How “Gritty” Is Your Child?

When I mention the word ‘grit’, I don’t mean the dirt you may find beneath your fingernails. Rather, I am referring to the ability to be dedicated to a task over a very long time, pushing through even when things get hard.

In her TED talk, “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance,” Angela Duckworth, winner of the 2014 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, reminds us that intelligence, IQ and “natural talent” are not the most important factors in a student’s success. After leaving a prestigious and well paying job as a management consultant to become a maths teacher, she made some important discoveries. As a maths teacher at a New York public school, Duckworth noticed that her students’ IQs had very little correlation to their exam results and eventual success over the course of their education. Put simply, just being “smart” wasn’t enough to ensure success. Intrigued, Duckworth left teaching to pursue a career in Educational Psychology. In her research she studied military cadets, national spelling bee champions, salespeople, teachers and students, in order to find out what it was, if not IQ or natural talent, that determined success in these areas. The answer she came to was “grit.”

So what is Grit?

In Duckworth’s own words, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals.” Grit is the capacity to dedicate yourself to a task over a long period of time, rather than seeking immediate gratification. Grit, says Duckworth, is the ability to treat your goals like “a marathon, not a sprint.” A student with grit is less likely to be discouraged when they perform poorly on a test, or when faced with a difficult question. These students understand that challenges are part of the journey towards success. Students with grit are those who see difficulty as an opportunity to learn something new and to develop new skills.

Throughout her research, Duckworth found time and time again that “grit” played a more significant role than intelligence, family income and standardised test scores in determining a student’s ultimate ability to achieve their goals. Put simply, being “smart” wasn’t enough to ensure success; the missing link was grit.

How do we make our students gritty?

As Duckworth admits, there is no clear answer to the question. The closest thing to a solution, she argues, is Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck’s theory of “Growth Mindset.” For Dweck, who we spoke about in our recent blog article, grit is the ability to recognise that failure is not a permanent condition, and that our minds are capable of growth and development. Put simply, success is determined by a student’s ability to not say “I’m smart” or “I’m not smart” but “I have the ability to learn more.”

However, as Duckworth points out at the end of her talk, there is still a lot we don’t know about how to develop gritty learners. What is needed is more thought, more research, and more practice.

At Spectrum Tuition, we couldn’t agree more. We are always in the process of developing our approach to teaching, pioneering new techniques to ensure that our students have growth mindsets – to ensure, in Duckworth’s words, that they are “gritty” learners. Some of our approaches include:

1. Goal setting. We believe that the achievement of larger goals are made up of lots of smaller goals. By identifying and achieving a small goal each week, students will work steadily towards the achievement of their full potential. Furthermore, through our entrance exams, we can ensure that every student who joins us, regardless of their age, is placed in a class that will provide them with the right level of challenge.

2. Continuous feedback. Through measurable results obtained through weekly quizzes, students can better track their progress. This will provide more opportunities to learn from mistakes and grow. By also administering cumulative quizzes, we can help our students see how much their skills have built up over time.

3. Understand that mistakes actually help your brain grow. Psychologist Jason Moser found that when people make a mistake, the brain sparks and grows in the following ways:


  • During a time of struggle, the brain is being challenged and this challenge results in growth.
  • When there is an awareness that an error has been made, the brain considers this and steps are taken to correct this error. Thus, using the mistakes page and highlighting errors made following each week’s class will help your child take huge strides in their learning, promoting a positive mindset.

At Spectrum Tuition, we aim to ensure that all of our students, no matter what their natural talents are, are provided with challenges and scope for improvement. To make this possible, we only hire tutors who have grit as well. Our tutors are dedicated high performing university students who are also taught the latest teaching approaches to get the best outcomes for your child. These are individuals who have shown that they have the ability to dedicate themselves to a task and work until they achieve success. After all, you can’t expect to shape gritty students without gritty tutors. We believe every child has the potential to be an excellent student. All they need is a healthy dose of grit!

If you have any questions about the concept of grit, or if you would like to know more about how Spectrum Tuition can help your child develop successful learning practices, feel free to contact us anytime!


Mistakes grow your brain