5 Steps to Foster Grit in the Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


The word “grit” suggests toughness and determination. The question is how do we get students to value struggle, failure and perseverance in our classrooms? ASCD recently published Thomas Hoerr’s short but great book on this subject, Fostering Grit. The subtitle “How do I prepare my students for the real world?” reflects the fact that our students will encounter challenging work and problems to solve. If this is the case, our classrooms should mirror that process and prepare our students to be successful in meeting these challenges. You might consider this a critical 21st century skill, which means that we need to scaffold the related skills we’re teaching our students.

Model Grit
Modeling is a crucial component in teaching skills to students. Many teachers use modeling to teach reading skills, which will be crucial as students encounter more and more complex text. Try modeling grit by leading students through a think-aloud explicitly about grit. Reading and navigating a complex text is challenging, so make sure your that think-aloud talks not only about how to navigate, but also about mistakes made and the thought process of perseverance. This can build trust in the classroom that grit is valuable and natural.

Don’t Grade Formative Assessments
In a previous blog, I wrote:

Why don’t I grade formative assessment? For one, a grade is supposed to answer the question: “Did the student learn and achieve the learning targets or standards?” If this is the case, then the summative assessment primarily represents achievement. Formative assessment is practice. It is part of the journey.

If you punish students in the learning process, then they are less likely to engage with it. Grit requires that there are multiple stages in the learning process and that the journey of learning is valued. You can read the above-mentioned blog for strategies on how to use formative assessments more effectively if this is challenging for you. If you want grit, then you can’t punish students for making mistakes.

Authentic Products
In another blog, I wrote about the importance of bringing authenticity to the classroom. One piece of this is having students create authentic products. When they create real work that has value, they are more likely to create high quality work. And students are more likely to improve their work when they know there is an authentic audience for the authentic work.

Ongoing Revision and Reflection
Build in sacred time to revise work and reflect upon the learning. If we want students to value grit, they need to see learning as a journey, and we need to give them time to reflect about the challenges they’ve faced, and the mistakes and revisions they’ve made. To start, watch the “Austin’s Butterfly” video for advice on how good critique and feedback can scaffold and support grit in the classroom

Celebrate Success
When we persevere, we need to celebrate the success. We often don’t take time to celebrate the challenging work we’ve completed. Sometimes we feel that our schedule forces us to immediately move on with the next unit of instruction. If you want students to value grit, then you must celebrate in your classroom. This is part of the reflection process, but again is explicitly about celebration. Have students celebrate their own grit as well as the grit of others with a strategy like Your Shining Moment.

These are some practical steps to foster grit in your classroom. If we want our students to find joy in grit, then they need to find that joy in our classrooms. Seek a balance of challenge, reflection and authenticity to create a culture of grit.

21st Century Skills and the Common Core


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


21st century skills are quickly becoming taught and assessed in schools across the nation. Whether through explicit instruction or models like project-based learning, educators are quickly realizing that lower level content comprehension is not enough. The Whole Child Initiative calls for tenets that rely on these skills. We create a safe environment through collaboration. Critical thinking creates rigor and challenge. Communication can create engagement with the community. 21st century skills, when paired with content can create powerful and meaningful learning. The Common Core State Standards explicitly call for these skills, so through uncovering the 3 C’s in the Common Core, we can see how educators must teach and assess them.


In every grade level of the English language arts common standards, you will find the common standard that calls for “collaborative discussions.” I do mean every! This means that at each grade level, we must not only be teaching and assessing the skill of collaboration, but we must think about how it looks different from grade level to grade level. We know that group work and collaborative work can be effective, but now collaboration is more than just an instructional tool. It is a skill that needs to be taught and assessed.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving

Roland Case has done some great work on unpacking the concept of critical thinking into quality indicators. One of these quality indicators is perseverance, being able to complete a challenge and work through the obstacles. In the mathematics common standards, there are specific mathematical practices that are mentioned. One of these is “make sense of a problem and persevere in solving them.” This is an explicit call in the Common Core to teach and assess one facet of critical thinking. In addition, as you unpack the Common Core, you will still thinking skills and related language for critical thinking. From being able to “evaluate,” “reflect” or “analyze,” the focus is on higher-order thinking skills that require that critical thinking be taught to all students and assessed.


