Why kids need to fail to succeed in school: grit (Paul Tough) | Margaret Wente | Sept. 1, 2012 | The Globe and Mail

Are you raising kids who have the grit to succeed? Try the test by Angela Duckworth from U. Penn at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/back-to-school/grit-test-do-you-have-what-it-takes-complete-the-test-to-find-out/article4512454/.  There’s a new book focused on children.

[Paul] Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, combines compelling findings in brain research with his own first-hand observations on the front lines of school reform. He argues that the qualities that matter most to children’s success have more to do with character – and that parents and schools can play a powerful role in nurturing the character traits that foster success. His book is an inspiration. It has made me less of a determinist, and more of an optimist.

You argue, quite convincingly, I think, that IQ is not destiny, far from it. For kids to succeed in life, they need certain character traits – and one of them is what you call “grit.”

Yes, it’s a psychological category discovered by Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania. She actually started out studying self-control and demonstrated that it has a huge impact on kids’ grade point average. But she came to think that there was some other skill out there that she hadn’t quite put her finger on – not just self-control but having a passion for something and a determination to stick with it, despite setbacks.

She named that grit, and she invented this thing called the “grit scale.” It’s a short little questionnaire about how likely you are to stick with projects. And she found that it’s incredibly predictive, that people are pretty honest about their grit levels and that those who say, “Yes, I really stick with tasks,” are much more likely to succeed, even in tasks that involve a lot of what we think of as IQ: She gave the test to students who were in the National Spelling Bee and the kids with the highest grit scores were more likely to persist to the later rounds; she gave it to freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania and grit helped them persist in college; she even gave it to cadets at West Point and it predicted who was going to survive this initiation called “Beast Barracks.”

So, in some ways, grit just means what we think it means – what John Wayne said that it meant – but it has something to do with academic persistence as well. It’s not just smarts, it’s the ability to stick with a task that makes a difference.

Resistance, persistence, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness …

Yes, and I would add passion. It’s not just dutiful stick-to-itiveness. It’s people who really want to finish – not because someone has told them to, but because they’re dedicated to it.

That’s very new in a world where we’ve raised kids based on the self-esteem movement. So how do you teach grit? Can you?

I think you can. There’s not yet a clear path, but it seems like there are a few things that help. The main one is helping kids learn how to manage failure and adversity. That involves two things: One is just making sure they actually have some failure and adversity in their lives. Especially for high-achieving, high-income kids, that’s often what’s missing.

These kids are so overly protected that they don’t have the opportunity to overcome setbacks. It’s also giving them that experience in a setting that lets them not just be disappointed and hurt by failure, but learn from it.

I also spent a lot of time in some really poor neighbourhoods in American cities. In those neighbourhoods, there’s no absence of failure or adversity. These kids confront it all the time. But some of them are just beaten down by it. So it’s not simply the volume of failure in your life – it’s giving kids an opportunity to fail productively, to grow and learn from it.


The larger message, then, is how much non-cognitive character traits matter to success in life. For example, making it through university. What’s the difference between kids who drop out and kids who finish? You argue that it’s not intelligence …

It is something else. There’s not a great body of research on persistence and grit and curiosity and optimism as separate categories. I think those are all really important character strengths, but research generally tends to lump them together.

So, at this stage, we have to look at what we know about non-cognitive skills in general. College persistence offers some clear evidence: IQ matters a lot in terms of what your freshman GPA is, but graduating from college has much more to do with character strengths like persistence, perseverance and grit. It’s that ability to deal with setbacks, because in college you’re always going to have setbacks – whether it’s not being able to pay a tuition bill, or not getting along with your roommate, or failing a class.

There are always moments where kids can drop out, especially kids from low-income neighbourhoods where they’re the first person in their family to go to college. The whole system is kind of pushing them to fail, so in order for them to make it through college, they need a huge amount of non-cognitive skill.

Why kids need to fail to succeed in school: grit (Paul Tough) | Margaret Wente | Sept. 1, 2012 | The Globe and Mail at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/back-to-school/why-kids-need-to-fail-to-succeed-in-school/article4513436/?page=all.
Why kids need to fail to succeed in school - The Globe and Mail

There’s another test (free registration required) on the Authentic Happiness web site at U. Penn. at http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/tests/SameAnswers_t.aspx?id=1246