Is 'grit' in education all it's cracked up to be?
- More than a decade after academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth released her first paper on the notion of grit and its application to education, a series of recent studies have revealed weaknesses in past evidence supporting grit and in survey questions that measured it within people, according to the Hechinger Report.
- Duckworth defines grit as "a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal,"some research shows it's not as impactful as other soft skills, it isn't closely linked to academic achievement and it her survey questions don't ask as much about the long term. Duckworth, while admitting there were some problems with her survey questions, said she wouldn't think grit is the biggest determinant of student success and that grit scores were meant to be predictive of attaining longer-term goals.
- While Duckworth doesn't seem to intend to be changing her grit scale in the immediate future, her critics will make their cases at the upcoming America Educational Research Association meeting in April. Meanwhile, The Hechinger Report notes, Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor Rick Hoyle created a scale of his own that reportedly addresses the faults present in Duckworth's.
When new education innovations arise, some educators may hope to find a way to pin the idea to the prospect of raising grades or tests scores. In a data-driven, high-stakes testing environment, teachers and school leaders look to assessment data or other quantitative measures; however, education is a complex endeavor because it deals not only with imparting knowledge, but also with equipping students with the skills needed to process and use that knowledge to attain a long-term goal.
Duckworth's book on grit quickly became a hot topic among educators and parents, but the “grit scale” may have been adopted too quickly as a solution for higher academic achievement when it be more in line with a non-cognitive skill that is a part of social-emotional learning. The National Conference of State Legislatures describes these as “the kind of skills that are not necessarily measured by tests, but which round out a student’s education and impact his/her academic success.” These skills support academic achievement but cannot always be directly linked to it.
Recent research has also raised questions about the value of the passion part of the grit equation, as the perseverance aspect of grit seems to have more to do with academic achievement than the passion aspect. In a 2018 study, Allan Wigfield of the University of Maryland’s College of Education found a stronger correlation between perseverance and academic achievement than from measures of both perseverance and passion. And another study by Marcus Credé found that “passion weakens the association between perseverance and achievement,” according to the Hechinger Report.
Passion cannot be easily defined or measured. Passion for a subject also tends to be organic. It can be nurtured, but rarely taught or created. And passions do not always align with academic achievement. A student may have a passion for video games and, while that may prove a point of connection for a teacher, it is more likely to be a passion that detracts from educational goals rather than supports it. But in the case of a student being passionate about a subject, it can sometimes be transformative in their learning experience for the better.
Despite some of researchers' claims, the perseverance aspect of grit seems to have research to support its impact on academic achievement. Student need to learn to keep on working even when the work seems difficult. They need to learn to respond correctly to failure and to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of their goals. Perseverance can not only benefit them in the classroom, but also in the workplace and in life. Students can be taught perseverance and teachers can model it for them. While non-cognitive skills such as persistence may not be able to be easily measured, their impact will show up in the way students respond to the lessons they learn.
Ultimately, while there's conflicting information on grit and its impact on education, it could benefit classroom teachers to have the opportunity to discuss with colleagues what they make of grit and how they may use these ideas to further a student's education. As administrators, it's important to create the space for dialogue and development among teachers, who can learn from each other and ultimately improve their students' learning.
- The Hechinger Report Research scholars to air problems with using ‘grit’ at school