My 3 Keys To Helping Students Build Resilience

On Twitter I keep seeing posts from edu-people I follow that deal with the topics of grit, growth mindset, and resilience, among other topics that pop up in the summer when we can’t share our battle stories and lessons learned from the trenches once the school year starts.

Resilience was the topic of this blog post by Tom James that I recently read, and the author asked for others to share their thoughts on resilience (and grading). I left a fairly lengthy comment with my reply, and because I started my blog as a way to reflect on such issues, I thought I should turn my comment into my own blog post. Here it is, with a couple of additional nuggets added on:

I don’t have any formal research on this, but I m a high school teacher who has provided opportunities for retakes and redos for a few years I certainly have some anecdotal evidence to share.

Resilience literally means to recover quickly from difficulty, so a critical practice for developing resilience in students is to provide quality feedback on what went wrong. How can we expect students to recover quickly from the difficulty of failing at a task if they are unsure where they went wrong? After all, if they knew where they went wrong, wouldn’t they have fixed it before submitting for review?

Another key practice that I have found to be important is to let the students know what they did right. Rarely have I had students consistently miss the mark so badly that they did nothing correctly on their assignments. But I found that my time-saving grading practice of only pointing out what needed to be fixed led to students feeling only like failures. Students became less resilient, because what students want to be resilient when they know they will only be told how wrong they were the next time? Once I started pointing out what the students did well they were noticeably more likely to have a desire to fix the things that needed fixing.

Finally, a strategy that I will be implementing this school year is one that is a vital component of standards based grading: ditching the letter grades and, more importantly I think, the percentages. Letter grades and percentages give students an out. They give them the choice of accepting inadequate performance. They do this because they are considered a final evaluation of performance because that’s how they have been used for so long. Once students see a letter grade or percentage, they believe that’s it, that’s the end of the learning of that topic, that’s the end of my opportunity to master the topic. Some teachers use rubrics to show students exactly what they need to do to earn high marks, but the standard 3-5 point rubric still gives the students the opportunity to choose a poor, but “passing” level of performance. If we want students to reach a certain level of proficiency, why not make that the only choice? The 1 point rubric helps develop resilience by not letting students choose otherwise – they either get 0 or they are proficient, with unlimited attempts to get to proficient. I personally prefer the 2 point rubric. This allows for a proficient level of understanding and a mastery level. Every student should be expected to reach the proficient level, but students who go above and beyond the proficient level and demonstrate an unusually deep understanding of the topic should be rewarded for doing so.

I’m nervous about implementing this new grading system. I find the same questions running through my mind:

  • How many attempts will most students need to reach proficiency?
  • What will I do if a student tries over and over again but can’t seem to ‘get it’? Do they cut their losses and move on? Will they be OK with that since they will essentially get a 0 for that topic?
  • Do I have enough supplemental and enriching content and activities for students who reach proficiency on all the topics before the term is over?

Though I’m nervous, I know that such a system will really force the students to show me that they know the material at an acceptable level of understanding.

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