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Making Students Gritty

November 3, 2014

I am currently enrolled in a MOOC that examines designing and developing educational technologies. One of the topics in the course is helping students to develop non-cognitive skills that will help them succeed in school, specifically perseverance or, as it is sometimes called, “grit.” I hate to admit it, but I never took time to think about the development of non-cognitive skills that help students succeed. Maybe that’s because of the current focus on assessment and measuring skills and because everything I’ve ever learned about writing goals in education stresses writing goals that are specific and measurable; non-cognitive skills are often anything but specific and measurable. But this section of the course really got me thinking about how librarians can help to foster non-cognitive skills.
The following brief video clip was assigned as part of the lesson in the course, and in it Angela Duckworth discusses her theory of grit as a better predictor of success than IQ.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H14bBuluwB8

After watching the video, I got to thinking how we as librarians help encourage our students to become grittier. I realized that fostering grit is an inherent part of information literacy and of the research process, especially when students receive encouragement during this time.

Students, particularly first year students who have never been required to use scholarly resources, often approach the library research process with an air of confidence – they are master searchers because they have been Googling since grade school. But library searching can quickly shatter this confidence because it isn’t always easy to find the answers they are looking for on the first search try, and especially on the first page of search results. Rather than students thinking this lack of success is natural because library databases are more difficult to search than Google and scholarly resources on a topic aren’t always as easy to uncover as websites, students seem to think the fault is within them. How many times does a student say to us, “This might be a stupid question, but…” or “Everyone else can find information on their topic, but I can’t,” or something along those lines? These are the teachable moments where I, without realizing it, have invoked Dr. Dweck’s growth mindset that was referenced in the video. I have explained to students that databases are difficult to search and that these search tips are easily forgotten if you don’t use them every day, but the more and more you use them, the better you will get at searching and understanding how to search databases. We must all make sure that when we are teaching students either at the reference desk or in a session, we are letting them know that an inability to find what they need does not mean they are stupid and incapable; it just means they need some guidance but they will get it in time.

In addition to utilizing growth mindset during information literacy moments, the research process itself teaches students that it’s natural to have to search multiple times in multiple ways before finding an answer. They are taught that it’s natural to not be able to find what you are looking for on the first page of results. And they are taught that it’s okay to not know the best way to search right away but they can ask for help and learn better ways to search. Essentially this process teaches them to not expect to get it right the first time (even professionals don’t always get it right the first time), but to keep digging until you find what you need and to seek advice to learn how to improve if you aren’t finding what you’re looking for. This teaches students that they can find what they need; failure is a natural part of succeeding but in order to succeed they must keep trying.

Essentially in our quest to teach students specific, measurable goals, our role as educators who work within a system with ever shrinking budgets often causes us to overlook the importance of non-cognitive skills. Have you ever thought about non-cognitive skills and your role as a librarian? How do you think we can help make students grittier? Please share your thoughts on these questions and on this topic.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bonnie Oldham permalink
    November 4, 2014 9:48 pm

    Duckworth’s idea of grit (the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals) is new to me, but it makes a lot of sense. I went to The Duckworth Lab website
    https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/duckworth
    to learn more about her research. I took her survey and discovered that I was in in the 90th-99th percentile of other users who have taken this test, which actually did not surprise me. I never thought about it as “grit,” but I like to follow up on projectis and tie up all the loose ends There was also the option to continue the survey and add to her research.

    In my experience, this generation of students doesn’t have to work hard. There is a lot of instant gratification. So, when they do have to persevere (like when they are doing research in a library database) they either settle for the first thing that they find that is full-text or they give up and change their topic.

    I worked with a student at the Reference Desk today who had an interesting topic, but there wasn’t a lot of research on that topic. I actually said to him that research is hard work. Now that I am aware of this concept, I will make sure that I elucidate it with students both at the Reference Desk and when teaching Information Literacy.

    I also had never heard of Dr. Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset.” It seems like this would be something that students should be made aware of. I am ordering her book for the Library.

    I look forward to reading what others have to say about this topic!

  2. Christina Steffy permalink
    November 5, 2014 6:10 pm

    Bonnie, you’re right – this generation is used to instant gratification and when they don’t get that they get frustrated and may give up. Our culture of instant gratification making us less gritty is something that deserves attention because it has far-reaching implications. It’s interesting that in a world where we have access to so much information so quickly, we often see the reverse of grit. Rather than saying, “There are so many resources that I want to dig to find the answer,” we see students saying, “This is too much work, I’m giving up.”

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