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Volume 29, Number 1
January/February 2013

“Grit” and the New Character Education

Researchers study how certain performance traits may help students learn


On a recent Monday, students in Jeff Thielman’s advisory at Cristo Rey Boston High School crowded into his crimson-walled office to take a test. These juniors, like their schoolmates, answered questions aimed not at measuring academic skills but at something that has captured educators’ attention lately: their grit.

The test—the 8-Item Grit Scale, developed by psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania—asks respondents how they approach goals and handle setbacks and yields a Grit Score (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 as “grittiest”). It aims to assess character traits like resilience, self-control, and persistence—traits that research shows may matter more to academic performance than native intelligence.

The word “grit” risks being overused, but the suggestion that how students approach learning may be as critical as what they learn is resonating with educators. Consider it a quest for the “new” character education. This is not to dismiss teachings about moral and community values, but to frame, name, and share qualities hidden in plain sight, so-called performance character traits.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J. Baehr. The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues and Virtue ­Epistomology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

G. Cohen et al. “Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap.” Science 324, no. 5925 (2009): 400–403.

A. L. Duckworth. “Short Grit Scale.”

A. L. Duckworth. “The Significance of Self-Control.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, no. 7 (2011): 2639–2640.

A. L. Duckworth. “True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught?” TEDxBlue video, Oct. 18, 2009.

Intellectual Virtues and Education Project

D. S. Yeager and G. M. Walton. “Social-Psychological Interventions in Education: They’re Not Magic.” Review of Educational Research 81, no. 2 (2011): 267–301.