Teaching Perseverance? Try Interactive Modeling

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.
We all know students who seem to give up quickly and appeal for our help, even when the task is appropriately challenging, or students who are reluctant to even start a task that seems challenging and instead opt to sit and wait until we check in with them. These behaviors can halt progress and feel frustrating for both students and teacher.

Clearly, students don’t always come to school knowing how to move from “This is too hard” to “This may take some time and effort but I can do it.” That means we need to teach them strategies such as positive self-talk, taking a couple of deep breaths to calm themselves and then returning to work, choosing a different approach, or asking a partner a clarifying question.

Interactive Modeling is a powerful Responsive Classroom practice used to teach students the skills, strategies, and procedures they need for success in school. You can use Interactive Modeling to show students how to use a paintbrush, sound out words, or take care of the class pet. And you can also use it to teach them higher level academic skills and behaviors, such as how to persevere through challenging academic work.

Modeling Perseverance Strategies

As the following examples for primary and upper elementary grades show, Interactive Modeling is a good way to teach students how to persevere because it shows them what perseverance looks and sounds like and gives them immediate opportunities for supported practice.


Interactive Modeling is a straightforward, seven-step process used to teach children skills, strategies, or procedures that you want them to do in a specific way.

  1. Briefly state what you will model, and why.
  2. Model the behavior exactly as you expect students to do it. (Don’t narrate unless you need to “show” an internal thinking process.)
  3. Ask students what they noticed. Prompt them to notice essential details.
  4. Invite one or more students to model the same way you did.
  5. Again, ask students what they noticed.
  6. Have all students practice.
  7. Provide feedback.

To learn more about Interactive Modeling, see Interactive Modeling: A Powerful Technique for Teaching Children.


Primary Grades Example

  1. Say what you’re going to model and why. “Remember when we played ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ at Morning Meeting today? That’s a fun game, but it’s also kind of hard. And you figured out how to help yourselves through the hard parts. Sometimes our schoolwork is challenging, too. And just as you figured out how to help yourself during ‘Rumpelstiltskin,’ it’s important to learn how to help yourself when you feel frustrated with your work. I’m going to show you one way to help yourself when your work feels hard.”
  2. Model the behavior. “Watch what I do and say as I try to figure out how to understand this math problem.” The teacher models reading a short problem and beginning to draw a picture to visualize it. Then he gives the sign (a finger pointing to his head) that he’s going to do a think-aloud: “This is that kind of problem we’ve been doing where a number is missing. I don’t know how to draw this and I’m frustrated.” He takes a few deep breaths. “OK. I feel calmer. I can figure this out. Maybe I can use cubes instead of drawing.”
  3. Ask students what they noticed. “What did you notice me do when I got stuck on my work?” The students name what they saw and heard. The teacher prompts them if they missed anything important.
  4. Invite a student to model. “Jocelyn, can you model taking a couple of deep breaths and talking to yourself in a calm way? Watch Jocelyn and notice what she does.”
  5. Again, ask students what they noticed. “What did you notice Jocelyn do when she got stuck?” Students name what they heard and saw.
  6. Have all students practice. “As you work on your math tasks, pay attention to any times that the work feels hard. Then think about what you saw and heard when Jocelyn and I got stuck. After math, we’ll talk about how you helped yourself. Sometimes, you’ll still need my help, and that’s OK too.”
  7. Provide feedback. As students work on their math, the teacher checks in with them. When he sees them using a calming strategy, he reinforces their behavior: “Amir, it looks like you took a deep breath and tried the problem a different way. You’re remembering what we practiced!” And if he sees a student struggling, he reminds them what to try if they’re stuck.

At the end of math class, he asks reflection questions: “Did any parts of math feel hard today?” “What did you try when math felt hard?” “How did that feel?”

Upper Elementary Grades Example

  1. Say what you’re going to model and why. “Challenging work can be exciting and can help us learn, but it can also feel frustrating. I’m going to show you a strategy to use when you get stuck on a problem so that you can keep going and feel successful, even if it’s hard.”
  2. Model the behavior. “Watch what I do and say as I work on this math problem.” The teacher models beginning a math problem and then gives the sign (a finger pointing to her head) that she’s going to do a think-aloud. “Hmmm, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Ugh, I get so frustrated when stuff doesn’t make sense.” She takes a couple of deep breaths. “This feels hard but that’s OK. I’ll reread it slowly out loud this time.” She then returns to the problem.
  3. Ask students what they noticed. “What did you notice about how I worked on that problem?” The teacher listens as students name what they saw and heard. She prompts them if they missed the self-talk she used to get through the tough part.
  4. Invite one or more students to model. “Who would like to demonstrate taking a couple of calming breaths and using positive self-talk, just as I did?”
  5. Ask students what they noticed. “What did you notice Marcus do as he worked on the problem?” The teacher takes a few observations then digs deeper: “How will doing this help Marcus?” she asks.
  6. Have all students practice. “Now we’re going to continue working on math problems. As you work, pay attention to any time that you struggle and remember what you saw and heard. During our reflection later, you’ll have a chance to share what you did to work through the challenging parts.”
  7. Provide feedback. The teacher checks in with students as they work and reinforces their positive efforts; when they seem stuck, she reminds them what to try. At the end of class, she asks a few reflection questions: “What helped you today when you were stuck?” “What will you try tomorrow if something is challenging?”

Supporting Students as They Use the New Strategies

Once you’ve done the initial teaching through Interactive Modeling, students will need continuing opportunities to practice using perseverance strategies. Here are some ways you can support them.

Display the strategies. Try creating anchor charts listing the strategies you’ve modeled. One chart might list all the strategies; another might list a few key details about one of the strategies, such as phrases students could use in their self-talk.

Use positive teacher language. Reinforcing language lets students know what they’re doing well so they can continue to make improvements. And before students begin challenging work, reminding language helps them remember what they can do to help themselves. Here are some examples to get you started:

Reinforcing Language

“You kept going even though the problem is new and you said it was hard.”

“After your first idea didn’t work, you tried another strategy. That shows perseverance.”

“You’ve read and understood a lot of pages, even though this book has many new words. What helped you get to this point?”

“Look at all of the math thinking we did as a class today! What’s one thing that helped you persevere?”

Reminding Language

“Before we get started, what are some ideas you have for what to do if you get stuck?”

“How can you help a classmate today if they get stuck on the task?”

“That’s a tricky word. What do you already know about that word?”

“Remember what you know about this already? How might that help you?”

An Empowering Message

Teaching students how to persevere when they feel stuck sends them an empowering message: that they can grow to be independent and confident learners. Using Interactive Modeling to teach perseverance strategies lets students observe exactly how to use the strategies, practice right away, and receive immediate feedback on their efforts. That clarity and immediacy will help ensure their success in learning how to work through difficulties not just in their schoolwork but in other challenging classroom situations as well.

Tags: Encouragement, Independence

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