Grit-ty Heroes

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“Grit” is a popular term in educational circles today, particularly with helping students succeed.

Grit is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” “having stamina,” and “sticking with your future day-in day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

I got those “gritty” quotes from the following TED Talk video with Angela Lee Duckworth, and you should watch the entire thing (about six minutes).

 

In the world of superheroes, “grit” has a much different meaning.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, “grim and gritty” superheroes nearly saturated the comic book market.  If you’re interested, you can read a thorough analysis of this time period HERE.

“Grim and gritty” got so popular it seemed almost everyone got in on the act–Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, even Aquaman!

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Coming to theaters near you!

 

Thankfully, most of these heroes’ gritty phases were short-lived and brighter days returned.  For some heroes (or anti-heroes), however, it’s always been about grim and grit:  The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and about 87% of Image Comics from the 1990s.  Exhibits A-to-Xtreme below . . .

 

Given the above definition of “grit,” I would argue that the grittiest superhero is Captain America.

 

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Remember, Steve Rodgers stood up to evil and injustice while he was still a 98-pound weakling.  His heart and passion did not change after he gained powers and a costume.  At times, Steve has given up or lost the title of Captain America. But he continued his work behind the scenes and/or assuming another superhero identity.

We’ve already gotten a glimpse that Steve’s non-Captain America heroics will appear in upcoming Avengers movies:

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(He’s even got a beard – extra grit!)

 

At the time of the TED Talk video, not much was known about teaching and cultivating grit in students.  Nevertheless, you can find research summaries HERE and HERE, which also include resources and tools for student grittification*.

*Trademark 2017, Daniel J. Bergman

In the video, Duckworth refers to research of Carol Dweck on “growth mindset” as one potential factor in teaching grit.  This is a good place to start.

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For example, HERE is one of Dr. Dweck’s articles (“The Perils and Promises of Praise”) that discusses the impact of teacher praise on students’ motivation and self-concept.  All teachers should read this article, since 1) it is short, and 2) it has direct application in the classroom. In other words, it won’t take a lot of grit. But you should stop and think about how you respond to students, and what other messages are conveyed in your words.

And this is just one step. As explained near the end of the TED Talk video, teachers who want gritty students must also be gritty themselves.

Don’t let grit become one more educational fad that passes away.

 

 

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What is Success?

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It’s not even mid-May and we’ve already got two superhero movies out in theaters, with more to come.  While Captain America: The Winter Soldier made record-breaking April box office numbers, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 recently opened and also topped the $90 million mark for its weekend debut.  Not too shabby.

Or is it?

Such an astronomical income may look, well, amazing.  But some entertainment pundits are asking, “Is it a success?

Such a question is not so strange when comparing ticket sales among similar movies, including prequels and sequels.  Another item to consider is how much money it takes to make the movie (salaries, special effects, marketing, insurance, craft services, etc.).  Making 90 million bucks over a single weekend may not seem so spectacular when it reportedly cost triple that amount to make the film.

All this talk about multimillions may have you thinking about teacher paychecks, but that’s not the real purpose of this post.

Actually, the big question “What is success?” should be asked frequently in our schools and classrooms.

 

Report Card Time

Recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)–also known as “the nation’s report card“–show that American students haven’t really increased their success rate in the past five years.  We’ve talked previously about how it’s important for teachers to closely review assessment data and speak out when and where they can (shameless plug).  But it’s also important to examine results and consider what is success.

The NAEP report finds that for U.S. high school seniors, less than 40% are proficient (or higher) in reading, and only one fourth (26%) are proficient or better in math.  Results also indicate that gaps in achievement among races/minorities are as wide as ever.

Ouch.  That doesn’t sound like success to me.

So many factors contribute to assessment results, more than we have time or space (or attention span) to discuss here.  But it is important to stop and determine our definition of success in schools.

 

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First off, it’s essential we not equate 100% with success.  Major League Baseball players are potential All-Stars if they get a hit one out of every three times at bats.  Babe Ruth’s career batting average was .342.  On the current list of active MLB players, the batting average leader is some guy named Joe Mauer, sitting at .322 (my apologies, Minnesota Twins fans).

I remember band directors telling us that we had to hit 100% of our musical notes during every performance, comparing our task with those slacker multimillionaires in ball caps.  Full disclosure: I never played every note perfectly during every concert.  Didn’t stop the audience from clapping.  And it didn’t stop me from playing.

Winning Percentages

Even Spider-Man himself didn’t win every comic book battle.  (It’d be boring if he did, wouldn’t it?)  According to Marvel’s own statistics, the webbed hero was victorious less than 60% of the time, just below villain Nightmare (59.4%) and above Iron Man (57.8%).  Check out the interactive and informative (and awesome) “Battle Breakdown” of Marvel Comics characters, courtesy of Wired magazine and author/designer Tim Leong.

(You should also check out Tim Leong’s website and Tumblr, along with his award-winning book Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe, for some super-nifty graphical analyses of superhero stats.  Here’s a sample, this one a breakdown of primary colors among hero costumes:

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Interestingly, anti-hero The Punisher (as in “The Ohio State University”) has the highest winning percentage (86.9%, and only 2 ties) above all the other Marvel heroes.  This roster includes Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, the Hulk, Thor, Wolverine, and Daredevil.

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Winning Tip #1: Bring a bazooka to a gun fight.

Still, I think I’d rather be rescued by many other heroes before seeking The Punisher’s help.  It’s “Punisher” with a capital P, after all.  In his quest for vigilante justice, Frank Castle puts a permanent end to bad guys (i.e. dead), as opposed to more noble champions who abide to a higher moral code.  As teachers, we know that a little bit of mercy can go a long way.

Maybe winning isn’t everything.  Maybe success depends on context.

In baseball, 33% hitting is great.  In music, you aim for 100% (unless it’s jazz).  In civil engineering, I hope it’s also close to 100%.  I don’t want a bridge built by someone who earned an 80% in geometry.

So what is success in education?

According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the goal was for EVERY child to perform at grade level in reading and math by the year 2014.

Have we reached that level yet?  We only have half a year to go!

In one of my graduate classes, our instructor (a high school principal whose last name was Mann, so he was literally “Principal Mann!”) once told us the following with respect to student achievement:  “You can feed a donkey the best oats, give it the best trainer and exercise regimen, and hire the best jockey.  But when you race that animal in the Kentucky Derby, it’s still a donkey.”

Not every kid will be a straight-A student.  If they were, what’s so special about straight-As?  Success is different for each individual.

I remember sitting in one of my undergraduate science classes (astrophysics), and another professor had just posted grade results outside in the hall.  A mob of students clumped in front of the list, eager to learn the results.  Among the mumble and grumble, one jovial dude thunder clapped his hands and cheered, “D-plus!!!”

 

Success is relative, maybe.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push each other (and ourselves) to get better.

Hopefully, you aren’t aiming for the plus side of below average.  Hopefully, you aren’t hoping for 80%.  I want all of my students to perform at a 100% level.  I know that probably won’t happen.  But it doesn’t mean I won’t try for it.

Another mentor of mine–Dr. Clough (rhymes with rough ‘n’ tough!)–used to say, “Aim for perfection, and you will reach excellence.”  

Is that optimism?  Or realism?  Optirealism?

Let’s put aside our pessimism that some kids will just “never get it” and focus instead on what they can do.  The results may amaze you.

I’m optimistic that another Amazing Spider-Man sequel will show up in the coming years.  I’m optirealistic that it’ll be good.