True Grit Trumps Talent and IQ

EDUCATION

Here’s a story every parent (and educator) should read: Self-control and grit—not talent or IQ—may hold the keys to a better life. Pioneering research psychologist Angela Duckworth and her team devise strategies to help students learn how to work and adapt in the face of temptation, distraction, and defeat. (7,703 words) (National Geographic News)

Read our “real-world geography” profile of Angela Duckworth. Then take a quiz to see how much grit you have!

Teachers: Scroll all the way down for a short list of key resources in our “Teachers’ Toolkit.”

Research psychologists measure "grit" by observing how much time and effort students are willing to put forth to accomplish a goal. Grit and self-control "seem to determine the quality and quantity of effort students put forth," says Angela Duckworth. Photograph by Vikki Sloviter, courtesy KIPP Philadelphia Schools

This girl is a student at KIPP Philadelphia, a charter school network that has a research partnership with Dr. Angela Duckworth. “KIPP is now especially focused on seven highly predictive strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.” Photograph by Vikki Sloviter, courtesy KIPP Philadelphia Schools

Discussion Ideas

  • Read our profile of Angela Duckworth. She and other educational researchers think that “grit” contributes more to a student’s success than either intelligence or natural talent. (As the Nat Geo News article notes, she’s not the first person to think this. Thomas Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” A phrase associated with Winston Churchill—although he didn’t say it—is: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Duckworth herself quotes modern dance pioneer Martha Graham: “There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths.”) We here at Nat Geo define grit as “courageous and tough character.” What are other adjectives you associate with the quality of “grit”?
    • stick-to-itveness
    • determination
    • tenacity
    • hard-working
    • diligent
    • strength of character or personality
  • Besides grit, what is the other key characteristic educational researchers think is key to a student’s success?
    • Self-control. According to the Nat Geo News article, self-control is “the short-term ability to resist temptations.” Grit, on the other hand, is “what takes you the distance.”
  • In the Nat Geo News article, the sections “In the Trenches of Research” and “So Simple It’s Confusing” focus on Angela Duckworth’s research and study on the impact of grit. What factors can impair grit and self-control?
    • Stress is the major impediment to developing grit and self-control. Stress is defined as “negative life events beyond [your] control.” Stress may be emotional, such as family tragedies or unsafe living conditions. Stress can also be economic, such as an unstable housing situation. Stress can also be physical, such as living with a disease or major injury. Many students are put under stress by academic or social expectations.
  • How can educators encourage grit among their students?
    • Duckworth says educators and parents should try to “help students learn how to work hard and adapt in the face of temptation, distraction, and defeat.” She cites one recent study in her adopted hometown of Philadelphia, encouraging students of all ages to change one thing in their home or bedroom to make studying easier. Some simple strategies (from Philadelphia’s Coldwell Banker affiliates!) include:
      • having better light in the room
      • putting cell phones on a faraway shelf
      • choosing child-appropriate desks and chairs
      • eating healthfully by putting oatmeal or fruit out where you can see it first thing in the morning
  • The key takeaway from the Nat Geo News article is that people, especially students, “need to be taught to appreciate that they’re supposed to suffer when working hard on a challenge that exceeds their skill. They’re supposed to feel confused. Frustration is probably a sign that they’re on the right track and need to gut it out through the natural human aversion to mental effort and feeling overwhelmed so they can evolve.” Duckworth herself only majored in biology after failing her biology midterm. Can you think of other experts who have shown grit in achieving success?

Do you have grit? Take this quiz from Duckworth Labs to find out!

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

NG News (article): Grit Trumps Talent and IQ: A Story Every Parent (and Educator) Should Read

NG Education (article): Research Psychologist: Angela Duckworth

NG Education (article): Failure: The Key to Success

NG Education (video): Turning Failure into Nobel Gold

NG Newswatch (video): Explorers Share Tales of Epic Fails

Duckworth Labs (quiz): How much grit do you have?

3 responses to “True Grit Trumps Talent and IQ

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. I feel uncomfortable about an article headline proclaiming “Grit not Talent or IQ” features a young girl of color. The choice seems to amplify prejudices, as if to say, “you, reader, will accept this child as one without IQ.” Imagine this article with a well groomed white child in the photo?

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    • That’s a great point, Rachel, and one that we grappled with when the profile of Dr. Duckworth was published last year.

      The photo is of a student from KIPP Philadelphia, a charter school network that has a longstanding research partnership with Dr. Duckworth. (The “Grit” t-shirt hints at the relationship.) According to their website, “KIPP is now especially focused on seven highly predictive strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.” The caption to our photo has been updated to reflect that.

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