146: Academic Mindsets




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Academic Mindsets:
  • Beliefs and attitudes towards learning that support academic performance
  • Simple short term interventions on mindsets have been shown to have lasting effects on student performance – may be just as important as changing the learning environment
  • Mindsets that contribute to academic performance:
    1. I belong in this academic community. (Relationships)
      • Feeling a part of part of learning community:
        • builds confidence and independence
        • feel greater sense of identify and also flexibility to support the community
        • more engagement
      • Feeling rejected by community leads to
        • feelings of incompetence and insecurity
        • lack of engagement
    2. My ability and competence grow with effort. (Growth mindset)
      • Students with growth mindsets are more likely to:
        • Use effort to build competence
        • Display academic behaviors that lead to high achievement
        • Attributing low performance to lack of effort tends toward greater efforts in the future
      • Students with fixed mindsets are more likely to:
        • Use opinions of others to discern ability
        • Less likely to be self-motivated and persistent
        • Ascribing failure to ability or conditions outside their control tends to less effort in the future
    3. I can succeed at this. (Confidence)
      • Students tend to be attracted to (repelled by) activities that make them feel competent (incompetentI
      • Feelings of self efficacy are positively related to perseverance
      • Belief in self efficacy is a prerequisite for sustained effort through challenges
    4. This work has value for me. (Relevance)
      • Being interested in topic creates intrinsic motivation for learning
      • Seeing ties to future work will make students more likely to engage in academic behaviors that lead to achievement
      • Feeling lack of relevance leads to poor academic behaviors
  • Mindsets can increase improve performance by improving perseverance.
  • Relationship between mindset and academic performance:
    • Brief treatments focused on student mindsets had lasting effects on student performance
    • Examples of treatments in experiments:
      • Watching videos to college students discussing their struggles and how their effort related to GPA growth over time (did better than students who watched video that made no mention of struggles and effort)
      • Writing letters to younger students about the malleability of ability in response to sustained effort (did better than group that wrote letters about multiple intelligences)
      • Advisory group (weekly, 25 min) that taught the malleability of intelligence
      • Writing about connection between science topics and their own lives (did better than group that just wrote summaries)
    • Caveats –
      • experiments had small sample groups
  • Are Academic Mindsets Malleable?
    • Research suggests that mindsets are malleable.  See above.
    • Racial group stigmatization creates a big challenges to feelings of belonging in specific subjects. To read why/how this effect math, read this article.
  • Role of Classroom Context in Changing Academic Mindsets:
    • Classroom conditions have major influences on all 4 mindsets that contribute to academic performance
    • Conditions that improve these attitudes include:
      • high expectations for success
      • academic challenges
      • student choice and autonomy in student work
      • clarity and relevance of learning goals
      • available of supports for learning
      • grading structure & policies
      • nature of academic tasks
      • type, usefulness and frequency of feedback on student work
      • classroom norms that create positive safe cultures
      • learning feels fun and relevant
      • reasonable expectations for learning material
    • Effects of social contexts:
      • frame what students think is possible (and not)
      • shapes sense of students’ capabilities
      • more likely to adopt the values of their social groups – can interfere with academic performance
  • School transitions:
    • Transitioning to new schools creates new challenges that can negatively impact attitudes – students are trying to:
      • reorient themselves to new academic and social demands
      • renegotiate sense of self and self efficacy
      • rebuild sense of belonging in a new community
    • Effects of growth mindset are most noticeable in transition periods because of the challenges student face in these phases
    • Effective interventions aim to:
      • normalize academic difficulty
      • bolster student sense of belonging
      • reinforce growth mindset
  • Recursive effects:
    • Good (poor) attitudes can contribute to positive (negative) feedback loops that lead to sustained success (failure)
    • Feedback loops can lead to self-validation of positive (negative) beliefs
    • Successful interventions aim to break up negative feedback loops
  • Clear Classroom Strategies for Developing Academic Mindsets:
    • Limited scope of experiments make them difficult to scale of classroom routines
    • Two approaches:
      • Change school structures to promote experiences that promote academic mindsets
      • Train students to have academic mindsets
      • 2nd approach is easier
    • Caveats:
      • Different social groups may need different interventions
      • Poor school climates may tarnish individuals’ academic mindsets
    • School Conditions that Promote Academic Mindsets:
  • Can Changing Academic Mindsets Close Achievement Gaps?
    • Mindset interventions have been shown to narrow gender and minority achievement gaps.
    • Mindset interventions can be used to combat negative effects of stereotype threat.


Helpful academic mindsets have been found to improve student perseverance and achievement.  Small scale research projects have shown that modest interventions aimed at improving academic mindsets have had long term positive impacts on students.  The small scale and out-of-standard classroom contexts of these studies make it tricky to transfer their implications to classroom practices.  A lot of research has been conducted to identify classroom conditions that promote academic mindsets.  Improving classroom conditions and explicitly scaffolding student academic mindsets can have positive, long lasting affects on their performance.  Students who can benefit most from these interventions are women, minorities, and students who have just transitioned between school.


Preparation Steps
  • Design a pre-assessment that measures presence (or absence) of 4 academic beliefs in students.
  • Analyze pre-assessment and research strategies that promote attitudes / beliefs that are student gaps.
  • Evaluate classroom practices against the list of factors that promote academic mindsets.
  • Use analysis of classroom practices to recognize what needs to be reinforced and what needs to be improved
  • Research strategies for improving classroom practices that are gaps
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement scaffolding activities that promote mindset that are their gaps after pre-assessment analysis)
  • Gather student reflection and academic data and analyze it to determine whether or not academic beliefs and performance are improving
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Ask students for feedback on what can be done to promote academic mindsets
  • Use list of classroom practices that promote academic mindsets to create a Likert scale questionnaire that students can use to give feedback on the presence (or absence) of key classroom conditions
  • Use feedback gathered from questionnaires to improve classroom conditions / strategies



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