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TED Talks Education

Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

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Leaving a high-flying job in consulting, Angela Lee Duckworth took a job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn't the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. Here, she explains her theory of "grit" as a predictor of success.

- Psychologist
At the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Lee Duckworth studies intangible concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict both academic and professional success. Full bio

When I was 27 years old,
00:12
I left a very demanding job in management consulting
00:14
for a job that was even more demanding: teaching.
00:18
I went to teach seventh graders math
00:22
in the New York City public schools.
00:25
And like any teacher, I made quizzes and tests.
00:27
I gave out homework assignments.
00:31
When the work came back, I calculated grades.
00:32
What struck me was that I.Q. was not the only difference
00:36
between my best and my worst students.
00:41
Some of my strongest performers
00:44
did not have stratospheric I.Q. scores.
00:47
Some of my smartest kids weren't doing so well.
00:49
And that got me thinking.
00:54
The kinds of things you need to learn in seventh grade math,
00:56
sure, they're hard: ratios, decimals,
00:59
the area of a parallelogram.
01:02
But these concepts are not impossible,
01:04
and I was firmly convinced that every one of my students
01:07
could learn the material
01:11
if they worked hard and long enough.
01:13
After several more years of teaching,
01:16
I came to the conclusion that what we need in education
01:19
is a much better understanding of students and learning
01:22
from a motivational perspective,
01:26
from a psychological perspective.
01:28
In education, the one thing we know how to measure best
01:31
is I.Q., but what if doing well in school and in life
01:36
depends on much more
01:42
than your ability to learn quickly and easily?
01:44
So I left the classroom,
01:48
and I went to graduate school to become a psychologist.
01:50
I started studying kids and adults
01:53
in all kinds of super challenging settings,
01:55
and in every study my question was,
01:58
who is successful here and why?
02:01
My research team and I went to West Point Military Academy.
02:04
We tried to predict which cadets
02:08
would stay in military training and which would drop out.
02:10
We went to the National Spelling Bee
02:14
and tried to predict which children would advance
02:16
farthest in competition.
02:19
We studied rookie teachers
02:21
working in really tough neighborhoods, asking
02:23
which teachers are still going to be here in teaching
02:26
by the end of the school year,
02:29
and of those, who will be the most effective
02:31
at improving learning outcomes for their students?
02:34
We partnered with private companies, asking,
02:37
which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs?
02:39
And who's going to earn the most money?
02:42
In all those very different contexts,
02:44
one characteristic emerged
02:47
as a significant predictor of success.
02:49
And it wasn't social intelligence.
02:52
It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't I.Q.
02:54
It was grit.
02:59
Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.
03:01
Grit is having stamina.
03:06
Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out,
03:09
not just for the week, not just for the month,
03:13
but for years, and working really hard
03:16
to make that future a reality.
03:20
Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.
03:22
A few years ago, I started studying grit
03:27
in the Chicago public schools.
03:30
I asked thousands of high school juniors
03:32
to take grit questionnaires,
03:35
and then waited around more than a year
03:37
to see who would graduate.
03:39
Turns out that grittier kids
03:41
were significantly more likely to graduate,
03:43
even when I matched them on every characteristic I could measure,
03:46
things like family income,
03:50
standardized achievement test scores,
03:52
even how safe kids felt when they were at school.
03:55
So it's not just at West Point or the National Spelling Bee
03:59
that grit matters. It's also in school,
04:02
especially for kids at risk for dropping out.
04:05
To me, the most shocking thing about grit
04:09
is how little we know,
04:11
how little science knows, about building it.
04:14
Every day, parents and teachers ask me,
04:16
"How do I build grit in kids?
04:19
What do I do to teach kids a solid work ethic?
04:21
How do I keep them motivated for the long run?"
04:24
The honest answer is, I don't know. (Laughter)
04:27
What I do know is that talent doesn't make you gritty.
04:32
Our data show very clearly
04:35
that there are many talented individuals
04:37
who simply do not follow through on their commitments.
04:39
In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated
04:43
or even inversely related to measures of talent.
04:47
So far, the best idea I've heard about building grit in kids
04:52
is something called "growth mindset."
04:56
This is an idea developed at Stanford University
04:59
by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief
05:01
that the ability to learn is not fixed,
05:04
that it can change with your effort.
05:08
Dr. Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn
05:11
about the brain and how it changes and grows
05:14
in response to challenge,
05:17
they're much more likely to persevere when they fail,
05:19
because they don't believe that failure
05:23
is a permanent condition.
05:26
So growth mindset is a great idea for building grit.
05:28
But we need more.
05:32
And that's where I'm going to end my remarks,
05:34
because that's where we are.
05:36
That's the work that stands before us.
05:37
We need to take our best ideas, our strongest intuitions,
05:40
and we need to test them.
05:44
We need to measure whether we've been successful,
05:46
and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong,
05:49
to start over again with lessons learned.
05:52
In other words, we need to be gritty
05:55
about getting our kids grittier.
05:59
Thank you.
06:02
(Applause)
06:03
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the speaker:

Angela Lee Duckworth - Psychologist
At the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Lee Duckworth studies intangible concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict both academic and professional success.

Why you should listen

In her late 20s, Angela Lee Duckworth left a demanding job as a management consultant at McKinsey to teach math in public schools in San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York.

After five years of teaching seventh graders, she went back to grad school to complete her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is now an assistant professor in the psychology department. Her research subjects include students, West Point cadets, and corporate salespeople, all of whom she studies to determine how "grit" is a better indicator of success than factors such as IQ or family income.

More profile about the speaker
Angela Lee Duckworth | Speaker | TED.com