Guest Post by Julia Kennedy Kirkland
Does this sound familiar? You give your students a challenging math problem that will take a little longer than usual and may even require a couple of tries. And less than two minutes later, you see raised hands.
They complain: “Teacher, I can’t do this one.” “It’s too hard.” “Do we really have to do problem 10?” Or it’s a writing time and after two or three sentences, there is a chorus of “I can’t think of anything more to write!”
Persistence is a habit of mind and it’s something you can teach. Students who have learned to be persistent are more able to work through challenges in school and out, deal with tough moments and failure, and to reach goals you set or they set for themselves.
We asked teachers to reflect on how they encourage persistence and grit in their students. Here are some of our favorite ideas.
Try this plan with your students when they are working on a problem. Tell students: “First, try by yourself for two minutes, then share with a friend for one minute, then try again by yourself for another two minutes.’ This may encourage your students to see new possibilities. Later, you can lengthen the independent time. — Beth A.
2. Give Away the Answers
If your students keep stopping to check if each answer is right, you might try this reversal. Give them the answers! Then say, “Show how you get these answers.” It might encourage them to think differently. — Nicole S.
3. Persistence, Defined
Together as a class, come up with your own definition of persistence. What does it look like? What does it sound like? Post it in your classroom and use it as a touchpoint. Then praise students showing persistence as often as you can. — Billy M.
Think about how you might be inadvertently contributing to this behavior. Do you jump in and give help as soon as you see a student struggling? Try to pull back and give them time to figure it out on their own. — Aimee S.
5. Say “Yet”
In our classroom, the word “yet” is very important. No longer are they to say, “I don’t get it,” or “I don’t like writing.” They need to add yet. “I don’t get it yet.” “I don’t like writing yet.” Words matter. It’s made a difference. — Loretta T.
6. Build Their Stamina
Talk to your students about the fact that persistence is a trait of successful people. Set a timer on an activity and challenge your students to use every minute without quitting or getting distracted. Then praise student who were persistent and ask them to share how they resisted distracting or negative thoughts. As the year progresses, keep adding minutes on the timer! —Raquel W.
7. Teach It – Model It
Don’t take it for granted that students know how to use different strategies. Model persistence during your whole-class instruction. Show them how to turn in a new direction if they come up against a wall. Refer back to it during independent time. You might say, “What did I do when the project got hard? That’s right. I did a mind map of all the things I know about the subject.” — Jess R.
8. Lessen the Fear of Mistakes
Let your students know that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how everybody learns. Especially with writing, cut down the number of comments you make on student papers. Focus in on the skill you were trying to teach such as topic sentences or providing evidence and let the rest go. — Barbara B.
From classics like The Little Engine That Could and The Carrot Seed to newer favorites like Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late and Mighty Jackie, share books with your class and have discussions about how the main character showed persistence and grit. Look for examples in history, in science, in the world around you. — Sam D
Not all these ideas may work for you. Choose a few and try them. As you model persistence and make it a part of your classroom culture, you’ll begin to see it more and more in your students!
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