How Gritty Are Today’s Learners? [SLIDE]

Poking through my RSS feed reader last weekend, I stumbled across an article on the Mindshift blog that got me thinking about the role that grit — the ability to persevere even in the face of adversity and failure — plays in the success of today’s learners:

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

The piece details the work of Angela Duckworth — a psychology professor and former middle school math teacher — who has spent the better part of the past several years trying to figure out whether or not gritty people are more successful than their peers.

Having spent the better part of my own life reveling in my own grit — which, given my decidedly average intellect, is the only reason I ever succeed — I didn’t really need Duckworth’s study to help me determine whether or not determination matters.

Persistent people always outperform their similarly gifted peers.

ALWAYS.

But here’s the thing: Intellectual persistence — at least in the kinds of tasks that still seem to define successful people — doesn’t seem to be a priority for today’s kids.  

Spend an hour in a teacher workroom and I GUARANTEE you’ll hear at least one conversation about students who “are too lazy to bother to try” or who are “driving teachers nuts because they’re turning in junk.” Missing work lists grow longer — and lists of volunteers for challenging clubs like Science Olympiad or Quiz Bowl grow shorter — by the year.

Heck, I’m not even sure that intellectual persistence is a priority for ME anymore.

I find myself flitting from major project to major project all the time, rarely following through on anything for very long.  My mind wanders almost constantly simply because in a world where I’m literally surrounded by opportunities for constant distraction, it CAN.

I catch myself skim reading more than ever before — or worse yet, navigating away from anything that seems intimidating at first glance.  Who am I kidding, y’all: I didn’t even read the entire Mindshift bit that started this post.  Got through the first three paragraphs and moved on to something else.

Does this sound familiar to anyone besides me?  And more importantly, is it a trend that’s worth worrying about?

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10 comments

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Im with you, Mike…
    I definitely think we need new coping skills in todays world too.
    But I also think good ol fashioned persistence still matters too — and may be more important than ever in a world where EVERYONE is distracted.
    But how do we encourage ourselves and our students to be determined in a world where the expectation is that everything will be quick and easy no matter what?
    Thats what has me worried right now.
    Bill

  2. Mike Readman

    I identified with your comments about how you find yourself unable to focus on one task for a lengthy period of time. A recent book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” by Nicholas Carr emphasizes how we are coping in this era of information overload. Carr identifies many of the points you have raised. Perhaps what we are noticing and calling a lack of GRIT, could really be children/students coping differently.

  3. Samuel Anderson

    That is a very interesting topic. I think personally the current generation is not as gritty as past generations.

  4. Whatedsaid.wordpress.com

    I don’t think it’s about kids getting off easy. I think there is a need for teachers to focus more on learning than on covering curriculum and expecting certain standards of work on time. The reasons for every learning experience, in the classroom and for homework, need to be explicit. think teachers need to include the learners in decision making and help them take ownership of the learning. There are many ways to build resilience that don’t include expecting learners to demonstrate grit , knuckle down and spend time on ‘work’ rather than authentic, engaging, meaningful learning….

  5. Bill Ferriter

    What Ed Said wrote:
    Its just another example of the ways school expectations havent yet changed to meet the needs of the times
    - – - – - – - – -
    Im with you here, Ed. I really DO think that sometimes we spend too much time lamenting what WAS rather than helping kids to succeed given todays reality.
    But heres the hitch: Grittiness is STILL a need today — kids STILL need to learn to be persistent in the face of failure and adversity — right?
    And if so, SHOULD schools change their current expectations?
    I guess Im just wondering whether or not kids ARE getting off easy in EVERY circumstance simply because things ARE easier today — and whether or not thats creating a nation of kids who ARENT as willing to stick-to-it when things are tough?
    Does this make any sense? I feel like my thinking is unpolished here — but the feelings are persistent, so theres got to be something worth wrestling with.
    Bill

  6. Whatedsaid.wordpress.com

    Very familiar! I’m easily distracted too and flit from one thing to another when reading. But.. That’s the nature of information today. There’s easy accessibility to so much, I can’t possibly read it all. I know if I come across something really good, I’ll stay with it till the end! It’s made me more discerning, I think. And it’s made me into a better thinker.. In order to keep my own posts short and to the point for other readers, I’ve got better at getting to essence of things
    In terms of education… It’s just another example of the ways school expectations haven’t yet changed to meet the needs of the times.

  7. Bill Ferriter

    Jane wrote:
    This is key, Bill, to point out how much adults are struggling! Im
    constantly amazed at how many competing initiatives the schools I work
    with have going
    - – - – - – - – - -
    You know what, Jane — youre on to something here: Were distracted as organizations too!
    I wonder if this is all a result of our changing expectations for instant-ness in todays world. I mean geez: If the internet drags on me at a hotspot, I get angry. If I have to wait 10 minutes in line at a fast food joint, I get angry.
    Does instant-ness make us LESS likely to have the patience to persevere? And if so, does more instant-ness — which is inevitable — mean this problem is only going to get worse with time?
    Hmmnnn…
    Bill

  8. JaneKise

    This is key, Bill, to point out how much adults are struggling! I’m constantly amazed at how many competing initiatives the schools I work with have going–and I hate to admit some of the measures i take not to be distracted while writing–and how often they aren’t enough! Making the effort worthwhile for adults and students is more essential than ever…