238 - True Grit

I have been reading about grit as a trait of those who are successful for quite some time. A TED talk [1] shared on facebook prompts me to see if I can become any clearer how this relates to, say, teaching and learning employed life, life outside work. 

I have been reading about grit as a trait of those who are successful for quite some time. A TED talk [1] shared on facebook prompts me to see if I can become any clearer how this relates to, say, teaching and learning, employed life, or life outside work. 
In conversations with staff while at PMC we often discussed ways of permitting safe failure; allowing people to fail, safely. When doing what we called Ten Tors training I suspect that around half of the days planned failed to fulfil declared expectations, but in part we did that on purpose, to indicate that the target distance for the event was truly challenging and that the kids were not yet up to meeting that target. We always planned that the distances would increase in a pattern that we felt would give the best performance on the day of the event and we frequently discovered that the kids needed to learn new levels of perseverance, stamina or even sheer bloody-mindedness to be able to complete their route. In a sense, team selection explored who had this and cultivated it; in another sense we often failed to inculcate this in those who were less committed to success. 
The TED talk [1] I found was given by Angela Lee Duckworth [5], who has done some of the necessary work on perseverance or grit and its applicability as a measure of success. She offers a grit scale 1 that you probably ought to try. I got a 4.0, but note that this is self-perception - which may well be what is important 2.

In the context of this topic, grit is that special trait which provides the perseverance and passion to fulfil long-term goals. Personally I think passion is something else, but I am aware that compared to many my metaphorical heart has little say over what my head says. For a very long time we have used IQ to indicate likelihood for achievement. I became aware in my first few days at Oxford that, if everyone around me was clearly clever by the measures of school and schooling, then there were a remarkably large number of people who on other measures were pretty stupid. While the average IQ there was high, it could be argued that there were many people with high IQs clever enough to not want to go to Oxbridge. And in there is a blatant assumption that this is ‘success’, when, if your measures are fame, fortune and happiness, this may well be largely irrelevant. When I was at school, getting to university was as much a success as surviving to sixteen and being allowed to leave education permanently.
GRIT:  perseverance in pursuit of a passion”, 
“passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals”


If we, just for the nonce, accept that grit is a better measure of long-term success, then that also means that grade point average, GPA, as measured in US schools, is a far better guide than single-point tests, such as SATs and A-levels. This because GPA is a measure of long-term progress / success. Perhaps best would be a combination, since the tests set an external standard, while grit is, to my mind, an internal one.

Let us not confuse grit with self-control. Grit is returning to an event at which you did not do well so as to do better. Grit is sticking at something until the target is achieved. The lack of self-control is putting off until later things that need to be done in preference to hedonism. e.g. being on Facebook instead of doing homework. Self-control is doing things the other way around. Article.

Looking at the theory of this property of grittiness, and through the prism of my understanding, the questions pursue two factors, interest and effort. Grit is then a combination of these two and in that sense is a second-order function. There is no perceptible difference due to gender (oh, good). Paraphrasing [6]3; Grit has been shown to be related to personality traits including hardiness and traits within the Big Five4 model, academic variables including academic performance, retention, and final ranking and life outcomes including life satisfaction, well-being, and happiness    3 has the quote and the references.
Duckworth also looked at self-discipline – it was where she started - and she found that self-assessed discipline tests were more indicative of the students in her study's final GPAs than their IQ scores [7].
If grit measures success, what is the success that is achieved? It seems to be whatever you wish it to be, but significant correlation (causation not proved but it seems highly likely) is shown where the measure of success is surviving later rounds in the national spelling bee, getting higher GPA, surviving a course at West Point.

Paul Tough [11] is another source of much the same idea. He talks about when we can have a powerful effect in creating grit; in early years and in adolescence. I am sure that these will be very different in practice. In the latter case and that which applies to secondary teaching, it is because teenagers are able to reflect upon their own behaviour and thinking, so can use or create feedback to strengthen a behaviour. You might look at KIPP schools. Tough quotes a list of essential characteristics predictive of long-term success: curiosity, gratitude, zest, optimism, self-control, social intelligence, grit.

From the teaching perspective, what seems to be missing is the management of failure. Sports teachers are good at this – a strong incentive to keep sport in school. What goes wrong is that, where a student is criticised (by an academic teacher) the student misreads the intent of the teacher (to encourage the student to raise the their standard) as negative criticism (and therefore personal dislike).  
Let us not confuse grit with creativity. One includes a load of self-control, both include a lot of independence, but creativity is so often seen as freedom, which turns into inactivity.

