Gumption Traps (A Guide For Teachers and Parents)

Curious about gumptions traps (and how to get out of them?)

In this post, you’ll learn where the term comes from, and how you can guide your students through them.

Gumption Traps (What Are They?)

Gumption is another term for motivation, momentum and excitement about a project.

A gumption trap is an event or circumstance that robs you of your gumption.

Students and teachers can avoid gumption traps by having supplies and supports available, having modified assignments and work for early finishers ready.

The term gumption trap was first used in a novel by Robert Persig called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the term is still used in shops to refer to having a well set up workshop that allows efficient work. 

The classroom is a workspace for the teacher and the students and designing a classroom that avoids gumption traps is a great way to maximize teaching and learning time. 

There are two types of gumption traps to look out for, ‘setbacks’ and ‘hang-ups.’

Setback Gumption Traps

Setbacks are mistakes or misunderstandings. 

Setback Gumption Trap Examples 

If you have ever assembled a lego set and missed a step early in the assembly you have felt the crushing frustration of a setback.

You will need to take the whole thing apart to fix your mistake. 

This is referred to as a setback. 

A setback can be being handed a worksheet and not having a pencil. 

A setback may be a misunderstanding of fractions that comes back to frustrate a student when they start to learn mixed numbers. 

Another setback may be that a child did not have breakfast before school and they are struggling to focus. 

Gumption traps may also be part of a teacher’s presentation of the lesson.

If a lesson does not activate or support skills necessary for student learning. 

Teachers may also setback gumption traps if they feel overwhelmed by classroom management and they are unable to teach material in the way they had hoped. 

Tips for Overcoming Setback Gumption Traps 

To overcome a setback you have to take a few steps back to correct the misunderstanding or correct the problem. 

Provide Supplies

Be sure that students have all the necessary supplies to complete all classroom activities. 

Parents and teachers can work together to make sure the classroom is well stocked with pencils, paper, glue, scissors and colored pencils. 

Consider any additional supplies that may be necessary for special projects or assignments and be prepared to provide these things for your students. 

Support Skills

When you are introducing a new skill, consider any supporting skills that may be necessary for your students. 

Build in some activities to help you gauge the level of understanding so you can plan remediation for any students that will need support.  

Plan With Support

Excellent lesson planning is a skill that grows over time. 

If you find your lessons require you to loop back and reteach, reach out to your instructional coach or more veteran teachers to help you plan lessons that support prior learning. 

New teachers are often assigned a mentor who can answer any questions and help you troubleshoot any lesson planning issues you may be coming up against in the classroom. 

Hang Up Gumption Traps 

Hang-up gumption traps are beliefs that keep a person from progressing. 

Hang-up Gumption Trap Examples

Teachers see these hang-up beliefs in the classroom every day. 

A common hang-up for students is a belief that they are not good at math.

This is a common belief passed from caregivers to students and can keep them from being successful in school math. 

A hang-up may also look like a fear of making mistakes or giving a wrong answer. This hang-up prevents students from participating in class discussions. 

Teacher hang up beliefs may come from insecurities or workplace expectations. 

Teachers who believe that the administration is out to get them, or if they are not given clear professional guidelines they may be afraid to work at the highest level. 

Hang-ups may also come from feedback or criticism given by teachers, administration, friends or caretakers. 

Tips for Overcoming Hang-Up Gumption Traps

Hang-ups are very personal, but creating a positive classroom environment can help foster positive beliefs. 

Use Respectful Language

Always use respectful language when you talk to your students and encourage them to use respectful language with one another. 

These guidelines should include examples of respectful talk as well as some guidelines to help guide classroom discussion. 

You classroom expectations could be: 

Use I statements 

Listen when others are talking

Ask questions for clarification 

Use preferred names and pronouns

Give Smart Praise

Give praise for student effort and growth rather than making statements about a student. 

For example:

You are so smart vs You worked very hard on that problem. 

The first statement communicates that the student is smart, if a student has a hard time with a concept they may get a hang-up belief that they cannot be smart. 

The second statement communicates that the student is a hard worker. This belief can support a student even if they are struggling. 

Teach Gratitude 

When working against hang-up beliefs, exercises in gratitude can help grow a positive attitude. 

Spending some time each day reflecting on things they are grateful for is a great way to establish this habit. 

Students at all levels can benefit from gratitude exercises. 

Gumption Traps and Mindset

Gumption traps are largely mindset problems. 

Teachers can teach mindset lessons to help students build gumption to keep them learning. 

Normalize struggle when learning something new. It is good and normal for students to make mistakes and not get something right away. 

Keeping the motivation and momentum in learning is about the benefits of difficult tasks for brain growth. 

You can help students build gumption by providing challenging tasks in all subject areas. Find tasks that are low floor, high ceiling. 

Tasks that allow all students to participate in solving the task and give plenty of opportunity for deep thinking and problem solving. 

What Are Gumption Traps

Gumption traps are circumstances or beliefs that interrupt momentum and sap motivation. 

Gumption traps can be a big hindrance to teaching and learning in the classroom and it is worthwhile to try to avoid them. 

By creating a positive classroom environment, providing supplies to students and teaching supporting skills you can help students avoid gumption traps. 

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Gumption Traps