On Grit

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Part of my work as Associate Dean for the college involves overseeing Student Academic Services, our advising office.  I meet regularly with Laura Mooney, the Director, to discuss issues and plan new initiatives.  Lately, we’ve been thinking about grit. Grit is an emerging approach to predicting and promoting student retention and success, and given that retention is a key metric in our state’s performance funding model, we’re very interested in exploring strategies that help our students stay in school and succeed.


“Grit” is defined in this context as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.”  Essentially, it’s a stick-to-it-ness that enables some students to push through challenges towards success. On the advising side, Laura is training her team to identify and recognize grit in students while also encourage that quality in her advising team, but I have started wondering how this same concept might be applied to the writing classroom.


Certainly, in my experience, grit is needed.  Across my teaching career I’ve found that the primary reason I fail students is because they stop showing up to class.  The challenge has always been figuring out what to do about that since reaching them after they have disappeared is a challenge in itself (they don’t tend to be super responsive to emails once they’ve made the decision to disappear).  I can’t say if students leave my classroom because the work is too challenging or too boring or if there are simply serious life issues that prevent them from achieving academic success.  But perhaps if I can find ways to promote grit from day one I might prevent some of these problems before they start.


I imagine I would start by discussing the concept from the first day and I might even try a grit assessment.  Then I would help them situate the work of the first year writing class in the context of goals that matter to them, helping them understand how success in the class will help them move towards their goals.  I might try early interventions the moment I see someone discouraged, interventions designed to promote greater tenacity.  And I would acknowledge and reward perseverance in the course. There are some additional recommendations in a draft report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.


Have any of you tried tracking and nurturing grit in your classes? I’d be curious to hear what’s worked and what hasn’t.

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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.