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:
- Classroom climate. Consider how you might improve your classroom culture to better support perseverance.
- Team reflection. Explore the impact of your classroom experiments with colleagues.
- Teaching for learning, Consider ways of building perseverance into learning activities/tasks .
- Team reflection. Explore the impact of your experiments with learning activities with colleagues.
- Teacher talk. Consider ways to nudge the development of perseverance through teacher talk
- Team reflection. Explore the impact of teacher talk experiments with colleagues.
Section 1: Classroom climate
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’.
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.
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
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.
Section 3: Teaching for learning
Here is an activity you might use to introduce the concept of perseverance and explore how students feel about it.
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?
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.
- 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.
- 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 Learning 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.
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.
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.
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 …
Observing a Learning Challenge
Section 4: Team reflection
Section 5: From teacher talk to student 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
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.
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
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.