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Go ahead and teach grit, but not by dishing out gravel.

I haven’t read the book yet, and I’m sure it’ll be well written, full of insight, and helpful in my practice, just like Mindset, the other contender for the staff’s summer book choice. But as I confessed to the principal when I picked up my copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth, I don’t like the language. Grit is what gets in your teeth from poorly washed salad greens, or in your pants after visit to the beach.

I feel that same distaste for with that other trendy word, “rigor.” The dictionary and I associate it with mortis and other highly unpleasant experiences.  Rigor is now to be seen as something we should purposely provide in our classroom experiences. In order to foster grit, I suppose.

Yes, I know the value of perseverance, and the need, now more than ever, in an age of instant gratification, to help students push through difficulties, work patiently over the long term, face as much boredom as necessary to discover their creativity. But what I object to is emphasizing only the negatives–life is hard, school isn’t always fun, what doesn’t kill you, etc. To less skilled, less all-in, less creative and hardworking educators, it might justify expecting students to put up with crappy classes in the name of growth, and give the impression that enjoyable experiences are to be, if not entirely avoided, then minimized as a necessary evil. I can hear them now: “Students, you don’t have to like me; you don’t have to like math; you might just hate this class; but you have to show GRIT, ’cause that’s what its’ all about!” I expect to hear about the opening of a new school with “Boot Camp” in its name any day now. It will attract a certain type of person.

What ever happened to delight-directed learning? Okay, so that wasn’t ever much used in public education circles, but I sure heard about it a lot as a homeschooler, thought about it, and tried for it. I tried to have a basic “table time,” for math and handwriting, and sometimes things I as an adult thought were important, such as memorizing poetry, but then it was, “Run along and find something interesting to do until chore time (and if you can’t come up with anything, chore time starts now).”  Some of the most meaningful experiences my kids had were while pursuing their own passions and interests, because they wanted to persevere trough the difficulties they encountered (The rest came through chores, some of which can also have their satisfactions).

I hope I can still make a place for delight in the way I work with students in public school. The rigor, challenges will always be available–I don’t believe in avoiding those, and students will often need to grow in grit, perseverance, but let’s start with delight, enticement, wonder, enthusiasm, and confidence that what we have to teach is worth learning, is inherently interesting. Whenever possible, let’s kindle fascination, vision, desire—the drives that will create the momentum to drive through those challenges and not give up. And along the way, the more happy memories associated with learning math, science, art, whatever, the more likely students are to continue learning when no one’s giving a report card.

More on annoyingly trendy lingo: Rigor, Grit, Collaboration

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Education

 

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Mother teacher

Mother teacher

“Mommy, why does it rain?” They were walking to the van, wet from a swim and laden with damp towels, refreshed and tired.

“Oh, it just does. You never know about the weather; it just happens.”

Did the young mother hear the question? That the child wanted to know, was still motivated to learn and know, in stages, about her world? She didn’t mean it, surely, but she communicated not only ignorance (despite probably knowing more than she felt like sharing just then), but a lack of curiosity. In that moment, she did not take responsibility for her role, one of her roles, in her daughter’s life. Later that sort of question will be on a science test, and will she have lost her wonder by then? Meanwhile, mother is teacher. Without even trying, without learning objectives, lesson plans, or credentials, she is the main source, and channel to almost all kinds of knowing (And father, in his times with the children). And ways of not knowing, wondering, finding out, and putting it all together.

I loved those moments with my kids–still do, when they come. I still have those kinds of questions myself, though they stray into the abstract nature of things as well. Sure, there’s mystery, gray areas, and not every question can be answered straight. But let’s see how far we can go. Suppose the mother truly couldn’t remember, didn’t know why it rains. Could she have answered, at the very least, “I wonder….those raindrops made you ask, didn’t they? Where are they coming from? Why did they start to come down lately? It wasn’t raining, and then it was–did you see anything change? Does the air feel different now? Would you like to read about rain when we get home? Maybe we can learn to know when it will rain… I know a Tom Hunter song with rain in it…”

Personally, I prefer that approach to a clinical explanation of the water cycle, complete with all the necessary vocabulary words, unless the child’s personality tends to prefer that approach–a few do. As dismayed as I was to hear this mom lose a teaching opportunity, I am perhaps more irritated when a parent launched into a full explanation that steamrolls their child’s curiosity and her participation in the process. Some of us have to learn to hold back, be patient, leave think time. But let’s all of us remember that we as parents are the primary teachers of our children, and not delegate that task to some formal program too early, if ever. And if you feel school days looming over you and your five year old like a dark rain cloud, instead of an exciting new phase in which you feel glad to actively participate, you can always homeschool.

 

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