Grit is good, but cognition comes first

Character traits such as “grit” are important, but don’t ignore cognition, writes Mike Rose, a UCLA professor and author of Back To School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education. “Cognition traditionally refers to a wide and rich range of mental processes, from memory and attention, to comprehending and using language, to solving a difficult problem in physics or choreography or a relationship,” he writes in Ed Week. It’s not just reading and math scores or the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed argues for shifting our focus from academic programs to “the development of qualities of character or personality, like perseverance, self-monitoring, and flexibility,” writes Rose. But many of these “character” qualities fall within the “truer, richer notion of cognition.”

 Self-monitoring, for example, has to involve a consideration and analysis of one’s performance and mental state, which is a demanding cognitive activity. Flexibility requires a weighing of options and decisionmaking.

Cognitive and non-cognitive learning are entwined in community college programs Rose observed in fashion and diesel technology.

 As students developed competence, they also became more committed to doing a job well, were better able to monitor and correct their performance, and improved their ability to communicate what they were doing, and help others. You could be, by inclination, the most dogged or communicative person in the world, but if you don’t know what you’re doing with a garment or an engine, your tendencies won’t be realized in a meaningful way in the classroom or the workshop.

Some colleges and universities are trying to measure non-cognitive factors to admit “diamonds in the rough,” reports Inside Higher Ed. But, so far, high school grades are the best predictor of college performance. And it helps to have test scores to account for grade inflation.

Measuring non-cognitive skills is difficult, but not impossible, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham.