A large nationwide study has found that teaching ninth graders to maintain a “growth mindset” towards learning—stressing that their minds are like muscles that can get stronger with use—can result in higher test scores.
The study, published in the journal Nature, is the largest and most rigorous test of whether mindset training can improve student performance. The concept is well-known in education circles, and it has gained national attention thanks to books and TED talks by Carol Dweck, an education professor at Stanford University. Dweck is a co-author of the study, A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement.
The basic idea is how students’ perceive their brains work can impact how successful they are in the classroom. Those with a so-called “fixed mindset” toward learning believe the ability to do well in school is something that people either have or don’t. But Dweck and her colleagues believe that everyone can learn if they work hard, and that those who see things that way will do better at school than those with fixed mindsets.
For the new study, a team of researchers developed an online training in mindset concepts that was administered to about 12,500 students from 65 schools – a mix of public and private. Data was collected in the 2015-16 school year.
On average, lower-achieving students who took the online training earned significantly higher grades in ninth grade than those who did not, the study found.
But the intervention was not equally successful everywhere. Results were muted when the “peer norms” in a class or school did not value challenge-seeking. The study measured such norms by giving students optional questions that were more difficult and encouraging students to try them. The researchers then classified schools based on how common it was for students to accept the challenge and attempt the harder questions.
As the study put it: “The growth mindset intervention effects on grade point averages were larger in schools with peer norms that were supportive of the treatment message.”
“Culture really matters,” said Dweck.
To read the article, which contains a link to the study, click here