Monday, September 19, 2011

True Grit

My comment over at Max Bean's:

I think you're giving "grit" too much credit. It isn't clear that it is recognized by more than one psychologist, singular. Nor is it actually one of Seligman’s traditional character strengths. Nor is there any evidence that KIPP is really measuring it in any meaningful way other than simply sticking a number on kids. Nor, for that matter, is the basic finding very surprising -- people that self-report to be focused, ambitious, and persistent are apparently better at sticking with tasks requiring focus, ambition and persistence.


Max Bean said...

My Reply:

I’m not deeply steeped in the field of positive psychology, so I can’t speak to the prominence of grit in that literature. The word itself may be a red herring, since you could call the attribute(s) that I’m talking about resilience or optimism or some combination of these. What interests me is that there’s an ingredient of success—an ingredient of which I’m well aware, I’ve had to cope with the lack of it—that middle-class parenting techniques directly prevent students from developing; and this quality, this grit or resilience or whatever you want to call it, is extremely important in an inner-city teacher.

My evidence is anecdotal, of course. Duckworth’s is research based, and I think her finding is more impressive than your depiction: according to her research, the quality of being focused, ambitious, and persistent (by self-report) is a better predictor or your GPA and your likelihood to finish a difficult training program than is your IQ or your high-school grades. If that seems obvious, it’s because you’ve already intuited what Duckworth was trying to prove. That’s fine, and intuition tends to operate well in advance of social science research, but the ultimate point that Duckworth’s trying to make is important and not so obvious to most people: in many academic situations, your knowledge and your intelligence matter less than your attitude.

Tom Hoffman said...

I'd say the objective conditions of the job are more of a problem than the way teachers have been raised. That and middle/upper class teachers having options. Maybe grit in teachers just causes them to stay in lousy, oppressive jobs.

Also, in Tough's article at least it doesn't say your grit score is a better predictor of college GPA than high school GPA. One would assume they are more or less equally influenced by grit. And in fact, my understanding is that high school GPA is the best overall predictor of college GPA, so it all fits.

Articles like Tough's should come with a pre-test.

Max Bean said...

My wording was imprecise and inaccurate. Apologies. I should have said, according to Duckworth's research...

1. self-control is a better predictor of your GPA than is IQ. (It is unspecified whether that's college or HS GPA & what measures of self-control are used)
2. grit score is a better predictor of college GPA than are college board scores
3. grit score is a better predictor of ability to complete a difficult training program than is the combined predictive power of IQ and high-school grades.

On the other point, I'm sure there are awful jobs in the teaching profession that no one should have to put up with, but there's a difference between recognizing what's wrong with a set of working conditions and failing to cope with those conditions. I'm talking about what makes teachers able to bounce back and continue to function, something that some new teachers are able to do, despite the challenges. That doesn't mean they'll stay in the profession; it just means they'll be effective while they're in it.

I'm not arguing that these personality attributes are the most important thing about a teacher, student, or any other kind of person, just that they're important ones. Do you really think their importance is negligible?

You write, "Articles like toughs should come with a pretest." Are you suggested I lack the requisite background knowledge to properly understand the article?

Tom Hoffman said...

To start with the pretest comment, what I mean is that Tough has a certain way of making things seem more surprising and unintuitive than they may really be. So for example a pre-test question might be:

Among students admitted to a four-year college (and thus meeting its minimum academic requirements) which do you think would be a better predictor of on-time graduation, ambition and persistence, or intelligence? A self-reported measure of ambition, persistence and focus on long-term goals, or IQ?

Put another way, how many people do you know who dropped out of college because of a lack of native intelligence compared to being unfocused, lazy or discouraged?

Regarding grit and teaching, I'd say a couple things. I bet being a first year teacher in Finland doesn't take the same kind of grit that teaching in a high-poverty US school does. That is, extraordinary isn't inherent to the profession, but perhaps to our current construction of it, which is a serious problem. Focusing on just getting the "right" applicants is a cop-out if you want a systemic solution.

My understanding of grit also is that focus and persistence is essential to that quality, so being good at teaching for a couple years then leaving does not make you gritty.

If teachers from less privileged backgrounds are grittier, then why hasn't the DCPS (for example) traditionally been full of great, gritty high-performing veteran teachers? Why have they been bringing in a bunch of privileged, inexperienced white people?