When working with schools I frequently ask the question “Which learning behaviour, if improved, would make the biggest difference to learning in your school?”. Invariably the answer is Perseverance. I wonder why that is ?
When you talk with students, it is immediately clear that perseverance carries many negative connotations that reflect their (often unspoken) beliefs about effective learning. These unspoken beliefs are a blend of:
- Clever people just ‘get it’ without trying;
- Clever people understand quickly;
- Learning ought to be easy;
- Either you ‘get it’ or you don’t;
- Effort is what stupid people use to overcome a lack of ability.
No surprise then, that perseverance is viewed as unpalatable and symptomatic of a lack of ability. But, where do students get these beliefs about learning? Are these beliefs innate? Or a result of the home environment? Or might schooling itself be a contributing factor?
Early years practitioners talk to me of tenacious learners who will happily persist to achieve their goals. They show self-belief, a willingness to ‘give it a go’, and to take risks. Yet teachers of older children talk of fragile learners who give up at the first sign of difficulty.
We need to ask some hard questions about the ways we organise learning in schools:
- Are we placing too much emphasis on the finished article and too little on the effort required to produce it?
- Do reward systems reward effort, or are they really a means of affirming ‘high ability’?
- What do we most value – progress or attainment?
- Is the drive for pace limiting the need for extended effort?
- Is effective differentiation reducing challenge and hence the need for perseverance?
- Does display promote effort or attainment?
- Does the standards agenda prize short-term remembering over hard-won understanding?
One way to explore these issues is to undertake an ‘amble’ around your school (by ‘amble’ I mean a sort of ‘learning walk in your mind’). No need to leave your office just yet – simply let your brain wander around the place you work with perseverance in mind!
Consider statements like:
- Many learners prefer to stay well within their comfort zone, succeeding with ‘easy work’ rather than attempting ‘challenging learning’
And then reflect on:
- The levels of challenge in classrooms and the extent to which effective differentiation sometimes dilutes challenge
School leaders could do this, as could subject leaders/departments or phases. It could form the basis of a CPD session. It might well stimulate a range of enquiries within the school.
If you would like a Perseverance Amble with 10 statements about perseverance and 10 things to think about, click here.