Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance

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In my last blog, I discussed the importance of metacognitive learning skills—attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs about learning. These skills continue to garner attention from educational researchers and policy-makers. The Office of Education and Technology (OET) at the U.S. Department of Education recently released a report, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, which takes a closer look at defining, measuring, and developing these skills. Grit was defined as “perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging the student’s psychological resources, such as their academic mindsets, effortful control, and strategies and tactics” (p. 15).

The task of defining and measuring grit is not simply an academic exercise; this is a trait associated with important student outcomes, including success in college. Angela Duckworth’s research shows that people with a college degree (Associate’s or higher) tend to be grittier than people without a degree.  Moreover, and perhaps not surprisingly, grit seems to be associated with success in particularly challenging postsecondary environments. It is associated with retention at West Point, and research by Terrell Strayhorn has shown grit is a significant predictor of college grades for black males attending predominantly while institutions.

Because grit may play a key role in overcoming adversity, it is encouraging that grit, tenacity, and perseverance are skills that can be developed with the right supports. For example, the OET report recommends designing learning environments that provide students opportunities to take on long-term, higher-order goals aligned with their interests. These goals are optimally challenging and intrinsically motivating. Meeting them takes perseverance. By developing such skills early, students may be more likely to persevere through challenges that are bound arise along their college and career paths.

The central tenets of personalized learning echo these themes. First, we must identify where each student is on a learning trajectory. We use that information to provide each student with a challenging, but attainable next step. Technology and digital learning environments can facilitate the personalization process. With these tools we can collect information about students’ strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors, and then adapt learning systems to set reasonable goals for every student. By creating personalized learning solutions, we can do more than just deliver the appropriate academic content. We can set students on a path to increase their grit.

Katie McClarty

About Katie McClarty

Katie McClarty leads of the Center for College & Career Success. She heads a team of researchers in planning and executing research in support of the Center mission, which is to (1) identify and measure the skills needed to be successful in college and careers, (2) determine pathways for students to be college and career ready, (3) track their progress along the pathway, and (4) evaluate effective ways to keep students on track. Dr. McClarty has authored papers, chapters, and presentations related to college readiness, standard setting, assessment design, computer-based testing, interface design, teacher effectiveness, and next generation assessments. Her work has been published in journals such as the American Psychologist, Research in Higher Education, Applied Measurement in Education, Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research & Perspectives, and Educational Researcher. Dr. McClarty holds a doctorate degree in social and personality psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.
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