STEMscopes Asks: What is "Grit" and Why Is It Important to Education?

Tahlea Jankoski | Published  July 25, 2016



When it is said that students need more "grit," what exactly are educators referring to? This has become a common educational buzzword in recent times, often referring to a student's mindset and consequent success at learning.

The term was first coined in the research of Angela Lee Duckworth, who defines grit in her TED talk as "passion and persistence for very long-term goals." Those with grit seem to do better in school, because they are driven by a growth mindset and motivated to succeed. Students recognize that they may fail or do poorly on a certain topic, but with grit they learn that education is more about the process of improvement and mastery, rather than the final outcomes.

 The beginning of grit research

In 2004, Angela Duckworth studied 1,200 new West Point cadets during their intense 7-week training program, seeking to understand why some cadets dropped out early while others had the motivation to endure the grueling program. To measure their motivation, Duckworth created a survey that tested their ability to persevere, calling this measurement "grit." She discovered that succeeding at achieving anticipated goals correlated with this grit (perseverance and passion). Duckworth determined that grit is innate to all of us and can be the key to success in all aspects of life. 

Learning takes positive motivation

Within an educational context, this new buzzword represents the idea that quality learning isn't only about a student's academic aptitude, but also lies within the student's developing character. A study by the Carnegie Foundation that shares new ways teachers can help their students feel motivated to learn suggests, "It's not just academic ability that determines motivation, but also the capacities and character traits like resilience, self-confidence, and tenacity that help students stay the course as the emotional path grows rougher and the learning curve steeper."

Embrace adversity

Instead of avoiding difficult topics that students may feel incapable of learning, teachers and educators should promote grit by helping students embrace adversity. This means that through applying effort, learning strategies, and input received from others, students can find that they have achieved educational success.

Teachers need to recognize that their students may have a fixed negative mindset, believing that they perform poorly and cannot change. Students who progress successfully and have "grit" recognize that they can always change their current abilities to move forward in their educational pursuits. 

Grit leads to a successful future

Grit may be something we are shown to have developed inherently, and like with any trait, nurturing will help it blossom over time. However, as educators help students recognize those inner qualities and students learn how to apply those qualities to learning, the more often students will increase the drive and motivation to move through failures and frustrations. Grit may seem to be just the latest educational buzzword for learning success, but it can make the difference, helping students to develop their ability to succeed by working through the obstacles or adversity that come their way in life. 


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