Teaching ‘grit’

Teaching “grit” – resilience, persistence, conscientiousness — is the topic of an Education Week roundtable.

Teaching non-cognitive skills blames the victim, writes Darnell Fine, a “multicultural educator who facilitates creative writing and education seminars, as well as social justice workshops.” Low-income kids shouldn’t have to adopt middle-class values, he argues.

The teaching of non-cognitive skills pushes a socialization process that homogenizes students into the mainstream culture if they want to “succeed.” These skills send cultural messages on how a student exhibits “good behavior.” They are built upon mainstream beliefs and values that could prove to be culturally irrelevant. Are low-income students therefore “bad” when they don’t assume mainstream society’s cultural ethos?

I hope Fine’s students enjoy being poor because they’re likely to stay that way.

Alison Wright, a math teacher, takes a more pragmatic approach to teaching her students to learn from mistakes, persist etc.

Last week, I gave a short 10-question quiz in my Algebra 2 class. Student A and Student B both received a score of 6/10. Student A looked at the paper, rolled her eyes, threw the quiz on the floor, and loudly complained that the assessment was unfair and “shouldn’t count.” Student B, on the other hand, read my comments, reworked the problems to find her mistakes, and then after class asked to set up an after-school meeting so we could go over the assessment together and discuss her study habits.

She wonders how she can help Student A “improve her motivation, self-efficacy and overall academic drive.”

“Self-efficacy” or “efficacious thinking” means the belief that what a person does makes a difference. If I do the homework and pay attention in class, I’ll learn something. If I study for the test, I’ll do better on it. Kids taught they’re the helpless victims of social injustice will see no point in working hard in school or even showing up every day. Why exhibit “good behavior” when you have no chance to “succeed.”

Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.