Utilising Growth Mindset theory in Artsmark, Arts Award, and your work with children and young people

Date Created: 9th Jan 2019

Quote By Frank A Clark: 'If you find a path with no obstacles it probably doesn't lead anywhere.'

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Words: Meg Hockley, Artsmark and Arts Award Apprentice

“You’re so clever”, or “You have a talent for this”, are phrases that a lot of teachers will use to encourage and congratulate their students. However, back in 1998, Dr Caroline Dweck and Claudia Mueller from Columbia University, New York, were interested to uncover whether the resulting outcomes for students who received this praise was actually to the contrary. They undertook a six-study process to gauge how different variations of praise affected students, in relation to what types of study behaviour these variations led to. Their research culminated in the theory of Growth Mindset (the idea that intelligence can be developed rather than set in stone), which has now transcended into mainstream ideology, and is positively influencing education around the globe today.

To reach their answer, the psychologists facilitated a study that consisted of students aged nine to twelve completing a problem-solving game. Following the game, each student was told they had answered 80% of the questions correctly. However, the difference between them was that their feedback celebrated different successes, splitting them into two groups. One group was praised for how hard they had worked to achieve the 80%, the other were congratulated for their intelligence in completing the task. The disparity of impact that this had on the students, was exactly what Caroline and Claudia were hoping to discover.

Some of the findings included:

  • Children that were praised for their effort tended to choose tasks that would help them learn new things.
  • Children praised for their intelligence said they enjoyed the task less compared to the children praised for their effort.
  • The majority of children praised for their intelligence asked for information about how their peers did on the same task. Only 23% of children praised for their effort requested this type of feedback.
  • Crucially, children praised for their effort rather than their intelligence performed better in future tasks.

One particular case study worth noting is Fiske Elementary School, who embedded Growth Mindset into every area of their school, starting with their own staff. Whilst local schools’ academic performance in Maths and English stagnated, Fiske underwent incredible growth. Graphs that visually represent this improvement can be found at www.mindsetworks.com.

Subsequently, many studies have followed in an attempt to better prove the theories surrounding Growth Mindset. Global research has repeatedly concluded that Growth Mindset is associated with higher levels of attainment and better grades. Some of these studies are comprised of large sample sizes of over 100,000 students, thus enhancing the reliability.

On the other hand, researchers in England found that development in English and Maths, originally connected to the introduction of Growth Mindset, could have resulted from coincidence. Another study, which took place in China and involved 222 students, found no correlation between academic improvement and student mindset.

Regardless of academic performance, Growth Mindset has a range of valuable advantages, including helping students cope better with transition, better self-regulation, perseverance and enhancing positive social behaviours. In their original study, Dweck and Mueller (1998) commented:“Children exposed to this intelligence feedback were likely to respond negatively when they faced achievement setbacks…children given effort feedback, who valued learning over performance, were less likely to fall apart when they experienced an isolated low performance.”

When students are actively aware that they can get smarter, they value the idea of effort leading to better performance. Therefore, they are willing to put in the time and effort to achieve their own goals. Our brains plasticity is a thing of wonder, with research highlighting that connectivity between neurons can change with experience and that with practice, we can grow new connections and build up insulation. This can then help fuel the transmission of impulses, evidently improving the capacity of our brains.

The embedding of arts and creativity in education provides an ideal example of an approach that already prioritises interest and motivation rather than academic intelligence. Often with creativity, effort and passion is all that is required for success, meaning Growth Mindset-style praise would be a great practice, especially when (as a setting) you are progressing through your Artsmark journey. Additionally, if you are supporting a young person through their Arts Award, these findings could help you consider how to adapt your methods of encouragement for the benefit of their artistic expansion. By focusing on students’ effort and dedication rather than talent or intellect, you can help guide them towards paths that will better suit, inspire and subsequently enrich them.

A link to the full study by Dweck and Mueller can be found here: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/25ab/297c17a87c8a0f79e109be531fe9c7da97b8.pdf

See here for some great Growth Mindset quotes you can print off and stick up somewhere to inspire you and your pupils!




Arts Award Artsmark South East Bridge Work-based learning

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