Growth mindset, which is the belief that your abilities are not set in stone and can be improved, is arguably one of the most popular theories in education. The research on growth mindset interventions suggests that, in some situations, they can have a positive impact. So, in what conditions do growth mindset strategies help and are there any long-term benefits?
Can a one-off Growth Mindset intervention change behaviour?
Recent research looked at the influence of a single growth mindset intervention, delivered to teenage students, which comprised of three elements:
- A lesson – information was delivered to students, which explained the malleability of the brain, and that intelligence is not fixed and can be improved over time
- A comprehension check – students were given a work sheet to fill in that had six questions checking their understanding of the previous lesson
- A self-persuasion task – students were asked to write a letter to younger students explaining the malleability of the brain. They were also asked to recommend that the students work hard, and that when they encounter a problem with their school work they persevere and try to overcome it.
The researchers found that this growth mindset intervention had a positive impact on improving students’ beliefs about their intelligence and reduced performance avoidance behaviours (i.e. students were less likely to be concerned about looking dumb in front their classmates) with both of these positive outcomes being sustained across the whole year.
Practical ways to develop a Growth Mindset
Be stealthy – growth mindset interventions are much more effective if they are not presented to students as obvious interventions, as this can lead to feelings of deficiency as well as changing students’ behaviour as they are aware they are being observed. Less obvious interventions may involve activities such as the letter writing task, as above.
Teach multiple strategies – Recent research suggests that if a student is only taught one way of doing things and that particular strategy fails, then they may equate their inability to use this strategy with an inability in the whole subject. Therefore, teaching students multiple strategies means that they are more likely to persist, as they have another strategy available if the first one fails.
Set high standards – There is a wealth of research that suggests that if teachers have high but realistic expectations for their students, then they will increase their effort levels. This is known as the Pygmalion Effect. No-one rises to low expectations. If we set high standards and maintain them consistently, students will follow suit.
Practice What We Preach – Research has found that the mindset of a teacher can have an impact on the motivation of their students. In this study, teachers who had a fixed mindset were more likely to focus on comfort strategies towards students after a setback (i.e. “don’t worry, we can’t all be good at maths”), which can demotivate students and foster the belief that their performance will not improve on the next exam. On the other hand, teachers who had a growth mindset were more likely to offer strategies for improvement, which increased student motivation and installed a belief that they could improve.
Helping our students develop their mindset, motivation and resilience can really help them during their time at school (and beyond). However, designing strategies and interventions to do this is notoriously tricky. By ensuring interventions are not too obvious, setting high standards and teaching students multiple strategies to achieve outcomes, it is possible for teachers to help their students develop a growth mindset.