Grit & Persistence: An Initial Reading List

 In Connected Learning, Featured, Learning Disposition

Noah Rachlin, Caroline Nolan

Angela Duckworth has gained national attention for her research and work around student grit and persistence.  Some have bristled at the term “grit” and the idea that Duckworth has uncovered some hidden secret.  After all, haven’t we always known that people who are able to work hard over an extended period of time are likely to be more successful than those who do not?  Additionally, Duckworth’s research is best understood as part of a constellation of interesting scholarship and emerging research on the connections between pedagogy, neuroscience, and psychology.  Some of which has already been the topic of important discussion and work on campus. (for internal community members, please see a host of interesting white papers on the Pedagogy of Goodness: Character Education)

There is also value in focusing on Duckworth’s research as it stands on its own.  For one, Duckworth’s work provides us with a common vocabulary that we can use as we work collaboratively to reinforce many of the valuable things we already do to encourage students to persist in the face of challenges or possible failure- in the classroom, on the playing fields, and in other endeavors. This shared understanding can also help us to collectively evolve in ways that ensure our full program works to best support and promote the present, and future, success of our students.  Second, Duckworth’s research has initiated an opportunity for reflection and action around the content taught in our classrooms and our pedagogical approaches to working with young people inside and outside of the classroom.  How do we best “teach” these important, but often elusive, skills?  What are the possible intervention points, including curricular and programming adjustments, peer to peer engagement, new forms of mentorship, and collaborative partnership, that we might begin to develop, pilot, and implement going forward? How can we use such experiments to have a positive impact on our own students, while also engaging in broader conversations and collaborations that focus on the practice and teaching of these skills?

The articles, videos, and blog posts listed below provide a starting point as we begin to think more critically about grit and other related topics at Phillips Academy.  Please use the comments section to share additional resources and ideas.


In this interview with the American Psychological Association’s monthly magazine, Monitor on Psychology, MacArthur Fellowship grantee Angela Lee Duckworth talks about why success takes “grit,” and whether it’s possible to teach people to be “grittier.”

In an age of “viral videos” it seems as though just about everything is distilled down to the manageable nugget that we can (or will) watch on YouTube.  The folks at Let It Ripple have taken a shot doing so with regard to the latest research around character.  While the short video does not address grit until about the five-minute mark, one of the takeaways from the video is the acknowledgement among scientists that character strengths can be “learned, practiced, and cultivated.”

While researchers have determined the fundamental importance of grit and persistence for success both in the classroom and elsewhere, there is less certainty in how to best support the development and promotion of these characteristics.  As a challenge facing those engaged in this work, this fact also represents an opportunity for us, both within our own community and through external partnerships, to work toward the articulation and cultivation of best practices, curriculum, and programming that can support and serve young people both at PA and elsewhere.

Much of the early work in this area has focused on educating students about Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, which has been effectively summarized in Michael Graham Richard’s post: Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Which One Are You?

For another interesting take on this topic, see Po Bronson How Not to Talk to Your Kids The inverse power of praise New York Magazine.

Some have begun to consider how teachers can work toward more explicitly promoting and developing grit and persistence in their classroom.  The following links are three examples.  They aren’t perfect.  Most notably, some of the examples contradict research about motivation, and others are not designed at all for high school students, but they do serve as a place to start thinking and brainstorming.

True Grit: The Best Measure of Success & How to Teach It

5 Steps to Foster Grit in the Classroom

16 Ways To Promote “Grit” and Delayed Gratification In The Classroom

In addition to the individual resources listed above, Paul Tough’s New York Times Magazine article entitled, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?”  offers a more detailed and thorough introductory resource, albeit also more time consuming.


What articles, books, blogposts and resources on grit and persistence do you find most helpful and compelling? Please share your thoughts.

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