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Jakarta Post

Creating grit in students

  • Jony Eko Yulianto

    The Jakarta Post

Surabaya   /   Sat, May 9, 2015   /  09:25 am

'€œWhat if the secret of success is failure?'€ asks Paul Tough, a writer on education. Should an educator ever cause a student to feel frustated, even to fail?

When I attended my thesis advisory meeting, my supervisor criticized my piece. I revised it and he continued to provide critical feedback. This process was repeated several times, a standard procedure that scholars go through.

But when I thought I had reached my limits, I felt furious with myself. I planned to take a break for a couple of weeks but was unable to, because my supervisor asked me to have the work finished in a week.

After a nap and some contemplation, I felt I had new energy to write. I started to believe that I could do it. I started to write again, and finally got quality approval. In the oral examination, my supervisor stated, '€œIn the next 15 minutes, we will hear Jony'€™s three months of hard work.'€ I felt good '€“ and got top marks from all of the committee members.

Research shows that a child is not born for math, or for art. Calculus and algebra skills are learned. Critical thinking is learned. Sometimes the term '€œtalent'€ is overused.

Mia Hamm, the captain of the American women'€™s soccer team once said, '€œFailure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how to respond to it.'€

As educators, part of our job is to make sure that every student finds success, and more importantly, knowing how to respond to frustation and failure '€” or else they are likely to choose lifepaths without risk or challenge and thus destine themselves to lives of mediocrity and predictability.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, showed that grit was a key ingredient of success, from elementary school to the military West Point Academy. Grit, she says, entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failures, adversity and plateaus in progress.

How do we develop grit in our students? Research suggests we have to be challenging educators. Students need to be pushed to exceed their skills to a higher level of competence.

Every student should learn a particular ability instead of something global. Students often fail to understand the lesson learned in a given activity. When parents ask, '€œDo you have homework?'€, they answer , '€œYes, page 43 part A'€, instead of explaining the goal of the homework given.

The next step is to give students immediate feedback.

No one likes to be frustated, and no one wants to fail. But every student needs to encounter frustation and feelings of failure to learn to step back, reassess and try again and again. A University of California, Los Angeles basketball coach once said, '€œThe six secrets of success are: repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition and repetition.'€ You cannot become truly fluent in any new skill until you repeat it to such a level of automaticity that you can practically do it without conscious effort.

We educators must ensure that every student confronts his or her limitations, often through rethinking how hard we challenge our students with entrepreneurial projects. In addition to helping students learn through their strengths, we must also encourage students to learn areas unfamiliar and less comfortable for them.

Finally, following National Education Day on May 2, let me reiterate that every single student is intelligent. Every educator '€” teachers, lecturers and parents '€” should be able to help learners reach their highest potential. Giving them grit by taking them out of their comfort zone is an important step, as we believe that every one of them is brilliant.


The writer teaches social psychology and entrepreneurship at the School of Psychology at Ciputra University in Surabaya.
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