It’s that time of year again, that incredibly important but incredibly daunting time of year for teachers and students. Because each individual group of students that comes to me is slightly different than the last, it’s about this time of the year (October, actually) that I get a firm grasp on who these particular students are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how best to reach them as opposed to some other group of students. With my current AP Euro group, I now realize there are two things we need to work on as group: reading informational text and reasoning critically by seeing connections or patterns across content. Neither of these two skills are easy to teach or learn, and yet they are crucial components to studying anything.
Sometimes you are given just the help you need at just the right time, however. Last week, I received the latest edition of EL Magazine, put out by ASCD. If you don’t get this magazine, I urge you to get a subscription. This particular edition is all about how to teach students to “tackle informational text.” The magazine is filled with article after article about how to immerse students neck-deep in difficult readings and teach them to tread water and eventually swim ashore. It’s not so much that the articles told me a bunch of stuff I didn’t already know, so much as they affirmed what I thought was true. A little affirmation can help a teacher move forward when the path gets rough.
In addition to these articles, I went back and read the previous edition of EL magazine that dealt with teaching students “resiliency.” For my AP Euro students, many of whom have done very well in school with an average amount of effort, learning to bounce back from (what they perceive as?) poor grades is just as important as learning to read informational text or think critically. What I liked about one particular article called “The Significance of Grit,” however, was that grit was not just defined as bouncing back. Rather Angela Lee Duckworth defined grit as “not just having resilience in the face of failure, but also having deep commitments that you remain loyal to over the many years.” She went on to say, “Grit predicts success over and beyond talent. When you consider individuals of equal talent, the grittier ones do better.” Finally, she described a current study she is doing, saying, “We tell kids that deliberate practice is not easy. You are going to be confused. You are going to be frustrated. When you’re learning, you have to make mistakes. You need to do things over and over again, and that can be boring.” What I found rare and refreshing was that last bit, “that can be boring.” If you read most educational literature these days, boring is like a four-letter word. But Duckworth doesn’t necessarily agree. Reading informational text at times may not be the most engaging activity, even when the teacher tries to pick a text that is interesting for students. This, however, does not negate the need to read informational text well.
I’m going to close this post with another very important point from this same article. “There are a lot of fragile gifted and talented kids who don’t know how to fail. They don’t know how to struggle, and they don’t have a lot of practice with it. Being gifted [or talented] is no guarantee of being hardworking or passionate about something.”