Summary: An interesting TED Talk on ‘The significance of Grit’ is the main focus of Professor Harden’s latest blog. Professor Harden also discusses a journal article on motivation and the tasks of the modern teacher. Description: An interesting TED Talk on ‘The significance of Grit’ is the main focus of Professor Harden’s latest blog. Professor Harden also discusses a journal article on motivation and the tasks of the modern teacher.

We are in the final stages of the preparations for AMEE 2014 in Milan.  At the same time we are looking ahead to AMEE 2015 in Glasgow.  The recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was seen as a great success and visitors enjoyed their time in Glasgow and commented on the friendliness of the people and the numerous attractions.  An outline programme for AMEE 2015 is already in preparation.  Trudie Roberts heard Angela Lee Duckworth, speaking at the America Educational Association meeting recently, on the subject of grit and suggested her as a speaker for Glasgow.  She gave an interesting TED talk on the subject and has an article in the September 2013 issue of Educational Leadership on ‘The significance of Grit.’  In the article she describes what her research has shown about the relationship between grit and achievement and she reflects on the importance of helping students develop grit and other non-cognitive traits.  The theme of the issue of Educational Leadership is resilience, a topic which has attracted much attention over the last year in education.  Duckworth describes how grit is related to resilience because part of what it means to be gritty is to be resilient in the face of failure of adversity.  But, she argues, that is not the only trait you need to be gritty.  The other aspect of grittiness is about having consistent interests – focussed passions over a long time.  As she explains this does not have anything to do with failure and adversity ‘it means that you choose to do a particular thing in life and choose to give up a lot of other things in order to do it.  And you stick with those interests and goals over the long term.’  Perhaps one surprising finding in research on the topic is that grit and talent either are not related at all or are actually inversely related.  If a student is talented and is trying to get an A grade, they may do their homework fairly quickly and once they have reached a certain level of proficiency they stop.  They may actually work less hard than the struggling student.  If a student is not just trying to reach a certain cut point but trying to maximise their achievements, then there is no limit or set threshold.  To illustrate the point she referred to a study of taxi drivers.  ‘When it is raining, everybody wants a taxi, and taxi drivers pick up a lot of fares.  So if you’re a taxi driver, the rational thing to do is work more hours on a rainy day than on a sunny day because you’re always busy so you’re making more money per hour.  But it turns out that on rainy days, taxi drivers work the fewest hours.  They seem to have some figure in their head – “OK, every day I need to make $1,000” – and after they reach that goal, they go home.  And on a rainy day, they get to that figure really quickly.’  

Motivation is a neglected area in medical education research.  In an article by Janssen and O’Brien which looked at motivation ‘Disentangling the Effects of Student Attitudes and Behaviours on Academic Performance’ (International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Volume 8, Number 2, Article 7) it is suggested that ‘motivation influences performance through its effect on self-regulatory behaviours and study strategies….self-regulated students engage in increased effort by completing supplemental problems, managing time effectively, and seeking help in solving problems.’

I have been interested in recent ALT list serv communications about a teacher’s workload and how digital technologies have assisted the teacher.  The point has been made, however, that the net effect of IT may have been to make teachers work longer and harder.  In the past word processing, desktop publishing and preparation of slides for lectures was the province of skilled support staff.  With advancing technology these have now, however, all come within the province of the teacher, with teachers being forced to take on tasks which not very long ago were done by clerical and other support workers.

I have the pleasure of having with me in Dundee this week my daughter and two granddaughters from Spain.  Among other things we spent some time at the weekend flying kites as shown in the photograph.