Want grit? Give students an audience

ASCD Habits of Mind

Grit, a term buzzing around educational circles, is defined as “firmness of mind and spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship,” according to Merriam-Webster.

This personal quality appears to separate those who make something of themselves in life and those who fail to meet their potential.

So, of course, some schools are now expected to teach and assess grit.

A problem with “teaching” grit is that it is a disposition. There isn’t a specific strategy you can use to teach it. Rather, grit is often an outcome of what happens when someone works to attain a goal and strives to experience success. This goal is typically something they personally care about. People have to be invested in the process of learning in order to become more “gritty.” (Whatever that means.)

For teachers to foster grit in students, I believe a necessary ingredient is an authentic audience. It goes beyond the audience of one that happens too often in classrooms, when students are expected to turn in their projects and papers to the teacher for grading.

If we want to make learning meaningful, it has to mean something. Submitting work for a score or a grade might be the antithesis of an authentic audience.

As educators and school leaders work to build their strategies for engaging students, consider these approaches:

Take advantage of digital communications

One advantage of today’s digital landscape, is that it’s never been easier for educators to easily communicate with students and families. Social media and other messaging apps are free and easy to use.

Many programs allow teachers to create secure communication channels with families. Videos, images, and other digital artifacts of learning can be posted for parents to view on their smartphones or computers. These technologies can give an immediate audience for an end-of-unit project, or to simply highlight student success as it happens.

Using such technology can provide a window into our classrooms for parents that cannot attend school events on a regular basis due to work or other conflicts. It’s an easy shift that places more importance on students’ work and learning.

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Provide every student with a blog

Some part of the school has to belong to the student. Without ownership and choice in what students can learn, no level of audience will significantly increase the purpose of their work and desire to showcase their best efforts.

Providing every student with a blog gives kids their own digital space to post their learning online. Kidblog and Edublogs are two blogging tools used widely in schools. Blogs can serve a variety of purposes: A reader’s notebook, science or math journal, channel for digital penpals, or as a space to share thinking freely. The immediacy of pushing the “publish” button when a blog post is ready conveys the importance of their efforts, thereby fostering grit as they communicate their very best work.

Set up digital portfolio assessment

What happens with our students’ projects and published work after they are presented matters. Important artifacts of learning need to live on to show growth over time.

Digital portfolios–online collections of carefully curated student work for a specific purpose–can be the spaces in which evidence of learning is celebrated and assessed. Students and teachers can post video, audio, and images for families regarding what they learned and how they came to learn it.

Developed over years, digital portfolios can show how students have persevered in their studies, from an initial presentation for a 1st grade classroom project to a speech on graduation day. Grit is captured naturally through a digital portfolio assessment process.

Let students lead your classroom communications

In the 21st century, teachers’ roles have changed, from disseminators of information to activators of thinking and doing.

I don’t think our expectations are high enough regarding what students can be expected to do in our classrooms. That’s why I advocate for students being at least partially responsible for communicating the learning happening in classrooms with families.

One idea for this work is hosting a class website. Digital tools such as Google Sites and Weebly are great for these responsibilities. With students in charge of maintaining a digital presence, they have to vet what should and should not be published for families–and the broader community. School district social media accounts can promote this work. As stated before, ownership and choice are required before we can expect students to make a personal investment in their learning.

If grit is a desired outcome with students, then bringing in an authentic audience for their work should be a priority when preparing for meaningful learning experiences. When students know that someone else will be viewing and commenting on artifacts of their learning, they see their learning as important, both process and product.

How does your school or district ensure students can present their work to a variety of audiences? What steps have you taken to boost “grit” in your classrooms? Tell us in the comments.

matt renwick

Matt Renwick
Matt Renwick is an elementary principal in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Prior to this position, Matt was a teacher and school administrator in Wisconsin Rapids. He is the author of several books, including Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work, published by ASCD in 2017.

About the Author

ASCD
We recently teamed up with ASCD, a leader in professional and curriculum development support for educators, for a new ongoing blog series called Learning Reimagined. The regular column asks some of ASCD’s leading thinkers to shed light on the obstacles facing classroom innovation and the opportunities available to educators who are willing to take the leap.

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