Teaching grit

Educators are focusing more on perspiration than inspiration these days, looking for ways to teach determination, resilience and grit.

Can technology teach grit? asks Anya Kamenetz. A new U.S.Department of Education report touts the potential of new technologies to provide optimal challenge (not too easy or hard), “promote academic mindsets, teach learning strategies, promote the development of effortful control, and provide motivating environments.”

Some of these tech tools and applications attempt to teach strategies like mindfulness (including meditation), metacognition (knowing about knowing), and growth mindset (the belief that one can change one’s own abilities by working harder.)

Penn psychologist Angela Duckworth believes grit is “more essential to academic achievement” than intelligence, writes Kamenetz.

. . . while teaching 7th-grade math . . . she noticed that some of her strongest performers weren’t necessarily the smartest kids, and some of the smartest kids weren’t necessarily doing that well.

“I was firmly convinced that every one of my students could learn, if they worked hard and long enough,” she said. “ I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational and psychological perspective.”

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher told my parents I wasn’t quick in learning math, but I sunk my teeth in like a “bulldog” and held on till I got it. I scored a gritty 4.5 on Duckworth’s eight-question grit quiz.

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  1. “while teaching 7th-grade math . . . she noticed that some of her strongest performers weren’t necessarily the smartest kids, and some of the smartest kids weren’t necessarily doing that well.”
    Begs the question what measure did she use to determine “smartest” kids?

    I scored 4.25 on the gritty scale, but I don’t think I’m at all above average in grit (with people of my generation at least).

    • In High School, I routinely got C’s in math class but near perfects on tests and quizzes. It wasn’t because I lacked ‘grit’. It was because I lacked organizational skills and a huge percentage of our grade was notebook checks. So I’d do the homework, learn the material, lose the notebook before the end of the term notebook check, and then get a ‘0’ for class and homework but a high A on tests. Good times, good times….

      • Alternatively, sometimes the kids that seem ‘bright’ by teacher standards–friendly, ask questions, make eye contact, etc. aren;t actually as ‘bright’ as the sour loner in the back who stares at you like he hates you.

        • They’re called “teacher pleasers” for a reason. They’re the ones likely to take control over any group work and steamroll the others, particularly the really bright but non-social types.

          DM: There are also those who get high As on all tests and quizzes but don’t do all the homework because they don’t need to, in order to learn the material, and they aren’t teacher-pleasers enough to play the game. In today’s world, completed homework, even if incorrect (if it is even checked) can trump quiz/test scores. Ask my third kid about that

  2. This sounds like another in a long line of ways the ed world has trotted out to avoid teaching serious academic content; mastery of which requires sustained attention and perseverance (aka grit). Never let an opportunity to downplay or ignore content knowledge pass them by.

  3. OK, I took the survey, answered honestly, and ended up in the bottom 1% for grit.

    Interestingly enough, the test is basically the INVERSE of the one used to screen for ADHD (which I have.) So, ‘grit’ is defined as ‘not ADHD’, and smart but ADHD kids fail the class? I call foul. She sounds like one of the teachers who grades executive functioning instead of subject knowledge.

    • Mark Roulo says:



      Dr. Duckworth’s web page at UPenn has a nice graph mapping IQ and grit to GPA (but I can’t figure out the GPA scale … the GPA scores run from 80 to 93 … maybe 80 is a B- and 93 is a B?).


      The biggest problem with the chart is that it came from a 2005 paper that studies one school. And that school is “a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse magnet public school” where
      “Fifth-grade students are admitted to this school on the basis of their grades and standardized test scores.” In other words, the school has *already* selected for smarts and/or hard work before the kids are admitted.


      One nice thing is that Dr. Duckworth recognizes this in the paper conclusion and suggests further research to see if the conclusion from the paper is actually valid. But since her web page still refers to this paper and not to any followup study, I suspect that this followup study was never performed.


