What is all the controversy about mindset?
Over several decades educators and psychologists have paid attention to students’ mindsets – stemming from the groundbreaking work of Carol Dweck. Researchers have found that the belief that ability is fixed leads to educational inequality and students having lower achievement. The last ten years or so have provided opportunities for many research studies investigating whether a mindset intervention prompts a more productive approach to learning. The evidence is complex, showing that some students are changed when they learn about brain growth and the importance of times of struggle. For some other students, delivering the ideas of mindset does not bring about significant or long-lasting changes, which has led some people to mistakenly dismiss the ideas of mindset. But we have now entered a new era with several research studies showing definitively that mindset messages are important, with new understandings of the ways they should be implemented.
For widescale and lasting improvements in mathematics learning, messages need to be specific to mathematics, and delivered through a change in teaching, not just the delivery of different ideas. Researchers have found that we need the development of mindset cultures in classrooms and workplaces. The studies show that mindset interventions work when students are in classrooms where teachers hold growth mindset beliefs about their students, and they implement a growth mindset culture. This includes the provision of more open tasks, and learning focused assessment that emphasizes growth and gives opportunities for revision. This page shares this important evidence. For an example of a school set up with a mindset culture, see this example of a growth mindset K-8 school, and for training on how to instill a mindset culture in your classroom, see our professional development offerings.