Table of Contents
Opening the Lesson
Learning About Persistence
Grappling With Persistence
Re-enforcement Strategy #1: Integrating Persistence into Daily Lessons
Re-enforcement Strategy #2: Integrating Persistence into Class Culture
Re-enforcement Strategy #3: Self-Monitoring and Reflecting on Persistence
Introduction: Why Persistence?
I teach and re-enforce persistence in my class to help my students persist through challenging tasks. Many of my students struggled with persistence at the beginning of the year. Research as often shown that children from low socio-economic statuses struggle with delayed gratification not because they lack the skill, but because they do not believe that a reward for the delayed gratification will reliably come (Calarco, 2018). Similarly, many students do not believe that a delayed gratification of good grades or knowledge will come through persisting through a difficult task; it is simply “too hard” and they “don’t know how” (Costa and Kallick, 2000, p.2). My goal of teaching students persistence was to help students see that sometimes, persistence can pay off, and it is a valuable life skill to be able to wait for this reward.
Calarco, J. (2018, June 01). Why rich kids are so good at the marshmallow test. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/marshmallow-test/561779/
Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2000). Describing 16 Habits of Mind. Retrieved from http://www.habitsofmind.org/sites/default/files/16HOM2.pdf
I borrowed my lesson plan very heavily from the Curriculum for the Community Schools of Vermont Students, and modified the lessons according to the needs of my own students. This is a rigorous, evidence-based curriculum for teaching the habits of mind to all ages. The curriculum, however, could still be improved upon by customizing it to the needs of my students, which is exactly what I did.
In this persistence lesson plan, students interact with the concept of persistence through a variety of mediums. The goal was to not only teach students the definition of persistence, but also have them actively practice persistence and think about their own thinking.
Opening of the Lesson
At the beginning of the lesson, as photographed below, I had students reflect on the difference between strength and perseverance. For the purposes of this lesson, I treated persistence and perseverance as synonyms, even though in reality perseverance is the outcome of successful persistence. We had a robust class discussion about whether or not it is better to be talented at something or to work hard at it despite failure. While students were initially mixed on whether or not they thought persistence was important, most students even by the end of the opening to the lesson were convinced that persistence was necessary to become strong in the first place.
“I agree and disagree because you need perseverance but your mind needs to be strong” is what the student wrote above before we started formally learning about persistence. They already had a strong feeling that strength and persistence were related, and during class they were the student to point out your mind cannot be strong if it does not persevere.
“I do because you are not suppose to give up on anything. And I don’t agree because you are suppose to have strength in your brain” is what the student wrote above before formally learning about persistence. Like many students, this student had a fairly middle of the road point of view on the importance of perstistence vs strength.
The student above already had an intuitive notion of what persistence meant, having answered the opening exercise that “yes because you don’t have to have strength but by working hard and overcoming your weakness to be better”. They already knew that persistence meant you work hard to overcome obstacles in order to become better.
Learning About Persistence
We watched a TedEd video, which can be found here, or watched above, and then discussed follow-up questions. I chose this video because it illustrated persistence well in a way that students could easily understand. The video is about a person with a physical disability who loved basketball. Despite the doubts from his peers, he persisted and became very good at the game. This brief illustration of persistence allowed us to start a class discussion about the concept.
This student, who had previously answered the strength mattered more than persistence, saw in the video that someone with a disability was able to persevere and be a great basketball player. The student appreciated that the person in the video, Steven, was able to succeed no matter what others were trying to tell him. An illustration of persistence with such a tangible example let students see how others have successfully persisted.
Grappling with Persistence
Students grappled with the puzzle pictured above, which required them to persist through the task. Many students were frustrated by the puzzle, and some gave up after being told 16 was the incorrect answer. Many other students worked hard and persevered through the task, eventually coming up with the answer of 30. Afterwords, we were able to have a very robust class discussion about what was different about the strategy the successful students took. Those that gave up quickly were surprised to find out the successful students also initially answered 16 and had a hard time finding out the correct answer to the puzzle. All students gained a greater appreciation for persisting through difficult tasks.
Students then reflected on what strategies helped them persist through a difficult task. The student pictured above noted that teamwork and practice helped her persist. Students came away from this lesson with a strong understanding of what persistence is and what strategies they can use to persist through difficult problems.
Throughout the year, I have re-enforced persistence in several ways. I have continually emphasized the process of learning moreso than the product of learning. I praise students’ thought processes, have them reflect on where they can improve, and emphasize that showing work is more important than getting the right answer. I even keep an “I Can’t” tally on the board, where I challenge students to never use the phrase in class when given a challenging task. I always push students’ persistence skills both by having them explicitly think about persistence and implicitly use their skills in challenging task-based problems.
Re-enforcement Strategy #1: Integrating Persistence Into Daily Lessons
As an example of the types of lessons I develop to re-enforce persistence, please see the attachments below:
In the first lesson, as linked above, students practiced struggling through “tenacious tasks”, i.e. complex and new mathematical problems. Since we have discussed persistence so frequently in class, students are intentionally thinking about this concept when completing difficult mathematical tasks as this. As a result, students are far more successful at completing these types of tasks by the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.
In the lesson above, students complete a new type of task, this time a complex mathematical task around the electoral college, a concept most students had no previous knowledge of. Since students were so intentionally thinking about persistence, they were able to persevere through tasks such as this as well. I intentionally design complex mathematical tasks to re-enforce persistence in class.
Pictured above is another example of a “tenacious task” a student may be asked to persevere through in my class. The student above, as can be seen, worked hard to complete a complex problem, and even re-did parts of the problem as they found necessary. Equipped with the tools and mindset to persevere through complex mathematical tasks, students were regularly able to tackle difficult and complex problems. This is because persistence is so regularly re-enforced in my class.
Re-enforcement Strategy #2: Integrating Acknowledgement of Persistence into Class Culture
As part of a regular component of class culture, we kept track as a class on the number of times students said “I can’t”. On the left, I pictured the number of times students said “I can’t” on Monday, and on the right, I pictured the number of times students said “I can’t” by Friday. By doing this simple exercise alone, our class culture shifted to be less self-doubting and more pro-persistence. Simple exercises such as this were done regularly in my class to encourage persistence. By integrating very simple, day-to-day practices in class that encourage persistence, my students are able to use the language of persistence naturally and have the concept at the front of their minds while doing their work.
Re-enforcement Strategy #3: Self-Monitoring and Reflecting on Persistence
Students would regularly keep track of their own persistence in my class. For example, as pictured above, students would progress through increasingly more difficult fluency practice, grade themselves, and keep track of their practice inside of their binder. This allows them to visibly see their own persistence–how they may have needed to try again, but ultimately succeeded in completing progressively harder work.
Below, I have pictured a few ways that students reflected that they persisted during lessons. These types of frequent reflections are ways for students to self-monitor their own conception of persistence.
The student above noted that persistence helps them succeed in complex problems. Many students initially struggled to complete complex mathematical tasks at the beginning of the year, but through persistence, were able to complete complex mathematical tasks.
The students above were able to successfully reflect on how thy were able to keep trying on the PARCC exam, even when it was difficult. While many students have historically struggled to keep their momentum during the PARCC exam because it is long and difficult, they were able to complete the exam more easily when equipped with persistence strategies.
I explicitly taught persistence to all of my classes using a research-based curriculum. I then regularly re-enforced persistence in my class through my daily lessons, class culture, and self-monitoring. As a result, my students learned and practiced how to persist through difficult tasks. This skill will take them far not only in mathematics, but in life.