This term we have been talking to Y7 a great deal about grit. What it is and why we think it’s important at Durrington. We want our students to be gritty, because ultimately we think that will help them to be successful. Angela Duckworth, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, author of ‘Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ and founder of the ‘Character Lab’ thinks so too:
The problem is, it’s a difficult thing, this idea of developing ‘grit’ and it has generated much discussion. Is it something you can explicitly teach students? No, I don’t think it is, and to think that you can, is overly simplifying something that is very complicated – our character and what forms it. Character is based around the beliefs that we have about the world, and these are shaped by our environment and experiences, over time. So, just telling somebody to change their character is likely to have limited success.
That said, I don’t think we should ignore it, but instead we should adopt a more pragmatic approach to it. I think we can probably try to demonstrate to students what grit is and why it is important, and then try to develop grittiness, through our day to day teaching. Undoubtedly, this is what legends like Mr Clarke and Pam McCulloch did on a daily basis! I think that’s our best hope, rather than trying to simply teach ‘grit’. This is what we have tried to do at Durrington. Whilst their environment and experiences extend well beyond school, such as their family, friends and social media, we can try to shape the environment they are in at school and the experiences they have whilst they are with us, in such a way that it might make them more gritty.
The Y7 Grit Challenge
In September, Lesley Graney and I led an assembly to our new Y7 students about what it means to be a student at Durrington. We talked about a whole host of qualities that we wanted our students to have e.g. hard working, having high expectations of themselves, taking pride in their work and learning from setbacks. We also talked about grit.
We then set each Y7 tutor group a challenge. As a group of people, they all had one term to learn something new. They had to set themselves a target and then all stick with it – supporting each other on the way. That was the only input they got – it was then over to them, to pick the new thing they were going to learn and then stick with it.
Last week, we visited each tutor group, to see what they had learnt – they had to show us what they had been working on that term. It was amazing! Some examples of what we saw in the tutor groups:
- Learning to complete a piece of origami in timed conditions.
- Learning and performing a song to the whole year group.
- Solving mathematical problems in Spanish.
- Counting in Japanese.
- Learning to draw cartoon characters.
- Learning sign language – and performing a song with.
- Stacking playing cards as high as possible.
Then this morning, we had an assembly where some of the groups showed the whole year group what they could now do. This was a fantastic event! It was clear that many of the students have had to show real grit and determination to complete their challenge, despite the fact that they often felt like giving up. As an example, in one of the tutor groups that learnt and performed a song, only four of the students in that tutor group had ever sang in front of an audience before – and here they were singing in front of over 300 of their peers. A great accomplishment!
Does this mean that this ‘grit’ will be transferrable to their learning in subjects? Who knows…probably not? Maybe with some? What we are hoping though, is that it might show them that with a gritty approach i.e. having a goal in mind, working hard and not giving up on it, they can be successful and achieve things they didn’t think were possible.
Grit in the classroom
At Durrington, our teaching is based around six evidence informed pedagogical principles, as outlined in ‘Making every lesson count’. Bearing in mind that students have five lessons every day, for the five years they are with us, the way in which we teach them probably has the best chance of developing character i.e. grit, than anything else. So, what role does each principle play in doing this?
- We don’t set them targets in Ks3 or GCSE – we expect all students to set themselves the challenging goal of achieving excellence.
- We don’t use differentiated learning objectives – we teach all students challenging content, and then support them with understanding it. We want them all to have the long term goal of really understanding the complexities of the subject.
- We share examples of excellence with students all of the time – so they know what standard is expected of them.
- Our teachers are passionate about their subject and so hopefully this passion will become infectious.
- More and more we are trying to raise the aspirations of our students by sharing with them, where the subject could take them in a future career e.g. by engaging with STEM based activities. This is essential in terms of engendering a long term goal.
- We talk a great deal in subject teams about how to explain things really well – see here.
- This gives students the best opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills and therefore the confidence to believe that they can be successful.
- Hand in hand with explanation is modelling. So as well as explaining new knowledge and skills carefully to students, we take the time to model to them how to use it.
- An integral part of the modelling process, is showing students the mistakes that we make on the way and how to overcome them – and that this is fine. For example, a history teacher may be modelling how to write a historical essay on the board. In doing so, they might rub out a line, explain why they won’t be using that line and then how they could improve it with a better line.
- Again, this gives students the confidence to then use this knowledge and skills themselves – and to acknowledge their own mistakes and learn from them.
- Practice is essential for developing grit. Once we have explained and modelled to students, we then give them the opportunity to practice using this new knowledge and skills.
- This practice needs to be hard though. There is no point in giving them something that will be too easy. Hard work requires effort.
- This will mean that they will fail, but that is fine. We will support them to understand why they may have got that particular bit wrong, and how to overcome this in the future.
- We report back to students and parents about the effort they are making in lessons, for each subject. Effort is really high profile here at Durrington and informs much of the intervention work we do.
- We think about asking really challenging questions – think hard questions.
- Only by doing this are we going to push students and get them to achieve their long term goal i.e. really understanding the complexities of the subject.
- Students need feedback, in order to keep going. Especially when things are hard – and we do make things hard for them!
- The best teachers do this so well – they let them struggle just enough, so that they are really thinking, but give them enough feedback to direct this thinking in the right way. So their feedback is supporting the struggle and not just giving them the answer to the struggle.
- This keeps them moving in the right direction and shapes their thinking.
Our Y7 students have made a fantastic start to their time at Durrington. Is this because of our focus on grit with them? Who knows. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine a causal link. We would like to think that it’s helping though. We will continue with this next term and are currently thinking about the next grit challenge for year 7. We want it to focus on the problem of how we move this work on to developing grit with individual Y7 students, many of whom don’t really have perfectly formed long term goals yet. Watch this space.
If you have yet to hear Angela Duckworth talk about grit, here she is:
Posted by Shaun Allison