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by David Dockterman, Ed.D., & Lisa S. Blackwell, Ph.D.
With all the media excitement about grit and "non-cognitive" skills, educators might conclude that to ensure students' success we just need to get them to resist eating marshmallows, as documented in the well-known experiment that revealed that children who managed to refrain from eating a marshmallow while the experimenter stepped out of the room had greater academic and life success (Mischel et al., 2011).
The ability to self-regulate and persist in the face of challenge is indeed a critical factor in student academic and life performance. However, teaching "gritty" behaviors directly may not be successful if students don't have the mindset, strategies, and supports they need to motivate and sustain their growth (Farrington et al., 2012). Core beliefs, content-specific skills, and classroom culture are also essential to success.
If students are struggling, we want them to remain motivated, try harder, and stick with it. But what about the saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result"? If a student has tried to learn something, didn't succeed, tried the same thing again and again, and never felt progress, is he likely to think that trying yet again will yield results? And is that motivating or demotivating?