At Crane School students learn early on that process leads to progress. The time and effort that they put into the process is what will yield a positive outcome. Nearly every assignment and project that students complete is part of a larger learning process.
What does this look like at different grade levels?
In our Lower School, Kindergarteners work through the feeling of frustration as they sound out new letter formations. They are encouraged to try and continue practicing when at first glance they are not sure what the three-letter word is. First grade writers are learning to edit their work. They now know that writing a journal entry is not a standalone activity, instead it is one step in a larger writing process which includes, re-reading, editing, and revising. Does having a spelling mistake mean they have failed? No! It is an opportunity to learn something new. Third graders learn to find their voice and write fluidly as they fight the urge to break their train of thought to stop to spell each word correctly. Design and Engineering students are introduced to the Design Thinking Approach (see the image below). This model is constantly asking students to elaborate, question, and test their designs. Do architects draw up one set of plans and call it the final blueprint? No. That’s why Crane’s engineering students have this Design Thinking Approach on the whiteboard at all times as a reminder that they will return to the drawing board time and again before they have a solution to the problem that they set out to solve. In the Upper School eighth grade art students flow through the different stages of their semester-long independent art project and presentation (i@pp) and discover that the presentation is only a small step at the end of their journey that is filled with highs, lows, and unexpected twists and turns that require them to pivot and persevere. How about the speeches that eighth graders give each year? Were they all born with natural stage presence, booming voices, and no fear of podiums and large audiences? Of course not. Little did they know that their entire experience at Crane has been prepping them for this Crane tradition. Their kindergarten poem recitations, class plays, fifth grade current events and famous American presentations, Spanish class skits, and persuasive speeches in English class are smaller assignments that have led to their eighth grade speech.
(Please excuse the glare. This is a photo of the whiteboard in the Design and Engineering Center.)
Processes help guide students from one point to another with checkpoints along the way to steer them in the desired direction. Processes that include revision, questioning, feedback, and peer critique teach children to expect to make changes, adapt, and revisit their first draft. In doing so they are not discouraged by feedback but instead see it as an opportunity to realign with their end goal.
Report card time might evoke a mix of emotions in parents and students. What if we were to see report cards not as a standalone, fixed marker but rather as one of these checkpoints in the process of achieving a long-term goal?
Angela Duckworth, a MacArthur “genius” grant winner, researcher, and the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, suggests that there is a process we can teach our school-aged children that will help them reach success. From her research of national spelling bee contestants, rookie teachers, and cadets at West Point the common link in those that lasted and were the most effective in their fields was grit - not IQ or any other more common method of measurement.
Duckworth defines grit as “a sustained passion and perseverance for long-term goals.”
Grit is the fuel that we need to keep moving forward.
Report cards would fall into the Get Feedback stage. They are a tool to help students notice where they are and learn how they can improve. Without The Reflect and Refine stage (think back to those first graders editing and revising their journal entries), we lose sight of the desired goal and don’t reach the highest level of success.
How can we build grit in children? How can we keep them motivated?
Research continues in search of answers to these questions. However, Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth mindset is the best known way of cultivating grit. When students learn how the brain works and that they can change and grow in response to challenges, they are more likely to persevere. An eighth grade i@pp student will turn an art room mishap into a learning experience, and students will see their grades and teacher comments not as a source of stress but as encouragement and direction for future growth.
Special thanks to our Upper School Deans for sharing Angela Duckworth’s work and this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBM0P1IvlEw) in a recent communication to parents. It is worth taking a five-minute break to watch Duckworth explain grit.