In part 2, we asked how these traits can be taught, the value of informal learning within afterschool and summer programs, examples of useful practices, and the role of mindfulness.
Q: First, can you give us a rough definition of grit, tenacity, and perseverance? And describe if and how they are different from one another.
A: When we first started out to do our research for the Grit Brief, the first challenge we ran into was that there were so many different terms that are similar or overlapping in meaning. Researchers have actually come up with a term for this phenomenon—it’s called the “Jingle/Jangle” Problem. “Jingle” is when the same term is used to refer to different concepts, and “jangle” is when different terms are used for the same concept. And it’s actually deeper than just words, because each term comes from a particular community of practice and speaks to their needs and culture. Many terms have long traditions of research or practice behind them. Are we talking about grit, tenacity, persistence, perseverance? Or other very closely related terms like conscientiousness, engagement, agency, and resilience?
What we decided to do was synthesize what we saw as key facets of these terms together to develop our own working definition of “grit” that we would use throughout the brief:
Perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging students’ psychological resources, such as their academic mindsets, effortful control, and strategies and tactics.
For folks who are interested, in Chapter 2 of the brief we have a table of all these different terms and how people have defined them. It’s very interesting to look at them next to each other to see what’s similar and different. I think what they all have in common is the notion of carrying on to success in the face of challenge.
Q: Why is it important to study grit, tenacity, and perseverance?
A: This has become an important and popular focus in education. All over the country, educational, research, professional, technical, and policy communities are recognizing that children and adolescents simply must have stronger preparation for the challenges of 21st century life. Learning about the content of the disciplines is necessary, but it’s not sufficient for success in school and life. Children need skills to deal with the difficulties and challenges they face as students and will face as adults, and they need support to take on and achieve big and meaningful goals in their academic and professional lives. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this has arisen so prominently in the public discourse at a time of intense economic volatility and rapidly changing workforce needs. I also think the opportunities afforded by new and emerging technologies are opening new doors of possibility for this.
A critical need in our country, of course, is to support underserved student populations. Students dealing with conditions of poverty are especially in need of support—they can face acute challenges of stress, limited social support, lack of critical resources, and psychological disempowerment and disenfranchisement. Educators can play an important role in closing unacceptable achievement gaps and helping these students get on a positive track and hold the course to succeed at school and beyond.
But kids across the socioeconomic spectrum need to develop mature ways of dealing with challenges. All kids need to learn conceptually complex material that takes time and attention, they need to learn to persist through academic assignments that are important but not necessarily intrinsically interesting to them, and they need to be able to manage competing demands across coursework from multiple classes and extracurricular activities. Students need to learn skills for the 21st-century workplace that require complex knowledge work and collaboration. Lots of students will be preparing for STEM careers that require complicated training pathways over many years and mastery of extensive and difficult disciplinary material. And, of course, nobody is exempt from life’s random and unexpected challenges and setbacks—from illness to financial trouble to interpersonal conflict—that often need to be dealt with at the same time.
It’s an exciting and promising time. There’s growing recognition that educators can play an important role in promoting these factors for students. There’s already been a tremendous amount of research in this area. A broad range of programs in different educational settings have been implementing a variety of approaches to promoting these factors. Many foundations and federal agencies are investing resources in figuring out the best ways to do this. Also, there are many new technologies that are providing opportunities to significantly advance our capability to address these issues—there is great potential in technologies, for example, that are adaptive to student needs, help students manage their lives better, and provide access to a wealth of material and human resources over the internet. Having these resources can help students get past typical “stuck” points and move toward much bigger goals.
Q: Could you summarize your report?
A: Here’s a quick overview of what we cover. For a summary of the major findings in each, I’d recommend reading the Executive Summary—it’s pretty short!
Chapter 1. This introductory chapter provides the broad context for what’s going on in the field right now and discusses the research methods used to develop the brief.
Chapter 2. This chapter addresses questions around theory: What are grit, tenacity, and perseverance? What are the key components of these competencies? What psychological and contextual factors support and promote them?
Chapter 3. This chapter addresses questions around measurement: How are these factors measured currently? How can they be measured in the future? How can technology provide new tools and strategies?
Chapter 4. This chapter addresses questions around existing approaches: What types of programs, approaches, and technologies have been developed to promote these factors for a wide variety of learners?
Chapter 5. This culminating chapter addresses the needs of practitioners, researchers, and policymakers: What are key conclusions and recommendations for practice, research, and policy?
Nikki Shechtman, Ph.D. is Senior Educational Researcher at SRI International, Center for Technology in Learning. Nikki explores research-based, theory-driven approaches to understanding and improving engagement, teaching, and learning in mathematics—particularly for the most disadvantaged students. Her work has focused on productive dispositions for teaching and learning, mathematical argumentation, use of dynamic representational technology, and introducing productive playfulness into serious classrooms. Among several other projects, Nikki led a team to lead a Department of Education study entitled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century”. Her work has been published in journals in educational research, learning sciences, mathematics education, educational technology design, psychology, human-computer interaction, and play studies.