By Sam Piha
There has been a great deal of excitement about growth mindsets and its impact on learning and development. Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) is an applied research center at Stanford University. They partner with schools, colleges, and other organizations to improve student motivation and achievement on a large scale. Some of their work focuses on professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets. PERTS offers a Mindset Kit to assist teachers and mentors with resources to improve practice. This kit offers a number of videos which can be used with staff or youth participants. It also offers resources for adults who work with youth.
Jacquie BeaubienJacquie Beaubien is Senior Program Manager at PERTS. In her work with PERTS, Jacquie partners with educators and districts to create professional development materials for implementing learning mindsets in schools and classrooms across the country.
Jacquie was a featured presenter at the How Kids Learn Speaker’s Forum on March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA. Below is an interview that was conducted before the Speaker’s Forum.
Q: Can you briefly describe the notion and benefits of promoting growth mindsets?
A: The notion of growth mindset is the belief that abilities are malleable. The historical focus has been on beliefs about intelligence - whether people believe that intelligence is malleable or whether they think it is a fixed trait. For example, when young people see intelligence as a fixed trait - something that’s like eye color that you’re either born with or not - then their goal in the classroom tends to be on showing how smart they are or hide that they don’t feel smart. So they are less likely to ask questions, and tend to give up more quickly when they encounter challenges because they see trying hard as proof that they aren’t “smart.” Students with a growth mindset, on the other hand, tend to be more focused on the goal of learning and see effort and being challenged as part of how you get smarter. They are also more likely to ask questions if they don’t understand something, seek out new strategies, and to collaborate with their peers.
Understanding how to support young people in developing a growth mindset is really important because we’ve been able to show with research that these beliefs can change, and when young people learn to have a growth mindset, they do a lot better.
Q: Can you explain what PERTS does?
A: For the first five years at PERTS, we mainly focused on conducting large-scale randomized controlled trials to test brief (30-90 minute), online programs for students. We’re really interested in testing and making interventions like this available as widely as possible so that young people in schools anywhere with Internet access can benefit. But teachers are the ones that are in the classroom with students every day and there is a growing demand to understand what teachers can do to shape these mindsets.
With a very generous grant from the Raikes Foundation, we have developed the Mindset Kit - www.mindsetkit.org - a free, online resource for educators that provides information about the research and give evidence-based recommendations for things that teachers can do to change their practices. For example, becoming aware of how they frame praise, or offer encouragement and critical feedback can send important messages. The language teachers use can help focus students’ attention on the concrete actions they can and do take to get better incrementally over time. Creating a classroom culture that makes mistakes a normal part of the learning process is another example of something teachers can do to cultivate a growth mindset in their students.
Q: Are there things that parents and adults who work with kids can do to promote growth mindsets?
A: Yes, there are a lot of things that parents and adults can do. First and foremost though, is that we all need to continually focus on noticing our own mindsets - How comfortable are we with making mistakes or trying something challenging and new? How are we talking to ourselves or to others about their accomplishments or what their mistakes mean? We all have a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets in different areas of our life, and even if we have a growth mindset most of the time, different situations can trigger us to react in very fixed mindset ways. We need to develop a growth mindset about learning to have a growth mindset! The better we get at having a growth mindset ourselves; the better able we will be to support the young people in our lives in doing the same. Kids are really good at detecting contradictions so you can’t just tell them to have a growth mindset and not be living it yourself too. I think one of the most helpful things adults can do is to teach kids what a growth mindset is, and then embark on the journey of developing it together - collaborate on helping each other see when we’re reacting with a fixed mindset.
Q: Can you talk about the Mindset Kit?
A: The Mindset Kit is a set of free, online resources for teacher, parents, or anyone working with young people. There are videos and different activities that can be downloaded. These are designed to provide information about what mindsets are, what the research has shown about why they matter, and provide activities and recommendations for how to help young people develop a growth mindset. The Mindset Kit also offers ways educators can think about modifying the way they use language and how to create a safe environment for young people to feel comfortable making mistakes and being challenged.
Q: Are you seeing any early effects from the research?
A: Yes, we were able to show that young people who are at-risk of failing, those with a GPA of 2.0 or less, or who had failed a core class in the previous semester, saw an 8% boost in their GPA, and were more likely to pass their core (English, language arts, etc.) and STEM classes.
Q: How appropriate do you think this work is for after-school providers?
A: Extremely appropriate, which is why we created a course for mentors specifically. It’s so important that young people get the support from all angles. Much of the literature on growth mindsets is really focused on classroom learning, but as you know, there are a large number of young people who are participating in after-school and informal learning environments.
We created the course for mentors in partnership with the organization Mentors for people who work with young people in various different contexts outside of the education environment. There’s also a section for parents on the Mindset Kit because it’s really important for young people to get the message in a consistent way through all of the people, all of the adults in their lives.
Q: Can you cite any practices that after-school program providers could easily integrate into their programs?
A: I think the most important thing is to talk to students about what a growth mindset is and why it’s true that your brain gets stronger as you challenge yourself and learn new things. We co-developed a curriculum with Khan Academy that can be downloaded here. And then, as I said earlier, to create a norm with kids that we’re all working on getting better at having a growth mindset together. Ask kids to share stories about a time when they didn’t initially think they could learn something, but eventually they did. The great thing about extracurricular activities like sports and music is that it’s much easier for people to see in those contexts that mistakes are a normal part of learning, and that you can’t get better without lots of practices, learning new strategies, and getting feedback. What after-school program providers can do is help students scaffold these ideas back to other academic domains like math and science where many students often have fixed mindsets.
How adults talk to young people is important, but we all know that especially when you’re in your adolescence that you’re really influenced by your peers. Creating a norm amongst young people of how they talk to each other is also really important.
Q: Do you see any connections between growth mindsets and mindfulness?
A: It’s not an area we have focused our research on, but there is some exciting research on the positive effects of mindfulness. I think there is a connection in that part of developing a growth mindset that involves becoming aware of how you are reacting to being challenged or making mistakes - How are you reacting emotionally, and what thoughts are you having? The more skilled we become at noticing our emotions and our habitual thought patterns, the better we can get at making conscious choices to respond differently. What I like about mindfulness is that it is taught as a practice, something that you never stop doing. One common misconception about learning to have a growth mindset is that it should happen over night, and once you have it, you’re done learning. But really, it’s a practice too.
Q: If people wanted to learn more or receive additional training, whom should they contact?
A: Our goal with the Mindset Kit is to create a free, open-access resource for all adults working with young people to be able to learn about this work. We’re continually improving the Mindset Kit so that hopefully it will be able to provide enough guidance so people won’t feel they need a professional to train them. We also have made it interactive so educators can share the resources they create with others. So, we encourage people to upload their own practices.
You’ll see when you go to the Mindset Kit that there are numerous ways to send us feedback. We are continuously improving it so feedback from our users is important. We are also collaborating with schools and districts to learn more about what resources and tools would help people be able to implement this in their context more effectively.
Another good resource to teach children about growth mindsets is ClassDojo. This website offers a number of animated videos that can be used to teach young people about growth mindsets.
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Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.