Whole Child Virtual Conference

Grit: Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology

Whole Child Virtual Conference - 2013

ASCD's third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference is a free, online event that provides a forum and tools for schools and districts working toward sustainability and changing school cultures to serve the whole child. Built on the theme, "Moving from Implementation to Sustainability to Culture," the conference will be held May 6–10, with international pre-conference sessions held on Friday, May 3, for Australasian and European audiences. The conference features presentations from renowned speakers, educators, authors, and education experts who have successfully implemented a whole child approach in schools around the world, including ASCD Vision in Action award-winning schools and Whole Child Network schools.

Below, we hear from educators and Whole Child Virtual Conference presenters Walter McKenzie and Thomas Hoerr, whose session, "Grit: Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology in the Classroom," will be held Thursday, May 9, 4:00–5:00 p.m. eastern time.

No one likes to be frustrated or fail, but every child needs to encounter frustration and failure—to learn to step back, reassess, and try again and again—to develop grit. It may seem heartless to create scenarios in which students don't succeed, but how can they learn to overcome adversity if they haven't experienced it? Part of our job as educators is to help every child find success, and an important part of achieving success is knowing how to respond to failure. As soccer star Mia Hamm said, "Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it." People who have not learned to respond well to frustration and failure may choose paths without much risk or challenge, thus destining themselves to a life of predictability, safety, and mediocrity.

Researcher Angela Duckworth studied the qualities that make people successful and found that having a “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” what she called grit, is a predictor for success in any setting (PDF). She said that having grit "entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress." Indeed, within a group of equally talented students, athletes, or artists, the level of grit may be the single best predictor for success. You can watch Duckworth talk about grit in this TEDxTalks presentation.

How and when should we help students develop grit? We should begin by ensuring that every student confronts his or her limitations, often through rethinking how hard and where we challenge our students. Applying Gardner's multiple intelligences theory (PDF) in how we think about, plan, and implement instruction helps create the conditions for students to both struggle and succeed. Everyone thrives when working with our intelligence strengths, but we learn and grow when we work outside of our comfort zone, developing other intelligences that are not our natural paths to learning.

Once you target the intelligences for learning tasks, you can map from the intelligences to appropriate learning tools. Technology allows students to learn and demonstrate understanding through virtual experiences that defy traditional assumptions about education. These experiences are as real as traditional labs, learning centers, and field trips and allow students to experience abstract concepts virtually through approaches that simply cannot be replicated in the physical world: manipulating a right triangle to experience the truth of the Pythagorean theorem, viewing images of rare bacteria and microbes archived online, and taking a virtual field trip to view the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th century embroidered cloth that depicts the Battle of Hastings.

Would the greatest teachers you ever had still use chalk on slate if they had access to the kinds of tools we have at our disposal today? Great teachers adapt and learn! Honor those innovative teachers by being a pioneer and innovator. If we want our students to develop grit, we need to do so, too. We need to step out of our comfort zones and model how to respond to frustration and failure, reassess our strategies, and try again.

This new paradigm includes the following tenets:

  • All children are unique learners.
  • Today’s classrooms should prepare students for the 21st century workplace.
  • Classroom management requires greater learner autonomy.
  • Skills and concepts should be presented in multiple modes and contexts.
  • Technology tools help students use all their intelligences to learn.
  • Students should be immersed in authentic tasks and assessments.
  • There are multiple ways to solve problems and create products.
  • Students should take risks, evaluate feedback, and learn to reassess and try again.
  • Creativity and diversity of thought should be celebrated.
  • Collaborative problem solving in a student-centered learning community is the goal.

We need to create the conditions in which students will develop grit. Multiple intelligences and instructional technology provide the framework and tools for this to happen.

Tom HoerrEducational Leadership.

Walter McKenzieWalter McKenzie is the director of Constituent Services at ASCD, where he facilitates its many educator communities, including state, regional, provincial, and international affiliates; connected communities; emerging leaders; and student chapters. Prior to coming to ASCD, McKenzie served 25 years in Massachusetts and Virginia public schools: 14 years as a classroom teacher and 11 years as a district trainer, coordinator, director, and assistant superintendent. McKenzie is an internationally known author and presenter on multiple intelligences theory and instructional technology and has authored several books on these subjects.

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