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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Like many high schools, we certainly believe in data. Though we are not data-driven, we strive to use data to inform decisions that affect teaching and learning. We use all sorts of data -- from ERB scores and PSAT, ACT, and SAT information to AP exam results -- to help us shape and focus our instruction each year. However, this data provides us with only a glimpse of a few facets of students who are complex young men and women.

A Simple But Useful Evaluation

Along with my leadership team, I began a search last year for a way to collect a different kind of data on our students, both current and incoming, that will help us understand them a little better, and will better equip us to put students in a position to be successful. The catalyst for this search centered on why some of our students seem to overachieve and exceed expectations each year while others seem to underachieve. We were already familiar Angela Duckworth's well-known research on grit, but we drilled down deeper to see if it might prove meaningful for our students. We then decided to explore ways that Duckworth's research on grit, including her grit measurement scale, might help us better serve our students.

Upon agreeing that this metric could be a valuable tool, we began our data collection immediately. Starting with our middle school's eighth graders, we administered Duckworth's 12-item grit scale (PDF, 147KB) in the spring semester prior to their freshman year. This takes less than ten minutes of the students' time, so the process is quite efficient. My leadership team then scored the completed scales and added them to the students' files. As we're an independent school that accepts a number of new students each year in grades 9-12, we turned next to our incoming students, those who had applied for admission for the 2014-15 school year. After collaborating with our director of admissions, we added the 12-item grit scale to our traditional battery of admissions information (testing, grades, recommendations, etc.). When we returned to school in August, we administered the 12-item grit scale to the remainder of our student body and are now cataloging that data, too.

Plans of Action

We have both short- and long-term plans of action related to this grit data, plans that can be used at any school and not just an independent college-prep high school.

In the short-term, we will watch our students carefully as we move through the school year. As we notice either overachievement or underachievement with individual students, we will consult those individuals' grit scales. We believe that with an underachieving student whose grit score is below average, for example, we can help by offering strategic advice and encouragement related to grit. Duckworth defines grit as "tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals," so we will focus our encouragement on that as well as on equipping that student "to pursue especially challenging aims." With overachievement, we likewise will consult students' grit scales, but will work to find correlations between overachievement and grit. Our short-term plan will be actionable with all of our students beginning in the fall semester.

Our long-term plan of action involves using the grit data to inform decisions that affect teaching and learning. We have already begun planning ways to bring our students' attention to the concept of grit and the correlation between grit and success, according to Duckworth's research. Specifically, we are mapping out ways to address grit in large settings like chapel, school assemblies, pep rallies, and open house events for both current and prospective families. We also are working with our athletic and fine arts departments to address and promote grit among our athletic teams as well as with our performing arts casts and ensembles. Furthermore, we will be working with each academic department to incorporate allusions to grit in the classrooms. We may do this through the inclusion of curriculum-related articles, finding grit in fictional characters and historical figures, or labeling especially challenging problems "grit work." Our counselor will also be included, as she has opportunities for one-on-one conversations with students about grit.

Nurturing Grit

Ideally, a year from now, then in two years, and so on, we will find that we have made a difference in our students' lives. Our goal, of course, centers on nurturing grit to help them become more successful, particularly over the long haul. We anticipate seeing anecdotal evidence of increased grit, but we hope the data will support us. We will look for this data when we re-administer the grit scale annually and search for trends in the scaled scores.

Will incorporating the grit scale and strategic conversations about grit into the culture of our school help us to produce grittier and ultimately more successful kids? Time will tell, but we are committed to this long-term and especially challenging goal.

Have you made grit a part of your school's academic program? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Brian E. Bennett's picture
Brian E. Bennett
High school science teacher in South Bend, IN.

This is disturbing because it puts the entire burden of supporting students on their innate desire to do what we want them to do. Grit is dangerous - if a student doesn't do well, it's because they don't have "it," and as a teacher, there isn't much I can do about it.

Rather than providing support and extra intervention based on a student's abundance or lack of "grit," why not create programs to foster students based on a holistic, team-based evaluation? Having a shaky measurement as a trigger for action means that others will be left out.

Ira Socol, Joe Bower, Mike Rose, Nancy Flanigan, and a host of others have written more detailed arguments against the grit narrative. I just ask that you - and your leadership team - read those and take their points into account as you work to improve.

DougTImm34's picture

Brian, I like the differing point of view and have just begun reading about grit and the counter arguments as they intrigue me quite a bit. I really think there is room for a grit scale as long as it is in the context of providing more information, not the only determining factor in student success.

We sometimes in education try to find the silver bullet when I feel student growth and achievement is more like a salad bar. Just eating lettuce is no fun, you need to add layers of flavor to get the right taste for each individual.

Nathan, I hope the grit scale helps you gather more information. I would love to use this in some sort of way at the elementary level.

Tom Hoerr's picture

Well done! This focus is student-centered and increases the likelihood of success. These are the kinds of strategies I wrote about in my book, "Fostering Grit." In addition, let's look at staff. For example, our teachers are setting Grit Goals, professional goals in which they figure there's only a 50-50 chance of success. The question is not whether they've succeeded, but what did they learn from their good failures and how will the pick up and proceed again!

David Hochheiser's picture
David Hochheiser
Systems thinker, learner, student advocate, tech fan, literacy junkie

There a caution around grit that I'm becoming increasingly aware of. Yes, it's necessary to work hard if we want to reach valuable goals, but it isn't necessarily true that students who are struggling in schools don't have grit. If you have that many under/over achievers, perhaps the better path is to work with teachers on creating and clarifying meaningful classroom goals with their students. I also wonder why all students, teachers, and administrators aren't focused on the value of growth. Your description makes it sound like there's both a population of students who aren't affected by this initiative and that teachers are trying to help kids change when there's a problem.

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