What We Thought About "Growth Mindset" Is Not Supported By Research

Praising a child's effort supposedly supports the idea of a "growth mindset" while saying that a child succeeds because he or she is smart only promotes a "fixed mindset" of intelligence. Further, a "growth mindset" is claimed to enhance learning. Well, a new paper scheduled to be publish in Psychological Science has just demonstrated that "growth mindset" poorly correlates with academic achievement. This paper looks at more than 200 studies on "growth mindset" which involve more than 360,000 paricipants, and finds that "Mindset interventions on academic achievement were nonsignificant for adolescents, typical students, and students facing situational challenges (transitioning to a new school, experiencing stereotype threat)." The paper in fact concludes with this sentence: "The evidence suggests that the “mindset revolution” might not be the best avenue to reshape our education system."

Browsing through one of the figures of this paper already provides doubts regarding some outrageous claims from the "growth mindset" movement.

Standardized mean differences (Cohen’s ds) in academic achievement between students receiving a growth-mind-set intervention and students in the comparison group. Cohen’s ds (squares) and 95% confidence intervals (error bars) are displayed for all effects entered into Meta-Analysis 2. The size of the square represents the effect size’s meta-analytic weight. The diamond on the bottom row represents the meta-analytically weighted mean Cohen’s d. For studies with multiple independent samples, the result for each sample (S1, S2, etc.) is reported separately. Similarly, for studies with multiple measures, the result for each measure (M1, M2, etc.) is reported separately. Multiple measures were adjusted for dependency. See the Supplemental Material available online for full details of all references.
To What Extent and Under Which Circumstances Are Growth Mind-Sets Important to Academic Achievement? Two Meta-Analyses. Victoria F. Sisk, Alexander P. Burgoyne, Jingze Sun, Jennifer L. Butler, Brooke N.Macnamara. Psychological Science. First Published March 5, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617739704


The effects are indeed all over the place. There are positive effects and there are negative effects. Overall, there is a positive but very small effect. For this reason, the authors conclude that it is probably not worthy to spend much effort on this intervention. What is probably more helpful is for teachers to remind themselves always that effort is necessary in teaching. Every student can succeed but it takes work and commitment. That commitment is education for all. We must ensure that students have all the resources they need to succeed in school. Yes, ability does count, but as important are opportunities and resources. We all strive in tasks we think we excel in and we do throw in the towel at things we do not do well. But a teacher can still make that difference in increasing our conscientiousness. In the end, that is probably what counts and not some psychological theory on mindset.


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