PROOF POINTS: Does growth mindset matter? The debate heats up

What is growth mindset?

growth mindset, as conceived by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues, is the belief that a person’s capacities and talents can be improved over time.

If you are unsure about what Growth Mindset it I suggest you watch this video. It has been a major hype in education around the world, but now the debate about whether it has the intended effect is heating up. There was a lot of talk about this in Norway, and here you can read an article about the skepticism in Norway in Norwegian. If you want to try a free evidence-based program designed to increase students’ engagement, motivation, and, ultimately, success by laying the foundation for a growth mindset, go to this web page.

Below I have added some points from “The Hechinger report,” written by

“Despite the large variation in effectiveness,” the researchers wrote, “we found positive effects on academic outcomes, mental health, and social functioning, especially when interventions are delivered to people expected to benefit the most.” Their paper, “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Growth Mindset Interventions: For Whom, How, and Why Might Such Interventions Work?,” published online Oct. 13, 2022 in Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

There are legitimate questions about what exactly we mean by growth mindset and its link to academic performance, according to another commentary on the dueling meta-analyses by two educational psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, Veronica Yan and Brendan Schuetze.

The biggest problem is that the word “intelligence” can mean different things to different people. Researchers who study intelligence tend to think of it as cognitive abilities, such as brain processing speed and memory, which are relatively stable over time. But lay people often think of intelligence as a mix of knowledge and skills, which we can readily gain, and “is the purpose of schooling,” Yan and Schuetze wrote.

This ambiguity matters because growth mindset is measured through surveys by asking students how much they agree with statements such as, “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t really do much to change it,” “Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much,” and “You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence.”

Students who think of intelligence as a cognitive ability tend to produce lower growth mindset scores. But their mindset scores might have been much higher if they defined intelligence as the ability to learn new things and gain knowledge. So, growth mindset scores, which researchers use to prove their theories, may greatly depend on semantics and be unreliable.

Critics also question whether improvements in growth mindset are really driving the academic gains that are seen in studies. That’s because many experiments have found that students’ grades can improve after an intervention even when their mindsets haven’t changed.

The confounding issue is that mindset interventions rarely focus on mindset alone, but combine it with other helpful tips, such as encouraging students to work hard, set goals and use strategies when facing challenges. Maybe it’s all the other things that are included in a mindset intervention, but not growth mindset in and of itself, that are effective.

Mindset proponents argue that changing mindsets alone won’t accomplish much by itself. The change in belief is only powerful if it is combined with productive ways to put a growth mindset into practice. Indeed, Dweck and other mindset researchers are now expanding their mindset interventions, not only to change students, but also to work with educators on changing how they teach, assign work and grade students. Mindset interventions are swelling into school reform.

At the same time, there is a growing body of evidence that these short, online interventions might convince low-performing teens to believe in themselves and their ability to learn. A shift in mindset isn’t going to close the achievement gap; it’s no silver bullet. We still need to improve how schools teach. But small psychological boosts like this might help some students on the margin. And that makes this field of research worth watching.

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