Assembly – Grit and Flow

My assembly this week is hugely indebted to Alex Quigley‘s excellent blog post Winning Ugly: The Secrets of ‘Gritty’ Teaching and Learning, and to David Didau‘s Grand Unified Theory of Mastery. If you haven’t read either of these, I can’t recommend them highly enough. My aim is to talk to the students about the need for “grit” if they are to achieve the “flow” that they aspire to.

@LearningSpy's Grit/Flow Cycle

@LearningSpy and @TheRealMrRoo’s Grit/Flow Cycle, designed by @Pekabalo

As the students come into the hall I will be playing this video, showing Itzhak Perlman performing Antonio Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins: 

This astonishing performance establishes the concept of “flow” at pretty much its zenith! Flow, then, is being able to do something well. So well, it seems almost effortless. Perlman manages to make this most fiendish of pieces in the classical violin repertoire seem like a breeze, remaining seated, flourishing his bow, enjoying the performance.

My second illustration of "flow"

An illustration of “flow”

How, then, should we go about achieving this state of flow? Counter-intuitively, to achieve this apparently frictionless and smooth process, we first need to apply “grit” to give us traction.

“We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” (From ‘Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals’ by Angela L. Duckworth and Christopher Peterson via HuntingEnglish)

“Grit” is perseverance; hard work and effort sustained over time. This grit will give the learner purchase on the slippery surface of the learning in just the same way as we grit an icy road to allow traffic to flow freely.

Grit means putting the hours in. Putting in the time. Putting in the effort. Repeating something until you know you can do it well. Itzhak Perlman says (here) that repetition is the key to successful practice – again and again and again. Slowly. He does give a warning though – there is such a thing as too much practice. I’m sure the students will breathe a sigh of relief, until they hear that his idea of “too much” is anything more than five hours of the same thing in one sitting. Now that is grit.

My challenge to the students is to aspire to “flow” in all their learning by applying “grit” in their lessons and at home. I will speak to them about the importance of deliberate practice – not just “doing work” but thinking about the knowledge and skills they are applying to the task and how they will use the process to improve.

I started the assembly with Perlman playing La Ronde des Lutins – the dance of the goblins. I will finish with another example of La Ronde, this time from the masters of “flow” FC Barcelona:

This training ground exercise is the perfect mesh of grit and flow – deliberate practice demonstrated by those who demonstrate mastery. And enjoy it.

You can view my assembly Prezi here.

The Tika Taka clip is from another excellent HuntingEnglish post: Effective Exam Revision – ‘Drill Baby Drill’


In delivery of the assembly I thought I would demonstrate “lack of flow” by attempting to play La Ronde des Lutins on the violin myself. I can’t play the violin. “How,” I asked Year 9, “am I going to get from sounding like this” – scratch, screech, squeal – “to sounding like Itzhak Perlman?” And we’re off…

In the dinner queue, lunchtime. Year 9 boy: “your violin playing was pretty good actually, sir.”


5 thoughts on “Assembly – Grit and Flow

  1. Fantastic assembly. Had a great impact at our school this week. Sadly, I too had students coming up saying they think my instrument playing wasn’t that bad; it really was! Thanks so much for posting this.

  2. Pingback: First Anniversary – a year of edublogging | Teaching: Leading Learning

  3. Wonderful stuff! One point: Itzhak Perlman plays the violin sitting down because he had polio as a child- you can see the braces on his legs, and he walks with crutches. I wonder if that had something to do with developing his economy of motion? Matt Kasnetz

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