Researchers are beginning to investigate how a student’s mentality—particularly non-cognitive factors like “grit” and “hope”—are predictors of success in life.
Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor at University of Pennsylvania, was recently awarded a MacArthur Genius grant for her work clarifying the role that intellectual strengths and personality traits play in educational achievement. The two traits that Duckworth’s work examines are grit, the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals, and self-control, the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses. She has found that grit predicts success in acts that require perseverance, such as placing in a national spelling bee or graduating from a rough high school, better than standardized test scores. Similarly, self-control predicts report card grades and improvements over time better than measured intelligence.
Hope is another non-cognitive factor that is being used to predict academic outcomes. Gallup senior scientist Dr. Shane Lopezdefines hope as the ideas and energy one has for the future. Through analysis of over 50 studies on hope, Lopez quantified that all other conditions held equal, hope leads to a 12 percent bump in achievement and leads to higher rates of school attendance, earning course credits, and academic performance. To further this research, Gallup has initiated a Student Poll, which “will track for 10 years the hope, engagement, and wellbeing of public school students in grades 5 through 12 across the United States.”
Because research has shown that characteristics like grit and hope can be taught, an increasing number of public charter schools are using their freedom to incorporate character education into the classroom, a trend that is likely to boost academic achievement across the board. KIPP NYC schools, for example, are piloting a character education program that takes into accountseven highly predictive character strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. This program was designed to support KIPP’s goal of getting all students to and through college.
This research is still young and it will be exciting to watch what schools learn about teaching these traits and how they incorporate them into their instructional practices over time.
Nora Kern is the senior manager of research and analysis at the National Association of Public Charter Schools.