Grit and Growth Mindset Training

In my previous article, I introduced Angela Duckworth’s TED speech, where she proposed the secret of successful students is Grit. The easiest way to determine whether a student has Grit or not, is to look into his/her homework. Amongst my students, the high performers generally exhibit consistency in the quality of their homework. They have their own standard of excellence when it comes to tests or homework, and they always try their hardest to meet that standard. The amount of the homework doesn’t matter to them; whether it takes 15 minutes or 2 hours, they do their best. Even when the assignment is too difficult for them to finish, I can still see, they struggle and try very hard to approach the problem from various angles. So, instead of simply counting how many questions that they correctly answered in their homework, I holistically look at the difficulty and the quantity of the homework and see how much time and effort they spent to finish it


I had a student named Terry, and he was one of the most brilliant students and yet one of the laziest. The quality of his homework was very inconsistent; one day, he would bring me a flawlessly completed assignment, and another day, he would jot down random answers that didn’t even make sense. I knew that he was a brilliant kid because when he focused, he was able to solve a difficult problem better than other students. Despite his brightness, Terry often displayed a tendency to easily give up solving challenging problems or not investing enough effort on his work, which made me concerned for his long-term academic career. While he seemed excessively proud of himself when he felt he did better than other students, he also got easily discouraged when he encountered challenging problems. (In fact, a lot of students are like Terry)


Terry didn’t seem to feel the need to diligently finish his homework, because he knew he wouldn’t fall behind in class even if he didn’t do his homework. Students often complacently think that they don’t need to do their homework as long as their test scores are acceptable (relative to their own standard, of course), but this is a big miscalculation. Students who strive to independently solve challenging problems before class can experience different levels of understanding during the class. If they have rigorously tried various approaches to solve a problem from one method to another and find on their own what works and what doesn’t, why or why not, this helps them have a much deeper understanding of the problem, enabling ‘three-dimensional’ learning. Furthermore, such learning habits will continue to accumulate, and will be displayed in their GPA as the students advance in their grades. If your child’s GPA was good until middle school, but suddenly dropped in high school, you may want to look into his/her foundation of learning habits, such as how deeply he/she’s been studying and how much effort he/she’s spent solving problems. Maybe, the GPA difference that started during your child’s high school years was an expected result from the difference in his/her grit.


As Angela mentioned in her lecture, the growth mindset is important to develop grit. Since students with the growth mindset don’t easily get discouraged, they tend to exponentially improve as they advance in their grades. This is why I pay extra attention to those students. Even though they might not have the highest GPA in their class right now, they have the highest potential to do so later. Students with or without the growth mindset can clearly be identified during class. When I teach the students with growth mindset, I am often amazed by the bright spirit and energy they bring to my class. When those students come across a difficult problem and fail to answer it correctly, rather than being discouraged from their failure, they ask me, “how do I solve this problem?” In other words, they have a large amount of interest in solving the problem, and they do not think that their inability to solve the problem was because they weren’t smart enough, or because they weren’t good enough. Sometimes, they even become more interested as a problem gets harder. Now, students like these are rare. And because they’re rare, they’re more noticeable.


Students without the Growth Mindset, on the other hand, have the tendency to only care about whether they were right or wrong. While they feel painfully ashamed about the fact that their answer is wrong, they have little to no interest in how to solve the problem correctly..  Sometimes, I even wonder why they’re so discouraged to that extent. I feel sorry when I see those students. Of course, I was also once a student who felt discouraged by my inability to solve a problem. However in my hindsight, after finishing a doctorate and being in the field of teaching students, it was utterly unnecessary. They’re going through a period of learning and it is not an ultimate judgement day of their lives. Instead of being obsessed with their failure, they should instead ask “why and ‘”how” and this will help overcome many more obstacles to come in their future. Thus, I try my best to help develop the growth mindset in my students when I lecture. Although it is important to improve their knowledge on a subject, in the long run, it is more important to develop the growth mindset in them. Students with the growth mindset will naturally fortify their grit as well.


If grit is one of the common factors of the successful people, you as a parent, would probably want to develop grit in your child. If you don’t know where to start, start with checking their homework. Does your child consistently put effort and finish his/her daily tasks? If your child doesn’t have such a standard yet, you can help them practice it. If the parents emphasize the work ethic on homework, the child will naturally accept that standard and start to give more effort. You don’t have to scold them or be frustrated when you don’t see immediate results because such training is a new challenge to the child. Instead, you should positively encourage them to finish their assignments and continually check on their progress. Doing so will be a good first step in building your child’s growth mindset.



Secret of Successful Students: Grit

What are the secrets of so-called high performing students? There is a lecture I want to introduce that has an answer to this question. This lecture also gives a good idea of what I learned to value from my own teaching experience. 


Angela Lee Duckworth, who had left her management consulting job to become a 7th grade math teacher, wondered about the common characteristics of students with high academic achievement. To find the answer, she entered graduate school and started her research on the subject. Based on the results, she presents one common feature of successful people, Grit.


“I was firmly convinced that every one of my students could learn the material if they worked hard and long enough.”

Angela briefly describes the characteristics of successful students as above. Although this part passes by very quickly in the speech, I believe this summarizes the essence of grit very well. Any student can learn and master the curriculum if they work hard and long enough. Simply put, you do it till you make it.



