Tag Archives: Grit

Can We Learn to Learn Better? An Interview with Author Ulrich Boser

Not only does Ulrich Boser hold down a steady job as an education policy wonk at the Center for American Progress, he also somehow has time to write books. They’re not wonky policy books, either; they’re about interesting topics like art heists and the science of trust. In his most recent book, Learn Better, Boser tackles the science of learning.

It’s a fascinating book, and Boser does an expert job of weaving together complex science with compelling stories about people learning all sorts of skills, including darts, foreign languages, math, medicine, and Scrabble. At one point, Boser turns his critical eye inward and writes about his experience of hiring his own personal basketball coach while in his mid-forties.

I spoke with Boser about the book, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

CHAD ALDEMAN: Learn Better talks a lot about the value of practice, and you give a number of lively examples of both “good” and “bad” forms of practice. Based on your research, what would you say are the key elements of good practice?

ULRICH BOSER: The key element is making it difficult, not making it enjoyable. A lot of times we practice things without really getting better. For example, I drive a lot and have been driving a car since I was 18, but I haven’t gotten better at driving because I don’t really engage in it in a deliberate way, I don’t make it harder for myself, I don’t focus, I don’t monitor.

So, when it comes to practice, making it more difficult for yourself, and monitoring the results, are really key. One easy way to make practice better is this idea called “interweaving.” There’s just a tremendous amount of research on interweaving, and the idea, in some ways, is quite basic.

Chad, I’m going to ask you this question: If you want to get better at practicing the piano, should you practice all of your Beethoven one day, and then, in your next practice session, all of your Chopin, and then the day after that, all of your Bach? Or in each practice session, should you mix it up a little bit? Which way would you go?

ALDEMAN: Based on what you just said, I’m going to guess that I should mix it up. Continue reading

Much Ado About Grit? Interview with a Leading Psych Researcher

What is grit? Can it be measured accurately, and is it different from other personality traits? If so, how well does an individual’s level of “grit” predict how successful that person will be in the future? And is grit an innate characteristic, or can it be improved with practice?

The answers to these questions suddenly matter a great deal for schools. As states begin to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, there’s widespread interest in incorporating “non-academic” factors such as grit into the way states define what it means to be a successful school.

Marcus Crede

Marcus Crede photo via Iowa State University

To learn more about grit and the research behind it, I reached out to Marcus Crede, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University and the author of a provocative new study called “Much Ado about Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Grit Literature.” After reviewing the full academic literature on grit, Crede challenges much of the popular narrative. For example, his study finds that grit is barely distinct from other personality traits and that standardized test scores, attendance, and study habits are much better predictors of long-term success than grit.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation. Continue reading