Results of a large randomised controlled trial of growth mindset

In a recent issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on an English study of a growth mindset intervention, which found no evidence that it led to additional progress in literacy or numeracy. Now a US randomised controlled trial published in the journal Nature has found that a short, online, self-administered growth mindset intervention may improve achievement among lower-achieving students and increase overall enrollment in advanced math courses.

The study, conducted by David Yeager and colleagues, was the largest ever randomised controlled trial of growth mindset in US schools, with 12,000 ninth graders (Year 10) in 65 schools involved.

Students were individually randomised to either a control or intervention group. The intervention group was asked to complete two 25-minute online courses, taken three weeks apart. Students were given information about how the brain works and the latest research on growth mindset – then they completed activities such as explaining what they had learned from the course to students in the year below. Students in the control group were given a similar programme with information on how the brain worked, but no information on growth mindset.

Following the intervention, students’ grade point average (GPA) in their core classes of maths, science, English, and social studies, were collected. (In the US, grade point averages run from 4.0, which is an A, to 1.0, which is a D. There is no E grade. The score below D is an F.)

The study found that:

  • GPA scores for lower-achieving students in the intervention group rose by 0.1 points relative to peers in the control group (effect size = +0.11).
  • The proportion of lower-achieving students with D or F averages dropped by 5%.

Both higher- and lower-achieving students were more likely to take an advanced maths class in 10th grade (Year 11) – meaning enrollment in these courses rose from 33% to 36% in the 41 schools that shared this data.

Source: A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement (August 2019) Nature.

Changing mindsets

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published findings from a large trial of an approach to “growth mindsets”, which aims to encourage in pupils the belief that intelligence can be developed through effort and dedication.

A total of 5,018 pupils from 101 schools in the UK took part in the trial of Changing Mindsets, a programme designed to improve maths and literacy grades by teaching Year 6 pupils that their brain potential is not a fixed entity but can grow and change through effort exerted. 

Teachers received professional development training on approaches to developing a growth mindset, together with lesson plans, interactive resources and practical classroom tips, before then delivering sessions to pupils over eight weeks. Teachers were encouraged to embed aspects of the “growth mindsets” approach throughout their teaching – for example, when giving feedback outside the sessions.

The independent evaluation, by a team from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), found no evidence that the pupils who took part in the programme made any additional progress in literacy or numeracy – as measured by standardised tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling, and maths – compared to pupils in the control group. 

The EEF commentary advises that teachers should be cautious about using the approach as a standalone method of improving pupil achievement.

Source: Changing Mindsets: Effectiveness trial. Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Are growth mindsets important to academic achievement?

Mindset theory suggests that pupils with higher growth mindsets benefit from higher academic achievement, and therefore, interventions designed to increase pupils’ growth mindsets are thought to increase academic achievement. To evaluate this, Victoria Sisk and colleagues conducted two meta-analyses to assess to what extent and under which circumstances growth mindsets are important to academic achievement.

The first meta-analysis examined whether pupils’ mindsets were related to academic achievement. In the second, they looked at the effectiveness of growth mindset interventions on pupils’ academic achievement. For both analyses, academic achievement was measured using standardised test scores from more than 400,000 pupils.

The study, published in Psychological Science, found little to no impact for both meta-analyses, and effect sizes were inconsistent across studies. Overall, the first meta-analysis showed only a very weak relationship between mindsets and academic achievements. Similarly, only a very small overall effect for mindset interventions on academic achievement was demonstrated in the second meta-analysis.

Source: To what extent and under which circumstances are growth mind-sets important to academic achievement? Two meta-analyses (March 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617739704

Outcomes of a single-session intervention for teenage anxiety and depression

A study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry examines whether a half-hour, self-administered, single-session intervention (SSI) teaching growth mindset can reduce depression and anxiety and strengthen perceived control in high-risk teenagers.

Teenagers (aged 12–15) and their parents completed separate baseline questionnaires about the young person’s anxiety and depressive symptoms, which were then repeated over a nine-month follow-up period. Teenagers also reported on their perceived behavioural control. The teenagers were then randomised to receive either a 30-minute computer-guided intervention teaching growth mindset (the belief that personality is malleable), or a supportive therapy control.

Compared to the control group, teenagers who received the SSI had greater improvements in parent-reported depression (effect size = +0.60) and anxiety (+0.28), as well as self-reported depression (+0.32) and perceived behavioural control (+0.29) from baseline to nine-month follow-up. The effects of the intervention on self-reported anxiety were +0.36.

The report concludes that the findings suggest a promising, scalable SSI for reducing anxiety and depression in high-risk teenagers.

Source: A single-session growth mindset intervention for adolescent anxiety and depression: 9-month outcomes of a randomized trial (September 2017), The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry