Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.

About Joanne


  1. It seems to me that those “non-cognitive” abilities are developed along with the content knowledge and skills of academic content. In fact, I see them as necessary enablers of academic success beyond a fairly rudimentary level. So..just demand and enforce appropriate behavior and work effort, teach the kiddies real content and don’t allow the unable and/or unwilling to derail the endeavor.

  2. She’s cute.

    • Yeah, and pretty taken with herself.

      The presentation could’ve been five minutes shorter without all the preening and recitation of her resume or the same length with some minuscule hint as to how the marvel of “grit” is actually supposed to be taught.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Although there might be a grain of insight in the video, I couldn’t even watch it. These things reek of clever people stroking the self-esteem of only just slightly less clever people in the audience. “My God, we ARE enlightened! I suspected it but you’ve just proven it!”

  3. lightly seasoned says:

    I think one can encourage it in the classroom, but this is a home lesson, not a school lesson. I don’t know how to change teenagers’ personalities in an hour a day.

  4. cranberry says:

    The measures of grit are “absenteeism, suspensions and grades?” Those are more directly influenced by the family than the teachers. Are there consequences at home for poor grades, or bad behavior in school? Do the parents have the means to make certain students show up for school?

    I haven’t the patience to trod through the study today, but why is part of the argument based on people who were 8th graders in 1988, and another part on test data from 2005 – 10? Yes, the 1988 cohort are adults now, but the children in K-12 now are subject to many more, entirely different tests. “Teaching to the test” changes many things in the classroom.

    Are we to add tests for “non-cognitive ability” to the tests for cognitive ability? Or are we to assume that even if Johnny can’t read at the end of 2nd grade, his teacher improved his grit? Somehow? Lacking any means to measure such an impact, how could one tell if the teacher had had a positive or negative impact?

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    Yeah, this used to be called character until the general we were told that there’s no such thing as character some time around 1975.

  6. So, how long until this is packaged (well, repackaged for the Nth time) yet again as a miracle curriculum to help struggling schools yet is shown to have no effect despite the millions of dollars spent on it?

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    College admissions officers are looking for non-academic, non-cognitive characteristics in order to get around the anti-affirmative action movement.
    So if you have a HS semester of “grit”, you’re good.