The Academic Importance of Productive Persistence

In an encouraging new study from the Noyce Foundation, Nancy Stano of the University of Texas – Austin, found that interventions targeting student’s beliefs and feelings have long term affects on academic achievement.  Stano found that certain student beliefs contributed to ‘productive persistence’ – a mindset characterized by an ability to look beyond short-term gains to higher order goals as well as the persistent ability to weather setbacks.

In particular, Stano found the following traits to comprise ‘productive persistence’:

  • Theory of Intelligence: students with a growth mindset, e.g. believed intelligence to be more malleable and that it develops in response to effort, were more likely to take on challenging tasks and more likely to demonstrate continuous improvement.
  • Self-Efficacy: as Stano points out, recent students have confirmed that student’s self-perceptions of their abilities are even better predictors of their ability than their actual abilities.  Students who conceive of themselves with a high degree of self-efficacy tend to take on new challenges and persist when those challenges prove difficult.
  • Attribution: attributions are the reasons students provide for their successes and failures.  Most people are able to provide a reason(s) for why they failed at a particular task.  But productively persistent students often cite an internal locus of control – citing internal reasons for their own successes and failures.  They rarely cite external factors over which they have little control.
  • Belongingness: as Stano writes, “When students believe that they are part of the academic community and are socially connected to their peers and teachers, they are more motivated, more engaged, and earn better grades”.  Strong ties to a particular community – and the lack of social isolation that many struggling students feel – are an important part of academic success.
  • Value and Interest: students, much like adults, are often unwilling to produce large degrees of effort if they perceive the outcome to be without value.  A vested interest in the outcome, however, is likely to produce a sustained and marked degree of effort.  Productively persistent students typically value academic achievement and see it tied to a larger good.
  • Goals: because productively persistent students value academics and see academic achievement as tied to future outcomes, they often set goals.  Furthermore, rather than discouraging them, goals serve as a positive incentive toward achievement.
  • Self-Regulation: self-regulation involves adopting habits of action that allow students to stay on task and avoid distractions. As Stano writes: “Productively persistent students practice healthy self-regulation habits being willing and able to recognize when they are having a problem, devising plans for solving their problems, and assessing the impact of their actions.”

Stanos’ findings offer reason for hope.  And she provides specific details about the types of implementations that have proven successful in developing productively persistent students, students much more likely to find academic success, despite their background or socioeconomic status.

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