Working in education, it doesn't take long for one to understand and respect the fluid nature of an effective lesson and the moving target of an engaged learner. Most educators never approach standards or content the same way twice and I was never more cognizant of these issues than when I was teaching a lesson building students' experiences and skills toward the solution of a complex, personal problem. In this lesson, adapted yearly over the past five years to conform to student needs, students analyze an email response from an Indiana State Museum "Ask a Librarian" inquiry for relevant information.
I frequently talk about the need to build endurance in students so that they can perform the tasks necessary to research and analyze a solution to a complex problem. But the students' response to this lesson was the first time I truly understood the shift from endurance to what my husband kept saying this school year: grit. According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, grit in the context of behavior is defined as "Courage and resolve; strength of character." When helping kids move toward seeking potential solutions to complex problems, success is achieved through the educator's successfully scaffolding skills and students' developing the grit necessary to dig in and work through more difficult mental tasks. To help my students develop grit for this task, I knew I was going to have to slow down, back up the lesson, and spend more instructional time cross-pollinating technical vocabulary from science and social studies into their language arts research.
Due to the complex language in the responses students received from the "Ask a Librarian" inquiry, they needed to rely heavily on their background knowledge from other content areas, specifically science and math. I modeled for them how to slow down in reading to pause, ask oneself questions, relate to personal experiences, connect language to content language from other subject areas, and draw conclusions or develop further questions based on what was learned in previous lessons.
Ironically, during this lesson, an administrator came in to evaluate my teaching and student learning. During my post-conference, she said she found the lesson exemplary, student engagement on target, and was impressed with how it moved students forward toward more complex problems. Yet, she was flummoxed by how many students needed 1:1 encouragement. I shared the feeling that what the lesson lacked was explicit and intentional training for the grit required to persevere through not just this lesson, but longitudinally through to the end-of-year goal. We had an exciting and engaging discussion brainstorming ways to adjust upcoming lessons and training to address the need for students to further develop informational grit.
I am energized by this issue of SLC and what it's taught me about thinking big and moving forward. It was invigorating to begin to envision changes I can make as I learn from their experiences and think of how to adapt it to my situation.