Raising a Generation of Grittier Children

Michael Giberson

Do we need “grittier” children?  No, not messier children, but children with more grit, as in more stick-to-it-iveness and dedication.  A growing body of evidence is supporting the obvious – that success requires dedication and effort as much or more than intelligence.  Maybe obvious, but for decades the U.S. educational system and career counselors have been sorting people based on intelligence tests and trying to find ways to boost IQ scores.  That growing body of evidence is suggesting that we need ways to boost grittiness (will we be sorted by GQ scores?).

Author Jonah Lehrer (How we decide, Proust was a neuroscientist) wrote in “The truth about grit“:

One of the most important elements is teaching kids that talent takes time to develop, and requires continuous effort. Carol S. Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, refers to this as a “growth mindset.” She compares this view with the “fixed mindset,” the belief that achievement results from abilities we are born with. “A child with the fixed mindset is much more likely to give up when they encounter a challenging obstacle, like algebra, since they assume that they’re just not up to the task,” says Dweck.

In a recent paper, Dweck and colleagues demonstrated that teaching at-risk seventh-graders about the growth mindset – this included lessons about the importance of effort – led to significantly improved grades for the rest of middle school.

Interestingly, it also appears that praising children for their intelligence can make them less likely to persist in the face of challenges, a crucial element of grit.

More recently Lehrer writes about “Learning from mistakes“:

Conventional pedagogy assumes that the best way to teach children is to have them repeatedly practice once they know the right answer, so that the correct response gets embedded into the brain. (According to this approach, it’s important to avoid mistakes while learning so that our mistakes get accidentally reinforced.) But this error-free process turns out to be inefficient: Kids learn material much faster when they screw-up first. In other words, getting the wrong answer helps us remember the right one.

So, if I try to translate this into my daily work teaching college students, I guess I should give students opportunities to screw-up first so that they will learn much faster later.

I’m always trying to improve my pedagogical skills, but I will say (with some pride, I might add) that some of my students are way out ahead of me on this front.

[Note: I should probably point out that this last line is intended to be a joke.  It probably isn’t very funny.  Professional driver on closed course.  Your mileage may vary.  Never mind.  It’s been a long week.]

HT to Broken Symmetry.