Learning from failure is unpopular within education, yet, as I wrote above, we do it a lot within the sports curriculum (and sport is increasingly unpopular in the state sector, so could this point to the significant difference resulting from independent education?). See also the Learning Business, 227. Particularly, we should encourage the good failures, the ones that provide valuable new knowledge that can help an organisation. Or individual] [17]. Also see 18-20 for ideas on coping with failure and turning this into useful learning.

The point about grit being a self-assessment is quite important. [18] points to [19] on reporting of non-cognitive skills, which highlights the differences in what is called reference bias. Those at Kipp schools [12] are likely to self-report a lower grit index, to do with local environment ideas of grit, engagement and so on. Thus we have the ‘Kipp paradox’ [18] Students at so-called "no excuses" charter schools made bigger academic gains, yet rated themselves lower on grit, than students at traditional public schools. Many of these schools, such as KIPP charter schools, are making concerted efforts to cultivate grit and other "character" qualities. They may have longer days or assign more homework. The authors concluded that in an environment with stricter rules and higher standards, students' frames of reference may change.
"Some of the hardest-working people rate themselves as lazy," Duckworth says. So if a school district were to rate schools based on these surveys, the outcome could be perverse: The schools working the hardest to cultivate grit might look the worst.

Let us not confuse grit with obstinacy and similar pig-headedness: to quote [20] Not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods. And not everyone who works hard is pursuing something worthwhile. In fact, people who are up to no good often have grit to spare. Persistence is just one of many attributes that can sometimes be useful for reaching a (good or bad) outcome, so it’s the choice of goal that ought to come first and count more.
   Grit can actually be counterproductive.  Often it just doesn’t make sense to continue with a problem that resists solution or persist at a task that no longer provides satisfaction.  Hence the proverbial Law of Holes:  When you’re in one, stop digging.  Gritty people sometimes exhibit what psychologists call “nonproductive persistence,” whereas knowing when to pull the plug requires the capacity to adopt a long-term perspective.  Continuing to do what you’ve been doing often represents the path of least resistance, so it can take guts to cut your losses.  That’s as important a message to teach our children as the usefulness of perseverance.
  Grit can be unhealthy. Following a year-long study of adolescents, Canadian researchers Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch concluded that those “who can disengage from unattainable goals enjoy better well-being…and experience fewer symptoms of everyday illness.”
  What matters isn’t just how long one persists, but why one does so.  Proponents of grit tend to focus narrowly on behaviour, ignoring motive.  Do kids love what they’re doing?  Or are they driven by a desperate (and anxiety-provoking) need to prove their competence?  As long as they’re pushing themselves, we’re encouraged to nod our approval.

So the message here is that while grit is to be admired, the circumstance to which it is applied is worthy of note. perhaps that is why Duckworth inserts passion into her definition. As with so many things if grit is a clue to success, we should question what it is that we are taking as ‘success’; if we measure grit or grittiness as if it is an essential ingredient of achieving that success, we risk losing sight of what it is that the success is itself.  Banging your head against a wall seems to me to be pretty pointless. On the other hand, having learned that a difficult target can indeed be achieved with hard work seems a valuable lesson to have learned. Subsequent thinking then establishes what objectives are worthwhile. For too many of us, almost any objective is too much to be bothered with. Which brings us back to measures of success, I suggest; even perhaps to the desirability of having some. 

Personally, I am demonstrably happier if I have some success. Whether that be running 5km in under 23 mins (and immediately then the target would be sub 22), or playing a piece of music better than the last time I saw it, or not losing my temper for a week, or climbing a mountain not previously climbed - those are targets I can choose. Far more difficult are elusive targets such as beating a disease, confronting a debilitating fear, changing a habit from ‘good’ to ‘bad’. For each, my personal test is whether my perception of the work involved is a worthy price for the reward.

DJS 20170801
top pic, as ever, from Google images.

I had significant trouble (over an hour) uploading this, there being something ‘wrong’ with the links between [1] and [23]. I ended up loading them one by one.


1 source [6] offers a reduced grit scale.

Directions for taking the Grit Scale: Here are a number of statements that may or may
not apply to you. For the most accurate score, when responding, think of how you compare to most people -- not just the people you know well, but most people in the world. There are no right or wrong answers, so just answer honestly!

Score 1-6 for gradations from ‘not at at all like me’ up to ‘very much like me’
statements: 
1. New ideas and new projects sometimes distract me from previous ones. 

