The "Gritty" Classroom
Ignite Student Learning Through Passion and Perseverance
In order to apply Grit in the classroom, you first need to understand what Grit is. Next, you need to practice it yourself, and become an example of what is possible. Finally, you will need to allow the space for your students to practice Grit in your classroom. In this article, I will use examples from my classroom to illustrate what Grit is. If you have not watched Angela Duckworth's TED Talk on Grit, please take a minute to do so before reading on.
Before we explore Duckworth's idea on Grit, let's take a moment to review Carol Dweck's research on mindset. A broad overview of mindset is: a fixed mindset is when you believe your ability is predestined or fixed and a growth mindset is when you believe ability is malleable and can be changed with practice. People with growth mindsets tend to be more successful than people with fixed mindsets, especially people with very limited fixed mindsets. Grit has the power to take someone with a growth mindset to the next level of success.
Anglea Duckworth introduces her formula for success in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The formula she discovered is talent x effort = skill → skill x effort = achievement. This formula suggests talent does not determine success. There are many talented people who fall short, because of their lack of effort. This lack of effort can happen for various reasons including, stress, trauma, mental illness, socio-economic reasons, or behavior patterns. Talent is important, but without effort, it will not develop.
4 Factors of Grit
Passion, practice, perseverance, and belief are the four factors that make up grit. After reading Duckworth's research, I started looking for these four factors within myself and in my classroom. The following stories are examples to help demonstrate the factors of Grit. As you read, keep in mind examples within your own environment.
Passion is one of the most important parts of Grit. Without passion, practice and perseverance become even more challenging. My story of passion comes from a very special group of students I had the joy of teaching a few years ago.
My experience with gifted students during my first years of teaching usually included a mix of students who brought their own behavioral challenges to the classroom. Some were bored because they weren't being challenged enough, so they would disengage. This disengagement led to class disruptions or lack of motivation. Other groups of gifted learners would challenge me frequently to prove they were smarter than the teacher (they didn't need to prove it, I already knew they were).
However, the gifted group I had a few years ago was very different from any group of gifted learners I had worked with before. They loved school, they loved to learn, they just loved everything about academics. They didn't challenge me, and if they did happen to get bored with the content, they would quietly finish the assignment and read quietly as I finished the lesson with the rest of the class. This didn't happen too often, because, thankfully, the sixth-grade math curriculum introduced them to brand new content like statistics and algebra. There were times I had extended activities for them to work on, but most of the time they would take the lesson I was teaching and break it down to get a deeper understanding of the content and strategies. They did this without prompting, because they had an intrinsic desire to learn and understand.
This group of students entered the sixth-grade with the highest test scores I had ever seen and I was worried because I wasn't sure how I was going to help them maintain those scores let alone make a year's growth. However, because of their desire to learn, they blew those scores out of the water in the spring. Their passion for academics and learning propelled them forward within a mainstream learning environment.
It is well known that we can't develop skills without practice. Steph Curry did not pick up a basketball for the first time and make a perfect three-point shot. He had to put in an insane amount of practice to master this skill. However, in Grit, the type of practice is important. Duckworth stresses it is the hard, deliberate practice that helps people achieve results. My story of practice comes from something I have struggled with from the very beginning of my teaching career—immediate feedback.
There are so many moving parts when it comes to being a teacher, right? I have my strengths, such as planning lessons, but I have my weaknesses too with immediate feedback and student accountability being at the top of my list. I am really good at designing lessons and making sure they align with the standards and are engaging yet impactful. However, I am terrible with the follow-through. I get so caught up in planning and teaching the lesson, I forget to set up work completion expectations and immediate feedback. This is where I decided to focus my hard, deliberate practice.
I started with student accountability. After every lesson where students are required to respond or create something, they have to show me, so I can mark it down as completed. The more I practiced this, the more students got used to the routine and the result was less missing work from students.
Immediate feedback was a little harder, however, I decided to set aside 20 minutes every day, usually after school to focus on correcting the assignments or journals from that day. I might not get everything done in those 20 minutes, but it was time deliberately spent practicing something I struggle with. There were days I would work longer and there were days I would just do the 20 minutes. I started to notice a difference in my teaching when I initiated this practice. My lessons that followed seemed to flow better, because I had a better understanding of what my students understood. Also, I wasn't as overwhelmed at the end of the quarter, because most of my grading was done. Immediate feedback is still a struggle for me, but forcing myself to review student work 20 minutes a day has made a big impact on my teaching. Every year I am determined to be a better teacher than I was the year before, and the power of deliberate practice will help me attain this goal.
It's important to mention that Grit is more of a marathon than a sprint. It is not about setting a short term goal, rather it's a long term investment in the desired outcome. There are two students of mine whose stories I want to share to help explain perseverance. Please note the names of these students have been changed to protect privacy.
My first student, Henry, always struggled with work completion and attendance before he entered the sixth-grade. He comes from a loving home, but not very structured. When he would come to school, he was exhausted from playing video games until late the night before. He was always respectful and did not cause problems, but because of his fatigue, it was hard for him to get his work done.
Something shifted for him when he entered my classroom that year. He decided this was the year he was going to get his work done. He set a goal for himself and worked hard to reach it. From day one he put his head down and got to work. He improved his attendance, so he didn't have as much missing work. He would even stay in at recess, using his own self-discipline to get work completed in most of the subjects. There were times when he struggled more than others, but he never gave up. His grades and test scores improved drastically throughout the year.
Another student of mine, Mary, failed her first social studies test of the year. It was a district assessment administered online, so I don't let my students make corrections to get a better grade. Instead, I set everything up to help them be successful. I put all the notes and chapters online, so they can access them from home to study. Students can also access a review of the chapter that has a variation of all the questions that will be on the test. After her first failure, Mary asked if she could do extra credit (which I allowed because I don't let them correct the test). I also showed her the resources I had put online for her to study. Mary did not fail another social studies test that year.
Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right." Grit only works if you believe you can achieve the desired outcome. My final story is about a student, Helen, who had the capability, but did not succeed until she believed in herself.
When Helen entered my classroom she didn't think she could do anything. She couldn't be a good kid, she couldn't be a smart kid, and she was right. Before she got to my class, she had been in trouble for various behaviors. She would dart out of class and disappear. She wouldn't do her work and would become outright defiant. When she thought she couldn't, she was right.
Something changed for her during sixth-grade. She met a new group of friends who were the good kids and the smart kids. They believed she could be like them too. That is when something magical happened. Helen started to believe she could. She started doing her work, and working on improving her grades. Her behavior improved as well. She still had days where she would slip back into old habits, but it only lasted for a short period of time. Helen scored way below grade level on the first state assessment in the fall. However, when she took the state assessment in the winter, she went from intensive to advanced in reading! She is a perfect example of how believing in ourselves can impact our results. Helen always had the capability, but she needed to believe in herself first.
Now that you know what Grit is, what's next? The next step is to learn about your own "Gritty" behaviors, and model them in the classroom. In my next article, "Grit and You," I will show you how to find your own Grit score and explain how you can bring those habits into your teaching.
Finally, you will need to allow space in your classroom for your students to practice Grit. The third article in this series, "Bringing Grit into the Classroom," will provide you with strategies you can use to implement Grit into your classroom environment.
Angela Duckworth asks "what's next" at the end of her TED Talk. I believe the answer to this lies in the classroom. As educators, we have access to people when they are the most impressionable—during childhood. Bringing Grit into the classroom and modeling it for our students can plant the seed that will last a lifetime.