© 2011 Marla McLean intent

Grit

Intent. Studio work has so much of this, in so many forms. There is poetic languages and memories made and found that offer new possibilities through creating,  however, behind it all is intent. For my Kindergarten students working on planning, designing and sewing/constructing a costume, the intent is to develop skills and ability to sew/construct with independence. They are each making a Collection Pouch. This is a really hard thing to do. One has to: sew on the “wrong side”, create a seam, stay along an edge, travel in one direction, avoid pins that hold it all together, not sew the pocket together. Many jokes and dramatic exclamations were a part of lightly getting pricked by the needle or pins. Deep concentration plus a sense of humor was needed for this part of the project. “Ouch, I got hurt again!” “OOOOOOOHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO! I am pricked!” “When you sew you get hurt, there is blood and it spurts!! and then it hurts and the you blurt and murt!” Lots of laughter, repeat, laughter, repeat… Intentionally, children are seated knee to knee on the floor. Pins and needles fall easily and children need to share their mistakes and strategies in sewing the pouches in a communal way.  I am also seated knee to knee to provoke  the habit of mind of “engaging and persisting” as opposed to allowing frustration to happen to the extent of shut down. I can see who gets it and can ask them to support a friend when necessary. When you teach someone else how do do something, the act becomes much more intentional. I observe and listen as helping children begin helping another. “Like THIS!” when that doesn’t work, they become more specific.  ”So, you have to poke the needle down and then flip it over, SEE?” (Carrington) As expected, this project was new and hard for everyone. It was time consuming. Stitches sometimes had to be pulled out. There wasn’t any freetime with this part of the project and everyone worked at different speeds and abilities. This project  is not only intentionally planned to prepare them for their costume, but  also to develop “grit.” What is “grit?” Although this field of study is only a few years old, it’s already made important progress toward identifying the mental traits that allow some people to accomplish their goals, while others struggle and quit. Grit, it turns out, is an essential (and often overlooked) component of success. “I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do.” From the article, The Truth about Grit by Jonah Lehrer From sewing seams came turning the pouch right side out. While this may seem intuitive for an adult, it was a stretch for the kids. The studio has a bad word that is not allowed…”can’t.” So when I started hearing a lot of I can’ts, I gave the kids replacement statements again. This is tricky.  This is frustrating. I’m confused. I need help. This is part of the intentional work in the studio. Working through the hard parts, engaging, persisting, developing grit. I was surprised to learn that measuring the strap to fit the body and sewing on the strap would be so challenging. (This is my first time doing work like this with the children.) Many of the children struggled with: holding the pouch open side up, holding the strap where they wanted to have it pinned, sewing the strap on the wrong side, sewing the strap to the pouch with out closing the pocket. It was often hard to scaffold the children through this part instead of doing it for them. Many times when children asked for help I asked them questions like, “If I pin the pouch the way you are holding it, how will you put your collection inside?” If they were unable to figure out to rotate the pouch so the opening was on top, I would ask them to look at a friend’s. If that didn’t help, I asked the friend to help. Intentionally setting up problem solving and collaborative support means the adult not “fixing” the problem. There was a slight break in challenging work, when they got to draw whatever image they wanted on the from of their collection pouch. But first, it had to be flipped right side out again. Ahhhh, the sweet sensation of seeing the fruits of their labors. “My mom is taking stiching class, and I can do it!” “Don’t tell our parents, we want to surprise them!” “Is it mine? Can I take it home?” The Collection Pouches are not done yet. I want the children to learn how to attach  materials to their sewn pouch. Certainly they will need to know how to do this for the costume construction. The third part of the collection pouch is sewing on beautiful and interesting stuff that has holes (or making holes in stuff to sew on) as well as gluing on. Once again there is a lot of mechanical, spatial, and technical hurdles to overcome. The pouch is now right side out. The needle starts from the inside of the pouch and can only go through the front. This is a lot of  managing of materials. Sewing incorporates a lot of mathematical thinking too. However, this part  allows for personal expression, so engagement was even higher. Only one group has started this phase of the project as of this post. The strategies and gusto with which they approached this challenge was far more independent and self-assured then their first interaction with the project. Stephen’s Collection Pouch Luke’s Collection Pouch As children progressively move through this third stage of the project, they see what their peers have done. I usually see that the children in the later groups look at the first pouches and then build upon their models-changing and morphing possibilities. In these three sessions I have seen a huge development in mathematical and spatial thinking. Huge gains have been made in persisting through the hard parts. Grit is being developed. My questions are: Will grit transfer to the costume making-which will be hard in a different way? Will grit transfer to classroom challenges in diverse domains such as writing? Can you lose the development of grit if you are not in an environment where it is an intentional value? My hope, is that the moment of perseverance transformed into invention, creation or discovery is too powerful to disappear, in any  situation. It is why I continue to read, research and develop strategies with the children. I’m a believer in grit. Where, when, how and why did you develop your grit? Who do you attribute to supporting you develop this trait? (Boston Museum of Fine Arts) Here is the entire article:  The Truth About Grit, By Jonah Lehrner  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!
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7 Responses to “Grit”

  1. Love the refocusing of “I can’t.” As you can imagine, this lingers on and continues even through college.
    And, speaking of grit, there is a similar article to the Grit Study in the New York Times, titled “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html

  2. I love that people are studying grit (and calling it grit). Cool project and reportage!

  3. Clair Wain says:

    I have been searching for blogs constructed by other early childhood educators and was delighted to stumble across yours. I work in a Reggio Emilia inspired Early Learning Centre so was immediately attracted to your title ‘Atelierista’. Your post about ‘grit’ was fascinating to read and beautifully illustrated. It reinforced again how capable and resourceful young children are and the way in which they consider each other to be useful resources. That the desire to learn from and with others is so powerful and it was wonderful to see how you had found an opportunity to support and deepen the quality of learning that occurs whenever individuals are together in groups. Thank you for your post, Clair.

  4. allie says:

    This post really has me thinking, Marla. I have sewn with children for a few years now, and I sometimes think that I do not assist children enough because of my expectations that children can do most work on their own, as long as they have the materials, perhaps a model, and a very patient teacher.

    I appreciated your words about scaffolding. In this kind of work, it is so easy to do a lot for the children. But we need to help support them as they get to the next step. There is so much patience in this project, but the intention is inspiring. The children are going through the first phase of grit so that when they arrive at the costume making part, they will face it again but understand that they can overcome it. Its a beautiful plan.

    As always, thanks for sharing!

    allie

  5. Jaydee says:

    That’s a mold-breaker. Great thniknig!

  6. I can’t imagine a more important skill for children to learn than to work through their frustrations – to persevere. Grit. Wow. You’ve really got me thinking – am I instilling this in my students? In what ways do I allow them to fail and to pick up the pieces and continue? There is much to think about.

    And the pouches are so beautiful and unique! A great way to inspire children to journal and reflect.

  7. AmyM says:

    I am marveling again at how much the children have been doing during the last 3 months. My boy has been tired and so resistant to “tasks” and transitions. But this weekend all of the sudden he can handle frustrations that he couldn’t handle just a short time ago. He made a marble run and was able to work with the pieces until it worked the way he wanted it to. His sister knocked it down accidentally and he didn’t hit her or throw a block. The costume project has led to a real leap in Gabe’s understanding that you can work through something difficult and that it may take time to get the result you want.

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