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

What do pupils believe about learning and intelligence?

This study examined reported attitudes and beliefs about growth mindset (the belief that intelligence and academic ability are not fixed and can be increased through effort and learning) for a sample of 103,066 pupils and 5,721 teachers in grades 4–12 (Years 5–13) in Nevada’s Clark County School District in the US.

Three-quarters of pupils reported having beliefs that are consistent with a growth mindset. The average growth mindset score across all pupils was 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 indicates agreement with all statements that suggest a fixed-ability mindset, and 5 indicates disagreement). In addition, reported beliefs were found to differ depending on pupils’ ethnicity, school year, prior achievement and whether pupils were native English speakers or not. For example, the average growth mindset score for pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) was lower (3.5) than the average growth mindset score for non-EAL pupils (4.0). Lower-achieving pupils reported lower levels of growth mindset than their higher-achieving peers (a difference of 0.8 points).

Teachers’ average growth mindset score was 0.5 points higher than their pupils’ (4.5 compared with 4.0). For the most part, their beliefs regarding growth mindset did not vary significantly depending on the characteristics of the pupils attending their schools.

Source: Growth mindset, performance avoidance, and academic behaviors in Clark County School District (REL 2017–226) (April 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West

How do parents influence children’s mindset?

Children with a fixed mindset believe that they have a fixed amount of intelligence that they cannot change. As a result, when work becomes difficult they may question their ability, stop trying, and achieve less. In contrast, children with a growth mindset see their intelligence as malleable and something that can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and teaching. As a result, when work becomes difficult they are more likely to increase their efforts and achieve more.

To date, no clear link has been found between parents’ mindsets and their children’s. A series of experiments, published in Psychological Science, has found that parental response to failure is influential. Parents who believed that failure is a debilitating experience that inhibits learning and productivity had children who tended to have a fixed mindset. This occurred because these parents reacted to their children’s failures by focusing more on their children’s ability or performance than on their learning.

It may not be sufficient, therefore, to teach parents a growth mindset and expect that they will pass this on to their children. Instead, an intervention could target teaching parents that failure can be beneficial, and help them to react appropriately to their children’s setbacks in order to support their children’s future motivation and learning.

Source: What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets? Not Their Parents’ Views of Intelligence but Their Parents’ Views of Failure (2016), Psychological Science.

Teachers who improve non-cognitive skills not always top of the class

A new working paper from Mathematica Policy Research looks at the role that teachers play in developing non-cognitive skills, the non-tested academic behaviours and mindsets that contribute to children’s long-term success. These behaviours and mindsets include emotional stability, motivation, persistence, and self-control.

Data came from 310 teachers in four US districts who had agreed to have their classes videotaped, complete a teacher questionnaire, and help collect a set of pupil outcomes. The study focused on Grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) maths classes, although all of the teachers involved were generalists.

The authors examined both “teacher effects” (the teacher themselves) and “teaching effects” (classroom practices) on a range of maths test scores and non-tested outcomes, specifically behaviour in class, happiness in class, and self-efficacy in maths.

They found that individual teachers have large effects on pupils’ self-reported behaviour in class, self-efficacy in maths, and happiness in class that are similar in magnitude to effects on test scores. However, teachers who are effective at improving these outcomes often are not the same as those who raise maths test scores.

The paper concludes that efforts to improve the quality of the teacher workforce should include teachers’ abilities to promote academic behaviours and mindsets.

Source: Teacher and teaching effects on students’ academic behaviors and mindsets (2015), Mathematica.

Mind-set interventions on a larger scale

A paper from researchers at Stanford University and the University of Texas describes how the institutions delivered brief online mind-set interventions to 1,594 pupils in 13 schools.

The authors reported that previous research on mind-set demonstrated the worth of small-scale interventions, and they set out to gather evidence on whether such interventions are practical on a larger scale.

Mind-set interventions seek to replace unhelpful fixed-mind-set attitudes where intelligence is viewed as unchangeable and praise focuses on passive aspects of achievement (“you are lucky to be so smart/talented”) with growth-mind-set attitudes where intelligence can grow and effort attracts praise (“you worked hard to come up with a good answer”).

Pupils allocated to intervention groups were given two 45-minute sessions two weeks apart (intervention groups had either growth-mind-set or sense-of-purpose sessions or both). Pupils allocated to the control group were given similar sessions but these “lacked the key psychological message that intelligence is malleable.”

One third of the study participants were considered to be at risk of dropping out of high school. Pupils in this subgroup improved their core subject grade point average after the mind-set intervention. Achievement of satisfactory grades (A to C) increased by 6% among the at-risk subgroup; there was no difference in satisfactory grades in the control group.

The authors concluded that their study demonstrated “the potential for academic-mind-set interventions to be effective on a wide scale.”

Source: Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement (2015), Psychological Science