Fostering a Growth Mindset in Post-Secondary Education

“When students struggle with their schoolwork, feel excluded or frustrated with the courses [and contents or projects], what determines whether they will give up or embrace the challenge and work on to overcome it?” (Yeager and Dweck, 2012).

According to Yeager and Dweck (2021), the answer is resilience, by which the authors meant students’ positive response to the challenges, learning from their mistakes, and improving themselves – which can be led back to self-beliefs about personal attributes such as motivation, learning, alienation, and determination (Campbell et al. 2020). Now the question is, what can be done to create and increase resilience among students? That’s where comes the concept of growth mindset. By summarizing over thirty years of research on how people succeed, in their book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Professor Dr. Carol Dweck (2006) of Stanford University explained the concept of growth mindset that defines individuals’ beliefs related to success. As described in her book (Dweck, 2006), individuals with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and ability are malleable, and practice, perseverance, and effort offer the limitless potential to learn and grow. They are not concerned with being embarrassed in making mistakes and instead focus on the process of learning and growth (Dweck, 2006).

These are the few terms I came across when I was conducting my project as a Graduate Resident of Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship (SCDS). This theory reflects my efforts and learning process during my residency term. I was very new and rarely had the required skillsets for my proposed project. However, I was determined to do the project – I kept trying, seek help and left no stone unturned. That’s when I came to learn about resilience, how it is related to growth mindset and felt their necessity in post-secondary education. I was looking into in-house resources (e.g., online lecture/ tutorials, courses, resources by the MacPherson Institute) at McMaster University to learn more about growth mindset and improve my learning and develop my performances. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any specific resource at McMaster. So, I kept exploring growth mindset and related interventions in post-secondary education from other sources. In this blog post, I will share a summary of my learning so far and highlight the need to foster a growth mindset for teaching and learning, which is now also possible in a digital platform.

Why is promoting a growth mindset among students important, and how can it be done?

There is a need for growth mindset interventions in educational settings as evidence shows that they positively impact students’ academic performances and learning process. In education, light-touch interventions mean minor tweaks “to nudge students, teachers, or parents to change their behavior in ways that facilitate academic attainment” (Lewis, 2019). Light-touch interventions related to growth mindset have a higher potentiality of reliable and meaningful impact (Dweck and Yeager, 2020). Examples of light-touch interventions of growth mindset include teaching students on how their brain works and how it grows when they are confronted with challenges (e.g., Aronson et al. 2002), multisession workshops on growth mindset (e.g., Blackwell et al. 2007), developing a workbook for students (e.g., Aronson et al. 2002; Wilson 2011), and target group focused online self-paced modules on growth mindset (e.g., Paunesku et al. 2015; Yeager et al. 2018; Dweck and Yeager 2019) – nowadays all these interventions can be delivered in a digital platform, especially at McMaster where we have the required tools and technologies to conduct both synchronous and asynchronous sessions and distribute modules, resources, and worksheets digitally. Light-touch interventions have gained attention for increasing motivation for persistence among students by targeting students’ belief/ mindset about encountering challenges (Broda et al., 2018; Wilson, 2006; Yeager and Walton, 2011; Yeager and Dweck, 2012). Evidence shows that these interventions are highly likely to reduce aggressive responsiveness to adverse events, build confidence to deal with academic stress, and encourage students to develop a mindset that views intelligence and ability as malleable and be open to growth (Broda et al. 2018; Wilson, 2006; Yeager and Walton, 2011).

Another advantage of the growth mindset interventions is that they can address inequalities in education. Carr et al. (2012) suggested that programs that are meant to encourage diversity should also include components that discuss growth mindset. Additionally, growth mindset interventions have been proven to be more effective on students from equity-seeking groups such as low-income and ethnic minority (e.g., African American, non-white, Latino) groups’ academic performance improvement (e.g., Aronson et al. 2002; Blackwell et al. 2007; Walton and Cohen 2011, Yeager et al. 2016; Broda et al. 2018).

From my personal experience of working as a Teaching Assistant in six undergraduate courses, participating in a Graduate Residency in digital scholarship at the Sherman Centre (SCDS), and collaborating on different projects at McMaster University, I feel the need to foster a growth mindset in classrooms to facilitate teaching and learning. A strategy for promoting a growth mindset in classrooms, such as developing an interdisciplinary resource for educators and students to learn about growth mindset and how to practice a culture of growth to enhance teaching and learning experiences, would benefit the campus community. The interdisciplinary resource can be an online learning module covering topics on human brain functionality, different personality traits, the difference between growth and fixed mindset, theory of learning, evidence on impacts of growth mindset in the academic settings, strategies to foster growth mindset individually and descriptions of proven low-cost, high-impact interventions to be practiced in the classrooms to improve students’ academic and social performances and experiences. I become so motivated of my learning of ‘how to learn’ by ‘learning growth mindset’ during the residency term, I am thinking of developing a similar resource in the coming years and making it available for universal use in post-secondary education so that the resource can benefit the broader community.

Acknowledgement:

I want to thank Dr. Andrea Zeffiro and my fellow Graduate Residents Sarah Paust, Emily Goodwin, and Luis Navarro for providing their valuable comments on this blog post.

References:

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.

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.

Boyd, D. (2015). The growth mindset approach: A threshold concept in course redesign. Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning.

Broda, M., Yun, J., Schneider, B., Yeager, D. S., Walton, G. M., & Diemer, M. (2018). Reducing inequality in academic success for incoming college students: A randomized trial of growth mindset and belonging interventions. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 11(3), 317-338.

Campbell, A., Craig, T., & Collier-Reed, B. (2020). A framework for using learning theories to inform ‘growth mindset’activities. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 51(1), 26-43

Carr, P. B., Dweck, C. S., & Pauker, K. (2012). “Prejudiced” behavior without prejudice? Beliefs about the malleability of prejudice affect interracial interactions. Journal of personality and social psychology, 103(3), 452.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc..

Dweck, C. S., & Yeager, D. S. (2019). Mindsets: A view from two eras. Perspectives on Psychological science, 14(3), 481-496.

Lewis, N. A. (2019). On ‘light-touches’ and ‘heavy-hands’: 2 strategies to tackle educational inequities. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/09/12/on-light-touches-and-heavy-hands-2-strategies-to-tackle-educational-inequities/

Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological science, 26(6), 784-793.

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

Wilson, T. D. (2006). The power of social psychological interventions. Science, 313(5791), 1251-1252.

Wilson, T. D. (2011). Redirect: The surprising new science of psychological change. Penguin UK.

Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of educational Research, 81(2), 267-301.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational psychologist, 47(4), 302-314.

Yeager, D. S., Romero, C., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C. S., Schneider, B., Hinojosa, C., … & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Using design thinking to improve psychological interventions: The case of the growth mindset during the transition to high school. Journal of educational psychology, 108(3), 374.

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