Growth mindset is an area in educational psychology that has been examined for many years in a variety of different studies, but it is widely accepted that Carol Dweck was the first academic to fully define the concept. Her work defines mindsets as either fixed or growth (Dweck, 2006), where a fixed mindset is when a student believes their intelligence and knowledge is fixed and a growth mindset implies that through hard work and perseverance intelligence can expand.
Students with different mindsets also have a different outlook on effort, fixed mindset students often believe that because they have to work hard that means they lack the ability, however, growth mindsets have the understanding that hard work pays off with understanding (Mills & Mills, 2018). The key is that students with a growth mindset appear to have greater resilience when being confronted by challenges.
In this paper, we will examine the use of growth mindset further with a specific interest in mathematics. The paper will set out what is meant by growth mindset interventions, the benefits of these interventions as well as the criticisms. By examining this topic, we hope to explore the GTCS registration standards 2.1.4, 2.3.1, 2.3.2, 3.1.2, 3.2.2 and 3.4.1.
Scottish Context (250)
The gap in academic achievement between low- and high-income households has been well studied and is fully accepted as needing to be addressed. Scotland has created a framework in the hope that this gap can be addressed (Scottish Government, 2019) which looks to implement a number of different programs from different perspectives from school leadership to parental engagement. Growth mindset sits within the school leadership and teacher professionalism aspect of the National Improvement Framework since this is where the most impact can be made through professional development. Further to the National Improvement Framework growth mindset could feed into the “How good is our school?” framework of self-improvement (Education Scotland, 2015). The purpose of this framework is to improve schools and their teaching through a constant cycle of self-improvement and collaboration within all areas of the school. The framework puts a high emphasis on areas such as empowering students to be involved in their learning and quality feedback to ensure learners are able to be fully engaged at all times which are two areas that underpin the growth mindset theory (Dweck, 2006).
What is Growth Mindset (500)
Incremental mindset is an intelligence theory where we are concerned about how a person might view intelligence. Carol Dweck coined this as growth mindset (Dweck, 2006) and this has been accepted within the literature ever since. The opposite of growth mindset is the fixed mindset (Dweck, 2006) where we see intelligence as an entity which is unable to be altered in any way. The way we perceive intelligence can have an impact on several things but fundamentally it concerns how we would face challenges and setbacks (Mills & Mills, 2018) were those with fixed mindsets finding setbacks difficult to deal with where those with growth mindsets are able to be resilient and learn from mistakes (Glerum, et al., 2019).
Growth mindset is often characterised through the idea of effort where students are often pushed in their abilities. Dweck calls this “the power of yet” where students are encouraged to communicate their incorrect answers in the hope that they learn from feedback, work on their weaknesses and then get the next example correct (Dweck, 2006). Those students with a fixed mindset tend to get discouraged by their wrong answers and as such would not communicate wrong answers in this example.
Growth Mindset in Mathematics
Mathematics is traditionally a subject where students feel that they either understand the content or they don’t which is typical to fixed mindset approach to study. Indeed this mindset appears to be culturally acceptable where people are often happy to admit they “don’t get maths” and is often proudly proclaimed to their children particularly when helping with homework (Langford, 2016). This seems to be exacerbated through the way mathematics is often taught with short-form questioning with distinct answers meaning if students don’t get to the solution they are down-heartened and easily give up (Boaler, 2018). This has led to a further idea of mathematical mindsets where new methods of questioning has been developed in order to create questions where different methods are rewarded and can be further developed (Anderson, et al., 2018) to help with a deeper understanding.
What are Growth Mindset Interventions? (250)
The aim of mindset interventions is to change a pupil’s perspective from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, this is achieved through a few different methods however there appears to be only a limited number featured within the academic literature. These can be broken down into two broad categories, in-person and online interventions.
