A teacher who I worked with was reading about the differences between our educational system and the educational system of other countries. I don’t remember what they were reading or who said it, but their story went like this. In the US, when students work on math problems at the board and they don’t get it correct right away, they get embarrassed. Their teacher will ask someone to help them or allow them to go back to their desks. In Japan (I believe it was), if a students goes up to the board and struggles, the teacher lets them struggle. The student continues to work and struggle until they figure it out. Once the student finally figures it out the entire class applauds.
The point I am making is that struggling is part of learning. They key is to find that the purpose of struggle so students won’t quit, or you can instill growth mindset or grit in students so the keep at it. Right now in our schools, the mindset is to not push students, make sure they are successful even in contrived settings and hope they don’t give up. Many schools have a fixed mindset and instead of grit we have mush!
As Tovia Smith discusses in her article, Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead? “You can create a classroom culture in which struggle and risk-taking is valued more than just getting the right answer.” I agree with Tovia. We need to change how we operate so students can struggle, overcome that struggle and learn it can be done with hard work and effort.
Of course, helping students obtain growth mindset or grit is not easy. In Tovia’s article that I mention above, she talks about schools implementing school-wide programs, changing how teachers praise students, slogans plastered on walls and other training to help make this happen. She also brings up a fact that parents or the community may not be fully supportive of growth mindset or grit. Tovia Smith quotes an educator who says, “Parents love the notion of grit; they all want their kids to have it. However … no parent wants their kid to cry.”
My wife and I were discussing this as we drove back from Anchorage this past weekend. She explained that one of the biggest mistakes we can make for our kids is to not let them fail. We need to get out of our kids way and let them fail. Our natural reaction as parents is to help and do it for them when things get hard. It is really difficult to let them struggle and sometime cry from frustration. From this discussion we decided to let our son figure out if he was going to get a summer job and what type of job he should get. We hope he won’t cry from this experience, but that wouldn’t be the end of the world if he did.
I do believe that tinkering as Sylvia Martinez describes it in her book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom, is a structural education change that can help students learn growth mindset and allows them to struggle. We have a long way to go to get there. As Sylvia says, the biggest obstacle isn’t structural, “…it’s the limits of our own thinking” (Martinez, 2013).
Martinez, S. L. Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.
Smith, T. (2014) Does teaching kids to get ‘gritty’ help them get ahead? nprED. Retrieved on 5-30-17 at 9:32 pm at http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/03/17/290089998/does-teaching-kids-to-get-gritty-help-them-get-ahead.
Waclawski, M. (2017) Discussion in car with Michelle Waclawski. Trip from Anchorage.