Mindset doubts have been haunting education for a while now.
Most dramatically, a recent meta-analysis including more than 300 studies makes it clear that colorful growth-mindset posters won’t cure all our problems. (BTW: this meta-analysis included data from almost 370,000 participants. Wow.)
Mindset Doubts in Context
Of course, we should always doubt research findings. Science, after all, is a way of practicing effective skepticism.
At the same time, doubts don’t require wholesale rejection.
While it’s certainly true that “colorful growth-mindset posters won’t cure all our problems,” I don’t think anyone has seriously claimed that they would. (Well: maybe people who sell colorful growth-mindset posters.)
Instead, the theory makes this claim: we can help students think one way (growth mindset) more often than another way (fixed mindset). When they do…
…they have more helpful goals in school.
…they have a healthier perspective on the difficulties that regularly accompany learning.
…and, they respond more effectively to academic struggle.
This process doesn’t require a revolution. It asks for a general change in emphasis. For some students, this new emphasis increases motivation and learning.
While that big meta-analysis got lots of headlines, other useful studies have recently come out. For example:
This meta-analysis found that a well-known mindset technique largely works. When students study how brains change as they learn (“neuroplasticity”), they develop growth mindsets. And, they learn more stuff.
This recent study shows that even a “one-shot” mindset intervention has lasting effects. The researchers tested this idea over two years with four different high-school cohorts. They’ve got lots of data.
This study suggests that encouraging people to adopt a growth mindset likewise encourages them to become more “intellectually humble.” Lord knows we can all use some more intellectual humility these days.
The point is not that we should reject all mindset doubts.
The point is that one meta-analysis should not end all discussion of a theory that’s been researched for 40+ years.
We should not, of course, ask mindset to solve all our problems. Nor should we ask retrieval practice to solve all problems. Or short bursts of in-class exercise.
No one change fixes everything.
Instead, we should see Mindset Theory as one useful tool that can help many of our students.