There has been quite a bit of research about the importance of grit in allowing students to learn and be successful both in school and beyond. I love research, it fuels the choices that I make in the classroom, but I’ll be honest, if I can’t figure out how a piece of research looks in my teaching, I have a hard time.
The grit research, to me, was difficult because while I could understand the connection between grit and success I didn’t think it was enough to be sure I was careful with the language that I was using so that I was using language that promoted a growth mindset and diminishing language that would reinforce a fixed mindset.
I had a principal once that told us that we needed to think of our profession as being equal to the medical profession. That we were diagnosticians and practitioners and that we needed to keep up with current research. If we weren’t implementing best practice that would be considered equal to a doctor committing malpractice. It sounds harsh but you really can’t argue with the logic!
And so I kept thinking about grit and how I could be more explicit- beyond being purposeful in my choice of language. I needed my students to know what they were working towards! I have figured out how to make this connection more explicit and wanted to be sure to share this strategy with all of you.
I have taught my students that, sometimes, at the end of a math lesson they will feel very confident. This means that they have met the learning target, they might have gotten many questions correct on their exit ticket, they might even be thinking something like “this is easy!”. If they are feeling that way they can say that they are having a confident day in math. Other days we might be working on something that feels really tricky! They may feel confused or they might feel like they are thinking really hard but it’s still not making a lot of sense. They might start to feel frustrated because even though they are trying, they keep getting answers wrong. They might even see other students having a confident day and they might be wondering why it’s not easy for them. I tell my students that if they are feeling like they are having a day that is very tricky they have two choices. They can either get mad/sad/frustrated or they can get gritty. Gritty means that you hunker down and say “I can figure this out!” “I can work at this!” “I will be able to do it!!”.
When we are “getting gritty” we even go so far as to make a little fist and make a “tough” face and say “I can get this!!” I practice this with my kids outside of the context of math at the beginning of a lesson. I remind them by saying “We’re going to work on some pretty important stuff today! You might get it right away and have a confident day, but if it’s feeling tough remember, you can always get gritty and we’ll figure it out together. Show me what you will say when you’re feeling gritty” and they respond by all saying, emphatically, “I can get this!”
During a lesson when a student is struggling I can then easily put their mind at ease by acknowledging that the work is difficult and that I know they can get gritty and figure it out.
You see, my students know that those two choices they have when work gets hard lead to very different results. If they get mad/sad/frustrated they will still be mad/sad/frustrated at the end of the lesson. If they get gritty, they have a chance of moving over and becoming confident.
Not every math day ends in success for all students. And that’s okay. And I want my students to know this is okay too! At the end of a lesson we will often reflect and ask “Who had a confident day? Who had to get gritty today?” and I am able to praise them for sticking to it and working even when the work got tough. I remind them of opportunities they will have in the future to continue practicing this work.
I am including a reflection to use in your classroom either after a math lesson or at any other time during the day when you are noticing that there are some students who could use some reassurance. If students were able to “get gritty” they had a successful learning day and their efforts should be celebrated!
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