Teaching Grit: A Guide for Elementary Educators
Over the years, it has been a common debate as to what factors contribute to an individual’s success. If society could manipulate the variables from which success is attained we could replicate it on a much larger scale. This variable could be taught to children in school making them more prone to success instead of failure in the future. Contrary to popular belief, the most important factor of success in an academic sense is neither intelligence nor social skills but rather grit (“The #1 Factor for Success is Grit”, 2015). The goal of every teacher is to prepare their students for the grade ahead of them in the hopes of achieving the ultimate goal of attaining a certain level of independence and success in the real world. Since grit is vital to the success of our future leaders, we must urge lawmakers to incorporate it into the curriculum of elementary schools.
What is Grit?
The concept of grit is abstract and has the potential to mean something different to everyone. Thus, before one can even begin to discuss the different ways by which grit can be taught in the classroom, one must first establish what it really means to have grit. One way in which researchers define grit is the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth et. all, 2007, pg. 1087). One who possesses the character trait of grit does not back down or give up when a situation presents itself as challenging. Instead, these individuals use their stamina to approach and endure difficult academic situations (Hanford, 2012).
Another important detail that must be understood when attempting to describe grit is that it is not a quality that individuals possess naturally. In other words, children are not born with grit but rather the capacity to develop it (Carter, 2013). The reason that it is important to keep such a principle in mind in the context of education is because grit is not something that society can simply expect to see immediately in students. If the concept of grit is taught to students gradually throughout their academic career, their level of grit and success will increase as their grade level does.
Why Teach Grit in Elementary School?
When discussing the teaching of grit in classrooms, one might wonder why elementary school is thought to be the best time to instill the characteristic of grit into individuals. One of the best ways to answer such a question would be to ask someone with experience in teaching elementary school children. Lexie di Bella, a first year Psychology Major at the University of California, Davis has experience with volunteering in both preschool and elementary school classrooms. In a 2015 interview, she states that the school activities facilitated during elementary school “ask much more of students” than the activities preschool children take part in. The elementary school curriculum requires students to work harder and think more critically than the preschool and prekindergarten curriculum. This makes it much easier to show students how working hard now will pay off in the end. di Bella also expressed that, because elementary students are older than preschool students, they have a greater attention span and would thus be more willing and able to adapt to the concept of grit. Therefore, grit should be taught in elementary school because children will be more receptive to its teaching.
Another way in which one can rationalize why grit is better taught early on a student’s academic career is because grit is a “marathon” and not a “sprint” (Hanford, 2012). This means that grit is a quality that an individual develops and learns to utilize over a long span of time. Thus, it is important to teach it gradually and not all at once. Teaching grit early on in a student’s academic career will embrace this concept of progressive development. It is not practical to begin the teaching of grit in high school because it would only give students four years to attempt to develop it. While some students may be able to develop this perseverance over the span of 4 years, a significantly larger amount of students would be able to do so if it were taught in elementary school simply because they would been given much more time. Seeing as how the goal of educators is to ensure success and maximize achievements in their students, grit must be taught in elementary schools because it will do just that.
Methods for Teaching Grit to Students:
- Stay Focused
As one might suspect, there are many scientists who have a variety of different opinions on the proper way in which to instill grit in elementary school children. One way in which a teacher can do this is by keeping students focused on the tasks that they are being asked to complete (Donahue, 2015). In “imagining the world in front of them” (Donahue, 2015) students will be motivated to accomplish the task at hand and become less prone to the distractions that would prevent them from doing otherwise. Teachers can facilitate this in their own classrooms by setting mini goals that are both challenging yet manageable. If students are continually able to put forth a decent amount of effort and attain their goals over time they will develop a heightened sense of confidence, work ethic, and growth mindset (Finley, 2014).
2. Employ the Growth Mindset
Fostering the growth mindset is another way in which teachers will be able to instill grit into their students. A student who possesses the growth mindset is a student who believes that their level of knowledge and talent is not “fixed” (Kamenetz, 2014). It is important that students understand that just because they excel at a certain subject now, this does not ensure that they will continue to excel in that subject if they do nothing more to further their knowledge of it in the future. Conversely, performing poorly on a math test would indicate to students with the fixed mindset that they will always perform in such a manner on math exams, thus diminishing their motivation to continue to put effort in the subject. Students with the growth mindset, however, will see this situation as an invitation to work hard and persevere – two key characteristics of grit. Embodying a growth mindset in the classroom can be as simple as teachers praising a student’s process or strategies when they succeed as opposed to praising them as a person (Finley, 2014). Facilitating classroom activities that involve cooperation instead of competition are always conducive to fostering grit in students because this makes it so students will be able to work together to achieve a common goal instead of pulling each other down in the name of individual success. Fostering the growth mindset is conducive to developing grit because it encourages and “reinforces effort” (Kamenetz, 2014) in students regardless of the level of difficulty in the task at hand– keeping in mind that their level of skill is fluid and not static.
3. Tell Stories
Another way that grit development can be incorporated into lesson plans is by telling stories with themes of passion and perseverance (Davis, 2014). Having a 10 minute story-telling section of class is a simple and effective way to segue between subjects and to integrate grit into a teacher’s lesson plan. Children tend to copy their surroundings. If they are continuously being told stories about people who have persevered through difficult situations, they will be more motivated to do so themselves. Painting a picture in their heads about what grit looks like will better illustrate to them how to be gritty. Personal stories from teacher’s own experience are even better, because students have a certain level of trust and confidence in their teacher and this will not only heighten a sense of trust and confidence that already exists between students and teachers, but it will also bring the concept of grit just a bit closer to home. Every adult either knows of someone who has faced and conquered a hardship or has done so themselves, which makes telling one’s own story of perseverance and grit a simple, effective, and even enjoyable part of class.
