by Jennifer Davis Bowman, Ed.D.
Recently, “grit” has surfaced as one of the more popular concepts in the classroom. It is often associated with desirable characteristics such as motivation and determination. In examining experiences with student grit in my classroom, I began to wonder “Is grit always a positive student trait?”
This question brought to mind the skit “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong” from the infamous comedy series Dave Chappelle. Now keep in mind, that this phrase “keeping it real” represents a person’s ability to be genuine, honest, and “real” in terms of their interactions with others.
At first, the phrase seems agreeable, but Chappelle’s skit revealed that such consequences do exist (insensitivity to feelings, arguments, miscommunication etc.). Similarly to the concept “keeping it real”, a teacher’s initial impression of student grit is welcoming, but after careful consideration there are some caveats that need consideration.
Below are four examples of how student grit goes wrong, and corresponding strategies that teachers may use to help get it back on track.
The perception of grit is not shared.
It is common for teachers and students to perceive things differently in the classroom. A teacher may define grit as meeting a standard or goal, whereas the student may view grit as agreeing to work towards an academic goal.
In order to achieve a shared understanding of grit, teachers and students must communicate with one another regarding their beliefs, expectations, and experiences.
The belief that energy equals grit.
As teachers, we strive to engage our students. We give students second chances, extensions, and repeated practices. In short, we require the students to work. Yes, all work requires energy, but all energy is not created equal. It is the level of energy expended, how the energy is expended over time that comprises grit. We must remember that when a student participates in class, or completes an assignment, that this does not necessarily illustrate grit. It becomes grit when the student participates consistently (even when they dislike the class) or when they continuously submit work (even though they struggled with the assignment).
In order to highlight the dimensions of grit, encourage that students utilize self-progress monitoring strategies such as class journal writing and one minute reflection pages to outline their learning process. You can also attempt to help the students internalize the concept of motivation so that they are able to identify strategies that help or hinder their academic motivation.
Grit can isolates the student.
Grit is described by a deep sense of focus and can create tunnel vision for students. When a student identifies a goal, they may have a difficult time working on anything else. In addition, if they create a goal that is different from their peers, feelings of alienation may result.
In order to prevent these feelings of isolation, encourage students to identify shared goals. For instance provide time in class for those students who have their hearts set on completing the extra credit. In addition, teachers may pursue more collaborative projects as a part of the curriculum in order to give students the opportunities to work in groups.
Grit can create a gap between student desire and action.
As unfortunate as it may be, a desire for success does not guarantee it. Of course, students want to pass, obtain praise for their work, and exceed academic goals, but they must work for it. Sometimes there is a mismatch between the student’s desire and their level of effort. This mismatch may result from a disability, a lack of guidance or a host of reasons (please refer to numbers 1-3 on this list) and prevent the student from making any progress towards the goal.
In order to decrease the likelihood of the “desire to action” gap, teachers must continually strive to empower student effort. Activities that foster choice, ownership, or an opportunity for students to have a voice in their learning process will help fill this gap and incite student effort.
For additional reading on student grit please see the following resources:
Toshalis, E., & Nakkula, M. (2012). Motivation, engagement, and student voice. The Education Digest, 29-35.
Williams, K.C., & Williams, C.C. (2011). Five key ingredients for improving student motivation. Research in Higher Education Journal, Retrieved from http://www.aabri.comwww.aabri.com/manuscripts/11834.pdf
4 Strategies To Promote Smarter Grit In The Classroom; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool