Got Grit?

Got Grit?

Over the past few years, I have written several columns about dispositions or traits that contribute to learning.  On a very basic level, I have written about fostering your child’s independence (Please let them hang up their own backpacks!).  On a loftier level, I have described our work to make explicit and teach some “habits of mind.”   I have also written about the work of Carol Dweck on fostering a “growth mindset” in our children.

This week, I would like to focus on a trait that some refer to as “grit.”  Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University Of Pennsylvania and a recently named MacArthur Fellow, is best known for her work on grit. Grit is closely linked to persistence – one of the habits of mind we have focused on.

Duckworth and her associates have conducted studies in a variety of contexts, including the Scripps National Study Bee, the U.S. Military Academy at West Points, and Chicago’s public high schools. To measure grit, they developed a short survey called a “grit scale.” At West Point, they looked at entering cadets – 1 in 20 of whom drop out during their first summer.  The “grit scale” was administered to entering cadets.   The study found that grit was the best predictor of who would make it through the whole summer – better than the “whole candidate score” that West Point used for admissions.

In a recent interview in Educational Leadership, Duckworth described grit as “having resilience in the face of failure” and “having consistent interests (focused passions) over a long time.”   She also connects her work to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, arguing that: “The attitude ‘I can get better if I try harder’ should help make you a tenacious, determined, and hard-working person.”

As parents and educators, we need to think about how to best enable kids to experience mistakes – and, yes, even failures – as opportunities to learn. In our well-intentioned efforts to protect or shelter children, we run the risk of preventing them from developing the grit needed to be successful. I especially like the second part of Duckworth’s definition of grit because it goes beyond resilience to include developing interests or passions. We need to provide children with opportunities to purse these passions in and out of school.

If you are interested in hearing a bit more about Duckworth’s ideas, I recommend her six-minute “TED talk:”

If you are interested in exploring the topic in more depth, I would also highly recommend the best-selling book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  Duckworth’s ideas are referenced in this book.  This book has sparked conversation in both the educational and popular press on the importance of so-called “non-cognitive traits” for success in life.

At Lawrence, we will continue to explore how to incorporate and balance these non-cognitive traits into our students’ learning experiences.  One reason we are drawn to “habits of mind” is that they include both cognitive and non-cognitive dispositions for learning.  Angela Duckworh challenges us to “get gritty about getting our kids grittier.”

Rick Rogers

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