Across each grade level in the English language arts common standards, communication—both written and oral—is evident. The Common Core calls for students to communicate effectively, and through a variety of mediums. Digital tools are mentioned, as well as oral and written skills. English teachers have always been responsible for this skill, but now all subjects are being called to teach and assess communication skills.

Unpacking the Common Core State Standards allows us to see the need to teach and assess 21st century skills to our students. When we look at the Whole Child Tenets, we can see alignment between them and 21st Century Skills. Perhaps the Common core will leverage the need to teach to the whole child.

Online Learning Needs True Student Collaboration


abeo school change This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


Steven Johnson
, the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From,” was recently featured on CNN where he shared his ideas from his TED talk aired earlier this summer. Learning does not occur in isolation. Great ideas do not occur in isolation. Why then are most online courses structured in a way that fosters mostly the teacher-student relationship?

If we look at the way many learning management systems and courses are setup, it is still very traditional. Students have an assignment, they complete it, and they turn it in. The material is geared toward multiple learning styles, but authentic learning style of collaboration may not exist. Now there may be occasions where discussion board posts are required, or peer review. In fact the best online teachers are using these tools synchronously and asynchronously. The best teachers are doing their best to create activities and routines that foster student interaction and collaboration. But is the curriculum and structure set up in a way that requires collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking?

One of the biggest strengths of online learning is fosters true student-teacher relationship in order to create an individualized education plan. Parents say this, teachers say this, and students say this. Julie Young, CEO of Florida Virtual Schools, recently shared in an article that “it is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of online learning that teachers and students often find it more personal than the classroom experience.” She then goes on to advocate for more hybrid programs, in order to balance face-to-face learning with online. I would agree that with the hybrid model, you can build face-to-face experiences that foster more collaboration, but this is one idea.

If we truly want the 21st century skills, we need to create online environments that truly require collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking. Are students working together to problem solve and create while still being held accountable individually? Are the student forums open so that students may collaborate? Are students leading discussions and live class meetings? Are students allowed voice and choice in their assessments? These are just some of the questions that educators of the online world need to consider.

In online education, we are in danger of replicating a system that has only worked well for some. The traditional classroom, where the teacher is the center and the students do the assignment, has not worked for all. We in the world of education reform agree on this. We believe in these 21st century skills. We have seen brick and mortar and hybrid programs that have worked, where collaboration and innovation is occurring regularly. We need to look at these examples and learn from them. We need to ensure the structures and curriculum foster not only online individualized instruction, but collaboration for the purposes of innovation. As Steven Johnson says, “Chance favors the connected mind.”

Make Your Students “Now” Ready


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


The term “career and college ready,” or any other variation, is thrown around all the time in K-12 education with good intentions. We all want students to leave our classrooms with passion for learning, prepared for their job or their next step in education. However, you can’t simply rely on these ideas to engage your students.

One of the pitfalls to avoid with career and college readiness is just what the term can imply: “This will matter when you go to college.” Why do we default to the response that this material will help you later? For some kids, career and college has never been an option and seems well out of their realm of possibilities. Simply using it as a talking point will not break through to them. In fact, it may even create a barrier. A student could view this as a lack of understanding of their world and where they come from.

This is not to say you should never use future-oriented language. I have seen some amazing schools where the culture is “You WILL go to college,” but again, this is in the whole school’s culture, not simply a phrase that is used to try and get students engaged in the work. I think this culture of excellence needs to be paired with a culture on authenticity and relevancy in the present moment. As Chris Lehmann asked in a recent TED talk, “Why can’t what students do matter now?”

I agree. We can do better. We can show kids, through authentic and relevant tasks based in the present, that their work is important NOW. You can make students “now” ready. You can make the teaching and learning matter to them now, honoring them as crucial to creating and innovating in the current world around them.

