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Building Perseverance (Free preview)

This is a preview of Building Perseverance, one of twelve such modules that can be found in the Building Learning Habits: Phase 1. Please contact us to learn how this programme can benefit your school.

This resource is designed to guide you through a process of building your students’ Perseverance.

It invites you to undertake some rich activities in the form of  learning experiments in your classrooms, helping  you to organise your own discoveries and extend your own understanding of the power of building students’ learning habits.

Work through sections 1 – 6 where you will:

  1. Classroom climate. Consider how you might improve your classroom culture to better support perseverance.
  2. Team reflection. Explore the impact of your classroom experiments with colleagues.
  3. Teaching for learning, Consider ways of building perseverance into learning activities/tasks .
  4. Team reflection. Explore the impact of your experiments with learning activities with colleagues.
  5. Teacher talk. Consider ways to nudge the development of perseverance through teacher talk
  6. Team reflection. Explore the impact of teacher talk experiments with colleagues.

Section 1: Classroom climate

1a) What do we mean by perseverance?

Attention can be broken when learning gets blocked, but good learners have learnt the knack of maintaining or quickly re-establishing their concentration when they get stuck or frustrated. The quality of stickability or perseverance is essential if you are going to get to the bottom of something that doesn’t turn out as quickly or easily as you had thought, or hoped.

If you get upset and start to think there is something wrong with you as soon as you get stuck, you are not going to be able to maintain engagement.

Instead all your energy will go into trying to avoid the uncomfortable feeling, and this may mean drifting off into a daydream, creating a distraction, or blaming somebody else. A great deal of classroom misbehaviour starts this way. If students were better equipped to cope emotionally with the inevitable difficulty of learning, they would mess about less.

A well formed Persevering habit involves being ready, willing, and able to:

  • Keep going in the face of difficulties
  • Enjoy working at the edge of your comfort zone
  • Channelling the energy of frustration productively, marshalling positive emotions to succeed.
  • Understanding that learning is often a slow and uncertain process that requires grit, risk-taking and different ways of working.
  • Relish working towards ever more challenging goals without fear of ‘failure’.

So at a less abstract level students need to learn how to deal with being stuck, emotionally and practically; how to manage their learning environment including distraction and negativity; how to manage and come to love challenges and how to develop goals that they are passionate about achieving. When looked at from these diverse angles growing perseverance moves well beyond encouraging a student to ‘stick at it’.

1b) How well do my students persevere?

Activity 1: Spotting Persevering habits in your classes

Have a quick think about  your students’ reaction to the need to Persevere.

Act 1 - Student engagement with Perserverance


What do you think?

  • Which classes/groups come to mind when looked at though this perseverance lens?
  • Which classes seem to have a more negative reaction to persevering?
  • Why might this be?
  • How do reactions to perseverance seem to relate to different levels of attainment or gender?

Make a note of…Little_r

  • High achievers who usually react negatively to having to persevere
  • Low achievers who don’t seem phased by persevering
  • Behaviours you would like to change or improve in your students’ ability to persevere.

1c) How does my classroom climate support perseverance?

As teachers we are in the habit-forming business. Those habits that we model in front of young people influence the ways in which they perform and behave. Therefore, we need to be sure to foster productive learning habits. If we frequently say Ask me if you get stuck we are not building our students’ self-reliance and resilience. Before they know it, they have become the creatures of our making: replicating our ways. In such ways do good teachers, albeit inadvertently, stifle the very behaviours they are seeking to promote.

Activity 2: Does my classroom climate encourage Persevering?

A classroom climate that supports and nourishes the inclination to persevere is characterised by high challenge low stress activities; the feeling that students can fail ‘in safety’; an understanding that success without effort is never worthwhile; all within a culture that prizes effort over attainment. 

