How can we help students towards academic success and progress at school? I have asked myself this question both as a parent and as a science teacher and I am sure I am not alone in searching for an answer. Research has shown that there is more to student success than cognitive ability, curriculum and instruction. Students’ mind-set – their beliefs about themselves and the school setting can also have a powerful affect on their learning (Yeager et al., 2013).
This is something I have noticed in my own son who believed that because he did not find the work easy, he was not clever enough to do well. This is an example of a fixed mind-set, a belief that intelligence is something finite and unchangeable.
I have had to work with him to develop a growth mind-set helping him to see that his intelligence has the potential to grow in response to his effort, good strategies and help from others. He is also learning to see difficult work as a challenge that will allow him to learn more, and to keep trying when things are difficult.
This process has also encouraged me to think carefully about praising him for effort instead of success, and to avoid comments such as ‘I was no good at Maths either.’ or ‘ we don’t do languages in our family.’ It is so easy to make those throwaway remarks that can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Teenagers have an uncanny knack of listening to you when you least expect it and if there is an implied criticism or unintentionally negative message in your statement they will be sure to find it! It’s not their fault, just the way the teenage brain works (more on that another time).
Two new studies have been published exploring how what adults say can impact on the motivation of the children they teach or care for. One study found that when parents praised their young children (1- 3 years old) for their effort, rather than their achievement, the child developed a growth mind-set and a desire for challenge 5 years later (Gunderson et al., 2013).
A second study showed that children aged 8 – 12, whose mothers used person praise (“you are smart”) rather than process praise (“you tried hard”), showed more change towards a fixed mind-set over a six-month period, tended to avoid challenges and chose tasks where they would learn less but would not fail (Pomerantz and Kempner, 2013).
So what do we know about the mind-set of students’ at Homewood School? One member of staff has been leading a research project to investigate this topic. Mrs Lesley Munro is leading a project called Spirals of Inquiry, part of a larger national research project, and I have been helping her in my role as Teacher Researcher.
As one aspect of the project we asked 66 year 8 students to complete a questionnaire that we had designed to identify the existing student mind-set. The results were very encouraging and showed that 72% of the students believed that their intelligence was NOT fixed and could be changed. 71% felt that their target grade was NOT the highest grade they could achieve at school and that they could exceed this expectation if they tried. In answer to the statement “There is no point in trying if I do not find a subject easy” 90% of the students disagreed and this indicates a strong growth mind-set already in existence.
This study is on-going at Homewood and will be used to help us plan our teaching and learning in the coming year. One area that we will be working on is about creating an acceptance by students that making mistakes is a useful part of learning. As well as looking carefully at how we praise effort compared to attainment, we as staff need to set work that is challenging, so that students can learn how to persist with difficult tasks. We look forward to developing a growth mind-set for all in 2016, Happy New Year!
Dr C Tyson
Homewood School and Sixth Form Center
GUNDERSON, E. A., GRIPSHOVER, S. J., ROMERO, C., DWECK, C. S., GOLDIN‐MEADOW, S. & LEVINE, S. C. 2013. Parent praise to 1‐to 3‐year‐olds predicts children’s motivational frameworks 5 years later. Child Development, 84, 1526-1541.
POMERANTZ, E. M. & KEMPNER, S. G. 2013. Mothers’ daily person and process praise: Implications for children’s theory of intelligence and motivation. Developmental psychology, 49, 2040.
YEAGER, D. S., PAUNESKU, D., WALTON, G. M. & DWECK, C. S. How can we instill productive mindsets at scale? A review of the evidence and an initial R&D agenda. white paper prepared for the White House meeting on “Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets,” available at http://homepage. psy. utexas. edu/HomePage/Group/YeagerLAB/ADRG/Pdfs/Yeager et al R&D agenda-6-10-13. pdf, 2013.