This year, I had high expectations for an article entitled “The Truth about Grit” by Jonah Lehrer. The author explained how researchers were working to define “grit” and to explain why it was valuable. One anecdote from the essay that I found interesting: Researchers isolated a large group of fifth-grade students and gave them an aptitude test. At its conclusion they split the group in two and to one group they praised the students specifically for their hard work, i.e. “Congratulations, you really worked hard on this test”. With the other sample set, they praised the students for their intelligence, “Congratulations, you are clearly very smart.” They then gave the same group a test which was much harder, designed for eighth-grade students – not fifth graders.
The sample set that was praised for their effort scored better than the sample set that was praised for their intelligence. The conclusion is easy to draw: If students feel good about the effort that they put in, they are more likely to continue to work hard. Young people who have been praised for their “grit” are less likely to give up quickly when the going gets tough. They realize that serious effort is both praiseworthy and a successful strategy.
I have discussed the “Grit” article with the members of the Middle School faculty. We are looking for even more opportunities to ensure that we talk about the value of effort with our students. As always, however, we need to hit young people with these ideas from all sides: it is a great topic for parents and guardians to address as well. Adults often strive to “make things look easy.” Perhaps sharing a few stories with your children about when your own success was due to a supreme effort and not an innate talent could go a long way.