Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Grit and Mastery

What's more important, that my students learn skills like perseverance, self-control, and reflection, or that they learn the names and functions of the cell organelles? The answer seems obvious to me, which is why I am excited about the mastery model of education, which allows students as many attempts and as much time as they need to master a concept or skill.

It seems to me this is the ideal way to teach grit, and according to Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, grit is one of the keys to success.

It seems to me that just handing out zeros when students fail to turn work in, or Fs when they do poorly on tests, is not the best way to teach perseverance. Those are just punishments, and I don't think punishment is a very good teacher or motivator.

In fact, according to Daniel Pink, author of Drive, the best motivators of human beings are these:




Interesting how that works.

The way I'm seeing it right now, give a student the chance to master the material, and that in itself will motivate him or her. And in the process, how can he or she not learn perseverance? Isn't that how we all learn it, by trying again and again until we finally master a skill or achieve our goal? But how can you learn that if you are not given the chance.

And if sports are mastery based, why not academics? Michael Jordan said in his awesome Nike commercial, "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Unfortunately, the way we run academics right now, it doesn't work that way. Fail again and again in school, and you just fail, period. Unless, that is, you are in a mastery-based  (or competency-based) system. As Forbes writer Michael Horn says, "A competency-based learning system on the other hand literally embeds grit—sticking with things until you master them—in its DNA."

No, my guess is many of us don't remember what the endoplasmic reticulum or lysosomes do for the cell (unless we are biology teachers or professional biologists), but we're all motivated by the desire for mastery of skills, and we all need grit every day.

Students are no different.

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