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Highlights Of A Reddit Chat With Angela Duckworth & Roland Fryer

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Reddit hosted a chat this week with MacArthur genius awardees Angela Duckworth & Roland Fryer.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m no fan of Fryer’s work, and nothing he said in the chat made me elevate that opinion.

Angela Duckworth, though, is a different story, and I’ve been very impressed with her research on grit (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Importance Of “Grit”). And I think she share some important and useful info on Reddit.

I think the most important piece of research she shared, though she made it clear that it’s not solid and it’s an “informal” finding, was this:

I do think there are things we can do to improve grit and self-control. Most of my ideas (things I think) haven’t been tested, but in this informal setting, I will say that I think (but don’t know yet for sure) that just being around a lot of people of exemplify these qualities should help.

Even though, to a certain extent, this is common sense, this particular comment is going to be very helpful to me. Coincidentally, I’m doing my lesson on grit right now in class, and being able to share this quote (students have been reading about her research and watching her videos) can, I think, apply a little peer pressure — “if I show grit, then I’m helping my classmates and, if don’t show it, I’m hurting them.”

Here are some other things she shared that she believes could help people develop grit:

Another idea with some empirical evidence behind it is that certain beliefs should help with both self-control. Believing that self-control is a limited resource and should therefore be conserved tends not to encourage people to use self-control. Believing that self-control doesn’t run out after use has the opposite (and in this case, a positive, adaptive) effect. Our lab thinks that believing that effort and practice play a huge, not minor, role in success encourages grit. Also, believing that failure is part of learning and part of life should encourage grit. We are working on strategies and beliefs now…

I’m not convinced about her perspective on self-control — believing that it’s a limited resource doesn’t mean it has to be conserved. It means that you have to be strategic to make sure it gets replenished (see The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control). I don’t believe most research supports Prof. Duckworth’s position on self-control (which she shares with another person whom I admire, Carol Dweck) and have written about it specifically at Our Students Are Not Supermen & Superwomen.

I was struck by her response to a question that, though not specifically, seemed to be touching on the 10,000 hour rule:

My view is that achievement = talent x effort. In particular, I think some people learn/improve faster than others, and we can call that talent. And some people work longer and harder than others, and we can call that effort. The real superstars, the outliers, are almost without exception high in talent and effort.

She also referred to a good “This I Believe” piece by Martha Graham.

Finally, there was this interchange:

Angela, You’re at UPenn, in Philadelphia, where it seems like schools are closing left and right and the whole system is in extreme turmoil. How can low-income kids be expected to show continued grit and fortitude in those kinds of settings, in the face of closings, mergers and such instability?

(Angela Duckworth) You bring up an important point. The situations in which people find themselves has a huge effect on outcomes. And, I don’t want attention to grit and other aspects of character to imply that we don’t need to work on improving the situations of kids – their neighborhoods, schools, opportunities, etc. But, it’s also true, that for kids in the schools (and by the way, my two kids are in the Philadelphia schools as of this year, since we moved from the ‘burbs), they have little choice other than to ask “How can I, without changing the whole system” do as well as I can? What can I do?” In other words, kids are not to blame for their situations, and situations are important, but kids also need to develop a sense of responsibility and agency about their lives. The road may be bumpy, and that’s not necessarily their fault, but they need to think of themselves as in the driver’s seat, not the passenger seat.

I do wish she had made a stronger point about how grit and SEL not being enough, especially since “school reformers” are using her research as part of the “No Excuses” mantra.

At the same time, I do agree that helping our students develop grit is one thing we can do in dealing with the world “as it is” instead of just operating in the world “as we’d like it to be.”

If you get a chance, read the Reddit transcript and let me know your thoughts on what you see.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. I have been really blown away by the common sense brilliance of Duckworth’s work ever since I found about it. I don’t like the debates on the percentages of value that grit, etc. have in Ss learning because sticking with something will always put someone in a better place than giving up easily. Period. I’ve looked at the “formula” for success a bit differently than she does, though. If students were left on their own to learn (virtual classes?) or had fairly benign teachers, i’d see it as this:

    Achievement = prior experience x effort x time on task

    One of the many reasons why I’ve always followed your writing(s), is that you and I – and many others, I hope – believe that teachers can have a grand effect on pushing any and all of these three factors. 1) Can we help them contextualize our course content and familiarize Ss with any esoteric background information (think ELL, especially)? 2) Can we support them with great scaffolding and tools and be Ss cheerleaders when necessary so that they’re motivated to work hard (This is what you write about regarding helping them become motivated instead of trying to motivate them)? 3) Can we be flexible enough to match the time Ss are given for learning with their needs?

    It’s empowering to look at our potential to help students manifest their potential.

  2. A good discussion from a different perspective at http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/the-poverty-trap-slack-not-grit-creates-achievment/ (along with some debate in the comments)

    I do have concerns about the focus on “grit” in poor schools especially. Ms Duckworth seems a bit to nonchalant about kids in poverty, especially with her aside that her kids now go to Philly schools too, as if her kids are in poverty.

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