A kid in a math classroom is ready to rip his worksheet in half, frustrated with a tricky algebra equation. He gives up. At another table, another student chips away at the same problem. After a lot of erasing and rewriting, he gets the answer.
The difference between the two students? Some say it’s grit — a formula of perseverance plus passion, according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Angela Duckworth, a champion of the theory.
She is one of a growing number of educators, researchers and psychologists who say that IQs and academic aptitude can only get students so far. Emotional elements also need to be factored into the academic achievement equation, they say.
Even the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal legislation that replaces No Child Left Behind, requires states to start using at least one nonacademic piece in their accountability measures.
That’s no stretch for Ed Graff, the Minneapolis superintendent who just began his term earlier this month. He has referenced the importance of social-emotional learning, an umbrella term that includes decisionmaking and social skills.
Chanhassen High School includes time-management preparation in its scheduling, knowing that will come in handy later in life, said Tim Dorway, the school’s principal.
“We certainly need to teach kids how to respond when things aren’t going well because that’s what we do in our careers, that’s what we do in college,” he said.
Here’s a sampling of some of the strategies and theories that you might see in classrooms:
• Grit: the drive to work toward long-term goals, undeterred by bumps along the way. It’s a concept that Duckworth helped make popular.
• Growth mind-set: students believing that with work, their intelligence will improve.
• Social and emotional learning: a process to help students understand their emotions and make sound decisions. It includes responsible decisionmaking, self-management and awareness and relationship and social skills. The Chicago-based organization Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning is trying to make social and emotional learning “an integral part of education from preschool through high school,” according to its website.
Critics protest that teaching grit may overlook students who come from backgrounds riddled with trauma. A student in an abusive home, for example, may not display grit at school because he has to use it so much at home.
Grit can be tested, I learned. Curious about how I stacked up, I took an online research study from the University of Pennsylvania (tinyurl.com/j5qnnrq), which promised to reveal my grit level. Questions probed whether new ideas distract me from current ones (my answer: sometimes), whether disappointments got me down (not really) and whether I set a goal only to choose a different one (not usually). My score was a 4.25 out of 5, where 1 is “not gritty.”
More gritty than not, I told myself. But I still have a ways to go.