In-person interventions are often a series of workshops that are run to teach students about the brain and how intelligence is malleable (Good, et al., 2003, Aronsen, et al., 2002, Orosz, et al., 2017). These can be run by the academic conducting the research (Good, et al., 2003) or through the idea of “train the trainer” where teachers are taught about growth mindset and then in turn they run the workshops (Orosz, et al., 2017). The latter would arguably be more effective as teachers are then able to really embed the practise into their everyday pedagogy rather than having a one-off intervention.
Online interventions are those which happen through the internet or a computer programme. These are often adapted from the in person interventions in that they are transformed from a workshop-based intervention to one adapted for online work (Paunesku, et al., 2015). These online workshops are predominantly focussed on students rather than practitioners and the content revolves around teaching about the brain being a muscle and centre around the message of intelligence being elastic (Paunesku, et al., 2015, Burnette, et al., 2018). Further to this there are specific computer programs that have been studied (Donohoe, et al., 2012) which aim to take students through mindset theories with a combination of activities and challenges. These online interventions have the benefit of not needing direct instruction so are not resource heavy as well as being able to study the impact across a vast geographic area rather than concentrating on a smaller area and therefore a smaller study population (Paunesku, et al., 2015).
Benefits of Mindset Interventions (750)
There have been several studies which focus on growth mindset interventions at different stages of academic careers from early childhood right through to university levels. For the purpose of this paper we will highlight the work of three studies in particular: Aronsen, et al (2002) who focusses on the impact of interventions on students from a minority background who are often disadvantaged as well, Blackwell, et al (2007) who focusses on learners in the transition phase between primary and secondary school and Good, et al (2003) who focusses on girls, minority and low-income groups as these are groups who suffer from stereotyping when it comes to academic ability.
The first paper we will explore is Aronsen et al (2002) where the academics studied the impact of growth mindset on minority college age students. The reason for choosing this group for the study is that in the United States of America it is recognised that race has an impact in educational attainment though there is no agreed reason as to why this might be the case. This phenomenon causes a stereotype and learners will tend to live up to this belief through their mindset and thus create a ceiling for their own abilities (Aronsen, et al., 2002). The academics then conducted their intervention and reviewed their SAT scores and attitudes to learning at different points. What was found was that the students receiving the intervention improved their attitude towards learning and this in turn improved their academic outcomes, however it was found that they still lagged behind their counterparts (Aronsen, et al., 2002). While this study was conducted in America and with a minority group this could be applicable to Scottish students as those with low incomes tend to have a similar stereotype when it comes to attainment. This study is very encouraging as there was an improvement, but it shows that interventions need to be long-term and potentially at an earlier stage than college students.
The second paper Blackwell et al (2007) study the stage where students moved from primary to secondary school. This is a stage where students have an increased time of turmoil and instability and is characterised by change (Eccles, et al., 1993). Growth mindset is closely linked to motivation where it is argued that those with a growth mindset have high motivation and therefore high effort (Dweck, 2006). Blackwell et al (2007) looks at how teaching students about their intelligence malleability can influence their mathematics scores, they found that those students who held a more fixed mindset benefitted more from the intervention and reported an increase in their scores (Blackwell, et al., 2007). Further to this the study found that those students who are given the intervention also achieve the higher grades than predicted throughout the following two years (Blackwell, et al., 2007).
The third and final paper Good et al (2003) emphasises the idea that minority groups often perform less well than their peers as with Aronsen et al (2002) however also highlights that girls tend to also have a lower standardised test score particularly in mathematics (Good, et al., 2003). The authors note that there are a number of reasons this could be the case including teachers and society belief that girls will underperform, however it also states that students might be just living up to expectations and succumbing to the stereotype when faced with a test (Good, et al., 2003). This resilience is typical of a fixed mindset where students tend to give up when faced with any kind of difficulty (Dweck, 2006). The study showed that when girls were exposed to the mindset interventions they increased their test scores by a greater margin than the boys thus reducing the gender gap, further to that the minority students who struggled with their reading scores also improved significantly when receiving the interventions (Good, et al., 2003). Further to this the study finds that those with fixed mindsets often blame themselves for the failure where those with a growth mindset look for external influences for their failure and as such tend to look for ways for improvement (Good, et al., 2003) which they are then able to take throughout their academic and further life.
