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How to Cultivate “Grit”

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Perseverance and Grit” by Rick Wormeli in AMLE Magazine, January 2014 (1 5, pp. 41-43),; Mr. Wormeli can be reached at
In this article in AMLE Magazine, consultant/writer Rick Wormeli says that in some domains, today’s students are incredibly tenacious:
“If the story is good, they read 700-page books. They play online games, working their way through 12 levels of difficulty for six hours or more. They stay well into the evening hours to practice for theater productions and sports tournaments, and they work diligently for weeks on video projects to support favored causes.”
But in other arenas, not so much. They abandon a website if it does not download in two seconds. They think they know world events by skimming headlines and listening to short sound bites. They tune out if a text message is too long. And long reading assignments are anathema.
So how do we build stick-to-it-iveness in classrooms? Here are Mr. Wormeli’s suggestions:
• Cultivate trust. “Students will take risks and push themselves harder if they can trust the adult in charge will not humiliate them,” he says. Do not use sarcasm and “gotcha” language. Some positive examples: “Can you help me find the supportive details in this paragraph?” “The first part of your response provides the insight we needed. Tell me more about that second part.”
• Make connections. When a student is deciding whether to watch a movie with a friend or finish a project that is due tomorrow, the deciding factor will be whether the student wants to avoid disappointing the teacher.
• Be happy. Students are drawn “to the bright oasis of the teacher who keeps cynicism and indifference at bay,” says Mr. Wormeli.
• Provide descriptive feedback. Focus on the decisions students made while doing their work, he suggests: “Judgments and labels shut down the reflective, growth-mindset process.” Some templates: I noticed you decided to ______. As a result, you were able to ________.
• Show growth. Use pre-assessments to set a baseline and create a growth-over-time dynamic, says Mr. Wormeli: “When students see that they were once struggling and then worked hard and eventually achieved success, they are more likely to endure the next challenge; they have personal proof that they can go from nothing to full success if they put in the time and energy necessary.”
• Provide constructive responses to relearning and reassessing. An unchangeable “F” grade teaches very little. Better for a student to go through the steps of a failed project a second time and get it right.
• Provide meaningful work. Students respond to real-life connections. “Meaning-making is the root of perseverance,” says Mr. Wormeli.
• Clearly articulate the goals. “At any given moment, every student in our classes should be able to tell us both the learning goal/objective and where he is in relation to it,” he says. “If the goal is vague, we are more likely to put it off and we give it less energy in its completion.”
• Provide multiple tools and models. If students believe they have the building blocks, they are more likely to commit their effort.
• Make sure students experience success. “Nothing motivates students to stick with something like success,” says Mr. Wormeli. “We all enjoy complex, demanding challenges if we have the tools to achieve them and proof of success.”

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