Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Importance of Grit

Here is a recent book review written by a fellow Exploration Summer Program alum. It also has a connection to my Harvard Professor Eleanor Duckworth. Happy reading!!

In Praise of Grit:
Review of the research of Angela Duckworth
and Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

It seems that some of the lofty verities, such as loyalty, restraint, discipline, industry, and even talents and gifts such as intelligence and strength, must now take a backseat when it comes to predicting a person's success in the world. Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania says that her research indicates that when it comes to "making it" -- professionally and personally -- nothing predicts the future like the prosaic attribute known as "grit."

Duckworth defines grit as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals." Grit proves not to be tied to IQ. Instead, grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. Most interestingly, grit is a more accurate predictor of success than intelligence.

Duckworth says that "the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course."

As to the question "Can perseverance be taught?", Duckworth and others answer, "most definitely." The bookSwitch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath offers a revealing example. The authors describe an experiment that took place in a middle school. In this school, students struggling with math were placed into two groups: one was taught generic study skills, the other was instructed in a "growth mindset" way. "Growth mindset" teaches students that the brain is like a muscle, and that with regular exercise, intelligence, and capability, it will grow. Students in this group learned not to be discouraged by frustration and early failure, and to stay the course and keep "exercising."

The results of this experiment were, in the words of the educators at the school, "astonishing." The group given regular training in generic study skills started their seventh grade year with a C+ in math. With the study skills help, they slipped to a C, and finally to a C-. The group given the training about grit but no additional math or study skill training significantly outperformed their peers in the class. And not just the ones who were struggling. They became the top students in the class.

With her research, Duckworth may have reminded us of something we have always known but recently forgotten. Notions such as "grit," "gumption," "pluck," and the like seem old fashioned and corny, good for their time but now considered quaint with our advanced knowledge of how the brain works. We spend millions of dollars on tutors and SAT prep courses for our children, hoping to compensate for subject-specific deficits our students may or may not have. But perhaps the greatest gift we can give our children is encouraging them to stick with it, teaching them that the road to knowledge, success, and happiness is long and slow, and that setbacks and discouragement are a normal part of the process.

What Duckworth is saying is that grit is not only the most important attribute to bring to school (or work, or marriage), but that it is teachable. Part of the way in which we can teach grit is to allow students to be frustrated, and to encourage them to hang in there and show that struggle is just part of the process. One of the downsides to contemporary psychology is our tendency to pathologize struggling and difficulty, assign it a name, and maybe later, a medication.

No doubt some struggles need a diagnosis and medicine to help, but Duckworth's caution against "premature rescue" is important here. Grit has no place to grow and show its magic if we as parents, teachers, and coaches substitute the hard and rewarding path of grit for a series of gentler quick fixes that promise "results now." As we mentor and parent young people, maybe it is important that we show some grit and some perseverance with the real journey that leads to the things that matter.

Review by David Torcoletti
Head, Exploration Junior Program

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