Why We Care About Grit

At MMSF we are in the business of expanding our mentees' worldviews, pushing them to work hard and lean into challenge, and preparing them for the rigors of college life and beyond. Our Executive Board at Minds Matter San Francisco often delves into the literature around education policy and factors that contribute to narrowing the achievement gap between high income and low-income students. Recently, we read The Atlantic’s, “What Does It Mean to Have ‘Grit’ in the Classroom?”

Grit, growth mindset, and a love of learning are three values intrinsic to our students’ long-term success. However, many educators, community members and students themselves aren’t familiar with these significant concepts.


What is Grit? Grit can be defined as a noncognitive trait based on someone's ability to persevere despite the presence of many challenges and obstacles to achieve a given goal. We identify this as an important factor to focus on with our students because is the trait that tells you to keep chugging at something when everyone else has given up on you.


What is Growth Mindset? The belief that challenging concepts can be learned over time. This is important for our students at MMSF because success is often tied to perseverance and being in one’s ability to improve, deeply understand a subject, or preserve despite sporadic “failures.”


As the article notes:  

Rewarding a child for her smarts can sometimes result in a counterproductive attitude researchers refer to as a “fixed mindset.” Studies show that having a fixed mindset—believing that there’s such a thing as being “no good at math,” for example—can block students’ faith that they can learn. If a concept isn’t immediately understood, the student with a fixed mindset essentially resists applying the new efforts required to comprehend the material.
One such study measured the brain activity of learners with a fixed mindset versus those with its opposite: the “growth mindset”—the belief that challenging concepts can be learned over time. Participants wore an EEG cap so that researchers could study their brain activity when they were asked trivia questions. Both types of learners’ brains were equally active when they were told whether they gave the right or wrong answers. However, the researchers found that growth mindset learners displayed more brain activity when they were given the correct answer. The fixed mindset participants “tuned out,” as a Stanford University summary of the experiment puts it, when they were confronted with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

What does it mean to “love the art of learning”? Learning isn’t just about remembering information. It’s developing skills and methods so students can possess their own way to absorb and apply new concepts. The "art of learning" is like the technique and finesse a student uses when handling the challenges of receiving new, complex information. At MMSF, we don’t necessarily believe going to the “best” school is the end goal. We want our students to get accepted into competitive universities that are the right fit for them, their learning styles and life choices. When our students are self-aware in how they like to learn, they select environments where they can enjoy their academic and personal pursuits to build a fulfilling life. 

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