Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Teaching Students Perseverance

Today's blogging topic is perseverance. I'd like to start by sharing a video clip that always comes to mind when I'm thinking about perseverance. It's from Facing the Giants, a film released in 2006, and it never fails to give me chills.

Did it give you chills too?

Let's move from the football field into the actual classroom. One of the best things about teaching a lesson as a preservice teacher is that (at least in my experience) students are engaged simply because someone new is providing the instruction. The teachers of the classrooms I've visited have always told their students that they should strive to impress me because I will talk about them when I go back to UNI, and they don't want me to say negative things about them, their class, or their school. This motivates the students to be on their best behavior and strive to perform exceptionally. While I have always appreciated the students' good behavior and willingness to participate when I teach, it also leaves me questioning my ability to assist an unenthusiastic or resistant student. Rather than allowing my future students to reach this point of desperation, I believe it will be beneficial to explicitly utilize perseverance strategies with my students early in the year and repeatedly refer back to these strategies as needed. But there are no standards for the acquisition of perseverance, so how should educators go about teaching students how to "keep on keeping on"? By exploring various blogs and internet resources, I was able to acquire some great resources regarding promoting perseverance in the classroom.

Norene Weisen compiled 8 Ways to Build Student Stamina, a guide for how teachers can create a supportive and encouraging learning environment. One of my favorite strategies from this blog was to "help learners develop a growth mindset." This strategy involves verbally recognizing the student for his or her efforts toward a specific goal. For example, a teacher might say to a student, "I've noticed that you have been taking time outside of class to write in your journal. This practice in formulating detailed sentences shines through in your descriptive word choices on assignments." By making these comments, the teacher reinforces the concept that effort leads to improved performance and eventual accomplishment of the goal. These comments also tell the student that the teacher has noticed their efforts, which may motivate the student to continue putting in the extra work. Teachers need to help students understand that there is always room to grow in our abilities and knowledge of concepts, but this growth can only be achieved through the students' efforts. (Note: This was just my favorite of the eight ways, but they all were great!)

Vicki Zakrzewski is the author of the post Teaching Grit: How to Help Students Overcome Inner Obstacles. This blog post was all about promoting cognitive and emotional skills in learners. I liked how the author discussed the importance of self-perception as it relates to our ability to succeed. I used to repeat about a dozen different quotes to myself when I ran cross country, and one of my favorites was "whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." If students do not believe that they can achieve their goals, what's stopping them from giving up and quitting? Students with a high self-efficacy are better able to strive for success; therefore, we as teachers must promote optimism and regulating negative emotions so that our students are better equipped to reach their goals.

My searching lead to another blog post related to perseverance: Beth Werrell's 4 Tips for Empowering Students to Persevere. I particularly appreciated the second tip included in this post. It stated that we should praise students for their effort and commitment to their progress rather than complimenting intelligence. Werrell wrote, "We used to believe that telling kids they were smart would boost self-confidence and academic performance. But studies now show this kind of praise can discourage perseverance by suggesting that effort is less important to success than intelligence is." This similar to a quote I have seen frequently on Twitter, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." We need to help our students understand that while intelligence or talent might expedite the process, they can achieve their goals with the right attitude and actions. Additionally, no matter how smart or talented our students are, at some point in their lives they are going to encounter problems that they cannot overcome with intelligence or talent alone. All of our students need to learn to appreciate the process of working toward a goal, and we can help kindle that mindset with our comments.

While most of the blogs I explored offered only positive perspectives on perseverance or "grit," Jordan Catapano's Teaching Strategies: Examining Perseverance provided an insightful counterargument as to why perseverance may not always be a great thing. In this blog post, Catapano mentioned that not every task is necessarily worth sticking to until the end. For example, if a task becomes insignificant or irrelevant, or if the effort a student is putting into the goal could be better put to a more beneficial task, a student's unwavering determination may be a detriment. At the end of his post, Catapano wrote, "Perhaps we ought to teach students to stick with what matters, and to weigh the pros and cons to figure out what exactly it is that matters. This leads to more critical thinking and substantiates more elaborate considerations related to how to maximize their pursuits." Catapano did not state that perseverance is unnecessary or destructive, just that steadfast perseverance without education regarding the costs of the effort may not be the best approach either.

I turn it over to you. If you're a teacher or have children of your own, how do you encourage perseverance with the kids? If you're preservice like me, how do you anticipate supporting perseverance in your future classroom? And regardless of who you are, what are some strategies you use to help you persevere?

(And with that, you've read to the end. "Look up Brock, you're in the endzone.")

Image used with permission from Jackie Blake Jensen at IC Pixx Photography