If I was to ask you to define "Grit". What would you say? Like me, you would probably say something like: "Perseverance and Resilience".
A dictionary definition is: courage and resolve; strength of character.
We live in a throw-away, lethargic, opinionated society. If it's broken, chuck it out. If it's old, get a new one. If it's too hard, don't bother. If they aren't good enough, sack them. This sort of attitude has found its way into classrooms all over the country. Kid seem to becoming more and more prone to giving up as they are becoming more and more critical of the world around them.
The Technology Angle - something to think about
The first thing people blame is technology. "Our kids are over stimulated because they spend so much of their life staring at a screen."
Sure. I kind of agree with that. To most kids, technology is the coolest thing, ever. Kids can play games that are individualised to their own wants, needs and/or desires. There is instant gratification every time they kill a bad guy or finish a level or get a high score. But then, they have to go to school and be bored stupid, when a teacher tries get them to do something, they see as irrelevant.
So how does a teacher compete with the lure of technology? I suggest that you embrace it. You start making technology your friend instead of your enemy. One of the main reasons I run robot workshops is because I usually have 100% of the kids 100% engaged with the activities we do. And that's the key to real learning; providing activities where the students are so motivated that they don't even realise they are learning!
Coding and robotics are definitely tools to increase grit in students. But, I don't know a single kid on the planet who can write perfect code or build the perfect robot without several attempts. It definitely requires a level of thinking that students simply don't get from the traditional learning of facts. And it requires mistakes, learning from those mistakes, persevering and resilience. Students can often learn at their own pace and even become smarter than the teacher! But the point is... they persevere because the 'work' is so satisfying and rewarding.
Now you may not be able to afford the amazing Robot Man or any of his robots, and you might have no idea about coding... so then, what do you do? One option is to embrace technology on a small budget! You can make your lessons interesting by using web tools on a TV in your classroom. A random name selectors can be used to choose kids to answer questions or receive points or whatever you want. A dice animation can help you generate random numbers for an on-the-spot math quiz. I have used spreadsheets to help score competitions, PowerPoints to run quiz shows. Have you ever heard of Kahoot?
So why is this technology stuff so important? It appears necessary to stimulate kids, but it definitely is not the only way to motivate and develop grit in your students. If you think of computer games, they always start off quite easy. The goals are always achievable and there is a sense of accomplishment along the way. They do get more challenging, but usually they are not impossible to complete. Your teaching needs to mimic this. If the work you set is on a level that is too difficult to start with, a lot of your students will switch off. If it is too easy or lame, they won't bother, or they will be disengaged. You need to know your audience, but equally as important, you need to set achievable goals that are clear and meaningful.
Because kids love games, the concept of Gamification has been jumped on by educators all over the world. I was using class games before they even became trendy. In fact, some of my students from over twenty years ago often remind me of the great games we used to play in class. One game in particular really stands out. It was different every time I played it with a class, but basically it lasted for a whole school term. We had class money, which I created and photocopied, myself. I'd have a large table covered in paper. At the start of the term I'd paint roads and paddocks all over it, dividing it up into about twenty sections or 'properties'. The kids would work hard in class to receive class money as a reward. With that money they could save up to buy things such as a block of land, farm animals, cars, buildings, etc. They could pool their money with a friend and buy properties together. Every Friday I would spin the wheel of life and occasionally, (depending what it landed on), the kids would have to deal with fires, floods, storms, etc that could literally wipe some of their farm off the board! The wise kids spend money on insurance policies. I could go on, but the point is the kids became invested in the game we were playing. It was fun, exciting and interesting. They could not wait to visit the "shop" to buy things for their property.
Another version of the game had gold magically appearing on the students' properties, as we studied the Australian Gold Rush. Maths, science, Geography, history were all integrated together.
I used a similar "game" idea nearly every year that I taught primary school. A couple of times we built pinball machines in class. The class money could be used to buy timber or glue or hire tools such as a drill or glue-gun; with the ultimate aim of constructing a playable pinball machine. Kids even charged each other class money to have turns on each other's inventions. The games definitely motivated the kids, and in my opinion, motivation is the key to achieving grit development.
But I have taught some kids over the years who will not try to get the carrot no matter how big it is, mainly because they are lacking confidence or they hate to lose. It’s frustrating as a teacher to see kids who will not attempt things because of the fear of failure. I even ran a small competition in a Year 12 class once where $10 cash was the prize for the winner. About half the class did not want to play because they knew they wouldn't win. I never did that again!
You need to be careful to make things achievable! Sometimes that means setting different goals for different students. Sometimes it means not making such a big deal about winning, but more about achieving a personal best.
Getting students to set individualised goals that are meaningful to them should be a priority. I have worked with a lot of students with special needs or learning difficulties. One thing that always is a requirement with their support is for them to set specific goals. Why don't we do this for all students? Even if it's just a list of possible goals and the kids tick one... that's a start.
Personal Best (P.B.)
The last school I worked at in Victoria I invented a subject for Year 7 and 8 students called "P.B. Project" It was run like a typical elective subject but the focus was individualised learning. Each teacher actually got to choose a subject they were passionate about, and taught it to a different class each term. Within each subject there were lots of choices and opportunities for the students to direct their own path. I taught coding and game creation. Other teachers taught subjects based on drama, music, history, art or anything they were skilled or passionate about. At the end of each term the kids got to present their "project" to the class. A couple of times we even had a big P.B. project showcase where all the students set up a display and other students, parents and teachers were invited to see what they had leant. It was great because each kid had worked on something they were genuinely interested in and their motivation and excitement was often contagious! There were specific goals set and the students had to persevere because they knew they had to share their findings at the end. And because the subject was called "P.B." the students were constantly reminded about trying to achieve their personal best.
Some quick tips to help build grit in your students
When I hear the word grit I often associate it with the movie called "True Grit". Based on a story set in the late 19th century, an American teenage girl is determined to track down her father's killer. She hires a gun-slinging character called Rooster to help her. He, apparently, has true grit. It certainly is a film about courage, resolve and strength of character. The film is not suitable for kids.... but a great movie for grownups.
Imagine if all the kids we taught ended up with courage, resolve and strength of character. Developing grit is important because it enables people to cope better with day-to-day challenges. It gives them a natural sense of determination and a willingness to do their best. Kids who are willing to learn from their mistakes, and not get too flustered by the mistakes of others, will achieve more and be better prepared for the roller coaster we call “life”.
Bring on the PB’s.
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