Zest, Grit and Sweat

Lolita Paff, PhD, presents a few ideas to help students develop and/or grow intellectual curiosity (zest), persistence (grit), and an understanding that true long-lasting learning takes effort (sweat).

Interest in what we’re learning leads to paying closer attention, thinking more carefully, making more connections and digging below the surface. Teachers help when we:

  • Connect to students’ interests and make work relevant and real world. Tap into questions, topics, and issues that matter to students. Ask students to identify topics or questions they care about. Use their questions as a means of learning content.
  • Bring passion to the table. Teacher enthusiasm covers a multitude of sins and fosters student interest. Enthusiasm can be contagious.

Persistence allows someone to see challenges as temporary setbacks and academic difficulties as speed bumps, not roadblocks to learning. Teachers promote grit when we:

  • Provide low-stakes practice. Learning requires practice. Multiple, low-stakes opportunities, with timely feedback, promote grit.
  • Offer specific feedback. To be most effective, feedback needs to be specific, and timely. It should identify strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations for future action.

Learning to learn takes time, things go wrong, and you’re not going far without putting forth effort. Teachers can help students work smarter, harder and longer when we:

  • Incorporate reflection. Reflective questions can be part of class time or incorporated into assignments. Why was this question asked? How is X related to Y? What is the most challenging topic in the chapter? How does this material connect to what you learned previously?
  • Provide study tips. Suggest a timeline for study based on “spaced learning” principles. Ask students to submit a timeline for studying, writing a paper, or completing a project. Develop practice tests or ask students to write questions to use as part of a “testing to learn” strategy.

Lifelong learning is more about the ride than the destination. Integrating zest influences what students think and motivates them to start the journey. Strategies attending to grit and sweat influence what students do and the efforts put forth by helping them advance along the paths of learning, now and in the future.