Instead of having students investigate world religions in a traditional research paper or presentation, have them work in teams to debunk current myths, stereotypes, or misunderstandings for the local community through a variety of products and presentations. Instead of just interactive labs about the human body’s structures and systems, have students investigate current health care technologies or practices and suggest innovations and improvements in treatment. Instead of having them create a blueprint of detailed measurements and angles, have them engage in a design challenge to create a new outdoor school structure that will meet all teachers’ and students’ needs at the school (Ed. Note: see the work of 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Brad Kuntz).

Notice that in all these examples they will still learn significant content, but for an authentic purpose in the present. Making students “now” ready creates a culture of present and future excellence. Engaging students in critical thinking, rigorous work, and authentic learning today will convey the skills and content for success tomorrow.


PBL is Career, College, and “Now” Ready


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


Project-based learning (PBL) is rightfully touted as a way not only to create engagement in the classroom, but also to prepare students for their lives once they leave the confines of our classrooms. When given an authentic task to complete that is aligned to standards, students engage in an inquiry process, both as a team and individually, to innovate a solution. The task creates engagement in learning content and also 21st century skills. But let’s cut to the chase and see exactly what about PBL aligns to aspects of being career and college ready.

Public Audience

Every project in which students engage demands a public presentation of their learning. Similar to a board of directors presentation or a sales pitch, students are required to present their products to the public, whether through YouTube, a formal presentation, a podcast, or a portfolio. The audience usually comprises experts in the field. As in the work world, when there is accountability not only to ourselves, but experts, our level of work increases. Students will do the same. If you give them the opportunity to present to an expert, they will rise to the challenge and emulate a real-world experience.

Driving Question and Student Voice and Choice

These two foundations for PBL are closely related in terms of preparing students for college and careers. The driving question creates a feeling of challenge and interest in solving a real and authentic problem. It can be abstract: “How does who we are as teenagers affect who we become as adults?” It can be concrete: “How do we create an ideal outside classroom for our school?” Regardless, students create authentic products for an audience to answer the question, similar to a project in the real world. In addition, the question is open-ended and complex, and allows for student voice and choice in creating a product to answer the question. In college, although requirements are defined, there is often space for students to express their own viewpoint or method. As adults, we have complex and open-ended questions we answer in the career world every day. Students need to be given the opportunity to not “look for one answer” but solve complex, open-ended questions that allow for different ways of knowing in order to prepare for them for that post-secondary experience.

Revision and Reflection

PBL fosters a culture on ongoing feedback and revision. Students learn that it is OK to make mistakes and revise work. This is counter-paradigm. Some traditional teachers might demand a rough draft, but PBL creates multiple opportunities to revise and reflect on work before the actual due date. Like in the workplace, students critique each other, critique themselves, and receive critique from teachers and experts. It helps to prepare students to be independent in their critique and to continually seek feedback from peers and experts, a skill not taught explicitly at the college or career level, but nevertheless is needed and valued.

21st Century Skills

The Buck Institute for Education currently focuses on three major 21st century skills: collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. All are critical to being prepared for college or career. Whether it’s problem solving with teammates, being able to articulate work to a client, or analyzing a solution for effectiveness, all of these skills can be at practice in a PBL project. In fact, they can be taught and assessed. Instead of simply allowing students to experience these 21st century skills, PBL values them as part of the grade and demands teachers not only assess them, but teach them. They are just as important as the content that is being learned in the project.

“Now” Ready

One of the pitfalls to avoid with the idea of being career- and college-ready is just what the term can imply: “This will matter when you go to college.” “This will prepare you for college.” As Chris Lehmann in a recent TED talk espoused, “why can’t what students do matter now?” Why do we as educators default to the response that this material will help you later? For some kids, that idea of college and career is well out of their realm of possibility. The language of being career- and college-ready will not break through to them. However, when done well, PBL frames the content to be learned in a relevant and engaging current problem. With PBL, you can make students “now” ready. You can make the learning and project matter to them now, honoring them as critical to creating and innovating in the current world around them. Use PBL to not only make your students career- and college-ready, but also “now” ready. By making them “now” ready, you will make them college- and career-ready.

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