Modeling Persistence to Students

Modeling Persistence to Students

When it comes to students’ learning and growth, we know that persistence matters. When we think about persistence, we typically think about students’ internal motivational states. But what about external factors that impact students’ persistence? 

Research has shown that beginning in infancy, children make more attempts to achieve a goal (such as unlocking a keychain or making a toy sound) when they observe adults around them persisting. Infants who watched adults fail at a task and attempt the task multiple times were more likely to attempt a challenging task for a longer period of time. The infants were more likely to persist when the adults around them made eye contact and spoke directly to the infants. 

When it comes to the classroom, teacher influence and modeling really matter! Here are a few ways to encourage persistence among your students. 

Model Your Own Challenges to Students

When students greet their teachers at the start of class, they do not see the time and detail that went into preparing for the day’s lesson. Many students may think that their teachers do not face any challenges simply because students are not witnessing them. When you model how you work to overcome a personal area of challenge, students may feel understood and encouraged. Depending on the context, you can model how you thought about a problem in a different way, or how you used a tool like a sticky note to help remember an idea. The next time students face an area of challenge, they may think back to the way you modeled your moment of persistence. 

Intervene Less

When adults intervene and take over tasks for students very quickly, students often feel less motivated to try again or try a different approach. Sometimes it makes sense for parents and teachers to step in and help. But if time allows, students have more to gain when they spend more time on a challenging task, make more attempts to solve a problem, and try new approaches. You can also encourage your students to try a number of different strategies before asking for help. A strategy anchor chart for the classroom can be helpful as students learn to look to these resources as they persist. 

Praise Effort 

By praising students’ effort, you can help them develop a growth mindset and understand that their effort and persistence matter. Having a growth mindset enables students to think more deeply about their areas of strength and challenge and go back into their toolbox to try another strategy when they need one.

Greater persistence has been linked to numerous positive outcomes for students, including higher graduation rates. When students see their teachers modeling persistence and they realize that their effort impacts their outcomes, they are more likely to persist.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: