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'Grit' becoming an indicator for educational success

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SALT LAKE CITY — Xochitl Gonzalez, a junior at West High School in Salt Lake City, takes advanced placement classes, participates in sports and other school activities and gets good grades.

She says it's not because she's a whiz kid. it's because she works hard, she perseveres, and she's got what some would call "grit."

"I wouldn't consider myself the smartest person," Gonzalez said, "but I am very determined; and if I do what they tell me to do I will learn."

According to new research, Xochitl's success after high school may have less to do with her IQ and everything to do with that grit — perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania developed a survey to measure grit and found that West Point cadets with higher grit scores were more likely to stick out the grueling first summer of training. At the National Spelling Bee, grit was also a better predictor of success than a verbal IQ test.

It requires teachers and adults to focus on the effort and not the outcome.

–Paula Smith, U. Education Leadership

Professor Paula Smith, chair of the University of Utah's Department of Education Leadership and Policy, says there are some children hardwired with grit, but others can learn that perseverance and passion.

"It requires teachers and adults to focus on the effort and not the outcome," she said.

That means you don't tell a child they're smart; you tell them they're hardworking.

Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck writes that the key is a "growth mindset," the belief that abilities aren't fixed, but can expand over time.

In an article in Scientific American, Dweck discusses an experiment she and other researchers conducted with 91 junior high school students who were having problem with math.


They designed a workshop for the students. One-half got lessons in study skills, and the other half also learned about the growth mindset. They read and discussed the article, "You can grow your brain," which explains that the brain, like a muscle, grows stronger with use.

The grades of the first group kept dropping, but the grades of the second group began to bounce back.

You don't have to look far to see that perseverance and passion for long-term goals leads to success.

Eric Heiden had a very successful career as a speed skater. At the 1980 Olympics he won five gold medals. He then became a professional cyclist and won the U.S Professional Cycling Championship.

Now Heiden is an orthopedic surgeon practicing in Utah. By any measure, he's got grit.

"In the end, it's very nice to have explored what your physical and mental abilities are; and it's one of those things I relish, knowing I tried the best that I could," Heiden said. "Whether I'm successful in the eyes of my peers doesn't matter. I want to know whether I've been challenge myself and pushed into my own abilities."

"I feel if I want to be successful I will be successful," Gonzalez said. "Barriers just slow you down, that's about it. Nothing can really stop you. It's all in your head. Like if you think you can do it, you do it and if you think you can't, you can't. It's just mindset."

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Peter Rosen


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