It is important to note that these are only three studies but there are many more available looking at mindset interventions in different settings. These three were chosen because they are a good spread across issues which would be applicable in Scotland due to minority groups often being from low socio-economic backgrounds, girls moving into STEM subjects is a well known issue worldwide and it is important to note the impact of mindsets during a transition time in schools. All three of the studies reported an increase in attainment and academic scores particularly in mathematics where fixed mindsets are more prevalent (Langford, 2016) due to the nature of the subject.
Critics of Growth Mindset Interventions (750)
There is growing evidence of research against the growth mindset interventions, particularly those which state that they have minimal impact. We will explore this area with respect to reducing the attainment gap where studies tend to focus on low socio-economic groups.
Sisk et al (2018) conducted a meta-analysis which aimed to discover the relationship between growth mindset and achievement and whether growth mindset positively influences achievement. The purpose of this study was to bring together the large academic literature on the topic and appear to get a definitive answer on whether interventions have an impact generally rather than relying on one study. What is found is that while studies claim that mindset interventions have a positive impact and indeed close any attainment gaps which occur the results of this meta-analysis does not support these claims overall, though there is some indication that interventions do benefit students in low socio-economic groups (Sisk, et al., 2018). Further to this the study found that interventions might not help all students regardless of their current academic achievement therefore if interventions were to be introduced it implies that these interventions should be targetted.
Further to this it has been found that growth mindset interventions might not increase attainment at various levels, or at the very least have a minimal impact on attainment (Burnette, et al., 2018; Schmidt, et al., 2017). Interventions could help to stop a decline in achievement at certain points in school and as such help to maintain a certain level of achievement (Schmidt, et al., 2017) but in lower grades the interventions do not make an impact. While interventions might not have an overall impact on achievement it should be noted that it did have some impact on learners motivation (Burnette, et al., 2018) which may given time could have a positive influence on grades. Both these studies used an online intervention where one used online workshops (Burnette, et al., 2018) and the other used a computer programme which uses games and activities (Schmidt, et al., 2017) which could suggest that online interventions may not be as impactful as in person interventions.
Another criticism to growth mindset interventions is that these can often have relatively short-term benefits. It has been found that weeks after interventions have been delivered there was an increase in motivation and performance however as time goes by these increases become void and in most cases disappear (Orosz, et al., 2017). This sentiment is echoed by Dommett et al (2013) in that the effects of mindset intervention appears to be temporary but this study shows that mindset interventions still have a greater impact on achievement than study skill interventions (Dommett, et al., 2013). Both these studies had an element of teacher led interventions which appears to suggest that in person interventions may have greater impact, indeed this has been concluded by Dommett et al (2013) who states that those students who received teacher led inteventions had a more positive attainment than those who had the computer based intervention (Dommett, et al., 2013). This however would require more analysis through a more detailed study.
Each of these studies had something in common, they all stated that interventions appear to have a positive influence on a group of students but that these interventions are not a catch all approach and indeed might be temporary in nature.
In conclusion, growth mindset could be a powerful tool to use in classrooms, particularly maths classrooms to empower pupils to learn from mistakes rather than focus solely on grades. When truly embedded into teaching it can have a positive influence in attainment, boost a learner’s confidence and motivation as well as increase resilience in learners so that they may bounce back from challenges which will help them throughout their lives. These interventions appear to need to be fully embedded in day-to-day teaching rather than one-off workshops and as such the way we teach would need to be adapted in order to do this. While there is an element of doubt on the true effectiveness of interventions they do appear to help those students who are most at risk of low attainment so some form of targeted interventions may be helpful, and as such could help meet some the goals of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. These interventions would fall into the category of what is in our control as class teachers which while may make a smaller impact than achieving true equality in terms of socio-economic measures is the only area where we can make a true difference.
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