To develop a persevering friendly culture needs teachers to believe that: 

  • Real learning comes from making mistakes and overcoming being stuck
  • Being stuck is an interesting not shameful place to be
  • Learning is not meant to be easy, and good teaching is about putting the learning in the extended grasp of the learner
  • Mistakes are learning opportunities

And through such a persevering culture students come to believe that:

  • Effort will pay off and having to try hard is not symptomatic of lack of ability
  • Learning is about making mistakes and learning from them
  • Giving up is not an option
  • Easy work is wasting my time

Get a feel for your classroom culture and how this may be working for or against positive approaches to students becoming increasingly willing to persevere.
Look through the ideas carefully and consider whether you already use some, and whether any appeal to you to try.

Activity 2 Classroom Climate for Perseverance


What do you think?

  • What do your answers suggest?
  • How does your picture of classroom culture contribute to students’ reactions or approaches to persevering?
  • Is this broadly negative or positive?
  • What insightful ‘Ah Ha’ moments did you have as you read through the list?
  • How have these changed your view of perseverance?

Make a note of…Little_r

  • Any ideas that look as if they might help students to become better at persevering.
  • An idea on the list you want to start doing.
  • An idea that interests you, but you are uncertain what it means or how you might do it.

1d) What do you plan to do?

Having looked at your students  you now need to decide how you want students to be different, to improve/develop/enhance their approach to persevering. Look at your answers to Activity 1 and the student behaviours you want to improve.

Having looked at your classroom culture you now need to decide what you intend to do differently to help bring about this change in your students.

Look at your answers to Activity 2 for ideas about what you might do.

Think of it like this…

If I do  XXXX will it improve/develop/enhance YYYY in my students?

This is the crunch question. Your students are unlikely to change unless you change.

Select three ideas that you think will have the greatest impact.

Now spend at least the next 3 weeks putting these ideas into practice with your students to establish a new way of working. Watch what happens to your students and your practice and bring your observations to the team reflection meeting.

Section 2: Team reflection

2a)Teacher Learning Communities; what and how

2a) Teacher Learning Communities; what and how

The purpose of this meeting is for the team to act as a teacher learning community:  a small group of teachers who meet together regularly to deepen their understanding of an approach, commit to trying out new things, reflect on and share their experiments with each other. Such learning communities are the engines of teacher development. They work best with 6-8 teachers with similar subjects or age groups, and who meet regularly for about an hour over a period of a couple of years.

The group question and probe each other’s summaries of their experiments in order to encourage analysis and deeper reflection. They use questions such as ‘What do you think is getting in the way? What would make this even better?
How could this technique be modified to make it work for you? What do you think made that happen? In this way they support each other in changing and developing their practice.

Some guidelines for team reflection sessions

The delicate, hard work of changing practice requires a safe professional environment in which to explore and understand both triumphs and tribulations. These short guidelines may be helpful in setting a climate for the team itself.

  •  Everyone is expected to report back on their classroom experiments
  • Coaching questions and probes of colleagues’  classroom experiments  encourage  deeper reflection.
  • The group is careful to follow their agreed ground rules which might include;
    • No group member can ‘pass’
    • Listen between the lines when it’s not your turn
    • Actively discuss everyone’s input
    • Constructive criticism – developmental not judgemental
    • Everyone fully engaged in the group
      • What is said is confidential to the group
      • Respect others’ views and encourage others’ ideas
    • No-put downs
    • Maintain an open mind

2b) Guidelines for discussion


  • what you did
  • impact on students
  • what you learned
  • what next as a result


  • what was getting in the way
  • what would make it better
  • what made it work particularly well
  • why it was successful
  • changes in each teacher’s behaviour

Discuss which of these possible impacts on students have been observed;

  • spending increased time on task
  • being less stressed about being stuck/challenged
  • reduced reliance on external support
  • improved demeanour about finding things hard
  • greater confidence in themselves
  • realisation that getting stuck is normal and helpful
  • willingness to try other ways
  • greater engagement with tasks
  • improvement in their belief in themselves as learners (growth mindset)
  • others you may have observed…

Section 3: Teaching for learning

3a) An activity for introducing your students to perseverance

Here is an activity you might use to introduce the concept of perseverance and explore how students feel about it.

