Monday, September 1, 2014

Got Grit? Writing a conceptual statement with 4th graders

In her TED Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth describes grit as:
  • passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.
  • having stamina.
  • sticking with your future, day in, day out not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality.
  • and living life like its a marathon, not a sprint.
As I was planning a learning engagement where students would be able to construct a conceptual understanding of grit, I originally had thought of reading them a picture book in which the main character perseveres in the face of adversity and eventually achieves a formidable goal.

But instead, I planned for students to play a counting game* so relatively difficult that it would be impossible for them to succeed. I imagined that this experience would allow students to demonstrate the necessary soft skills to succeed at any challenging task; in other words, I wanted students to show grit.

To add another dimension to the learning activity, I split the kids into two groups and led the game in completely different ways. With the second group of kids out in the hallway, I quickly introduced the game to the first group of kids, did not let them ask questions about the instructions, and showed great impatience whenever anyone made a mistake. As we played the game, students grew agitated and nervous and their performance reflected that. After five minutes, they hadn't been able to count past 17. Visibly frustrated, I told them we would have to give up because it was time for the second group to go.

When the second group returned to the classroom, I completely changed the way I acted and spoke. Adopting a growth mindset perspective (Carol Dweck), I clearly explained the instructions, asked them if there were any questions before starting, and showed great patience when the students made mistakes. I continually reminded them that the game was difficult and we might not reach our goal today, but we must work hard, remain focused and work together to see how far we could get. Every time a student messed up, we'd analyze what happened and make sure everyone understood the error so we could learn from the mistake. Within minutes, the kids exceeded the first group, reaching 22 before we had to stop.

To continue our investigation of grit, I had the class answer three questions using the visible thinking routine Chalk Talk (from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison).

After students had the opportunity to discuss on paper, we synthesized their responses together by examining what everyone had written.

To provide students with one more concrete example of grit, I read Shel Silverstein's The Little Blue Engine (Where the Sidewalk Endsp. 158), a poem that teaches the idea that when taking on a challenging goal, one must do more than just THINK you can.

Finally, I asked the students to consider the game, the responses to the Chalk Talk questions, and the poem as they came up with a single statement summarizing what they should do when they face a challenging goal. 

Each color represents an additional idea students wanted to add to the statement, which started with "Keep on trying". After students were done collectively editing and revising their statement, we tested to see if it was Timeless, Abstract, Universal, and Transferrable.
After reading about how students in fourth grade wrote a conceptual statement, synthesizing what they had learned about persistence, resilience, and grit, how could you lead your students through an investigation that would allow them to construct understanding of this complex concept?

*For those who are curious, the seemingly impossible game we played was Buzz. To play Buzz, students take turns counting in sequence out loud. Each player says one number. Every time a particular number comes up (see which numbers below), the student says "buzz" instead of the number and the order reverses direction. For the version we played, students needed to "buzz" on the following numbers:
  • numbers with a 7 (7, 17, 27, 37, 47)
  • numbers divisible by 7 (7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49)
  • numbers with a repeating digit (11, 22, 33, 44)
The game is "won" when the group reaches 50. Every time someone makes an error, the group must start over at 0.

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