, and now that I have accomplished the task, I can attribute specific behaviors that led to my satisfaction.  First, I planned how I would set aside the time early today…Second I decided to use one of my writing breaks….Third, I considered the importance of keeping up with the blog (which made it a priority)…..Fourth, instead of procrastinating over a cup of coffee, I did it!!!!

What does this have to do with the common core?  Self-instruction can help teachers manage their classrooms and their lesson planning in a way that can turn the standards into goals, and instead of becoming overwhelmed with what we cannot do, we can consider our accomplishments and keep going……

Are the Common Core Standards Goals?

high goals

So much chatter about the CCSS has made it to comedy television with hosts reading math problems and evaluating the common core based on curriculum.

One important aspect of the CCSS that appears to be overlooked is where the curriculum comes from – the standards are national, the curriculum and implementation is local. If you play soccer in your backyard it is not the same as playing it in the World Cup, the playing field might be different, the amount of players adjusted, but a goal is a goal. Curriculum can be changed, but the standards are critical to finally having an educational system that provides students with a strong foundation from which to develop critical thinking and information processing strategies.

Many chuckles were heard as the comedy host poked fun at the way we are asking children to think about math as they do math. When Johnny and Mary compute a math problem, we don’t only want the answer, we want to know how they arrived at the answer, what was their reasoning? This is critical thinking about computation and something we have lacked in American education for too many years.


The CCSS are an opportunity to encourage self-regulation not only amongst students, but teachers, teacher educators, teacher candidates and the educational community at large. They are a series of specific and proximal goals that keep us all on track (nationally) to produce college and career ready young adults. For example, in order for a first graders in New York, Mississippi, and California to set specific goals and check the progress of performance towards meeting those goals, there has to be a standard! If the first grader does not meet the goal at the first attempt, self-regulation (and the CCSS spiral) invites them to review their performance, and reset the goal – there is no fear of failure, just a gradual progression towards success. The CCSS is repetitive and encourages walking up the staircase of complexity slowly but surely, accomplishing goals in order to move to the next level.

Standards are a good thing, the way we are implementing them is where the controversy lies. Educators need to agree on the goals, and find a way to get administrators to listen to the voices that can inspire successful implementation at every level.

Give me a goal…


How we experience something defines how we will remember it. We can inspire information writing if we help young learners set goals to define their experiences. Self-regulated learners set goals, for reading, writing, and also for what the environment can teach them.  If the goal is to have fun at the beach then they go to the beach with sand pails and shovels.  If the goal is to learn something about the beach they bring along a camera, journal, or paper to take notes about what is seen and heard.  What is wonderful is when both things happen, fun and learning experiences are the most memorable. It will not destroy the wonderful memories of surf and sand if after leaving the beach someone suggests reading a book about the sand castles they had so much fun building in order to learn how it is even possible!

There is much of chatter about the shift to information reading and writing, but not enough excitement. The CCSS require a balance of literature and informational texts for young readers and writers culminating in a third grade literacy test that might appear to be a bit overwhelming if preparation is not begun as early as preschool. Writing from sources is nothing new, being required to inform is!  When the source is memories stored in the brain, some of us come up empty, when the source is a book or a personal binder of notes and pictures, we are all on the same page. If a student describes his/her summer vacation s/he might be asked if while at the dude ranch did s/he learn anything about horses, or was it just fun? Writing for information inspires young learners to look for information while they are having fun, and teachers can encourage young learners to do both.







Let them write!

IMG_2681Will this kid ever write? Already in kindergarten and still using invented spelling to compose a note to her grandma? Well, she independently communicated her thoughts in writing and stickers…and today is a proficient writer creating professional “books” with data and vocabulary fit for high level Wall street investors.  Of course her mom did not feel that this note required revision, but as this little girl learned the mechanics of spelling she applied them…and by first grade grandma was seeing the results of the work of a good teacher who taught her to put her ideas down first, then revise, and then edit…making writing fun and not a chore.

IMG_2679 Recognizing that at the earliest stages writing is a process that requires feedback from a more proficient writer is a hallmark of the common core and reflecting earlier writing initiatives such as Writer’s Workshop. Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), or Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CISW).

The CCSS have placed practice in three types of writing as the centerpiece of the shift towards being college ready and for this we should be cheering!  The standards promote writing in three categories (narrative, argumentative, informative) first and foremost getting kids to write.  Students are engaged in a writing process that encourages ideas or responses to writing prompts to flow and applies the mechanics afterwards. So when one looks at what the CCSS “expects” of a kindergartener one has to keep in mind that the expected outcome relies on the recursive process of writing which is Think…Write…Revise…Edit…Think again…Rewrite…Revise….Re-edit!

Initially, practice in writing tasks is what molds a good writer, not perfect mechanics.  Many years ago I observed a writing lesson in a bilingual school in the Bronx.  The second graders were editing a composition about Johnny Appleseed provided by a brave young writer who was open to “feedback”. The teacher put the composition on the overhead (yes that long ago, no smart boards then), and said to the class, “Before we begin to make suggestions to Mary, who wants to be the first to pay her a compliment about her composition?”  Little hands went up and what followed were positive statements about the writer’s penmanship, choice of topic, and willingness to share her work.  Then the teacher guided the class in making suggestions, and Mary looked on smiling and thanking them for their help.

The scenario described above was almost 15 years ago and the CCSS have reiterated the call to write (with spelling errors), revise (after receiving feedback on content), and edit (fix the mechanical errors).  One of the reasons our youngsters hesitate to write is because so many still focus on the mechanics before the free flow of thought.  Self-regulated writers set writing goals keeping in mind only one goal can be reached at a time. If the first goal is to put an idea on paper, the second to revise, and the third to edit, the outcome will be a product of process writing and the self-efficacy of the young writer will increase each time a goal is reached.

There are many writing programs that provide guidelines for writing using self-regulatory learning (see links below) or process writing. Yes, it takes time, it is a process, and it is laborious…however the results are significant.

Self Regulated Strategy Development  http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/projectwrite/

Writer’s Workshop http://www.ttms.org/PDFs/05%20Writers%20Workshop%20v001%20(Full).pdf

Cognitive Guided Instruction in Writing