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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
By Carey Halula, Michael Lambert, & Holly Raatz 29-Nov-17
Angela Lee Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania psychologist, shook educational thinking by pinpointing the number one predictor of life success: “...And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.” Each year, Grade 8 students at Concordia International School Shanghai exercise the power of grit by exploring and discovering their passions—empowered by perseverance—through a plethora of innovative learning experiences and life-applicable simulations. Students quickly learn there is no app for grit. It takes stamina, deliberate practice, and moving outside one’s comfort zone to acquire this critical mindset for learning success. In early August, before Concordia graduates and alumni departed for universities around the world, several students were invited to share personal stories about how they developed grit over the course of their middle and high school years, and how these experiences led to their present success. Whether focused on publishing a novel, starting an organic coffee company, or becoming a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, these stories explored how to braid focus, failure, and grit—our enduring themes for the year. After listening to these rich accounts, Grade 8 students began the year by studying the Great Depression through a simulation designed to mirror this catastrophic time period, which students described as “The Great Misery.” It wasn’t pleasant. They had to take cold showers, write in cursive under candlelight, eat on less than US$14 for the week, and use no tech at school or home. This last stipulation actually caused twitches, moans, and visible distress. Rachel, a participating eighth-grader, reflected on her experience, saying “Not being able to use my devices, and having the family 75-inch TV entice and mock me from afar, I was forced to raise my grit to simply survive the week of severity and deprivation.” The noun “grit” suddenly entered the domain of action and became a powerful verb. Later in the year, students again worked on developing grit by designing interactive workshops for their peers, writing OpEds that required seamless collaboration, creating sports newscasts, and presenting ten-minute TED Talks. Additionally, to cultivate grit, a January research focus (J-Term) allowed students to delve into their own personal passion. Topics varied from the power of body language to the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on our lives, from the risks associated with painkillers to the effects of clothing choice on self-esteem, from moving out of a materialist mode into a minimalist one to selective mutism. As students researched these subjects both at home and school, they adapted to the rigor required to complete their ten-minute presentation within two weeks, applying grit. Given the tendency to overuse PowerPoint presentations and the “broadcast” method—the preferred mode of delivering information—students were required to lead a two-minute activity. Audience engagement became the challenge. Students made their presentations before their peers, parents, and high school students. Good looks, intelligence, and a good grade in humanities secure them an “A” designation—grit would become the silver bullet for achieving success. Throughout the year, students encountered various simulations and other learning experiences that took place outside of the four classroom walls. Interactive learnings were designed with grit in mind: a discrimination simulation that brought deeper empathy for those having suffered the atrocities of the Holocaust; an arousing outdoor sensory adventure that invited authentic stimulation of each human sense with a view to enhancing written narratives; a mid-term writing final built around a murder scene created in the gym; a five-day outdoor exploration in Yangshuo; a compelling excursion to the Nanjing Memorial; a Metro Madness Day in Shanghai; as well as other experiences. Susan, a rising Grade 9 student, stated, “Even my failure showed grit. I want to embrace this new ‘F’ word, remove the fear, and step inside the grit zone.” Creating a culture and fabric of grit in our Grade 8 community infuses greater optimism into the student body.
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