2 .Setbacks don’t discourage me. 
3. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest. 
4. I am a hard worker. 
5. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one. 
6. I have difficulty maintaining focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete. 
7. I finish whatever I begin. 
8. I am diligent. 
To score this, add 1-6 or 6-1. I assume that 1, 3, 5, 6 are the ones marked in reverse. This is the 8-item, 6 point test. You might describe 1,3,5,6 as ‘interest’ or consistency of that, and 2,4,7,8 as ‘effort’ or perseverance of same. The research [6] shows these loosely correlated (r=0.45). I find it odd that the positive and negative aspects correlate completely with interest and effort. I can see reason to add some confirmatory questions in a redundancy check sort of way.

The Duckworth 10-item 6 point test is reduced to a score out of five, so reduce the total score from the eight item list from a possible 48 to one out of five (I suggest you either (i) add two and divide by ten, or (ii) be cleverer and subtract 8 (as if scored 0-5 not 1-6) and then divide by 8).

2 the Grit scale is subjective and a high score too easily faked. Quoting Angela Duckworth on the topic, Another very serious but not-so-obvious limitation of questionnaires is called “reference bias.” This distortion of scores comes from people holding different standards by which they judge behaviour. So, your score not only reflects how gritty you are but also the standards to which you hold yourself. Article on limitations on such measurement.

Why you shouldn’t measure this obviously. Basically, because it is self-reporting and too many people will lie (from self-deceit to worse) if the stakes are high.


3 Grit has been shown to be related to personality traits including hardiness and traits within the Big Five model (Duckworth et al., 2007), academic variables including academic performance, retention, and final ranking (Duckworth et al., 2007) and life outcomes including life satisfaction (Reed et al., 2012), well-being (Salles et al., 2014), and happiness (Von Culin, Tsukayama, & Duckworth, 2014).


The BIG FIVE model (pity it’s not called the High Five ) see the Forbes article [3]





Related Essays

hill walking  192, 188

207 US democracy

191 - why not do Maths?

education 231 - worthwhile? (and 203, 208, 230, 234....)

Measures of success, essay  084 but also many others: 190, 202, 211, 214, 222, 226, 228, 232...




[1] TED talk  https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

[2] https://www.edutopia.org/blog/true-grit-measure-teach-success-vicki-davis      pretty good synopsis of the subject matter.

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/margaretperlis/2013/10/29/5-characteristics-of-grit-what-it-is-why-you-need-it-and-do-you-have-it/#2fd4eb304f7b

[4] https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/ 

[5] https://angeladuckworth.com     the Duckworth site. Get the book from Amazon

[6]  http://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1035&context=edp_etds 2015 thesis.

[7] http://gritnn.weebly.com/grit.html    several more links to other connected stuff.

[8] https://upenn.app.box.com/s/0soslytk4us51po2owxbyj3g1et3al5n worth a read, Quote fail.

[9] https://upenn.app.box.com/s/67xypfb2zqtuacd1jrbh  also worth a read and quote fail.

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/08/ten-concerns-about-the-lets-teach-them-grit-fad/?utm_term=.af3173ff4b0c             a counter-argument.  Related book; the Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn

[11] Paul Tough.  video talk on grit,  video talk on his book, How Children Succeed

[12] Google KIPP schools and look at the menu labelled ‘Approach’

[13] David Yeager Lavin  Forbes Youtube noncognitive schooling

[14] https://hbr.org/2011/04/strategies-for-learning-from-failure  Particularly, look at preventable failures, unavoidable failures and ‘good’ failures.

[18] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234004  Potentially useful list of mantras

[19] http://www.sunflowertrust.com/2017/07/14/coping-with-failure/  parent/teacher ideas.

[20[ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/guy-winch-phd/learning-from-failure_b_4037147.html another helpful list of ideas for managing failures.

[21] http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/05/13/405891613/a-key-researcher-says-grit-isnt-ready-for-high-stakes-measures

[22] https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-limitations-of-self-report-measures-of-non-cognitive-skills/ which reports, among other things, that the gap between 1st and 4th quartiles in ‘grit’ is matched by up to a year’s difference in ‘maths’ achievement. It took many attempts to get this line to load, so I retyped it, eventually.

[23] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/08/ten-concerns-about-the-lets-teach-them-grit-fad/?utm_term=.30d08f366609

[24] Dweck - mindsets https://www.epiconline.org/mind-sets-and-equitable-education/

   Is intelligence fixed or fluid? According to her, there are two fundamental mindsets that a student can have about intelligence: it is fixed, or it is fluid and can increase with practice and training. These two mindsets strongly affect students’ perception of their intelligence as well as achievement. Dweck believes addressing mindsets is a central area in which educators can work to close the achievement gap.

[25] Elizabeth Spiegel - managing failure in chess. makes a decent Google search item. All the references I saw took me back to Dweck [21] and Tough [11].


© David Scoins 2017