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Mindset, Rigor and Grit: Oh my…

bored student
I am way too cute for this…

I am such a cheater sometimes, such a fraud. My deepest, most humble apologies to @cherylteaches for her amazing article on the Misconceptions about Mindset, Rigor, and Grit.  Please read it. Bookmark it. Read it again. Print it out and highlight it, and then repeat three times, “There’s no place like a jargon-free day!” And then tweet her and thank her for her wise perspectives on how these are misused.

Allow me to translate this article from a teacher’s perspective:


I saw Carol Dweck speak years ago, live, in person, not just a Youtube video, about growth mindset. It was transformative. However, never in my wildest dreams did I think administrations could possibly misinterpret mindset in their opinions/bias of teachers to mean, “Never bring up a lesson that worked in the past, or something you learned or tried while not under my reign.” The word ‘mindset’ may also be used a cudgel on evaluations to mean, “This is your grade – you are an unsatisfactory teacher/basic teacher, and nothing you do or say, no matter how much evidence you provide, will change my mind about this.”

In too many classrooms, an evaluator comes in during choppy times and sums up your 180 days with 60 minutes:


► Is not a now-or-never experience. In too many classrooms, something is taught and assessed once and if a student doesn’t get it, the teacher moves on anyway.

As Mizerny states, “[Mindset]does not thrive in a hostile environment.” When evaluators are looking for the target and criteria (two words I’ve grown to hate), nicely tied up and wrapped with a bow at the end of every class, I sense they are looking for compliance from me and the students. I see what my students need, prune and adjust accordingly, and know that growth requires various conditions for all of us. Instead of “learning TARGET,” (which sounds so aggressive and violent), how about “Learning Spectrum?”

Yes, happy rainbows, spring showers and sunshine. That would be nice.


This infographic could be made into a board game of teaching:


Pretty much sums it up:

Rigor does NOT mean:

So if you’re doing that, stop it, okay? Thanks.


This. THIS.


/lowers voice

I can’t say it any better than Mizerny. “Grit” is applied to teachers more than students from my experience. If we just worked harder, pushed harder, planned more entertaining lessons, hit every mark, 100% for 100% of students.

Misinterpretations of grit:

► If perseverance were all it took to be successful, we would all have the capacity to be Olympic athletes if we just put our minds to it. Not true. Yes, it is always possible to improve, but it is a lot easier to hit a home run if you begin life on third base (through special talent or special circumstances). For the rest of us starting at home plate, we may need a little more support and encouragement to round those bases.

I am not a first year teacher, but this is the first few years of working with new standards and the ever-changing revolving door of administration. It may take me time to learn your style and your values. I am willing to be patient with you, and appreciate reciprocity.

► Sometimes the studentsteachersare working at their peak capacity; the task is just beyond their realm. Meeting the individual where he/she is and working within their zone of proximal development is more likely to yield positive results. It is destructive to tell children anyone that if they only tried harder, they would be successful. Realistically, that may never happen for some.

In other words, I am an amazing Language Arts/Social Studies/Media teacher. I will never be a great math teacher. I am language, words, and beauty. I am esoteric and reflective. 

► Generally, repeated failure does not motivate one to work harder. Usually, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the childperson believes himself/herself to be a failure. “That’ll teach ‘em to studylesson plan harder next time” doesn’t work.

► Now, if what we mean by grit is the ability to stick with an assignmentchange in curriculum or pay attention in class, a staff meeting, then we must be darn sure we are asking studentsteachers to do work worth doing and making classprofessional development engaging. Students Teachers who have creative, challenging work to do in a positive classroom environment do not need nearly as much “grit.”

► The need for grit is primarily useful when the task involves drudgery. Not every task is worth doing, and we need to be able to let go of the mind-numbing assignments of the past and move into the 21st century. Not that we still can’t teach the required material, we just need to do it in ways that we know engage their brains and work within a modern construct. The kidsteachers are already there and if you are not with them, you are against them.