      And her 2005 paper suffers from MASSIVE sampling bias 🙁

  4. Foobarista says:

    One big area of learning “grit” is competitive athletics. But if you don’t keep score, everyone is special, and everyone gets a trophy!, you’re missing the point.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      I agree with the point that competitive sports can teach grit.


      But what sports are still not keeping score at, say, age 10? I grew up not playing organized sports at all, but my son plays little league. What his league does is this:
         *) Age 5,6: Everyone plays every inning, everyone gets on base every time, no scoring.
         *) 7,8: Everyone plays every inning, you can get out, scoring per inning (five run limit) but not for the game (no winner/loser).
         *) 9,10: Everyone plays, but not every inning. You can get out. Games have winners/losers but no league standings (everyone makes playoffs with a random draw).
         *) 11,12: Everyone plays, but the better players play more, games have winners/losers, league standings are kept.


      Travel teams are *more* competitive, but I have a hard time seeing a problem with the way my local little league runs things. Do you think that the ramp should be faster? Or are you seeing a different ramp for different sports/locations?

      • momof4 says:

        I have lots of experience with soccer, and even 20+ years ago, the best players were often “playing up” to enter the travel league, (highly competitive- DC area) where the bottom two teams in every division moved down and the top two moved up, every season. There were no playing time requirements and all kids had to try out for their spot on the team every year. At the same time, kids in the top one or two divisions were also trying out for spots on the state roster, the state travel squad, the regional roster and the regional travel squad etc. They were also playing regular tournaments. There were many who had the initial talent, but lacked the grit to practice skills and do conditioning on their own and the/or willingness to be a single-sport athlete. They either dropped to a less competitive team/league or switched activities. As one coach said about the work ethic; “There’s no such thing as staying in place; either you improve or you fall behind.” And, at some point, no matter how much you love it and no matter how hard you work, you won’t make the next cut.

        At the same time the top kids are heading into the top travel divisions (age 7-9), some kids are staying in the rec leagues, some are moving to “select” leagues (tryouts for team but playing time rules until HS) with light time requirements and some are moving to lower division travel teams. By HS, the kids on the top travel teams (divisions 1-2), will be disproportionately the kids that make the JV as freshmen and the varsity by junior year and the top kids will move straight to the varsity as freshmen, even at big schools. I’ve known plenty of kids who did that, even boys. (it’s been common for girls for decades, because there isn’t the same physical difference between girls, with adolescence).

        In swimming, it’s all determined by times; either you have the cut time for moving to a higher practice group or you don’t; same for meet entry. Again, lots of talented kids don’t want to put in the work; by 12, my DD was training 5 hours a day, 5 days a week and 3 hours on Saturdays; you only do that if you love it. Parent pushing, despite all the complaints about it, only goes so far, for so long, before unmotivated kids quit. Yes, it’s pressure, but the vast majority of kids don’t intend to make a career from sports and many don’t intend to compete seriously in college, because the time commitment makes serious academics very difficult.

  5. momof4 says:

    I should have given my conclusion; there are lots of different levels available – at least in large communities – in many different sports and activities and I like kids being able to choose the level of competition and time commitment that they want. I’d like to see more of that in academics. Extracurriculars don’t pretend that all kids are equally talented and/or equally motivated; only the academic side of schools does that. While my kids chose sports, some of their classmates’ primary interest was elsewhere and they chose a level of sport that provided fitness opportunities and teamwork. Some swimmers swam strictly for exercise and never did meets and some kids did rec league soccer even in HS.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Extracurriculars, starting in jr. hi., are graded by peers. IOW, when you don’t get it done, an adult may tell you it’s okay, but the club/team, whatever it is, has a different take.
      When my kids were in HS, the school had the only self-supporting newspaper in the state–it was said–and the group putting it out was so intent on the job that even adults were told–politely, I believe–not to bother them when an issue was being gotten ready.
      One music director said the “techies”, the kids supporting drama and music, showed up “like this little army ready to go”, without adult supervision. That doesn’t happen without peer correction, including references to “grit”. My son told me that guys who went out for football “for the jersey” had a hard time.