A 50-minute online course may be key to helping struggling high school students improve their grades. A groundbreaking study recently found that lower-achieving 9th graders across the US experienced improved academic performance after taking a short online course about growth mindset for kids.
What Is Growth Mindset?
Coined by Stanford professor of psychology Carol Dweck, Ph.D., growth mindset is the belief that individuals can refine their basic abilities, like intellect and talent, through hard work and dedication. Contrarily, fixed mindset is the belief they are unchanging traits assigned at birth, like height and eye color. Dweck’s motivational book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, examines the differences between the two mindsets and discusses how we can employ growth mindset to actualize our true potential.
Dweck, along with a number of other psychologists, co-authored the National Study of Learning Mindsets (NSLM). Prior to NSLM, research on growth mindset was limited and data was often tainted.
The study examined more than12,000 9th graders all over the US. Participants were randomly selected to take either the control or growth mindset course; both courses were 50 minutes long.
“We spent years developing this short program to contain all the critical ingredients of conveying the growth mindset,” Dweck told Futurity. “We’ve had other interventions that yielded meaningful results but this time we wanted to see where this type of intervention works well and where it works less well.”
Lower-achieving students benefited most from the growth mindset course. Students with GPAs below their school average boosted their overall GPA by 0.10 points compared to their peers who took the control course. Additionally, NSLM found the course reduced the amount of D or F average students by over 5%.
Students with higher GPAs also experienced a positive academic outcome. According to the study, both lower and higher-achieving students surpassed the previous year’s enrollment rate in advanced math classes by 3% as a result of taking the short growth mindset course.
Despite the overall positive outcome of the growth mindset course-takers, data varied between schools based on the nature of their learning environments.
Schools that ranked in the bottom 75% for academic performance had greater GPA increases among lower-achieving students. These schools also had an 8% reduction in the proportion of students with a D or F average.
NSLM co-authors attribute this phenomenon to lower- and medium-performing schools’ peer climate (i.e. student culture). At these schools, pursuing more challenging academic work is heavily encouraged among the student body. A more supportive learning environment yields improved academic performance.
The Power of Believing
Dweck’s research suggests that sometimes, the only thing holding us back is ourselves. The simple belief in one’s own capabilities is enough to define their success.
In a TED Talk, Dweck discussed how we can foster a growth mindset in children just by changing how we praise them. Rather than praising their intelligence or talent, parents and caregivers should praise “the process kids engage in,” Dweck described it. Rather than applauding what seems to be inherent, she suggested praising what kids actually have control over: “their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement.”
As important as his and Dweck’s research is, Yeager recognized their work is far from over. “[This] marks the beginning of the next phase of mindset research—a phase that will focus on how to make growth mindset truly come alive in learning environments,” he said in the Mindset Scholars Network press release.
The course featured in NSLM is free and readily available for schools to use.