Back to Back Issues Page
English Detective # 92 demonstrating persistence & grit 10-3-17
October 03, 2017

Have you ever wondered what qualities help some people keep working through difficulties? Why do they persist long after others have given up, hanging on until they finally reach their goals? I just found some very useful articles about persistence and grit, and how to help our children or students develop the attitudes that enable them to persistently keep trying until they succeed.

Smithsonian Magazine discusses research on how babies can learn persistence from watching adults keep trying to do something that takes considerable effort. Babies were able to generalize what they observed (take the idea of effort and apply it to a new situation.) So parents can encourage their children by demonstrating effort and persistence themselves, when they keep working at a problem rather than quickly giving up.

Edutopia has a list of resources related to grit (determination) and resilience (being able to recover from difficult experiences). These resources can help teachers work with their students to develop these and related qualities.

Edutopia also has a blog post with more ideas for helping students with these qualities. It has an excellent 6+ minute video of a teacher showing his students an example of persistence—a younger student who had been willing to revise his drawing of a butterfly repeatedly to bring it closer to what he had been asked to draw.

Grit has become such a popular idea among educators that I found several articles questioning the way it is being taught. The one I thought was most helpful discusses the limits of teaching grit from the perspective of Angela Duckworth, the psychologist most famous for popularizing the idea. (This article also links to her great TED talk, which is worth watching to understand the idea of grit better.}

Ms. Duckworth is concerned that schools could harm children by misusing the research or using grittiness to judge students or their teachers. (The Edutopia blog post also urges teachers not to base students’ grades on their efforts as they practice persistence.)


The ideas of grit and resilience include multiple meanings. The first meanings were physical. Later they were extended (at first as metaphors) to describe human characteristics. Since the definitions are multi-layered, I think it’s a good idea to consider them in more detail than I can give. gives a definition for the different meanings of grit here. Be sure to read through all the definitions—the one we’re talking about for grit is near the bottom. The page on resilience is here. There are some helpful sentences using each word in the right-hand column of each page.

A few more related words:

Effortlessly means easily; without effort.

Passion is a very strong feeling—in this case a love for something. If someone is passionate about chess (for example), they spend all the time they can playing chess and may be willing to go to great effort and expense to see a major chess tournament. Excellence in any subject, sport, or art requires passion because only a great love for something will push a person to persist in practicing until they become that skilled.

To persevere is to keep on following one’s purpose in spite of severe difficulties. (Ex: “Edison’s perseverance in finding a light bulb filament finally paid off.”)

Persistence is similar: continuing to do something time after time; not giving up. (The verb form is ‘to persist.’)

Tenacity is from the Latin root for holding on. It also means not giving up or letting go of an idea or goal.

A note if you get gmail: Have you missed any issues of English Detective? if you find English Detective in your Promotions box, you can move it to your Primary box (if you want) by clicking on it and dragging it there, then clicking Yes when asked if you want to always get it in the Primary box.

If you are not already getting English Detective, you can subscribe by completing the form here. (It's free!) Also, you can reach me by mail at 1752 Driftwood Drive, El Centro, CA 92243, USA.
Back to Back Issues Page