► What teacherssome think is grit is often merely compliance. Creating an environment where students teachers do what the teacher superiors asks just to achieve a high gradeevaluation or get the work finished is a sure recipe to crush souls.

Ah, what do people want? Do you want teachers who look forward to doing one of the hardest jobs there is each day, or just run through young, new educators and hope they quit around five years so they don’t start costing districts money? And it’s not milk money money, but billions. I guess it costs a lot to buy buzzwords.

And grit is a four-letter word.



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The Write Thing.

We are having a grand conversation about the rigor of texts in our school, looking vertically both to the lower grades and the high school grades, to find appropriate, “rigorous” texts (as some define by high Lexile scores as the sole criteria).

As with many shifts, if I don’t do the reading and thinking on my own, I never can adapt or shift professionally. So, to the experts! Away!

Grant Wiggins defines rigor as being in the task (so therefore, not the teacher, and not the text).

So, what is rigor? Rigor is not established by the teaching. It’s not established by framing teaching against standards, therefore. Rigor is established by our expectations: how we evaluate and score student work. That means that rigor is established by the three different elements of assessment:

  1. The difficulty of the task or questions

  2. The difficulty of the criteria, as established by rubrics

  3. The level of achievement expected, as set by “anchors” or cut scores.

The blog post continues to discuss Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and rubrics for deeper thinking. This is so comfortable to me, and something I can wholly embrace. I feel that in my practice I have been doing this for years, but never had the clear light shining on the rest of the path.

And by now we are all familiar with this triangulation of text complexity:


But in the tug-of-war about rigorous texts, it is my mission to include writing. Deep, rich writing. I have been reading The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham: every so often we read an educational text that both validates and inspires. This is one of those. She masterfully balances the art of reading and writing, not an either/or.

How did I figure out that reading informs writing? Well, there’s a wealth of educational research to back up this thinking, which you’ll find in Chapter 2 . But mostly, experience has taught me that reading makes better writers. When I read poetry, I’m likely to try my hand at a poem or two. And while they may not be as memorable as those I’ve just enjoyed, writing my own provides me with a mental workout and a valuable learning experience. When I read a powerful nonfiction article, it makes me want to read more about that topic and find a way to weave that information into something I’m writing. When I see a campaign slogan, I think about how the candidate is saying a lot with a little. When I hear a song lyric that speaks to me, I find myself singing along, noticing the rhythm of the piece, and trying to replicate it in prose. I hear a powerful verb or phrase and steal it for my own writing. I’m a writing thief. It seems like every writer should be.

Culham, Ruth (2014-04-28). The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing (Kindle Locations 185-192). International Reading Association. Kindle Edition.

My question is, is there a triangle of complex writing tasks, and moreover, should there be? Culham blasts the standard, formulaic “five paragraph essay” model, along with other rigid modes of writing. The writing for standardized test she views as just one small mode of writing, not the end-all, be-all.

If you could create a writing model, what would yours include?

Off the top of my head, here are two charts I created that in no way do I feel are complete:

What if writing was shifted or turned depending on the engagement of the writer?
What if writing was shifted or turned depending on the engagement of the writer?
What if the reading complexity triangle were translated to a writing one? What would it look like? How could it be managed?
What if the reading complexity triangle were translated to a writing one? What would it look like? How could it be managed?

Sometimes the simplest means to have students engage in more complex ways is the minimalist approach. Don’t put numbers or word count on the task, but put voice and thinking above all. I have enjoyed adding to my collection on my writing blog Up From the Gutter (my writing blog for students/teachers) and think John Spencer and his team have done a phenomenal job with Write About.

And we need great mentor texts, and refreshing and singular voices to hear with new ears, and old friends to listen to. Here’s a list of high Lexile books I’ll be revisiting and researching. Some I’ve used for years, and others I need to take a look at:

But over-arching, consider the highest level of rigor, and that is evaluative, real-world issues:

So, how would you describe the rigorous integration of writing and reading? Ultimately, we all agree we are guiding our students to find their voices. What say you?