Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of Term Exhaustion

One of the buzzwords this year has been "grit." In the reading I've done, I've heard it explained that students who take responsibility for their achievements are more likely to be successful than students who attribute their success or failure to external factors. This makes sense on the surface, but when I was reading my students' reflective essays, I noticed something interesting.

I had asked them to write about a standard they had mastered and a standard they still needed to work on. And for quite a few of the students, they claimed that the standard they mastered was because of their own skill and hard work... then went on to give all sorts of excuses I mean reasons that they'd been less successful. There were very few students who took responsibility for both their successes AND their failures. Needless to say, this was enlightening for me, but also somewhat discouraging. According to my students, any learning that happens is apparently in spite of me, not because of me.

Grit is variously defined as a mixture of determination, resilience, motivation, and courage. Here are some recent articles and blog posts that discuss it:

But while these all exalt the value of getting back up after failing (and in fairness, students who don't do that won't succeed) the truth is that simply trying again, or even trying harder, may not be enough to ensure success. Because if you did something that didn't get you the desired result, if you just do the same thing again, you're likely to get the same less-than-desirable result you did the first time. Perseverance alone isn't enough.

One of the skills that I don't see mentioned in the articles that talk about grit is reflection. After experiencing failure, but before charging back into the fray, it's important to take a good look at what led up to that failure. What were the factors that caused it? Which can I influence directly? What can I do to compensate for the factors that I cannot change? But while we practice this on a regular basis, I'm not entirely sure how I can break it down into smaller steps or try it at an easier level or provide support to help students who are struggling with it. (A lot of my students seem to equate "helping them" with "giving them the answer.")

How do you teach effective reflection? Do you teach it? If not, how do you encourage students to look for ways to improve?


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