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CATESOL Book Review: Grit in the Classroom, Building Perseverance for Excellence in Today’s Students, by Laila Y. Sanguras

Michelle Skowbo

Grit in the Classroom, Building Perseverance for Excellence in Today’s Students, Laila Y. Sanguras

Book Image for Grit in the Classroom: Building Perseverance for Excellence in Today's Students by Laila Y. Sanguras

By Robb Hill and Kara Mac Donald 
Grit in the Classroom in many ways builds on Duckworth’s 2016 Grit: The power of passion and perseverance, discussing how to develop an environment that fosters learners’ resiliency. The book isn’t new off the press, it was published in 2017 and doesn’t focus on the virtual learning environment. However, the book came to mind for the authors as teachers are wrapping up the schoolwork and going on a much needed break after delivering instruction online for the second semester. Teachers are again going to be having virtual instruction for the third time as classes  resume in 2021. This short accessible text is an enjoyable reading with some ideas to further develop the resiliency teachers have built in their learners over the last year in the virtual environment, even if not specifically geared to this context. Resiliency and the factors that develop it are not context specific.

Chapter One establishes the elements of grit. Sanguras contrasts intelligence versus grit, by drawing on Howard Gardener’s (2000) and Duckworth’s (2016) work. Gardner’s notion of multiple intelligences is valuable, but notes that there is something more to success. From this, the author discusses the basic elements of grit from Duckworth; self-discipline, perseverance, and passion. From this, the chapter discusses grit in educational settings and how to present it to learners so they pursue excellence. There are case studies shared and discussion questions at the end to further develop the topics presented.

The start of Chapter Two describes with an account of Duckworth’s personal experience in doing her PhD, in developing a scale (i.e. the Grit Scale) and the self-discipline, perseverance, and passion that brought her colleagues to be successful. From this account, the chapter build’s Bloom’s (1985) work on child development; interest first, that interest becomes part of personal identity, and a desire for larger meaning for mastery third, and hope is added. The remainder of the discussion unpacks each of these stages, including hope. The chapter draws on other scholar’s work and offers quotes and snippets that hit the hammer on the nail. Again, as with all chapters, discussion questions at the end are available.

Chapter Three presents a critical point; what qualifies ‘gifted students’ as such, through the author’s account of working with ‘gifted students’ and the categorization them. Essential work published on this is addressed and moving beyond specialized assessments for assigning students to ‘gifted’ programs, the educational system needs to acknowledge in current methods of assessment and address academic achievement by focusing on student interest and developing passion. Classroom application is presented to identify interest and develop grit.

In Chapter Four, the author introduces “mindset” to the equation and how it connects with grit and motivation. Sanguras references Carol Dweck (2006) who defines mindset as a choice according to the author and categorizes mindset into fixed and growth. The author discusses the pitfalls of a fixed mindset from her personal experience with honor students. Sanguras advocates that education should look at the athletics regarding growth due to the connection between hard work such as practice and success in sports. Additionally, the author suggests teachers use their experience as a tool and practice optimism to promote a growth mindset.  Finally, she writes about the connection between motivation and goals.

Chapter Five focuses on students. According to the author, passion is an integral part of grit. She addresses hurdles that could impact the process of cultivating passion such as testing and lack of materials. Cultivating passion consists of making students feel competent and valued and having a respectful and autonomous classroom. She hammers this point home by reminiscing about her own experience. Sanguras introduces the readers to Design Thinking, a new approach to authentic assessment. Finally, the author concludes that content standards and passion can go hand in hand in building grit.  

Chapter Six announces the role parents have in increasing grit in their children. Depending on the parenting style, students will be able to meet the challenges and become grittier. The author outlines various ways parents working with teachers can help students build grit. She states being supportive, being a role model by working hard etc. can be a catalyst towards the goal. She ends the chapter with specific principles for parents.

Chapter Seven looks at building a culture of grit at the school level. Sanguras notes a pact between the administration and teachers can provide a template for a grittier school. Leadership can provide support by providing opportunities for teachers to show leadership and/or passion. While looking at the second part of grit, perseverance, the author writes first about obstacles from a teacher’s view and then about obstacles that students might face. The author proposes that teachers advocate for every child in their school and that communication, accountability and routine encourage growth or modify behavior. She ends the chapter with 6 suggestions from Fredricks, Alfeld, and Eccles (2010) for cultivating passion and creating a grit culture.

In summary, the text moves from a definition of grit, to student, classroom and school cultures that can instill grit. The personal accounts make it accessible and quick to read, but slow to digest its content long after the book has been closed. It is highly relevant for today’s context as we embark as teachers on yet another semester of virtual learning and all the diverse factors and dynamics that means for teachers and students. Teachers not only teach their subject within the discipline, they rear young children, adolescents, young adults and adults to be productive citizens and happy individuals. This book is just one tool that may assist classroom teachers across all levels in building student resiliency in the classroom.

Robb Hill has taught ESL in a variety of contexts in San Diego. He is currently editing and proofreading for a variety of projects. His teaching interests include reading, technology, and service-learning. He is currently serving CATESOL as one of the treasurers. 

Kara Mac Donald is an Academic Student and Faculty Development Trainer at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, Monterey, CA, where she supports both teachers and students in academic development.

Call for Book Review Co-Authors: If you are interested in co-authoring a book review slated for the coming months or if you would like to recommend a book that you would like to review as co-author/sole author in future issues, please contact Kara Mac Donald,