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5 Steps to Foster Grit in the Classroom

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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The word "grit" suggests toughness and determination. The question is how do we get students to value struggle, failure and perseverance in our classrooms? ASCD recently published Thomas Hoerr's short but great book on this subject, Fostering Grit. The subtitle "How do I prepare my students for the real world?" reflects the fact that our students will encounter challenging work and problems to solve. If this is the case, our classrooms should mirror that process and prepare our students to be successful in meeting these challenges. You might consider this a critical 21st century skill, which means that we need to scaffold the related skills we're teaching our students.

Model Grit

Modeling is a crucial component in teaching skills to students. Many teachers use modeling to teach reading skills, which will be crucial as students encounter more and more complex text. Try modeling grit by leading students through a think-aloud explicitly about grit. Reading and navigating a complex text is challenging, so make sure your that think-aloud talks not only about how to navigate, but also about mistakes made and the thought process of perseverance. This can build trust in the classroom that grit is valuable and natural.

Don't Grade Formative Assessments

In a previous blog, I wrote:

Why don't I grade formative assessment? For one, a grade is supposed to answer the question: "Did the student learn and achieve the learning targets or standards?" If this is the case, then the summative assessment primarily represents achievement. Formative assessment is practice. It is part of the journey.

If you punish students in the learning process, then they are less likely to engage with it. Grit requires that there are multiple stages in the learning process and that the journey of learning is valued. You can read the above-mentioned blog for strategies on how to use formative assessments more effectively if this is challenging for you. If you want grit, then you can't punish students for making mistakes.

Authentic Products

In another blog, I wrote about the importance of bringing authenticity to the classroom. One piece of this is having students create authentic products. When they create real work that has value, they are more likely to create high quality work. And students are more likely to improve their work when they know there is an authentic audience for the authentic work.

Ongoing Revision and Reflection

Build in sacred time to revise work and reflect upon the learning. If we want students to value grit, they need to see learning as a journey, and we need to give them time to reflect about the challenges they've faced, and the mistakes and revisions they've made. To start, watch the "Austin's Butterfly" video for advice on how good critique and feedback can scaffold and support grit in the classroom:

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work - Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback from Expeditionary Learning on Vimeo.

Celebrate Success

When we persevere, we need to celebrate the success. We often don't take time to celebrate the challenging work we've completed. Sometimes we feel that our schedule forces us to immediately move on with the next unit of instruction. If you want students to value grit, then you must celebrate in your classroom. This is part of the reflection process, but again is explicitly about celebration. Have students celebrate their own grit as well as the grit of others with a strategy like Your Shining Moment.

These are some practical steps to foster grit in your classroom. If we want our students to find joy in grit, then they need to find that joy in our classrooms. Seek a balance of challenge, reflection and authenticity to create a culture of grit.

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The Educational Benefits of Grit
The character traits of determination, adaptability and reflection add up to a critical 21st century skill.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

techforschools's picture

I love the thought of developing toughness in our students through struggle, failure, and perseverance. I also think you do a nice job of addressing how to build this culture by not grading formative assessments.

The biggest obstacle in the way of most classrooms is the weight and pressure standardized testing puts on our students. When you watch 3 graders cry because they are worried about their EOG scores, you know there is a large hurdle in the way of helping students know that failure is part of the learning process.

Rina@BWI's picture
5th grade Language Arts and Science teacher from Sunbury, Ohio

I love spotlighting students' shining moments! What an excellent way for them to reflect on their learning. I will definitely use this with my 5th graders. They need to realize that they may not "get it" 100% of the time, but they do have shining moments, and the more they recognize this, the more shining moments they will have.

Paul Smith's picture
Paul Smith
Director of Marketing for LearnSprout

Some great tips Andrew. To your point about modeling grit... Folks should check out - Showcased today at the Datapalooza in D.C.

MRM's picture

Although I hate the word "grit," I love your ideas, particularly about the role of formative assessment.

I highly recommend a brilliant TED talk on learning and tenacity by Dr. Tae, skateboarder, videographer, and science professor.

Jared Stein's picture

I don't disagree with the idea to not grade formative assignments/assessments, but I want to point out that the reason they are formative is because they shape (or form) learners' behavior and understanding. To be formative, assessments require feedback -- feedback that changes or reinforces the learner's practice.

Implementing authentic assessments and encouraging revision as part of the process both, in my mind, amplify the need for feedback -- though not necessarily in the form of a grade.

Jennifer Bernstein, Ph.D.'s picture
Jennifer Bernstein, Ph.D.
Founder of Get Yourself Into College, Inc. & English Professor (part-time)

I love the idea of modeling grit for students and think that an important part of this process is actually opening up to students about our own struggles to grasp concepts and master new skills.

For instance, when I teach Toni Morrison's Beloved, I often share with students how I was confused when I started reading the novel and describe how I began probing this confusion (Why would Morrison make the narrative so confusing? How does this confusion relate to key issues and themes in the novel?).

I've found that this approach helps students realize that it takes time for all of us--even teachers--to understand what we are reading and learning. In turn, students start to feel that they, too, can really understand texts without resorting to online summaries of them. Plus, we wind up having some great discussions.

Kolby L. Morgan's picture

Thank you for writing this article. I teach in an elementary school where nearly 90% of the students are considered "socioeconomically disadvantaged", we teach grit and perseverance on a daily basis. I especially liked your recommendations to model grit and celebrate successes. Giving students the opportunity to celebrate success will hopefully inspire them to reach for bigger and better goals.
One point I would like to add regarding formative assessments - I absolutely agree that learning is a journey and process. However, I do believe it is important to use those formative assessments to guide future lessons and instruction to best support students through their journey. Maybe by having students provide a "self-reflection" regarding where they think they stand in their learning journey will best support their growth and give both student and instructor some much-needed feedback.

finleyjd's picture
Cooperative Education Coordinator, Randolph Technical Career Center. #VTed

For anyone interested in Grit and Perseverance, Social Emotional Learning, or Growth Mindsets you really should take a look at this simply amazing collection of resources on this blog by Vermont educator and administrator @mikemcraith.

Building Perseverance into School Culture
Online Resources: Grit, Self-Control, Social Emotional Learning, Growth Mindset, & More

Hifi's picture
Character Education Researcher and Critic

What on earth does any of this have to do with fostering grit? I wouldn't call any of the examples models of grit.

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