4. Let Them Fail
The final method for teaching grit to students may, perhaps, sound the most detrimental to a student’s success because teachers must sit back and watch as their students barrel their way to failure. While it is the natural instinct of teachers to protect their students from the negative implications of failure, such obstacles and implications should be embraced and even encouraged in the classroom (O’Sullivan, 2013). With failure, students will not only gain first-hand experience on the importance of perseverance, but they will also be encouraged to develop grit by “encountering difficulty and learning to cope with it” (Carter, 2013). In other words, it is imperative for students to learn from their mistakes so that they do not repeat the same steps that brought them to such a predicament in the future. In the event of such failure in the classroom, teachers must be discouraged from intervention because a student who is never allowed to fail will never have any type of obstacle to overcome (O’Sullivan, 2013). Teachers who create classrooms void of such failure are producing students who have no need for grit, and thus will be unprepared and even incapable of overcoming these inevitable obstacles in the future. Although the concept that failure could be the key to a student’s success seems exceedingly hypocritical, teaching kids that making mistakes is a normal part of learning and not a “reason to quit” (Smith, 2014) will contribute to their accomplishments in the future.
It is crucial to the success of the leaders of tomorrow that elementary school educators incorporate the teaching of grit into their lesson plans. With grit, students are able to better tackle any task that they are given in school, in the workplace, and in life in general. It is exceedingly important that grit be taught starting in elementary school because it is not something that one is born with, nor is it something that one can simply develop overnight. Adjusting lesson plans to better keep kids focused, fostering a growth mindset, telling stories of grit, and embracing failure are just some of the many ways in which teachers can cultivate such a key to success in their students. In order to ensure the prosperity of our society in the future, we must promote the prosperity of those who will be running it; this is why grit is essential to elementary education.
Carter, C. (2013, May 20). Greater Good . Failure Makes You a Winner. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/failure_winner
Davis, V. (2014, January 9). Edutopia | K-12 Education Tips & Strategies That Work. True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It | Edutopia. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/true-grit-measure-teach-success-vicki-davis
DiBella, Lexie. (personal communication, May 16, 2015)
Donahue, C. (2015, April 2). Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Helping Students Succeed by Building Grit – Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/blog/helping-students-succeed-by-building-grit/
Duckworth, Angela, Christopher Peterson, Michael Matthews and Dennis Kelly. “Grit: Perserverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.” Personality Processes and Individual Differences.(2007): 1087-1101. Web.<http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/Grit%20JPSP.pdf>.
Finley, K. (2014, October 24). EdSurge. 4 Ways to Encourage Growth Mindset in the Classroom. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-10-24-4-ways-to-encourage-a-growth-mindset-in-the-classroom
Hanford, E. (2012, October 2). Mind/Shift. How Important is Grit in Student Achievement?. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/10/02/how-important-is-grit-in-student-achievement/
Kamenetz, A. (2014, March 28). Mind/Shift. The Difference Between Praise and Feedback. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/03/28/the-difference-between-praise-and-feedback/
O’Sullivan, J. (2013, December 16). Changing the Game Project. Rescue Kids from . Retrieved May 16, 2015, from http://changingthegameproject.com/rescue-your-kids-from-affluenza-teach-them-grit/
Smith, T. (2014, March 17). NprEd. Does Teaching Kids to Get “Gritty” Help Them Get Ahead?. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/03/17/290089998/does-teaching-kids-to-get-gritty-help-them-get-ahead
(2015, April 17). ZenSmarts. The #1 Factor for Success is Grit. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from https://www.zensmarts.com/success-is-grit/
16 May 2015
Interviewer: Nora Williams
Interviewee: Lexie Di Bella, 1st Year Psychology Major
Q: How are you involved with elementary school children?
A: Well, right now, I am serving as an intern for the Willett Elementary School in Davis. Basically, what I do is help out the teacher with organizing and facilitating activities involving math and science for her 3rd grade students.
Q: How long have you been involved in this activity?
A: I think I’ve been interning at Willett for about four months now.
Q: Have you noticed a relationship between how much effort students put into activities and how much they get out of it?
A: Oh yea definitely! You can totally see that there are kids who could care less about the activity we’re doing so they don’t put any effort into it and obviously they aren’t getting anything out of that because they stopped paying attention to the activity as soon as we introduced it. But, on the other hand, those kids that actually have an invested interest in the activities we put on, tend to do better than those kids I just described on the mini evaluations we give them every now and then.
Q: Having established that, what is an attribute that you think helps children succeed in school?
A: I think that it is important for kids to be willing to attempt everything their teacher gives them. Even if they don’t succeed at first, if they keep trying they are going to end up learning much more than those kids that didn’t try at all. Most of the stuff we are teaching them is brand new to them and it doesn’t just come naturally so it’s important that they give it their best shot.
Q: Do you think that it is important that your students adopt this type of perseverance early on?
A: For sure! If these kids get in the habit of working hard until they reach the appropriate level of understanding now, then I can imagine they will probably continue to do so in the future. That’s something that comes in handy in high school, college, and just life in general.