Ask anyone who knows me well, and those folks will tell you: Miranda has the fortitude of an ox.
I have a tenacity that simply will not allow me to give up. When I was a little girl, I ran around my grandmother’s house to the point of exhaustion, I held my breath underwater longer than any of my cousins dared, I walk on the treadmill at full incline, because even though it’s tough, it’s what I must do to save the ankle I broke severely in college from atrophy. I refuse to allow fear to hinder my attempt to be my best self. That being said, I am also an extremist. The attribute that has served in so many ways in my life can also be considered my Achilles heel. I am too hard on myself much of the time. I drive my husband crazy, I drive the editor at the newspaper crazy, and I drive my boss crazy with my onslaught of questions that really amount to this: “Is my work good enough?” Translation: “Am I good enough?”, or even more simply, “Am I enough? I think the key to harnessing and positively utilizing this wonderful quality, is the ability to strike a healthy balance between throwing in the towel almost immediately and constantly feeling like there is something to be proven. Below are some suggestions to finding the balance and bringing out the best in your students.
In this article in AMLE Magazine, consultant/writer Rick Wormeli says that in some domains, today’s students are incredibly tenacious: “If the story is good, they read 700-page books. They play online games, working their way through 12 levels of difficulty for six hours or more. They stay well into the evening hours to practice for theater productions and sports tournaments, and they work diligently for weeks on video projects to support favored causes.” But in other arenas, not so much. They abandon a website if it doesn’t download in two seconds. They think they know world events by skimming headlines and listening to short sound bites. They tune out if a text message is too long. And long reading assignments are anathema. So how do we build stick-to-it-iveness in classrooms? Here are Wormeli’s suggestions:
• Cultivate trust. “Students will take risks and push themselves harder if they can trust the adult in charge won’t humiliate them,” he says. Don’t use sarcasm and “gotcha” language. Some positive examples: “Can you help me find the supportive details in this paragraph?” “The first part of your response provides the insight we needed. Tell me more about that second part.”
• Make connections. When a student is deciding whether to watch a movie with a friend or finish a project that’s due tomorrow, the deciding factor will be whether the student wants to avoid disappointing the teacher.
• Be happy. Students are drawn “to the bright oasis of the teacher who keeps cynicism and indifference at bay,” says Wormeli.
• Provide descriptive feedback. Focus on the decisions students made while doing their work, he suggests: “Judgments and labels shut down the reflective, growth-mindset process.” Some templates: I noticed you decided to ______. As a result, you were able to ________.
• Show growth. Use pre-assessments to set a baseline and create a growth-over-time dynamic, says Wormeli: “When students see that they were once struggling and then worked hard and eventually achieved success, they are more likely to endure the next challenge; they have personal proof that they can go from nothing to full success if they put in the time and energy necessary.”
• Provide constructive responses to relearning and reassessing. An unchangeable ‘F’ grade teaches very little. Better for a student to go through the steps of a failed project a second time and get it right.
• Provide meaningful work. Students respond to real-life connections. “Meaning-making is the root of perseverance,” says Wormeli.
• Clearly articulate the goals. “At any given moment, every student in our classes should be able to tell us both the learning goal/objective and where he is in relation to it,” he says. “If the goal is vague, we’re more likely to put it off and we give it less energy in its completion.”
• Provide multiple tools and models. If students believe they have the building blocks, they’re more likely to commit their effort.
• Make sure students experience success. “Nothing motivates students to stick with something like success,” says Wormeli. “We all enjoy complex, demanding challenges if we have the tools to achieve them and proof of success.”