Changing Mindsets to Raise Achievement
In this month’s Current Directions in Psychological Science, Stanford’s Greg Walton reviews “wise” interventions that can produce significant benefits in many important domains. Now, a new center at Stanford is working to scale these interventions and implement them in classrooms… and they’re looking for your help.
Changing Mindsets to Raise Achievement: The Stanford University Project for Education Research That Scales
by Daniel Greene and Dave Paunesku
What are academic mindsets?
To be academically successful, students must choose to learn and to persist in learning, even when schoolwork is challenging. Research shows that students’ academic mindsets — their beliefs about learning and about school — affect these choices. Studies show that students seize more learning opportunities and earn higher grades when they believe their schoolwork is relevant to their lives (1,2,3), when they believe that they can grow their abilities to meet academic challenges (4, 5), and when they feel like they belong in school (6, 7). Furthermore, a growing body of research shows that these highly influential beliefs can be changed with brief, low-cost mindset “interventions”.
What are mindset interventions?
Mindset interventions are psychologically powerful activities that draw on decades of behavioral research to change they way that students think about learning and school in targeted ways. They typically consist of short readings and reflective writing exercises designed to dispel specific beliefs that hinder learning — beliefs like: “I’m just not smart enough;” “People like me don’t belong in this school;” and “What I’m learning in school doesn’t relate to my life.” When mindset interventions successfully change students’ keystone beliefs about learning, they can raise their academic performance over periods of months or years (8, 9, 10, 11).
Mindset interventions are psychologically powerful activities that draw on decades of behavioral research to change they way that students think about learning and school in targeted ways.
Mindset interventions can raise achievement on a large scale and at a low cost
The Stanford University Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) creates and evaluates mindset interventions that have the potential to raise academic achievement on a massive scale. It uses the Internet as a delivery vehicle to ensure that students across the nation can have access to effective mindset interventions at a low cost. Its randomized controlled studies show that even brief activities, delivered entirely over the Internet at virtually no cost, can meaningfully affect achievement:
• In an experiment with over 1,500 high school students, a 30-minute online mindset intervention increased the rate at which underperforming students (those in the bottom 33% by pre-study grade point average) earned satisfactory grades (As, Bs, Cs) in core academic classes. Over the entire semester, treated students earned satisfactory grades at a 14% higher rate relative to control group students.
• In an experiment with 886 community college students, a 30-minute online mindset intervention increased the rate at which students earned satisfactory grades (As, Bs, and Cs) in a semester-long math course by 12% relative to the control condition.
• In an experiment with over 250,000 students learning math on the Khan Academy website, growth mindset messages presented above math problems (e.g., “When you learn a new kind of math problem, you grow your math brain!”) increased the number of concepts students mastered by 3%. Messages of encouragement that emphasized effort but did not convey the idea that students were growing their abilities had no effect (e.g., “Some of these problems are hard, just do your best”).
Take the Mindset Challenge!
In response to the research agenda put forward at a recent White House convening on the importance of academic mindsets (12), the Raikes Foundation and PERTS have just announced the Mindset Challenge – an open research initiative to raise student achievement in online learning environments by applying the insights of psychological science. The Challenge is bringing together large online learning platforms and leading motivation researchers to implement and evaluate interventions designed to raise students’ motivation and achievement. (Current partner platforms include Khan Academy, Florida Virtual School, and Kaplan University.) Through the Challenge, tens of thousands of students will participate in cutting edge programs designed to raise academic motivation. Ultimately, these programs stand to benefit millions of students because they will be designed to scale easily in online learning environments. Key findings may also be co-announced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and by PERTS.
PERTS is directed by Drs. Dave Paunesku and Carissa Romero, and its specific research projects are led by Professors Carol Dweck, Greg Walton, and James Gross at the Stanford University Department of Psychology; by Assistant Professor David Yeager at the University of Texas at Austin; and by Professor Jo Boaler at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. PERTS is funded by grants from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Raikes Foundation, and the Institute of Education Sciences.
For more information about PERTS or about the studies presented in this summary, visit www.perts.net.
1 – Durik, A. M., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2007). Different strokes for different folks: How individual interest moderates the effects of situational factors on task interest. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99 (3), 597.
2 – Harackiewicz, J. M., Rozek, C. S., Hulleman, C. S., & Hyde, J. S. (2012). Helping parents to motivate adolescents in mathematics and science: An experimental test of a utility-value intervention. Psychological Science, 23 (8), 899–906.
3 – Hulleman, C. S., Godes, O., Hendricks, B. L., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2010). Enhancing interest and performance with a utility value intervention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102 (4), 880.
4 – Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38 (2), 113 – 125.
5 – Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78 (1), 246 – 263.
6 – Walton, G. M., Logel, C., Peach, J. M., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (in prep.). Two brief social-psychological interventions transform women’s experience, relationships, and achievement in engineering. Manuscript in preparation.
7 – Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: Race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (1), 82 – 96.
8 – Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331 (6023), 1447 – 1451.
9 – Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78 (1), 246 – 263.
10 – Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38 (2), 113 – 125.
11 – Hulleman, C. S., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2009). Promoting interest and performance in high school science classes. Science, 326 (5958), 1410 – 1412.
12 – Yeager, D.S., Paunesku, D., Walton, G., & Dweck, C.S. (2013). How can we instill productive mindsets at scale? A review of the evidence and an initial R&D agenda. A White Paper prepared for the White House meeting on “Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.”
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