BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


How to Help Students Develop “Grit” in Mathematics Classes

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.”
Summary of article: “Developing Non-Cognitive Skills: A Math Teacher’s Perspective” by Alison Wright in Education Week, 21 August 2013;
In this thoughtful Education Week article, Kentucky teacher Alison Wright describes how two students in her Algebra II class reacted when they got back a quiz on which each had the identical score: 6/10.
The first student looked at the grade, rolled her eyes, threw the paper on the floor, and loudly complained that the test was not fair and should not count. The second student read Ms. Wright’s comments, reworked the problems to figure out her mistakes, and talked to her after class to set up an after-school meeting to go over the questions and discuss her study skills.
“This scenario is troubling to me,” says Ms. Wright. “Multiply this incident by how many classes the students take, by how many assessments they will have in each class, by how many years they are in school—the possible ramifications are staggering.”
After doing some research, Ms. Wright came up with approaches she is going to implement in her classes this coming year:
• Teach students that wrong answers are a helpful part of the learning process. “Over the years, I have seen so many mathematics students shut down because they are so afraid of having the wrong answer and ‘failing,’” says Ms. Wright. She wants her students to be adventurous, to take control of their own learning, and not let fear of bad grades get in the way of learning.
A helpful tool in this regard, she says, is Leah Alcala’s Teaching Channel video, “My Favorite No” ( Ms. Alcala has students write their answers to a math problem on 5x3 cards at the beginning of class, then quickly sorts the correct and incorrect answers and displays her “favorite” wrong answer (without mentioning the student’s name) and discusses with the whole class what was right and what was wrong. Ms. Alcala believes this is superior to using “clickers” because the teacher can make a judgment call on the most interesting and informative wrong answer—plus, it’s cheaper.
• Use cooperative group work as often as possible. Wright gets groups working on Math Design Collaborative assessments ( and finds this helps them grapple with the content and think about their own learning processes. “Not only are students developing social skills necessary for teamwork,” she says, “but they are also constructing arguments and providing valuable feedback to each other in a non-threatening environment.”
• Use “A” and “Not Yet” as the only two possible grades. Wright believes this might have helped the first student in the scenario above address her math learning issues rather than throwing a mini-tantrum about her grade.
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 499, 26 August 2013.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


There are currently no comments posted. Please post one via the form above.