In last week’s post I worried about the dangers of oversimplifying, with particular reference to Duckworth’s message about grit. As a follow up to that, I think it is important to set down those insights from Grit that need to be communicated properly in schools.
- Early on in the book, Duckworth explains progress in terms of two ‘equations’. These are ‘talent x effort = skill’ and ‘skill x effort = achievement’. Talent is innate; skill is what you develop through deliberate practice. Ultimately, the latter trumps the former because you can have talent but not use it but you only gain skill through effort, and that effort enables you to improve and develop your natural talents.
- Your efforts need to be well directed, and you may need to adjust you plans on your way to achieving your ultimate goal. ‘Try, try again, then try something different’. (I would add here, it should be very clear exactly what that something different is.)
- Passion is an essential component of success. Passion, to Duckworth, is less about how intensely committed you are to achieving something and more about how far you show your commitment to that thing over time. ‘Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.’
- Passions are, therefore, developed, rather than found. What is found is an initial interest, and finding that may be a process of trial and error, of starting things and abandoning them to try something new.
- Engaging in extra-curricular activities is a good way to test your interests. It also has proven benefits in terms of developing grit. Research shows that children describe extra-curricular activities as both challenging and enjoyable. This is in contrast to lessons, which are usually seen simply as ‘challenging’, and time spent with friends, which children report as very enjoyable but not at all challenging. The balance of enjoyment and challenge provided by extra-curricular activities encourages perseverance, and ‘following through on … commitments while we grow up both requires grit and … builds it’.
- The above perhaps explains why showing commitment to extra-curricular activities is correlated with achievement in later life. Duckworth’s own research on teachers shows that those who ‘demonstrated productive follow through on a few extracurricular commitments were more likely to stay in teaching and, furthermore, more effective in producing academic gains in their students’.
- Your levels of grit are not static. If you want to become more gritty, the ideal conditions are that you’re (1) doing something you both love and believe is worthwhile (2) developing your expertise in that area through deliberate practice and (3) have a deep seated faith in your project that will sustain you through the difficult times.
- There is little value in encouraging perseverance at any price. It is OK to give things up, as long as you are not giving them up for the wrong reasons. You shouldn’t give something up (or allow a child to give something up) just because of a bad day, a lost match, or a clash with a social engagement. It is acceptable to give something up at the end of a season, or after completing an examination or performance towards which you have worked. Duckworth recommends that children be encouraged to stick with an activity for at least a year before reviewing their commitment to it.
Crucially, none of this is a case for schools to be engaging in character education. What this does mean for schools, Duckworth suggests, is that they should aim to build a diverse and flourishing extra-curricular programme in which all children, regardless of financial circumstances, can participate fully. They should allow pupils to test out various activities (we do this at my school through taster weeks when all clubs are open to anyone and students are encouraged to go to as many as they can), before deciding on the activities they want to sign up to do. Signing up to a club should be understood as a long term commitment not just to turn up but also to participate fully, which, if the activity is about developing a skill, will include engaging in deliberate practice outside of club meeting times. The incentive for schools to encourage this, is that it is likely that the benefits of it will be felt not just on the playing field or in the concert hall but also in the classroom.