What’s Grit Got to Do with Learning?

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What’s Grit Got to Do with Learning? was previously posted on the AACE Review (Rogers, 2017)

Grit

In terms of education, ‘grit’ is a combination of your passion for learning, perseverance at task, and purposeful activities. Volition and conation are synonyms for grit. During his AECT 2017 keynote, Thomas Reeves, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia and AACE Fellow since 2003 tackled the topic of grit. He stated that the conative domain is the missing piece for learning and placed it beside the affective and cognitive domains as the triad for intelligence, as was the case in Aristotle’s day.

Reeves and other scholars point out that grit/conation is not new to education. He referenced Snow’s (1992) Academic Aptitude Model, Carroll’s (1993) model of school learning that included perseverance, and Kolbe’s (2002) work on the conative domain (motivational-volitional). Looking at the literature, many prominent psychologists, past and current, recognize non-intellectual factors in learning performance.

Grit Research

Grit is important because it can boost life-long academic achievement (Abuhassàn & Bates, 2016). Here’s how other scholars describe it: industrious, conscientiousness, personality trait (Roberts, Lujeuz, Krueger, Richards, & Hill, 2014), passion, and perseverance (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Critics of Duckworth et al.’s take on grit as a trait for success question the validity of their study’s findings (i.e., generalizability, confounding variables) and wonder whether participants who quit a grueling West Point Cadet initiation program also used grit to do so (Denby, 2016).

Duckworth and Reeves both mention Dweck’s (2009) theory on the growth mindset, as a way to help students develop grit. If you want to delve deeper into Grit, also take a look at Deci and Ryan’s (2009) self-determination theory since it addresses one’s ability to complete a task through willingness, volition, and endorsement of an activity.

The important message for learners is that grit is not solely about your ability/potential/talent per se. Grit is up to you!

Grit and Me

As a first-generation college graduate raised in situational poverty by a single parent, my perseverance has paid off. My grit is based on my openness to experience and conscientiousness, which you might recognize from the Big Five Personality Traits. I recently experienced grit during a gaming workshop, where I couldn’t hear the presenter or see the presentation clearly and my computer was running slow, but I persevered and learned the lesson. For me, it’s that point where I’m embarrassed by my ineptitude and faced with the fight-or-flight feeling. For my grit to kick in, it needs to be a challenging and purposeful activity.

Do you have grit? Take Duckworth’s Grit Scale to find out.

References

Abuhassàn, A., & Bates, T. C. (2015). Grit: Distinguishing effortful persistence from conscientiousness. Journal of Individual Differences, 36(4), 205-214. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000175

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68

Denby, D. (2016, June). The limits of grit. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-limits-of-grit

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How to Use It Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

Kolbe, K. (2002). The conative connection: Uncovering the link between who you are and how you perform. New South Wales: Pow Wow Events International.

Roberts, B. W., Lejuez, C., Krueger, R. F., Richards, J. M., & Hill, P. L. (2014). What is conscientiousness and how can it be assessed? Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1315-1330.

Snow, R. E. (1992). Aptitude theory: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Educational Psychologist, 27, 5-32.


Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D

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Focus on the Process to Support the Growth Mindset of Students

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Dweck (2009) identified students’ beliefs about learning as their mindsets. Those who underestimate their ability to learn may have a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn have a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to know the right answer. They want to be corrected; their ego isn’t tied to learning. They don’t mind revealing what they do not know. They understand that learning takes effort, and they enjoy it. Those with a fixed mindset don’t pay attention to corrective feedback; they don’t want to put forth the effort to learn. Instead, they believe that learning shouldn’t take any effort because it’s tied to their intelligence. It shouldn’t be difficult if they’re intelligent; their ego influences how they learn.

It would be helpful for educators to explain the difference between the two mindsets to students and share the research findings. Then ask them how they could make changes (self-regulate) to a growth mindset if they fall into the fixed mindset category. More importantly, educators need to learn how to provide feedback on student performance so as not to endanger a learner’s growth mindset. For example, praising a student for being smart doesn’t build their self-esteem. Instead, students must acquire self-esteem from their own effort and from overcoming struggles. Therefore, educators should praise persistence, acknowledge struggles, and identify students’ selection of challenging material/tasks. Focus on the process, not the product when providing feedback.

Whatever mindset a person has will mold their motivation to learn (Dweck). A person’s personal belief of their ability to complete a task is explained in the self-determination theory posited by Deci and Ryan. According to Deci, this theory states that personal control and autonomy (willingness, volition, endorsement of activity) affect your motivation to learn.  There is intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Deci explained how extrinsic motivation can hinder the motivation to learn. For example, if you pay students for something they already enjoy doing intrinsically, this could cause them to rely on the extrinsic payment. If the extrinsic reward is removed, the student may become unmotivated to do the same task. This is because, with extrinsic rewards, the learner does not maintain control nor autonomy of their learning. Extrinsic motivation is coerced. However, Deci explained how some extrinsically motivating events can become internalized as intrinsic. For example, helping the teacher with cleaning the classroom to earn a reward becomes something the student realizes is important for the good of the class.

Deci, E. What is self-determination theory? [Presentation]. Retrieved from Social PsyClips http://vimeo.com/30754832

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

This article was written by Dr. Sandra Annette Rogers.