The Learning 2.0 School

Shifting Perceptions of Teaching and Learning in and out of the School Library

Character as a Predictor of Academic Success

Posted by Michelle Torrise on September 18, 2011

I came across the article “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” (Paul Tough, NYT, September 14, 2011) and was intrigued by the approach of two schools in integrating character education into their academic program.   As co-founder of A Better Community for Clissold, an parent group formed initially to raise awareness of bullying in one Chicago public elementary school, I’m very familiar with the concept of character education.   However, the approach two very different New York middle schools,  KIPP and Riverdale, was truly a comprehensive and integrated approach to educating the “whole child.”

David Levin and Dominic Randolph, principal and headmaster of KIPP and Riverdale, respectively, took character development to the next level by commiting to placing equal importance on students’ character development.    Both were influenced by the work of Angela Duckworth, Assoc. Professor at Penn State, whose published research [See >  Self-discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents, Duckworth & Seligman  (2005)]  showed that character is “at least” as important as grades in predicting long-term success. 

As I was reading through the study, I wondered if students with high self-discipline are also better critical thinkers and problem solvers–making this research even more important to educators who are seeking ways to improve the critical thinking skills of students.

At KIPP and Riverdale students receive (along with their regular report card grades) evaluative feedback scores on character traits based on a 12 point Grit Scale (Ex.1)–a research based tool developed by Duckworth that measures traits such as perseverance, passion and self-regulation. See > Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals, Duckworth & Peterson (2007).   What makes this so effective is that the Grit Scale is a part of students’ regular assessment.  Jessie Courburn (10th grade AP History teach), for example, incorporates attitude and professionalism in his student self-evaluations..  See > Socratic Seminar Self Evaluation.

At Westmont High School (WHS), I believe that we take the emotional well being of our students very seriously.  We employ a full time psychologist, we have a very dedicated and knowledgeable special education team, and we sponsor the always well attended Snowball Retreat, among many other activities that keep our students engaged in the school community.   WHS teachers are also very dedicated to the social and emotional needs of students–as affirmed by students participating in last year’s (2010-2011) senior focus groups, who stated across the board that one of the attributes of high quality teaching demonstrated at WHS was the dedication of WHS teachers in supporting the individual needs of students.

It is because of the school-wide dedication at WHS, that can’t help but wonderHow might our students benefit from an integrated approach to utilizing the Grit Scale (or something similar) in individual course curricula?

Other Essential Questions

How strong is the correlation between a student’s level of self-regulation and perseverance and their critical thinking and problems solving skills?
How can a focus on traits of self regulation and perseverance be built into projects that require a higher level of critical thinking and problem solving?

Exhibit 1Duckworth’s Grit Scale

Consistency of Interests:
I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one
New ideas and new projects sometimes distract me from previous ones
I become interested in new pursuits every few months
My interests change from year to year
I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest
I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete
Perseverance of Effort:
I have achieved a goal that took years of work
I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge
I finish whatever I begin
Setbacks don’t discourage me
I am a hard worker
I am diligent


One Response to “Character as a Predictor of Academic Success”

  1. This blog is a great way to reflect on contemporary issues in education and share resources with others. Thanks, Michelle! Character education is essential…but I struggle a bit with “manufactured” programs in which schools “teach” character is isolated snippets. While I think it is important to center on these issues, I think we have to find authentic strategies for addressing character development. To me, one of the best strategies is modeling and exposing students to situations that require positive character. I think field trips, service projects, restorative justice, and peer mentoring are positive ways to develop authentic character traits and a bit of resilience along the way. Let’s continue to look for ways to continue this discussion with our colleagues.

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