Scaffolding grit in students: What is the role of the teacher?

Some time ago, I attended the NU-conference and presented a pedagogical project about grit, the ability to persevere and continue working towards the goal even when you meet obstacles in your way. My focus in this project was to look into the students’ thoughts and ideas on how we, as teachers, can support and scaffold them in developing and maintaining their grittiness. 

To investigate this, I did 13 interviews with students at the IT Department at Uppsala University, and we talked about the students’ experiences in regards to things teachers do that they perceive as encouraging and things teachers do that might have the opposite result. I identified three themes of ways for teachers to scaffold the students’ grit:

  • First, the teacher should show a positive attitude towards the subject one is teaching and also towards the students and their abilities to learn. 
  • Second, the teacher should make the students aware of the fact that learning takes time and although your classmate might be a faster learner, it does not say anything about your ability to get there in the end. It is just a matter of “not yet” as Carol Dweck puts it (if you have not read her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, I can highly recommend it). 
  • Third, students want to understand in what way the current course relates to the rest of their education. Creating context and connecting the specific assignments/courses to the education as a whole, or even to the work roles the students are likely to enter once they leave the University, was highlighted as important for the students to uphold their motivation. 

These three themes may look small and insignificant but learning can be hard work and from my perspective, we do not have anything to lose by implementing these things in our teaching. On the opposite, if it makes a difference for our students and makes them believe in their abilities to learn, we have lots to gain.

The NU-conference (which stands for Nätverk och Utveckling – Network and Development in English), is Sweden’s largest conference for everyone interested in higher education and pedagogical development. It was my first time attending the conference, but it was a great experience and I would definitely want to go there again in the future. Besides the many interesting presentations, I especially appreciated the encouraging environment that they managed to create where people were curious and open-minded towards each other and each other’s research. This was a fun and inspiring experience and now I look forward to meeting more students and trying my very best to scaffold their grit.

Rebecca Cort

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