5 tips for teaching 'grit' in the classroom

"Grit" has become a standard in the education vernacular. Representing the ability to persevere when faced with obstacles, grit has been deemed a key determinant in predicting a child's future success.

The term was popularized by Angela Lee Duckworth, a  psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was recently awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work on the subject. Her belief is that if students can learn to persevere at a young age, they will continue to be tenacious when faced with challenges later in life. This has specifically been applied to college — Duckworth contends students with grit are more likely to go to college even when faced with difficulties getting there.  

While the ability to teach Grit has been debated, what is possible is setting up a classroom culture that celebrates pluckiness, hard work, and intrinsic motivation.  

Below are some helpful tips for bringing this environment to a classroom.  

1. Show students Dan Pink's "Drive: The surprising truth of what motivates us." The talk deals with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, claiming that motivation from within is more likely to get us moving. After watching the talk, have students debate whether or not they agree with Pink, using evidence to back up what they believe. Students may be shocked — when asked to use evidence — by how they actually feel. It will also help you, as an educator, better understand how your students think. If there are certain students that need more of a push in the Grit direction (i.e. claim to be more motivated by outside rewards) you can be there for them, working to highlight times they complete something on their own.  

2.  That said, when students do demonstrate perseverance, do not tell them good job. Doing so can be seen as an extrinsic motivator and detracts from the point of working toward a goal for one's own benefit. The last thing you want are students just completing an assignment so they can be told 'good job!'  Instead of saying this, specifically call out what you noticed a student doing. For example: "Lisa, I noticed you completed your entire writing assignment on time despite struggling in the beginning. How does this make you feel?" This shows students that you recognize their hard work, but it also allows them to begin to assess and evaluate how they feel when they accomplish something. This  models using evidence with students — and pushes them to utilize metacognition as they create their own personal value systems.  

3. When students give an incorrect answer, do not immediately move to the next person. Give students a chance to really think through the question and again try to find a new answer. This teaches students to persevere even in moments of discomfort. If this becomes a norm in your classroom, students will be more encouraging when their peers get the wrong answer, knowing that showing grit is just as important as the answer itself.

4. Also remember that "I don't know" should NEVER be an acceptable answer. Students can always come up with an answer, use evidence and follow their train of thought.  If they are struggling to arrive at an answer use Meta Cognition to analyze where they feel stuck in coming to an answer.

5. Create a time in the day where students write for 10 minutes straight. This is particularly focused on homeroom or English language arts teachers. Even if students get tired or feel like they have nothing to say, their pencils should still be moving. Writing every day is key to strengthening not only ELA skills, but demonstrating that even if we struggle with something, we keep pushing forward.  This same assignment can and should be used for having students read silently to themselves for a period of time.  

As with any movement, there is always a counter-argument. In the past few months, articles have come out challenging the push for grit. Some ask if its actually possible to teach, while others just reject the notion that it is an asset students need to possess.  

Regardless of where you fall in the debate, the above tips can be used not only to teach grit, but to fold evidence and critical thinking into your classroom.  


This story is part of our newly expanding K12 coverage.  If you would like to subscribe to the Education Dive: K12 newsletter, click here. You may also want to read Education Dive's look at 4 resources for engaging students beyond the textbook.

Filed Under: K12
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