We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on Apr 7, 2015

Grit When the Going Gets Tough: Tips to Help Students Push Onward

Last Thursday, #langchat participants were eager to dive into a chat about grit. They started by describing what grit looks like in a learner, and they reflected on difficult tasks that can cause learners to give up. Participants brainstormed ways to make students feel successful and ways to help them at moments of frustration. Finally, they mentioned key skills that, when practiced early on, can set students up for success. Langchatters had lots of thoughts about how to foster grit, and many evidenced their own grit in making time for #langchat during Spring break!

Thank you to all those who joined us last week and thank you to Thursday’s moderating team: Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECotrell), Amy (@alenord), Laura (@SraSpanglish), and John (@CadenaSensei)!

Question 1: What does ‘grit’ look like in a learner?

Langchatters set out to describe what exactly grit looks like in a language learner. They characterized students with grit as those who push on in the face of difficulty, demonstrate resourcefulness, and cultivate a growth mindset.

  • Pushing on…: @magisterb480 described grit as “hard work toward learning difficult material.” @alenord agreed that grit is evidenced by “[students’] ability [or] motivation to push [through] difficulties to complete [a] task or reach a goal.” @CoLeeSensei added that students with grit often have a look of determination: “It’s an ‘I can do this…’ look in the eyes!”
  • Resourcefulness: Other instructors mentioned that students reflect and make use of available resources to complete difficult tasks. @Marishawkins described learners characterized by grit as those “who think through things instead of instantly asking me.” @SenoraDiamond55 commented that students might alternatively “ask another classmate first for help!” @ericsonellen added that students can also demonstrate grit by searching for creative solutions within their own linguistic repertoires: “Grit [is] when students say I can’t say it this way but I CAN say it like this!”
  • Growth Mindset: #Langchat participants also noted that students with grit possess a growth mindset. @SenoraDiamond wrote, “Grit looks like dusting oneself off to try again, [to] want to do better, [to] hold a growth mindset.” @SECottrell agreed, explaining that students view learning as a process: “Grit isn’t NOT saying ‘I can’t,’ it’s saying ‘I can’t, but soon I can’ instead of ‘I can’t, and so I quit’.” Additionally, @alenord wrote that learners with grit do not allow failures or struggles to define them: “[Grit is learners’ ability] to see failure as [a] necessary part of [the] learning process and not as something that defines them.”

As @SECottrell observed, “[It] takes good research [and] more than 140 [characters] to define grit!” She recommended a ‘[must] read’ for those wishing to read up on the subject: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Question 2: What tasks or situations frequently cause language learners to give up?

Next, participants discussed particularly frustrating tasks that can cause learners to disengage. They cited information overload, incomprehensible input and insufficient scaffolding, fixation on errors and assessment, and ‘irrelevant’ tasks as sources of frustration and discouragement.

  • Information overload: @magisterb480 wrote that overloading students with material can lead learners to become frustrated: “Too much grammar and vocabulary to learn at one time [can cause students to give up. This happens] all the time in Latin!” @SenoraWienhold observed that “many [students also] shut down when given [a] large chunk of reading or listening in [the] TL without proper support.”
  • Incomprehensible Input and Insufficient Scaffolding: Many participants mentioned difficult or incomprehensible input as cause for student disengagement (Check out this past #langchat summary for more information on comprehensible input: Others added that students give up when “scaffolding [is] either non-existent or not adequate enough for them to demonstrate comprehension” (@kballestrini). @tmsaue1 described the problem posed by insufficient scaffolding in other words: “[Frustration can result from] being expected to produce without having the opportunity for enough input and processing.”
  • Fixation on Errors and Assessment: Participants noted that instructors’ fixation or perceived fixation on errors (@ericsonellen) and grading could also lead students to give up. @MmeCarbonneau mentioned students’ “fear of everything they do being assessed!” and @SenoraDiamond cited “too much emphasis on working for the grade!” as an obstacle to supporting student grit.
  • ‘Irrelevant’ Tasks: Instructors pointed out that students are less likely to push onward when they view tasks as irrelevant. @ProfeCochran wrote, “Anything with [a] low interest factor, or anything not meaningful or [that students cannot relate to]” can lead to disengagement. @Profe_Taylor agreed, writing that students may give up when they “believe they are being told to do another irrelevant TASK.” @CoLeeSensei observed that it is a bad sign “[when students] have to ask ‘[Why] are we doing this?’” If you are looking to develop more personalized, meaningful activities for students, have a look at this recent #langchat summary:

Question 3: How can we help students feel successful?

#Langchat participants worked together to find ways to help students feel successful in the language classroom. They noted the importance of feedback on individual progress, a growth mindset, and a safe learning environment in supporting student success.

