Templeton Blog

Is Grit the Key to Student Success?

[fa icon="calendar"] 4/4/18 8:30 AM / by Templeton Academy

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Working hand in hand with a growth mindset is the concept of grit. Angela Duckworth describes this trait as both a person's passion and perseverance, and further defines it as "sticking with things over the very long term until you master them." In essence, success comes from a desire to achieve.

Grit or Intelligence?

When it comes to academic success, Duckworth claims that grit is as essential to achievement as intelligence is. She uses the concept of grit to explain persons who test at high levels of intelligence but do not perform well on academic measures of success, such as grades. In fact, in one study Duckworth conducted with students at Harvard University, she found that students with lower measured intelligence actually had higher GPAs than their more intelligent counterparts. The difference? They were grittier. They, according to her study, attempted to make up for their perceived lesser intelligence with increased work and persistence. And they succeeded.

Duckworth has developed a scale to determine grittiness, and although the respondents self-report their levels of grittiness, she has found that they accurately predict success. Specifically, she discovered that cadets at West Point were more likely to perform well in a rigorous summer training session based on the level of grit they self-reported. Similarly, participants in the National Spelling Bee who reported higher levels of grittiness tended to advance further in the competition than those with higher intelligence.

Grit and College Success

Duckworth has tried to expand her study to determine whether or not grit is key to student completion of college. Thus far, she has found many factors that contribute to whether or not a student completes college - both internally and externally. Interestingly, Duckworth found that students who completed associate degrees had more grit than those who completed a bachelor's degree.

It is important to note, however, that several competing studies have found that conscientiousness is as vital if not more so than grit in determining student success. A survey of first-year college students in Montreal found that grit played no role in each student's success in a physics course. Additionally, a 2009 study found that in addition to conscientiousness, intelligence and socioeconomic background are just as reliable predictors of success as grit is.

The takeaway here is that grit is often a principal component of the success of students particularly those who may be at risk for failure for many reasons.

Innate or Cultivated or Both?

It is also important to note that Duckworth classifies grit as both a trait that a person can be born with and one that can be cultivated. For students, grit may be present in some subjects and absent in others. The student who stays up all night to read books well above their grade level may give up easily when taking on a difficult math problem. Moreover, students who have always faced challenges either at home or school may have the natural grit that makes it easier for them to overcome smaller obstacles. Or they may disregard small challenges as unworthy of their persistence.

As to whether or not grit can be developed, Duckworth suggests that individuals can learn and cultivate grit in many situations. The classroom provides an excellent home base where grit can be modeled by peers indirectly and encouraged by teachers directly.

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Topics: student-centered learning, grit

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Templeton Academy is an experiential micro school with locations on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and in Nashville, TN. It offers an academically rigorous curriculum designed to foster intellectual curiosity through active learning and community exploration. The small class sizes ensure that each student has a front row seat in classes with an average size of 10. Our model combines a warm, inviting atmosphere with great teaching that allows our students to flourish. Schedule a visit soon.

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