How children think about their own ability can affect their progress and achievement at school, according to a number of leading education researchers. The work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck and her concept of “mindset” has been particularly influential in the way teachers are trying to change their pupils’ views of their own intelligence.
According to Dweck, people can be placed on a continuum based on their understandings about where ability comes from. Those with a fixed mindset believe “my intelligence is fixed and there’s nothing I can do to change it”, while those with a growth mindset see intelligence as malleable and something they can improve through hard work and effort. The theory does not deny there are differences between pupils – it’s about helping all pupils improve their performance, regardless of their starting point.
As part of an effort to see how these approaches work in the classroom, new researchpublished by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) charity found that programmes aimed at changing the way schoolchildren think about themselves and their intelligence need to be in-depth and sustained in order to make a measurable difference to their school results.
Pupils’ beliefs about themselves are reinforced by feedback, a part of teaching practice which is currently receiving a lot of attention. Feedback is top of the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, compiled by the EEF and Sutton Trust and a focus for Ofsted inspections.
Dweck noted that teachers often give pupils feedback to build self-esteem. But the common approach of praising a pupil’s intelligence can encourage a fixed mindset. Praising pupils instead for their hard work and engagement with the learning process can encourage growth, according to mindset’s supporters, such the UCL Institute of Education’s Dylan William.
Mindset has also attracted interest among those making education policy who are looking for ways in which schools can promote character and resilience.