Of course, it is easier said than done. In reality, it is actually quite difficult to keep your hard work going for years to achieve a long-term goal. People naturally feel discouraged and often give up when faced with failure. For this reason, there is a lot of interest in how to grow resilience and grit so that we can keep ourselves spirited. One of the theories is ‘Growth Mindset’ researched by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University. This theory states that one’s brain can grow and improve as it goes through various challenges. In other words, an individual’s learning capability is not innately fixed, but rather has the potential to grow as it gets exposed to many different challenges. Therefore, students, who have learned their brain capacity could expand, can accept more difficult challenges and do not easily get discouraged when encountered with failure. They believe their failure is not an invariable permanent state, but rather a chance to grow themselves.


I will discuss more about my own experience with my students regarding growth mindset and grit in another article. Until then, however, let me end this article by summarizing what I strongly believe through my teaching experience that is well-aligned with this TED speech.

Great students are great because they try until they’re great. If they’re smart, the process can be easier. If they’re not, it can be a bit harder. The most important thing is, you do it till you make it. 

In short, it’s not over until it’s over.  Never give up.



Watch Angela Duckworth's TED Talks: <Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance>



What is the Best Study Environment for My Child?

What would be the best environment for my child to truly enjoy studying? If you carefully examine your child’s temperament and provide a study environment that fits, they can achieve their fullest potential.


Noah was a smart outgoing kid, but difficult to teach. The kid was a fifth grader that I was privately tutoring and it seemed like he wasn’t born to study. During our sessions, he was always fidgeting, and couldn’t concentrate for more than a minute.
“Teacher, did you watch this movie? I watched it last week, and the character was amazing! He was like...”
Whenever Noah started chatting that could possibly go on and on, I tried to find a moment where I could intervene and lead the conversation back to the lesson. It felt like I was intellectually battling the little kid and it was exhausting.

Meanwhile, I had another fifth-grade student named, Jacob. Although he was very introverted and didn’t talk much, he showed strong concentration and could absorb everything he learned like a sponge. Having a strong desire to learn and independently solve problems by himself, Jacob seemed optimized for studying.


One day, Noah and Jacob’s moms wanted their children to start taking my lessons together. (Both moms knew each other.) While I was picturing various possible scenarios that could happen, such as Noah feeling dispirited due to Jacob’s superior ability to learn and lose his already minimal interest in studying, or the possible difficulty in running my lessons due to the big gap in their learning levels, I was also hoping Jacob could be a great example for Noah, and motivate him to study.

On the first day of tutoring them together, however, I could not believe what was happening before my eyes. Jacob, who once was an excellent student, lost all of his great attitude in learning. It was frustrating but also very interesting to witness his abrupt change. How can a student lose all of his ability to learn, just because a new friend is taking the lesson with him? By taking the lesson with Noah, all of Jacob’s attention was drawn to Noah, and not to my lesson.
Jacob was very sensitive by nature. When he was placed in the environment where he had to study with the friend, every remark and every movement that Noah made took away Jacob’s attention. The same Jacob that was so bright in my tutoring sessions, was now so focused on his friend that he couldn’t even realize I was calling his name.

On the other hand, Noah all of a sudden was so focused on the lesson with his eyes shining brightly. If I asked them a question, he would fully engage his brain to solve the question. Noah was very competitive by nature, and being in an environment where he was studying with a friend, naturally made him concentrate better on the lesson. My previous concern that Noah may be dispirited due to the gap in their studying levels was proven wrong, and Noah literally took over the session. There were still times that Noah couldn’t focus on the class. However, one thing was undeniable: Noah was showing drastic improvement! The new environment that made him study with a friend fit with Noah’s temperament, and drew out his maximum potential.


As a long-term goal, I wanted Jacob to learn how to retain his concentration whether his friend was there or not. Since Noah wasn’t intentionally disturbing Jacob, it was up to Jacob to hold down his center and keep his pace. However, Jacob showed little improvement so after a consultation with both of their moms, I decided to run Jacob and Noah’s tutoring sessions separately. Luckily, Jacob’s attitude and the ability to learn came right back once he started to study by himself. Jacob returned to being the bright student he was before. He also caught up with the materials he had missed out on, like the whole thing never happened. Jacob was just fit to study better alone.

As for Noah, after realizing it is more beneficial to study with friends, he started taking lessons in groups with friends who had similar temperaments. The most surprising change was that Noah, who used to disdain studying, became so mature and smarter, that he became an honor student. His new friends who were taking my lessons with Noah, were also the type that could learn better in a group. During lessons, they were mutually benefiting each other by solving problems together, teaching each other, and sometimes competing among themselves. After all, they had all found the ideal environment to study.


What kind of a student is my child? Can they concentrate better in a group? Are they more comfortable studying alone? Do they enjoy team projects? Regardless of their temperament, one thing they may want to eventually learn is the ability to keep their pace no matter the environment. Ideally, it would be best to rotate between solo and group study, so that they don’t fall into the trap of complacency. However, putting this long-term goal aside, if you as a parent can provide the best environment that fits your child’s temperament earlier in their educational career, your child will likely enjoy studying better.

Every child has a different temperament. What kind of a study environment should I provide to my child? This is the question that parents and teachers may want to ask themselves.