Learning to persevere.
‘I give up’, ‘Show me’, ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m stuck’, are well known phrases in many classrooms and my students resorted to me to tell them what to do. If only they would persevere more it would make a big difference to their learning and progress.
I decided to talk with my students about perseverance and what it meant, We talked about what sort of things made them give up and ask for help. It was immediately clear that perseverance carried many negative connotations that reflectd their (often unspoken) beliefs about effective learning. These unspoken beliefs were a blend of:
- Clever people just ‘get it’ without trying;
- Good students understand quickly;
- Learning ought to be easy;
- Either you ‘get it’ or you don’t;
- Effort is what stupid people need to use to overcome a lack of ability.
No surprise then, that perseverance is often viewed as unpalatable and symptomatic of a lack of ability. But, where do these beliefs about learning come from? Are these beliefs innate? Or a result of the home environment? Or might schooling itself be a contributing factor?
Early years practitioners talk of tenacious learners who will happily persist to achieve their goals. They show self-belief, a willingness to ‘give it a go’, and to take risks. Yet teachers of older children talk of fragile learners who give up at the first sign of difficulty.
Early teacher experiments with learning power tend to look at some hard questions about the way they organise learning in their classroom:
- Am I putting too much emphasis on the finished article and too little on the effort required to produce it?
- Have I ever explored the meaning of effort with students. Do I know what it means; what I expect.
- Does my reward system reward effort, or is it really a means of affirming ‘high ability’?
- What do I most value – progress or attainment?
- Is the drive for pace limiting the need for extended effort?
- Is effective differentiation reducing challenge and hence the need for perseverance?
- Does display promote effort or attainment?
- Does the standards agenda prize short-term remembering over hard-won understanding?
One way to explore these issues is to undertake an ‘amble’ around your classroom (by ‘amble’ we mean a sort of ‘learning walk in your mind’). Simply let your brain wander around the place you work with perseverance in mind!
Consider statements like:
- Many learners prefer to stay well within their comfort zone, succeeding with ‘easy work’ rather than attempting ‘challenging learning’
And then reflect on:
- The levels of challenge in classrooms and the extent to which effective differentiation sometimes dilutes challenge
If you would like a Perseverance Amble with 10 statements about perseverance and 10 things to think about, click here.