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Sep 26, 2014

One of the latest buzzwords in education these days is “grit”. Educators are shifting from the idea that the Grit and executive functionsstudent with inherent talent or the greatest intelligence will be the most successful, and instead, considering other factors as predictors of success in school and in life.  Doing well in life depends on much more than learning quickly and easily. Angela Lee Duckworth has made a study of grit. Duckworth defines grit as, the “passion and perseverance to pursue long term goals day in and day out”. She elaborates that living life is like a marathon, not a sprint and to succeed we must be able to sustain the effort needed to complete our goals. In studies that she has designed to measure success in both school settings and with adults in the workforce, Duckworth has found that the one characteristic that emerges as a predictor of success is grit. Check out her Ted talk to learn more.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Given that this is so important it is only a matter of time until programs all over the country will promise to change the average kid into a millionaire superstar by giving him the grit that he needs to succeed. If only it were that simple!  Here is the thing about grit, we do not know how to teach this in a systematic, concretized meaningful way.  Yet. However, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in this field, has made some important discoveries. She observes that there are two mindsets, a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset.  Those of us with a Fixed Mindset believe that our intelligence is “carved in stone” and that there is no way to gain more smarts than what we are born with. People in this category are afraid to fail, they avoid challenges and as a result generally achieve less. People with a Growth Mindset, however, believe that intelligence can be developed over time and to become smarter, one needs to work hard and put in extra time and effort.  Students in this category are oriented toward learning, they believe that their hard work will pay off and result in academic success. Students with a Growth Mindset are often more motivated and productive than those with a Fixed Mindset. People with a Growth Mindset enjoy challenges and understand that even if they fail at a task, it is merely a setback and not the end. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." That's their attitude.

As Executive Function coaches, we understand the power of grit and we sometimes associate it with a particular Executive Function skill called "goal directed persistence." We encourage our students to put in that extra effort when things become difficult, and that’s what leads to meaningful change, growth and academic success. When people experience success they want more success and they might be willing to try even harder next time to achieve it.

Preparation & Planning Can Inspire Grit

Sometimes I work with students who need a little extra support and encouragement. They may need to be reminded that yes, this task is something they can accomplish, especially with the correct toolsFor example, one of the students with whom I work had some reading for school that would eventually require a writing assignment. Let’s just say reading literature such as The Scarlet Letter was not his favorite activity, so he needed some help to get through a novel with the depth of understanding needed to craft an essay.  Before he started reading the book, we did a pre-reading activity to create a schema (or structure) for the information that he would be learning.  Next, I introduced an active reading strategy called 3-D notes and showed him how to annotate the text. He used highlighters and flags to highlight common themes and took notes on the side of each page. When it came to writing the paper, the text was ready to be used effectively and the student was confident in his understanding of the story. Preparing in this way helped my student find the grit to tackle the assigned essay.

As an Executive Function coach, I find incredible satisfaction in helping students develop a Growth Mindset. When I can show them other ways to approach a problem, or encourage students to find the grit to stick with a difficult task, I know I am helping them with much more than a one-time assignment, I'm helping them to develop skills that they will continue using to be successful throughout their academic careers. Researchers are still at the beginning stages of understanding the power of grit and will hopefully continue to learn more practical approaches to ways to help nurture this important trait.

As Elbert Hubbard, an American writer and philosopher of the late 19th century wrote, “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.” Well said, Elbert.

Does your child need support in developing his or her grit or Executive Function skills? Click below for a free consultation to find out how Executive Function coaching can help.


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photo credit: The Leaf Project

About the Author

Rachel Dayanim

Rachel Dayanim is a certified ADHD coach and an Executive Function coach and Outreach Coordinator with Beyond BookSmart. Her background includes 10 years as a Special Education Coordinator for a high school program in Newton, MA. Rachel earned her MA in Special Education from Columbia University in New York.


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