Origami task

Use Origami to help students explore keeping going with a challenge.

The Origami task should be demanding and lead to frustration and the tendency to give up and stop trying.

Show the completed origami shape. Tell students that “Everyone can make one of these if they persevere.” Hand out the origami instructions and paper. Watch how students tackle the task.

The important aspect of the exercise is the debrief. Through discussion, explore:

  • “How did you feel when you were making the shape?”
  • “Who wanted to give up, but didn’t?”
  • “What made you keep going? E.g. could see the goal, someone helped?”
  • “Did you find yourself saying ‘I’m no good at …’?”
  • “What did it feel like to see some people doing it quickly?”
  • “Who completed the shape? What did this feel like?”
  • “What made you give up?”

Explore further with the group — what makes us give up, what helps us keep going?

3b) Some quick win activities to encourage perseverance

Quick wins are things you can do fairly easily that will bring a swift return. Sometimes they are lesson starters that set the tone of a learning episode, warming up the students’ use of the  learning behaviour they will be using most in the lesson. Sometimes, as here, they are ways of organising your teaching to stretch learning behaviours.

Try these quick wins to encourage a Persevering frame of mind

Using ‘Could be’ language

You could try that, but what else might you try ?

The importance of using ‘Could-Be’ language and how this encourages more genuine engagement with what is being taught is well-researched. Presenting knowledge through the medium of ‘could be’ language encourages students to consider a range of possible strategies for becoming unstuck.

For more on using ‘could be’ language, have a look in the Imagining module which gives more detail.

Build Persistence

  • Orchestrate tasks that only a few students will be able to complete successfully. Use this as a vehicle to discuss the negative and positive emotions around persisting. Help students to identify when they are able to persevere successfully and how it feels when they do.
  • Reward and comment on their effort, rather than attainment.

Seek Challenge

  • Plan your lessons around the higher attainers to ensure that the level of challenge is raised.
  • Make sure that extension tasks genuinely extend, and are not just ‘more of the same’

The Learning Pit

The learningpit_white.jpgLearning Pit is a relatively well-known idea from James Nottingham. It can be used to explore student feelings as they move from the despair of not knowing/understanding through to success, or, in James’ terms, from clarity, through confusion (when they are in the pit) and back to clarity (as they emerge from the pit). It promotes challenge, dialogue and a growth mindset.

For more on The Learning Pit, see James’ website at

Equally search ‘The Learning Pit’ on You Tube for further material.

What do I do when I’m stuck?

  • Work with students to create useful questions to ask themselves and strategies to adopt when stuck.
  • Be sure that ‘ask teacher’ comes some way down the list.
  • Create ‘stuck prompt’ displays as reminders.
  • Adopt a ‘C3B4Me’ strategy – do three things before asking the teacher.
  • Use red/amber/green cards for students to indicate that they are stuck/so-so/fine.
  • Treat being stuck as an interesting place to be.

3c) An idea to help you introduce student self-monitoring of their perseverance

Learning Mats

Learning mats are A3 or A4 laminated sheets that show various aspects of a learning habit. They are kept on desks or used as part of wall display. Students refer to them during lessons, using them as prompts about the finer aspects of a learning habit that is being stretched. They help students to be able to join in meta-cognitive talk

This one relates to Persevering. As students become more proficient at Persevering they enjoy making their own learning mats describing higher order skills than the ones shown here.

Persevering - Learning MatsPersevering – Learning Mats [PDF]

Using Learning Mats

Learning Mats can be in ‘teacher speak’ or ‘student speak’, and can be used:

  • To raise awareness of habit
  • To spread the school’s common language for learning
  • As an aide-memoire for students and teachers
  • As a self-assessment support for students
  • As an audit tool to support teacher planning.

3d) A habit-forming activity

So far you have experimented with adapting the climate of your classroom to support perseverance in students. In this section, you will find some teaching ideas to try.

