By Tenelle Porter, University of California, Davis
Visualize something you’ve always been pretty good at–maybe it’s a skill or subject in school that came easily to you, something that made you think “I’m a natural!” Now, think about something you really struggled with but eventually learned. Maybe it’s playing an instrument, or solving quadratic equations — something that took effort, practice, and lots of failure, but that eventually you got.
Research tells us that both of these experiences probably informed your “theories” about how abilities work. One belief you may have developed is that abilities are fixed; this view says that we come into the world good at some things and bad at others and we stay that way – this is sometimes called the Fixed Mindset. Another belief is that skills and abilities are malleable – that you can learn or improve at just about anything with enough effort and help – this is sometimes called the Growth Mindset.
Every person has a mix of both the fixed and the growth mindset. But, research suggests that when students can tap into a growth mindset, it can help them succeed in school. Believing you can get better in math (growth mindset) is more helpful than believing you’re bad at math and there’s not much you can do about it (fixed mindset).
One way a growth mindset is likely to help students is by shaping their behavior. What do I mean? Students who embrace the growth mindset are likely to act in ways that promote their learning and growth, even if that means taking risks: they will seek out challenges to help them learn, be more effortful and persistent when material is difficult because they believe it’s possible to improve, and show resilience – when inevitable set-backs come in school, they can to bounce back.
We think these behaviors, Persistence, Effort, Challenge-seeking, and Resilience, are an important part of the growth mindset picture. That’s why our UC Davis and Mindset Works research team has been working to develop a new assessment tool, PERC, to tap into them. In PERC, students complete puzzles that don’t depend on their knowledge of other subjects: we use their responses to these puzzles as our primary measures (check out this video for details). PERC allows us to take a sample of students’ behavior in response to a novel activity, not unlike those encountered regularly in school. Although behavior is tricky to study, partially because it is difficult to measure on a large scale, PERC is computer-based, and self-directed, making it feasible to administer to many students at once.
We’re finding that PERC behaviors are positively associated with students’ achievement. Even when we take into account where students start out the year in their grades, PERC behaviors still explain achievement at year’s end. The students who have more of a growth mindset also tend to have higher persistence, effort, resilience and challenge-seeking on PERC, as we would expect.
What are some ways you have seen a Growth Mindset reflected in how you or your students behave?
Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.