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Operational Definition: What is Persistence?

Many educators recognize the importance of students’ responses to challenging situations. Students who maintain or even increase their effort when problems arise are likely to be successful in a variety of situations. This tendency is the focus of Persistence in the ISSAQ framework.

Persistence is related to several other theoretical models of student behavior. Perhaps most notably, “grit” (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly; 2007) has received significant attention among researchers and practitioners as an intuitive paradigm of student success. Duckworth et al. define grit in the following way:

"We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course."

While this definition contains several attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors, ISSAQ focus on the maintenance of effort in the face of challenges as a singular tendency, based on its inclusion as part of conscientiousness (Goldberg, 1990), which has been shown to predict student success in meta-analytic studies (e.g., O’Connor & Paunonen, 2007; Poropat, 2009). Indeed, the high correlation between grit and factors such as conscientiousness and persistence has been a frequent criticism of the construct (Credé et al., 2017; Meunks et al., 2017).

 

Empirical Relationship to Success (Does it Predict Student Success?)

In addition to meta-analytic studies that have related conscientiousness - the global personality domain that includes Persistence - to student success (e.g., O’Connor & Paunonen, 2007; Poropat, 2009), several studies have examined the predictive power of Persistence in and of itself.

For example, Credé et al. (2017) and Meunks et a. (2017) considered “grit” as two seperate dimensions: perseverance of effort and consistency of interest. Both studies found perseverance of effort to be the sole significant predictor of academic success (i.e., course grade and end-of-semester GPA).

 

Eskreis-Winkler et al. (2014) found grit to be a significant predictor of persistence behavior in military, professional, and secondary settings, though the study did not examine postsecondary samples. Lastly, a meta-analysis by Richardson, Abraham, & Bond (2012) found “effort regulation,” which they defined as “persistence and effort when faced with challenging academic situations” to be significantly predictive of GPA.

Practical Relationship to Success

In addition to its intuitive appeal and relation to the grit literature, Persistence is also an important factor in a “growth mindset” approach (Dweck, 2007, 2008). Growth mindset is rooted in the idea that students acknowledge intelligence as malleable and a product of effort rather than innate ability. 

Subsequently, when faced with a challenge, students with a growth mindset are likely to persist (“Oh, I must not have succeeded because I didn’t try hard enough!”) as opposed to students with a fixed mindset are more likely to give up (“Since my ability isn’t going to change, there’s no use trying again - I’ll just continue to fail.”).

How do I help students improve in Persistence?

Persistence is a Framing Factor.

This means that Persistence informs the ways in which we work with students, but is less impacted by direct interventions.

With Contextual Factors like Persistence, direct interventions are often not the most effective. Instead, a multi-faceted approach, addressing students' attitudes, perceptions, and behavior is necessary. With Persistence, in particular, there are several tactics that can be used:

  • As Persistence is a component of both grit and growth mindset, similar interventions may be effective. Consider connecting students with lessons on brain plasticity (e.g., from Coursera or Kahn Academy) to help show that intelligence can be improved through effort (and thus, Persistence is worthwhile).

  • Model Persistence whenever possible. Tell students about times when you had to work to overcome a challenge, or connect them with a similar student (e.g., as a peer mentor) that can relate their own stories of effort.

    • As a note: Faculty are encouraged to model Persistence through draft-and-revise processes - which show how effort and iteration relate to performance - rather than large, singular assignments, which can suggest a fixed mindset.

  • Consider how you can infuse the tips, resources, and other information in the Student Resource Hub into conversations with students.​

COACH RESOURCES

REFERENCES

Credé, M., Tynan, M. C., & Harms, P. D. (2017). Much ado about grit: A meta-analytic synthesis of the grit literature. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 113(3), 492.


Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6), 1087.
 

Dweck, C. S. (2007, January 12). The Growth Mindset. Retrieved March 23, 2020, from http://www.mindsetworks.com/webnav/whatismindset.aspx.
 

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc..
 

Eskreis-Winkler, L., Duckworth, A. L., Shulman, E. P., & Beal, S. (2014). The grit effect: Predicting retention in the military, the workplace, school and marriage. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 36.
 

Goldberg, L. R. (1990). An alternative" description of personality": the big-five factor structure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 59(6), 1216.
 

Muenks, K., Wigfield, A., Yang, J. S., & O'Neal, C. R. (2017). How true is grit? Assessing its relations to high school and college students’ personality characteristics, self-regulation, engagement, and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(5), 599.
 

O’Connor, M. C., & Paunonen, S. V. (2007). Big Five personality predictors of post-secondary academic performance. Personality and Individual differences, 43(5), 971-990.