As we all know, when babies learn to walk, they fall. A lot. We don't throw a cushion under them to soften the blow or grab their hands to keep them from failing, because if we did, they wouldn't experience — or learn from — defeat. This is how they learn perseverance, the value of taking risks and what it’s like to eventually succeed so they are motivated to try something risky and new the next day.
And yet, we tend to want to take all that away when they get old enough to communicate. Once they get to school, we don't ever want them to struggle or feel defeat, even though that’s what helps them learn.
In the digital age, students need to know more than just how to get from Point A to Point B. They need to trouble themselves with all the bumps in between, as that's where the real learning takes place. They need to develop grit and perseverance to master the learning curve, see the lessons in their mistakes and ultimately find their way to achievement. Hopefully, they will begin to associate the sweet feeling of success with the often messy process that comes before it. That is true achievement, and it provides kids and adults with a lasting sense of self-worth and capability.
Personalized learning can easily include development of character dispositions like perseverance and grit. And most problem- and project-based learning inherently involves learning to navigate through bumps via trial and error.
Take the simplified example of learning to spell a new word. Instead of telling a child how to spell a word when they ask, encourage them to sound it out or look it up. Yes, the child may experience frustration, but that is part of learning how to persevere, and they will get to experience the glory of achievement for their trouble.
Or, to teach math, you could give students a project that involves planning a building. What dimensions should the building be? Will it have angles other than right angles? If they want the walls to be X thick, how much concrete will they need? How much would it cost to build this building, given the price of concrete and other materials?
Perhaps problem- and project-based learning do not “teach” grit, adaptability and persistence per se. But offering learning activities that forego immediate black and white answers, require students to work through their learning and offer multiple possible solutions will naturally provide the useful bumps in the road that allow students to develop these traits. They will become more adaptable and persistent as they seek their own answers, and the personal sense of achievement they earn will lead to greater confidence, competence and willingness to take risks.
Susan Renard is a blended learning instructor at Lebanon High School in New Hampshire. She has been teaching technology and business courses in grades 7-12 for over 15 years.