3 ways to promote grit via literacy instruction

Learn how to help students find their voice and become tomorrow's movers and shakers

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” –Japanese Proverb

J.K. Rowling. Bill Gates. Oprah Winfrey. These are no doubt names that most students recognize as successful. But what often goes overlooked is the perseverance needed to achieve success, and that successful people—including these household names—often overcome great obstacles. To that end, the conversation in schools has shifted to resilience and grit, recognizing that people who demonstrate determination often end up being movers and shakers in today’s world.

Thanks to pioneering work by Carol Dweck, Martin Seligman, and Angela Duckworth, we now know that the ability to cope and persevere through setbacks and adversity can be learned and taught. In a related movement, educators across the country are leading the charge to implement social-emotional learning (SEL) programs and teach the core SEL competencies they’ve always known to be immensely valuable. By teaching skills ranging from self-management to responsible decision-making, educators hope to instill students with the positive mindsets, resilience, and grit they need to succeed in school and life.

Whether or not your school has adopted an SEL program, here are some tips for incorporating SEL instruction through literacy, with a focus on resilience. These actionable hints help students understand the value of resilience through everyday instructional activities.

1. Emphasize the journey over the accomplishment
No matter what subject you teach, you can underscore the importance of resilience within a given narrative. From the South Pole travel expedition to biographies on Malala Yousafzai, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bessie Coleman, it’s likely that whatever you’re reading showcases incredible resilience. In addition to discussing the accomplishments, emphasize the process, frustrations, state of mind, and points of learning along the way (e.g., Thomas Edison was a famous inventor who was fired from his first two jobs and made more than 1,000 attempts to create the light bulb. His continuous failure—or iteration, as we’d call it today—taught him to innovate). If you point out resilience enough times, students can learn to model and practice resilient thought, words, and actions in their own lives.

When teaching fictional texts, you can apply lessons in resilience to the hero’s journey. Discuss how heroes aren’t successful all the time. Pop culture is full of examples that students will find engaging: point out protagonists in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. Just as continuous success doesn’t make for good books and movies, it’s also not realistic in real life. When heroes fall, analyze the text to determine what they must be thinking, who helps them, and their mindset at the time. Discuss how despite repeated failures, all heroes complete their journey.

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