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Opportunities & Dangers Of Big New Growth Mindset Study

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Danger Deep WaterCreative Commons License Michael Reilly via Compfight

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of the growth mindset concept (see The Best Resources On Helping Our Students Develop A “Growth Mindset”) , though not entirely an uncritical one (see Our Students Are Not Supermen & Superwomen and The Limits To The Power Of A Growth Mindset (& The Dangers When We Don’t Recognize Them) )

Carol Dweck, Susana Claro and PERTS Lab founder David Paunesku just published a big new study – today – on the use of a growth mindset with students in country of Chile.

Education Week has a nice summary of it. You can read the study here, though it’s behind a paywall.

My layperson’s analysis of it is that it offers, as this blog post’s headline says, “opportunities and dangers.”

OPPORTUNITIES

It certainly provides support to those of us who want to spend time in the classroom teaching about and reinforcing a growth mindset with our students.  The study says that students having a growth mindset  from families with an income in the lowest ten percentile achieved comparable test scores to students with a fixed mindset who came from families with the 80th family income percentile.

That seemed way too good to be true, even for a believer like me.  I wondered if, perhaps, one factor mitigating this kind of leap could be if income inequality was considerably less there than here (that issue has been found to influence many aspects of people’s lives – see The Best Resources About Wealth & Income Inequality — Help Me Create A Simple Lesson Plan Using Them).  Much to my surprise, I learned that Chile is one of the few countries in the world with a higher degree of income equality than the United States!

So, unless I’m missing something, and I’m open to being told I am, it seems like an impressive result demonstrating the potential positive impact of emphasizing a growth mindset in school.

The study also found that “the lowest-income Chilean students were twice as likely as the highest income students to report a fixed mindset…” It suggests that, as other research has shown (see The Best Articles About The Study Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough ), some of the difficulties some people who come from low-income communities have in applying certain Social Emotional Learning skills to academic endeavors are as a consequence of the socio-economic challenges they face, not the other way around.  I do wish, though, the researchers had put a little more “meat” into that explanation.

DANGERS

Unfortunately, the “Let Them Eat Character” crowd could very well use these kinds of results to push for growth-mindset lessons instead of providing adequate support for schools, students and their families.

The researchers end with – what seems to me, at least – this attempt to inoculate themselves against being accused of supporting that kind of strategy:

“To be clear, we are not suggesting that structural factors, like income inequality or disparities in school quality, are less important than psychological factors. Nor are we saying that teaching students a growth mindset is a substitute for systemic efforts to alleviate poverty and economic inequality. Such claims would stand at odds with decades of research and our own data. Rather, we are suggesting that structural inequalities can give rise to psychological inequalities and that those psychological inequalities can reinforce the impact of structural inequalities on achievement and future opportunity. As such, research on psychological factors can help illuminate one set of processes through which economic disadvantage leads to academic underachievement and reveal ways to more effectively support students who face additional challenges because of their socioeconomic circumstances.”

I’m not sure when your entire paper can be easily interpreted as saying that having a growth mindset can eliminate most of the achievement (or better, “opportunity”) gap, this short paragraph is enough…

If you can get though the paywall, or if you can at least read the Ed Week summary, let me know what you think of my analysis….

 

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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