Spirit of Growth: The Classroom Gadget That Might Be the Real Deal


Schools have long been a breeding ground for the latest fashions and fashions.

From brain gym to learning styles, a succession of innovations have been embraced with enthusiasm in the classroom, only to be just as enthusiastically abandoned when they prove to be more of a gimmick than a breakthrough.

The growing mindset seemed likely to join them on the discard pile, as another intervention that sounded good on paper only to turn out to have limited effect in the classroom.

But new research from the OECD adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that a growth-oriented approach may actually pay dividends.

The growth mindset – the belief that intelligence and ability are not fixed but can be developed over time – was championed by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University.

The theory aims to explain why some students thrive in adversity and others struggle by postulating that those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges and are more concerned with validating their abilities, while those with a fixed mindset. growth mindset looks for challenges and sees failure as part of the learning process.

Schools can foster a growth mindset, the theory says, through approaches such as rewarding progress, as well as trying different learning strategies and seeking meaningful feedback.

This is separate from the worship effort and is seen as an ongoing effort to encourage students to take risks and not be afraid of making mistakes.

And while this has been treated with some skepticism on the part of parts of the teaching profession, there are signs that it could turn out to be the real deal.

The latest research in its favor was published today by the OECD, which incorporated an element of the growth mindset into the latest iteration of its long-standing study of the Program for International Student Assessment ( PISA), designed to measure and compare the performance of 15-year-olds. and seen as a litmus test of education systems.

In addition to answering questions about reading, science and math, students were also asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Your intelligence is something about you. you can’t change much. ”

Those who disagreed with the statement were considered to have a stronger growth mindset than those who agreed.

Student responses were then crossed with their test scores, to reveal a positive correlation between growth mindset and academic performance.

On average, across OECD countries and territories, those who disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement scored 31.5 points more in reading, 27 points more in science and 23 points more in mathematics than those who agreed or strongly agreed.

The results, presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, took into account the socio-economic profile of students and schools, to minimize the possibility of these differences appearing in the results.

The reading gap was highest in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, where those with a growth mindset scored 60 points higher.

American students scored an average of 505 points in reading and an additional 60 points would move the United States from 13th place in the OECD ranking to 1st.

The gap was slightly larger for girls than for boys, but it was smaller in East Asian countries, with a reading gap of just 22 points in Japan, 17 in South Korea and Macao and 15 points in Taiwan (Chinese Taipei).

The researchers speculated that this could be due to a cultural ethic of hard work, which could lead to what they described as a “false growth mindset,” with an emphasis on diligence, potentially offsetting some of the negative effects of a fixed mindset.

Only four countries and territories did not show a positive association between the spirit of growth and academic achievement: North Macedonia, Hong Kong, Lebanon and Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang.

The gap was larger on average in the OECD area among socio-economically disadvantaged students, suggesting that a growth mindset could help to mitigate the effect of deprivation on outcomes school.

There was also a large gap in the gain associated with students with a growth mindset with an immigrant background, compared to that of students with non-immigrant backgrounds.

The findings echo previous research on the effects of the growth mindset, including a 2019 study, published in Nature, which found that a one-hour intervention improved grades and led to increased enrollment in grades. advanced courses.

But it wasn’t just the test results that showed a positive association with a growth mindset in the PISA analysis.

Students with a growth-oriented mindset also reported a stronger sense of belonging, having positive feelings more often, and were more likely to be satisfied with their life than those with a fixed mindset.

But while the signs are that the growth mindset may be the real deal, it’s important not to overestimate its importance.

Even its supporters agree that it should not be seen as a quick fix for improving academic performance.

Rather, they see it as complementary to other interventions, with perhaps particular relevance to the most vulnerable students.

They also advise that it is difficult to prove cause and effect, and that one explanation for the link between growth mindset and test scores is that high performing students may develop a state of spirit of growth, rather than the other way around.

Nonetheless, today’s results are an encouraging sign that the growth mindset may be one of the few interventions that stays the course, rather than just another gimmick that falls by the wayside.