Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Role of Grit in the Classroom

I recently viewed Angela Duckworth's TED Talk on Grit and it started me thinking about the role of grit in today's classroom.  So many skills are being bandied about that are considered essential for students in the 21st Century... critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, problem solving, but I haven't heard a lot about grit.  Then, I came across a blog post from Jennifer Brown that referenced an article written by Alfie Kohn, the "Downside of Grit".  So, after reading the blog post, I had to go and read the article.  Then, I had to go back and watch Angela's talk again.  After watching it again, and reading the article again, I was determined to figure out if grit is really something that our kids need to develop.  Is it a fixed entity, either you have it or you don't?  Or, is it something you can employ from time to time when appropriate?  Alfie Kohn seems to say that it isn't the end all be all for our kids, but Angela Duckworth seems to point to it as an essential skill for success in education.
I am writing this blog post as a way to flesh out my own ideas on grit, and hope it will serve as a mechanism for me to learn more about it as the conversation evolves.  Angela Duckworth defines grit as  "the tendency to sustain perseverance and passion for challenging long-term goals".  This definition contains two distinct parts.  The first part, the tendency to sustain perseverance and passion, seems to focus on the actions of the person involved.  The rest of the definition, for challenging long-term goals, refers more to choice in what the person is showing grit in doing. 

If that is true, then I would argue with Alfie Kohn's assertion that the mere presence of grit is not an important development for our students.  If grit means not only persevering, but also being able to identify challenging long-term goals, then grit definitely has a place in today's schools.

As a classroom teacher for more than ten years, I definitely can agree with Angela's idea that the best performers in the class aren't always the ones with the most intelligence as measured using IQ.  I have seen firsthand the payoff some students can receive from displaying grit, or a hard work, never give up attitude.  Conversely, I have seen students that stuck with a problem too long, to the point that it became an exercise in futility for them.  However, if we can teach our kids how to persevere in the right situations, then grit becomes a much more piece of a student's overall development.

My take on it is that instead of focusing solely on the development of one's grit, we need to provide our students with challenging learning opportunities in the classroom that will lead to overall growth.  Alfie Kohn raises many valid points about grit, or persistence, and if it is really what we should be focusing on in education.  Besides the fact that it is not a novel idea, Kohn states the development of grit relates to maintaining a singular focus on a task that was prescribed by someone else. Kohn writes, " In other words, those who do what they've been told,  regardless of whether it's satisfying or sensible, are rewarded by those who told them to do it."  

But, to me, it comes back to the instruction that is occurring in the classroom, and whether students are given the choice to display their mastery of new information in a manner that fits with the child's long-term goals.

What do you think about the role of grit in our classrooms today?  Is it an essential skill for our students to develop, or is it a misguided ideal that serves no purpose in our classrooms?   As I stated previously, I am only beginning to hash out my ideas on this subject and would greatly appreciate your thoughts as I continue to make sense of the role of grit in our schools.

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