What you are trying to achieve …

Download this as a pdf

Learning Challenge

Download this as a pdf


Download this as a pdf

Observing a Learning Challenge

Download this as a pdf

Section 4: Team reflection

4) Guidelines for discussion


  • the activities you tried
  • how students reacted
  • what you learned
  • what next as a result


  • what was getting in the way
  • what would make it better
  • what made it work particularly well
  • why it was successful
  • changes in the teacher’s behaviour

Discuss which of these possible impacts on students have been observed;

  • a willingness to spend more time on task. All types of task? Some types? Which?
  • showing less stress or worry about being stuck or challenged
  • reduced reliance on external support
  • developing their own ways of dealing with being stuck
  • greater confidence in themselves
  • recognising that getting stuck is normal and helpful
  • willingness to try other ways of tackling a task
  • greater engagement with tasks
  • improvement in their belief in themselves as learners (growth mindset)
  • others you may have observed…

Section 5: From teacher talk to student talk

5a) Positive persevering talk

Some positive persevering talk

How teachers, and parents, talk about being stuck is highly influential in shaping students’ attitudes to it.

Things you can say to nudge Persevering. Talk like a learning coach to encourage students to think for themselves.

  • What happened when you got stuck before ? What did you do to work it out?
  • Take a break from this for while and come back to it later
  • How did it feel to persist with xxxx
  • Great ! You have come through the confused feeling. What helped you?
  • It’s when you get stuck that you really start to learn

5b) Encouraging student self talk

Activity 3

In the table below the left hand column shows student self talk we want to enable. They are the expressions of the kind of thing you are trying to get students to think to themselves. Some will pop up in speech or even in writing from time to time, of course, but mostly this will go on inside their heads. What sort of running commentary might you model in order to encourage pupil self talk about persevering.

Act 3 - Develop your students' self talk


5c) Here are some positive tips about 'Stuck talk''

Model the visible thinking routine….What do I know? What do I need to know? What techniques do I have for bridging the gap? This helps students to develop their own internal dialogue for combating stuck-ness.

Encourage students to identify the cause of their stuckness. Move them from saying “I’m stuck” to ” I’m stuck because…” Naming the problem will often suggest a reasonable next step.

If students freeze when they are stuck, offer supportive questions not answers. ‘What do you do next?’, and when this has been done ask the question again. Such ‘support to continue’ prompts are seen as helpful by students. You are encouraging them to take over the job themselves and reminding them that uncertainty shouldn’t lead to paralysis.

The advantage of asking questions over telling is that you are in a better position to monitor how students are learning when they are doing the explaining. Ask students how they might check their answers or why they think they are right or wrong. Have them work with each other on this to encourage a learning community rather than just teacher-student dialogues.

Section 6: Team reflection

6a) Guidelines for discussion


  • the teacher talk you tried
  • how students reacted
  • what you learned
  • what next as a result


  • what was getting in the way
  • what seemed difficult
  • what would make it easier
  • what made it work particularly well
  • why it was successful
  • changes in your behaviour

Discuss ways in which students are picking up self talk;

  • saying ‘I’m stuck because….”
  • I can do this if I………
  • That’s an interesting mistake I made….
  • I enjoy struggling a bit. That’s the interesting bit.
  • I feel okay about being stuck
  • I’m going to try another way of doing this.
  • I can avoid that distraction by……
  • I know I can get better at this
  • any others you may be aware of…

What do you think?

  • What sort of shifts in student self talk are you noticing?
  • More in one class than others?
  • More with older students than younger?
  • More with girls than boys?

Make a note of…


  • Where you notice shifts to this way of thinking.
  • Ideas about why this might be.
  • Ways in which you could further encourage this metacognitive behaviour in your students.
  • Any positive or negative impact of these behaviours.

We wish you well with your rich activity/learning enquiry. Do let us know how it went…

Maybe you would like to write a blog about it to feature on our website for the benefit of the Building Learning Power community.

This is a preview of Building Perseverance, one of twelve such modules that can be found in the Building Learning Habits: Phase 1.

Please contact us to learn how this programme can benefit learning in your school…

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