‘Tenacious’ students: can willpower be trained?


A new ghost haunts the school, the ghost of tenacity, known in research as grit , its equivalent in English.

The factors that determine the scholastic performance of the students are known for a long time by the experts in Educational Psychology. Some are of a personal nature, such as aptitudes and attitudes, others of a contextual nature, such as socioeconomic and cultural level, and the third come from the educational center, such as teachers or the work environment. All of this was quite clear and experts exhaustively investigate the weight of each of these agents.

But suddenly a new actor has burst onto the scene: tenacity, he screamed . Surely most readers have never heard this word, which we will explain.

Perseverance and concentration

In the academic and work context , grit can be translated into Spanish as determination, tenacity or firmness of character and those who possess it to a high degree can be called grittiers . It is passion and perseverance for long-term goals and involves maintaining effort and interest over time, without losing focus on the proposed goal, despite adversity and stumbling blocks along the way.

It therefore has a lot to do with academic resilience . The grittiers consider progress as a marathon and its main advantage is resistance.

Combination of effort and interest

The grit is not just effort or just interest, it is a combination of both that allows students to achieve academic success. There are many who are passionate about the piano but give up easily every time they try to learn to play it, they have no grittier wood .

The grittiers stand out as a taste for study and consistency in school interests. In addition, they strive to achieve good results, attending in class, persisting to finish the tasks and trying to keep the notebooks clean and tidy.

Different questionnaires and measurement instruments have been developed to evaluate the students’ cry . Our own research group has recently published one .

The toll of adolescence

A temporal follow-up of the students shows that the level of grit changes as they age. Thus, according to recent work by our research group, it goes from 63% of grittier students in the primary stage to only 16% in the secondary stage: it is the toll of adolescence.

Unsurprisingly, those students who manage to maintain their passion and perseverance for academics in high school do the best in school.

It can improve?

The good news is that the level of tenacity of students can be improved, as with other soft skills (such as social skills or emotional intelligence). Programs that promote tenacity have begun to be implemented in schools .

One of the interventions that has been shown to improve it is aimed at fostering a growth mentality : it consists in making students aware of their ability to modify their personal skills, banish fatalism, that is, they think that with effort and perseverance they can achieve achieve long-term goals, believe in your possibilities.

To achieve this, it is key to teach students the management of challenges : that they see them as situations that can be assumed and overcome with time and effort. For example, when faced with a failure in an exam, the student may make external attributions, such as thinking that this subject is not his or that the teacher has a mania for him. However, if we can get him to recognize that he simply needs more effort on his part, we will increase the likelihood that he will take control of his behavior. That way, you’ll start to see the fruits of your effort, sparking interest when things get better.

It is not the idea that with effort you always get there, but it is the idea that without effort you never get there. Effort and perseverance are the fuel that fuels talent.

New wineskin for old wine?

Surely the reader is thinking that this tenacity is nothing more than the force of will and character of a lifetime and is not alone in that thought. Many experts consider that it is nothing new, mere classic knowledge with updated packaging, old wine in a new wineskin , something similar to what already happened in its day with other concepts such as emotional intelligence.

The ability of grit to predict academic performance is highly controversial, with disparate results to date , but that is another question that I would give for another article; for now the new actor is presented on the school scene, that was the idea.

Author Bios: Álvaro Postigo Gutiérrez is a Predoctoral Researcher, Eduardo Garcia Cueto is a Professor of Psychometry, Marcelino Cuesta Izquierdo is a Professor of Psychometry, Ruben Fernandez-Alonso is Professor of the Department of Educational Sciences all at the University of Oviedo and Jose Muñiz is a Professor of Psychometry and Rector at Nebrija University