Success – At the College Level

College Textbooks

College isn’t just “Book Smarts”

To my Millennial brethren engaged in the pursuit of higher education, I wish you well. It is a noble thing to advance your mind and abilities, but many pitfalls may appear on your journey. The secret to success comes from to preparing yourself, and trying to make good decisions and take productive actions when plans don’t go as planned.

As a new TA serving in my MA program, I see the faces of my peers (Gen Y), but I also see people who don’t have the level of experience that I have. I do not wish any of my writing to sound condescending, I just wanted to point out that I have some years on these students. It’s easy for those who are further along to look at those just starting and have a superior view, but I treat this assignment to be a TA as one to guide these students as I was fortunate to have good teachers in my own life.

One of the troubling trends that I see, and one that I’ve discussed with other friends in the teaching field, is that for all the work teachers do, there isn’t a high degree of learning happening. Students entering college have likely grown up with countless standardized tests, and their main skill sets are geared to filling in the proper bubble. I’ve taken many of the same tests, but my teachers and my family taught that it was important to know why an answer was the right one on the test, not just which answer would earn another point. If students had to perform in ways of showing mastery of concepts rather than mastering the tests, our educational strength might not seem so hindered.

The teaching to the test mentality has created a situation I refer to as FOF (Fear of Failure). An example of FOF comes from a recent assignment that many students had trouble starting. An assignment of two pages, double spaced, was to be written on the statement that an image chosen by a student would reach a “mythic” level. From the questions I fielded, the students were trying to understand how to get a good grade on the assignment (which I can understand).  When I assured them that they had all the tools they needed,  I believe a few were still unsure. Whether they doubted their abilities, or they weren’t sure how to get a good grade like on a standardized test, I think it shows a need to further develop critical thinking. In explaining the assignment further, I tried to explain that by offering a critique, they would need to find evidence to support their claims. If you can find enough legitimate evidence, you can usually make a compelling case (just make sure to cite your sources).

I realize that my assessment may not possess the full scope, and I acknowledge that the intelligence levels of my students are not in question nor at issue. Learning, I believe, relies heavily not only on the word of those who came before us, but on the self-made mistakes when we roll up our sleeves trying to get at the issue that we seek to understand. I know that I would not appreciate my own achievements if I had not slogged through the education process, but I hope my peers can dive in, knowing that even a wrong answer can lead them on the path to the right one.

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Tell your experiences. Were you a standardized learner? Do you believe we must make mistakes to improve our own knowledge? Share your response here and keep the conversation going.

Learning True Millennial Grit

Sandpaper block

Sandpaper block; a different kind of grit.

While going through my TV recordings, I came across an idea worth sharing. “TED Talks Education” aired Tuesday on my local PBS station. One of the speakers, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, spoke about her experience in teaching and psychology helping to determine a factor for success in life. From her extensive studies across age, advancement, education, and other criteria, the one predictor of success appeared to be grit. As Dr. Duckworth ended her presentation, she left the source of grit open for discussion based on the currently available evidence. I am a fan of the scientific method, but in lieu of concrete testing, I think Millennials are well equipped to discuss the source of stamina and how we can grow our grit.

What is grit? While I like spending time in the workshop, grit doesn’t refer to the sandpaper I use, but how dedicated and focused I am to the project in front of me. As a wordsmith, I sometimes like to create acronyms that give a memorable definition for the original word. After thinking about the word, “grit,” here is my Millennial definition:

G.R.I.T. – Grounding Reality Instilling Tenacity

This new acronym describes grit as an ability to see the world in front of us, and continue towards a goal. “Grounding Reality” is a reference to accepting where we find ourselves. I’ve been in situations and circumstances that I did not enjoy or desire to experience, but any opportunity I had to move forward began with my ability to see my starting point, and my end goal. In the case of education, there were times I found myself doing homework, lots of homework, and while I may have wanted to be doing something else, I understood that the work was preventing me from the immediate goal. I accepted the reality, even though I wished it to be different, and this provided the fuel for the next part of the acronym.

“Instilling Tenacity,” is probably the one skill every parent and teacher wishes they could impart to their students. My grasp of tenacity is that it is the ability to see a goal, and the ability to work continually towards that goal over a period of time. It does become a little complicated when we cannot control the length of time spent on the goal, or the challenges that may work against us.  Defining tenacity really hinges upon our understanding of cause and effect, consequence, and sympathy/empathy. Continuing with the homework example, I developed tenacity in two major ways. Understanding how my actions would lead to positive or negative consequences for myself was the main motivation. The corollary of personal consequence was the understanding of external emotions caused by my action. If I did not properly accomplish or at least attempt what was asked, I would be letting down others who were trying to help me learn. I wasn’t the kid who eagerly ran home to do homework every night, but I saw my place in the world; it was my choice to learn and be the best I could to honor the work and gifts given to me by those around me.

“How do I get better grit or tenacity?”

This is the question that Dr. Duckworth allows us to ponder. I believe that the answer is different and personal for everyone. The unifying trait in building your grit is to find the thing that feeds your tenacity. If we were to continue working towards a goal non-stop, we might burn out. Tenacity is like becoming a marathon runner, knowing how to pace yourself to be consistent and always moving towards the goal. Taking time to read, play music, or other activities to recharge is essential before committing to a task. While some are fortunate to have rest periods, life can bring events that last very long and may seem indomitable. Tenacity in this sense becomes a survival instinct, and no matter the current circumstances, something better is possible. Belief in your goal maintains hope; maintaining hope is probably the greatest key to tenacity.

For a generation that seems to have a lot of things working against us, Millennials may prove to be some of the best examples of people with grit. Tough circumstances and challenges that block our goals make us stronger as we try to overcome those issues. When life is easy, we may become complacent, and stop learning. Adversity and struggle are the building blocks for growth, pushing us further than we think we can go. Thomas Edison said that genius is “1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration.” Edison got it right, but I think possessing yesterday’s genius is owning today’s grit.

Question to the readers: What do you do to recharge? Where does your grit come from?