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Nurturing students’ growth mindset—Lessons from research

This blog highlights research findings and recommendations to help schools nurture students’ growth mindset. The selection of findings is based on an extensive literature review from a policy paper called Growth Mindset Thinking and Beliefs in Teaching and Learning, which was commissioned by the IB Research Department and conducted by Inflexion in 2020.

Nurturing students’ growth mindset—Lessons from research
Image courtesy of Simon Minter

What is growth mindset?

Mindset beliefs and thinking exist on a continuum, ranging from fixed mindset at one end to growth mindset at the other end. Students holding a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and abilities are innate and unalterable. Students with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities are malleable and can be developed with effort. Students typically exhibit a moderate mindset, where they may hold beliefs that fit into some aspects of a fixed or growth mindset, depending on the context and skill area (Dweck, 2006).

“A growth mindset likely influences achievement through different motivation factors (such as goal setting, self-management and metacognition skills), which enable a learner to enact a growth mindset effectively”.

What does the research tell us?

Mindset theory suggests that implicit beliefs about intelligence may play a role in academic achievement and other positive outcomes. Notable research findings about growth mindset include:

  • Mindset and academic achievement: Growth mindset beliefs have been found to predict higher academic achievement in some studies; however, meta-analytic research on growth mindset and academic achievement has demonstrated mixed results. A growth mindset likely influences achievement through different motivation factors (such as goal setting, self-management  and metacognition skills), which enable a learner to enact a growth mindset effectively.
  • Benefits of growth mindsets: Some evidence suggests growth mindset can have other positive effects on students, including more positive attitudes towards school, higher academic confidence, enhanced psychological well-being, increased motivation and school engagement and higher academic resilience.
  • Mindset across student groups: The relationship between growth mindset and achievement has been examined and supported for key student groups, including students with disabilities, gifted students and students from marginalized socio-economic backgrounds. Results suggest academically at-risk students and economically disadvantaged students may benefit most from growth mindset interventions.
  • Mindset across developmental periods: Some research suggests that mindsets are particularly influential during challenging academic transitions, such as from primary into middle grades and throughout adolescence.

Research-informed recommendations for IB school leaders and teachers

“Teachers can establish growth mindset norms in their classrooms by setting high expectations for all students and structuring learning tasks to support growth mindset”.

Research has shown that when implemented correctly, growth mindset interventions can have meaningful effects on students, teachers and parents. School leaders and teachers are at the heart of facilitating growth mindset thinking in their students. In many instances, school leaders and teachers may already be engaged in activities that support growth mindset thinking. As such, the following recommendations are intended to help schools refine and strengthen their existing processes and practices.

  • Consider cultural norms and expectations prior to implementing a growth mindset initiative. Growth mindset has largely developed through research in Western cultures. It is important for school leaders and teachers to consider local cultural norms and to inquire within their schools whether adaptations are needed for policies and practices to be successful.
  • Consider a systems approach for growth mindset initiatives. This will help to ensure that there is alignment across the messages that students receive and that messages support a malleable view of intelligence and ability across disciplines.
  • Build a school culture and classroom environment that supports growth mindset thinking. The key characteristics that support growth mindset thinking are common for any supportive school culture. Teachers can establish growth mindset norms in their classrooms by setting high expectations for all students and structuring learning tasks to support growth mindset.
  • Model growth mindset behavior and language. School leaders and teachers can discuss their own mindset thinking, talk about their thought processes, provide formative feedback, allow time for reflection and implement process-oriented praise. School leaders and teachers can post growth mindset language throughout the school (such as posters, bulletin boards, motivational quotes) and encourage students to re-state fixed mindset comments using growth mindset language.
  • Consider explicitly teaching students about the brain. Nearly all growth mindset interventions include some instruction around the brain. Dweck (2006) suggests that explicitly teaching about the brain can be accomplished through mindset discussions that focus on how the brain forms connections and how thought patterns facilitate growth mindset beliefs.

Want to learn more? Click on the buttons below to read the research. Check out the other blogs which highlight research on resilience and metacognition. All IB research can be found at ibo.org/research. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us at research@ibo.org.

References:

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

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