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Angela Duckworth decided to teach her class on grit again because she believes the lessons are especially helpful during the pandemic. Credit: Audrey Tirtaguna

Psychology professor Angela Duckworth is preparing to teach her innovative course on achieving long-term goals for the third consecutive semester this upcoming spring. Unlike before, however, the course will now enroll high school students alongside Penn students.

The course, PSYC 005 Grit Lab: Fostering Passion and Perseverance, which is also part of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program at Penn, works to provide students with the necessary skills to accomplish long-term goals — passion and perseverance — and was met with overwhelming reviews of success from students who took it in previous semesters.

Previously, the class was only open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. This spring, Duckworth is opening the class to first-year students and high school students in the Young Scholars High School Program, a non-degree program offered by Penn's College of Liberal and Professional Studies.

Duckworth said she believes it is important for Penn students to share information gained from the course with younger students. Last semester, one of the assignments asked students to create a video teaching younger students what they had learned in the course, she said.

“I love the idea of Penn students helping students who are not quite as far as they are on the path ahead,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth added that she decided to teach the class again in the spring, because she believes the lessons are helpful to students, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Topics such as regulating stress and emotional, achieving long-term goals, and forming mentoring relationships are particularly relevant during this unprecedented time, Duckworth said.

“The big motivation to teach [Grit Lab] again in the spring was that I feel like it can be very beneficial for students, and I feel like Penn students deserve some special attention right now,” Duckworth said.

College sophomore Sophia Glinski, who is currently enrolled in Grit Lab, agreed that Duckworth's lessons of self-reflection and perseverance are particularly applicable during the pandemic.

“I think learning more about how to maintain passion and perseverance with your own goals is really grounding and helpful during such a tumultuous time,” Glinski said. “At least for me, having that time to self-reflect has been really helpful.”

To enroll in Grit Lab for the spring semester, students must fill out an application that includes a syllabus quiz, essay questions, and an introductory video to show that they are interested in the course. Acceptance to the course, however, is based on a lottery system like in previous semesters. The spring 2021 application is due on Dec. 2.

Each week, students in the course will complete an activity to foster passion or perseverance, like writing thank you letters to people who have impacted the students' lives, and complete a quiz on the assigned reading, according to the syllabus. The class is solely graded on completion and requires all students to take it pass/fail.

“[The grading system] really allows people to get real and vulnerable with their responses and not feel afraid of the repercussions of a bad grade,” Glinski said. “I think that’s a really liberating feeling.” 

College junior Shalva Gozland said she looks forward to attending Grit Lab every week on Wednesday, particularly appreciating the opportunity to focus on personal growth.

“It’s such an oasis from the hustle and bustle of a typical Penn class,” Gozland said. “Even on Zoom, being able to know there are three hours of class where it's about us and our personal journeys is just so refreshing.”

Gozland also praised Duckworth's efforts in fostering a sense of community despite the virtual class format by utilizing Zoom breakout rooms and random pair-and-shares where students talk about what they are learning in the course.

As the end of the fall semester approaches, Glinski said that Grit Lab has taught her to recognize her own interests, passions, and strengths, and understand that it is okay to make mistakes. 

“With so many Penn students who are so perfectionist and so high achieving, how do you balance that with learning to accept failure and accept mistakes?” Glinski said. “I think this class has really opened me to the idea of having a growth mindset and learning that it’s okay not to get a hundred on everything.”

Because the course's structure is heavily based on student feedback, Duckworth hopes to continue developing and improving Grit Lab in the future. 

“Nothing’s perfect, but I’m really glad to be doing this at Penn,” Duckworth said. “I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.”

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