Almost Pavlovian, whenever anyone mention grit – I run a little clip in my mind from the movie True Grit (If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s a western about 14 year old Mattie Ross who sets out on her own to settle her murdered father’s affairs and decides to hire dodgy US Marshall named Rooster Cogburn to help her find – and bring to justice – the man that killed her father.) She chose him because she heard he had “true grit.” They reluctantly join forces with a Texas Ranger, also looking for the same outlaw, and head out into Arkansas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma). As you can predict, it becomes apparent that it is truly her that the title is referring to.
I have to admit, I do prefer the 2010 version overall, although it’s hard to not be loyal to The Duke.
What I think captures me is the unwavering confidence that Mattie has – mostly because she has that arrogance that comes with not having the same ideas of what can and can not be done as we “adults” do. And I see that a lot with my kids, both classroom and biological. They think they can (and often do!) do more than we as adults would imagine. But what I don’t always see are Mattie’s skills to handle it when it doesn’t come as easy as they expect it.
Grit seems to be the newest buzz word in education. The idea isn’t new – we just used to say they were persistent if we liked what they were doing, and stubborn if we didn’t.
But grit, like most things – isn’t simple to define. It’s a mindset, it’s a skill set, it’s a culture, and there is some part personality trait. We can’t do much about the latter – but we sure can have an impact on the former. I’ve tried many, many things over the past couple of years to develop grit in my classroom, and with this (6th) snowy morning, I need to take stock of what seems to have worked, and what hasn’t.
What hasn’t worked out the way that I want and where I need to reflect and improve …
- I know I’m not making the most out of the STEAM activities I’ve been doing. They have learned a lot about cooperation, communication, collaboration – and even engineering – but not as much grit building from these activities as I would’ve thought. I think the problem is that the activities I’ve done haven’t lent themselves quite as much to the process of testing their design and then going back and fixing it. The “test” often destroys their creation in some way, so we really don’t have that trail and error stage. Moving forward, I need to plan activities that will allow for them to test their designs have have a more trial and error and retry process.
- I need more authentic opportunities so the kids are motivated to persevere. I know the value of them, I jump on them when I can – but moving forward, I need to get more creative in finding ways to make them work within the CCSS I have to cover. I don’t need to tell anyone reading this that it’s such a challenge to juggle getting “grades for the gradebook,” assessing mastery of the standards, and time to come up with the ideas. I think adding a layer of technology – student written blog entries, Toontasitcs, Animoto, and even turning their writing into PDFs to read on their devices will move me forward with this – and I’m excited that our school is trying, with the resources we have, to move more forward with this.
- I need more opportunities for productive struggle and to make sure to adjust my assignments to allow them time to productively struggle. I’ve given them a lot of tools, but I need to provide even more opportunities to apply them.
What I’ve done that HAS worked (often better than I had planned)…
I’ve been trying to do this – improve mindset, skills, and class culture to improve risk taking, self-awareness, and the all important grit over the past couple of years (I’ve looped with my class, so I’ve had more time to impact them). These are just a few of my favorite strategies that I do feel good about – and most I’ve stumbled-upon. I’m a much better teaching on my feet than at my planning table, so a lot of these strategies came organically out of an immediate need rather than some well thought out lesson.
- Explicitly Define Persistence – At the beginning of the year we created a definition mind map anchor chart of “Persistence” – simple enough. But how often do we take for granted that kids truly understand what that means? I chose persistence over grit because I thought they would encounter that word in real life more often.
- Explicitly Teach Strategies
The Super Seven – when I was student teaching, it was all about the problem solving strategies for math .. make a model, act it out, etc. etc. I even made a poster for the classroom. Somewhere that was lost, it’s not really part of Common Core, but I have found bringing them back into my classroom has given us a common language of what to do when you’re stuck … even if it’s not math! I am careful to make sure they understand that there is no “right” answer for what strategy to use, but what I like is when they are stuck I can just say “draw a picture” or “work backwards” and it gives them a spark to do something rather than stare off into space.
Close Reading/Reading with a Pencil – we’re all doing this. But I re-framed it for the kids as not just a comprehension strategy, but life strategy for anything that you have to read and understand. This is the anchor chart that my kids help me come with to help them make sense of what to do. Now when the get stuck even in math, I ask them “did you close read the question” and they know exactly step by step what they can do to get “unstuck.” (We did create more literary/expository “dig deeper” based anchor charts that we use for reading… but this is the one that stays up ALL the time)
- Find a Friend and Defend your Answers – I borrowed from my brilliant breezeway mate. Instead of collecting every single thing, and instead of having to go over every single thing, sometimes I tell them to find a friend and defend their answers. They work with a partner, go over their answers with each other, and if there is a difference of opinion on the answer, they have to work together to figure out which answer is correct. What I love about this, is that it means they aren’t turning in their papers and having it disappear into the black hole of my bag. They get immediate feedback and have the opportunity to dialog and either learn from – or teach – their peers. They are giving specific critical feedback and teaching each other.
- My favorite No – I can’t claim inventing this, but I honestly don’t recall where I got it from. But I LOVE it. Often as my closing, we’ll have a “My favorite No” session. Works great with Exit Slips. I choose an answer that is wrong but shows, risk, good thinking, good strategy application, etc. and we celebrate it as “my favorite no.” No names are used (although they often claim them by saying “I did that!”) and often I recreate it to avoid handwriting detection – but we break down as a class what went wrong. And I love that it called “My favorite No” for a very specific reason. I’m not sugar coating that the answer is wrong – but we are celebrating the thinking that went behind it at the same time.
- Feedback Forum – we’ve done a lot with this when it comes to “short answer” questions and writing. Students come up, share their answers seeking feedback from peers. I’ve found that it works best when we can create a list of 3-5 things a “good answer” needs to have and the peers then hold on the number of fingers for how many of those characteristics they see in the answer.
For example: you can see here, we developed a list of what a “good math answer” should have. Then students bring up their answers and their peers hold up 1, 2, 3, or 4 fingers based on if they see all 4 of those things or not. The student standing up front can then decide what is missing and how he or she will fix it. The peers can also help with specific advice if the person doesn’t seem to know what to do to improve. The beauty of this – it’s voluntary. Students volunteer to come up – and they are scrambling to do so!
- Thinking Traps – sometimes great lessons are carefully planned, and sometimes they happen. This is one of those “it happened” things we did that has had a huge impact on my class. I was getting frustrated at the same silly mistakes and told my kids they were falling into traps. This segued into a class brainstorming session and we developed the anchor chart below. We didn’t get to our guided groups that day as planned – but this was so much better!. Now when they make a mistake they have a framework for persisting through it – when they have a wrong answer, it’s not because they are “dumb” – it’s because they fell into a trap.
- Corrections – again, so simple – but there is so much value in kids looking at what they did wrong and figuring out WHY they got it wrong. My guys get a paper back and they never look at it. It goes into their folder, goes home, and there is no revisiting and rethinking. A little 1/2 sheet stapled on it with “Old Answer” “New Answer” “What I did differently” columns makes them think about their errors. And after introducing the traps, it’s amazing how reflective they can be.
And don’t forget that even recess and free time can be used – Teaching them how to play Soduku (I love the color Soduku for kids), Logic Puzzles, and other “Brain Teasers.” My current favorite website for Brain Teasers is Brain Bashers. I’ve also stocked my indoor recess box with logic puzzle games – like Highway. The kids love it and it helps them learn to stick to it.