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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Got Grit?

Patrick Welsh’s “For once, blame the student” has a tone reminiscent of the old faculty lounge. Listen, I’ve heard countless urban teachers blame students for sub par achievement:

“These kids are lazy.”

“They don’t work hard like they used to when I started teaching.”

“The kids are nice and polite, but they won’t do a damn thing.”

“I assign the homework; the kids just don’t do it.”

“Kids just don’t care about their future.”

Guess what? Some of those very same teachers were teaching their asses off, but the kids weren’t learning.

Look, in education the only time an individual admits to culpability is when the phrase, “there’s plenty of blame to go around” follows. Yeah, no one wants to take the blame for lousy student achievement, but if no one admits culpability then nothing will change.

Teachers, repeat after me: “I take full responsibility for the failure of my students to realize their peak academic performance.”

Parents, repeat after me: “I take full responsibility for the failure of my child to reach his/her peak academic performance.”

Feel better?

Now, here’s what we can all do to insure that students learn:

Insist on and reward effort. It makes sense, and it has an emerging research base.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at Penn, studied high achievers in various fields and found out that “There were certainly a fair number of people who were brilliant, ambitious and persevering, but there were also a lot who were not a genius in any way but were really tenacious.” There it is; grit is back, baby.

Duckworth went on to design and administer a grit questionnaire and gave it to the entire entering class of West Point cadets. She found that the best predictor of a cadet completing the infamous Beast Barracks wasn’t class rank, SAT score, but G-R-I-T.

The biggest enemy to developing grit in a child is praising them on intelligence and not effort. After all if parents are right then where are all the geniuses?

Keep it simple, praise effort. If your kid is successful, point out the effort behind the task and reward it accordingly. Coaches do this all the time when they start the kid who worked the hardest in practice. Teachers should do it too because students don’t get anywhere with genius alone. Since work ethic and character are critical to success, it makes sense to grade on both quality and effort. That’s right reward the kid who busts his ass.

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