Psychologists are obsessed with testing. Indeed our whole society seems to be infected. Go into any high street stationers and there are books on testing your, or your child’s, IQ or personality, etc. At school our children are subjected to a constant stream of tests under the banner of ‘assessment for learning’ on the presumption that you cannot know what they have learnt unless you test them. Ignore the fact that leads to dry teaching to the test and interminable revision. The suggestion that testing actually inhibits real learning (and the children would be better, long-term, left to their own devices) is educational heresy.
The latest manifestation of this test ethos is beguilingly simple. It is the raisin test. Developed as part of the Bavarian Longitudinal Study which started in 1985 and is still running, including 558 prematurely born children, Julia Jaekel (Jaekel et al, 2015) from the University of Tennessee and her colleagues wanted to study the effects of prematurity on children’s subsequent progress. The raisin test simply involves putting a raisin under an opaque cup in front of a child and asking them to wait (the researchers gave them 60 seconds) before they took it. The test was done at 20 months and about six years later 393 of the children were re-assessed for general achievement. There was a clear relationship between the degree of prematurity and the ability to inhibit the desire for the raisin and later achievement including attention regulation.
To be fair, the raisin test is not exactly new. The idea of using a raisin to promote mindfulness (by eating it in a slow and thoughtful fashion) was proposed by J. Kabat-Zina back in 1994 and its connection with self-regulation has been highlighted by a recent text (Ostafin et al, 2015) on the subject. The raisin test also has some similarity to the well-known Sanford Marshmallow test, where older children were tempted with bowls of marshmallows and tested for their ability to wait. The raisin test is certainly simple (though the authors warn against parents using it as that may lead to very variable results.) However there is one very important point in all this. The ability to self-regulate, to control one’s primal impulses, is intimately linked to later regulation of attention and to academic success. To put that into Montessori terms, if a child can learn self-discipline then that will lead to a greater ability to concentrate and thence to ‘normalisation’ or the ability to led a full and productive life. And Montessori did not need a packet of raisins to realise that!
Jaekel, J., Eryigit-Madzwamuse, S. & Wolke, D. (1985). Preterm toddlers inhibitory control abilities predict attention regulation and academic achievement at age 8 years. J. Pediatrics (in press) accessed from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j-peds.2015.10.029
Kabat-Zinn. J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hyperion.
Ostafin, B.D., Robinson, M.D. & Meier, B.P. (2015). Handbook of Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. New York: Springer.