Growth Mindset Interventions as Tools for Increasing Student Achievement

Authored by Paula Leahy Welch

Research indicates that student interventions that focus on growth mindset can help improve grade point averages, especially in schools with strong peer support. The article pictured is being added as an educator resource to the Growth Mindset Resource List in the collection of the Springfield Public Schools Libraries (Massachusetts).

Since Carol Dweck first published her research around the concept of growth mindset more than 20 years ago, social scientists, corporations, and educators have been searching for ways to apply the theory to obtain practical benefits. “Numerous studies have found that students fare better if they believe that their intellectual abilities can be developed—a belief called growth mindset—than if they believe that their intellectual abilities are immutable—a belief called fixed mindset” (Claro, Paunesku, and Dweck 2016, 8664). 

Over the last two decades, some of the research has focused on whether cultivating a growth mindset yields measurable advantages to students, especially those with limited socioeconomic resources. A growth mindset can help students achieve concrete gains such as improved grade point averages, as well as “sustained academic improvement through self-reinforcing cycles of motivation and learning-oriented behavior” (Yeager et al. 2019, 364). In addition, students from low-income households who held a growth mindset were “appreciably buffered against the deleterious effects of poverty on achievement” (Claro, Paunesku, and Dweck 2016, 8664).

Low-cost, effective, and easy-to-implement intervention strategies are of interest to educators everywhere, but especially for those working in high-poverty schools. In Springfield, Massachusetts, 77.6 % of students who attend the public schools are economically disadvantaged (Massachusetts DOE 2020). Many students are English language learners (17.6%), and 83.7% are high needs (Massachusetts DOE 2020). These significant barriers can be mitigated: research has demonstrated that “teaching young students how the brain is capable of change when faced with challenges helped them persevere and develop a growth mindset” (Hochanadel and Finamore 2015, 48). 

The Vincentian tradition of striving “to provide excellent education for all people, especially those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages” (St. John’s University 2015, under “St. John’s is a Vincentian University”) is well represented in the research being done around growth mindset interventions. For students who live in poverty and face other obstacles to learning, a growth mindset can contribute to increased success in school. “Both interventions were intended to help students persist when they experienced academic difficulty; thus … were predicted to be most beneficial for poorly performing students. This was the case” (Paunesku et al. 2015, 784). Low-cost interventions that benefit disadvantaged learners exemplify the Vincentian value of encouraging “solutions that are adaptable, effective, and concrete” (St. John’s University 2015, under “St. John’s is a Vincentian University”). 

A Growth Mindset Resource List suitable for PreK-12 teachers and staff is now accessible to educators in more than 40 Springfield Public Schools through the Destiny School Library Management System. “Mindsets about ability themselves are malleable. Children’s mindsets are likely to be shaped by feedback from caregivers” (Aditomo 2015, 201). In service to that concept, picture books with a growth mindset theme are featured as well as scholarly articles. Additional resources — e.g., chapter books to support growth mindset lessons for grades 5 and above — will continue to be added to the collection.

References

Aditomo, Anindito. 2015. “Students’ Response to Academic Setback: ‘Growth Mindset’ as a Buffer Against Demotivation.” International Journal of Educational Psychology 4(2): 198-222. https://doi.org/10.17583/ijep.2015.1482.

Claro, Susana, David Paunesku, and Carol S. Dweck. 2016. “Mindset Tempers Effects of Poverty on Achievement.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Aug 2016, 113 (31): 8664-8668. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1608207113.

Hochanadel, Aaron, and Dora Finamore. 2015. “Fixed And Growth Mindset In Education And How Grit Helps Students Persist In The Face Of Adversity.” Journal of International Education Research (JIER) 11 (1):47-50. https://doi.org/10.19030/jier.v11i1.9099.

Massachusetts DOE (Department of Education). 2020. School and District Profiles: Selected Populations. http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=02810000&orgtypecode=5&leftNavId=305&&fycode=2020.

Paunesku, David, Gregory M. Walton, Carissa Romero, Eric N. Smith, David S. Yeager, and Carol S. Dweck. 2015. “Mind-set Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement.” Psychological Science 26: 784–793 (2015).17. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615571017.

St. John’s University. 2015. “Our Mission.” St. John’s is a Vincentian University. Last modified 2020. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

Yeager, David.S., Paul Hanselman, Gregory M. Walton, Jared S. Murray, Robert Crosnoe, Chandra Muller, Elizabeth Tipton et al. 2019. “A National Experiment Reveals Where a Growth Mindset Improves Achievement.” Nature 573: 364–369. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1466-y.

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