  • Feedback on Individual Progress: Langchatters mentioned the importance of measuring individual student progress over time. @kballestrini wrote that instructors can help students to feel successful “by evaluating each student’s progress against only his or herself, rather than some other arbitrary measure.” @alenord added that, although it can prove difficult for instructors to provide “[personalized], timely feedback,” such feedback supports student success in documenting progress on a regular basis.
  • Growth Mindset: In providing students with feedback, participants added that instructors should also help students to cultivate a growth mindset. @MaCristinaRV wrote, “We can help students feel successful by encouraging them to have a growth mindset. If they put in the effort, they will learn.” @CoLeeSensei reminds students to celebrate the small successes, reflecting on their progress on a daily basis. She asks, “Do you know more than you did yesterday?,” adding, “That’s my goal…”
  • Safe Learning Environment: Other instructors commented on the role of a safe learning environment in fostering students’ sense of success. @SECottrell said, “I thought about safe learning [environment] today, helping [students] improve while saying ‘YOU GOT THIS’.” In order to maintain a safe classroom community, some instructors give students time to reflect instead of putting them on the spot. For example, @camccullough1 said, “When I ask [students] a question [and] they don’t understand, I ask 3 more kids, and then come back to them, [and] they can [do it].” @Sra_Kennedy replied, “I do the same. Kids know they can say pass [and] I will come back to them in a few [minutes].”

Question 4: How can we help students when they get frustrated?

Participants recognized that language learning has moments of frustration, and they discussed ways to help frustrated students. Langchatters underscored the value of one-on-one time with the instructor or a peer. They also acknowledged that instructors’ own experiences as language learners can help to remind students that language learning is a (sometimes frustrating) process.

  • One-on-One Time: Many instructors advocated for individual meetings with students experiencing frustration. @SraSpanglish wrote, “I have found no substitute for the one-on-one conference. [I ask students:] What do you see? What do you need? How can I help?” @magisterb480 wrote that collaboration with an able peer can also work to decrease frustration: “Help [students] one-on-one, or give them time to collaborate with other [students] who are proficient.” @AHSblaz has seen positive results from pair collaboration: “[I cannot] tell you how many times I say ‘X’ [and a student] says ‘I don’t get it’ [and] then [a peer] says ‘X’ and [the student] says ‘I get it’.” @CoLeeSensei added that in her class, students “practice the art of ‘not understanding’ and ‘helping’ on purpose” ( This practice helps students to relax and to become comfortable with the idea of not understanding and requesting help. Finally, as @SraClouser observed, “Knowing your students is key. Some might need that one-on-one time, others might want some peer guidance.”
  • Confessions from a Language Teacher: As participants acknowledged, language instructors are language learners. Langchatters stressed the value of sharing instructors’ language-learning difficulties and frustrations, past and present, with students. @alenord said, “Confess what was hard for you as [a language] student and give [students] secret tips. I call mine Gringa Tips.” @tmsaue1 spoke for many participants when he wrote, “[Remind] students how you learned. Show them you are a human who struggles too.” @SECottrell noted, “[Some] teachers are afraid to be ‘stumped’ by students. Nevertheless, she added, “[It’s] a big deal to show [students] I don’t know stuff, but I can find out.” @CatherineKU72 does not seek to hide her use of resources when she has questions: “I pull up WordReference right in front of [students] when they stump me [or] we send out [a] Twitter request.” @dawnrwolfe reminds students that they are in it together: “I praise them for their learning struggle. Learning (and life) can be frustrating. It’s all in how we respond.”

Question 5: What skills do students need to start practicing on Day 1 to achieve success?

At the end of the hour, #langchat participants discussed skills that students can practice early on to achieve success. They recommended teaching circumlocution, active listening, and ways to moderate input. They also emphasized the importance of helping students become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

  • Circumlocution: @CappiGio mentioned circumlocution as a key skill for students to develop from the start. @nicola_work added that instructors could teach students “basic phrases to use immediately to start staying in the [target language].”
  • Active Listening: Participants stressed the need to train students in active listening. @CadenaSensei encouraged “ACTIVE listening,” writing, “[Students] need to train themselves to focus on my input.” @kballestrini agreed, “[Active] listening, for sure. [Too] many [students] think they are listening, but they are simultaneously somewhere else.” @profepj3 noted that in training students in active listening, instructors can show them “[how] to absorb from context and NOT from a translation list.”
  • Moderating Input: @IndwellingLang recognized the importance of teaching students ways of “moderating input that comes from [the teacher] and other [students, for example,] requesting [that others] slow down, repeat, [or] rephrase,… (with words or gestures).” @SECottrell commented, “This is SO IMPORTANT: Create an environment where students are safe [and] WILL TELL YOU when they don’t understand.”
  • Comfort with the Uncomfortable: Finally, participants noted that students should be taught to embrace the uncomfortable early on. @dawnrwolfe said, “Practice embracing being uncomfortable. That means something big is about to happen!” @camccullough echoed this point: “At a coaches’ workshop I went to they said, ‘[Practice getting] comfortable being uncomfortable.’”


Langchatters recognized that grit promotes successful language learning and can be modeled by instructors. They discussed situations that can cause frustration and offered ways to help learners to stick with it and feel successful. Participants also recognized the importance of relating to students as fellow language learners, modeling grit, and encouraging them to keep pushing!

Thank You!

Thank you so much to everyone who set aside time for #langchat last week! If you are “GRITting your teeth” (@CoLeeSensei) when Thursday #langchats come to a close, now you can also #langchat on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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