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The Right Mindset Raises Grades

Students take an exam
Problem Area: 

Problem

Many kids’ grades fall when they make the transition from elementary to middle school.  

Solution

Teaching middle-school students to think of intelligence as a skill they can develop over time, rather than a talent they were born with (or not), helps them persist in the face of setbacks and earn better grades... 

Details

Psychologist Lisa Blackwell and her colleagues randomly assigned seventh-grade students in New York City to one of two conditions. In the control condition, undergraduate research assistants taught the students how the brain works and study skills such as memorization strategies. In the growth mindset condition, the research assistants additionally taught students that if they work hard, they can grow their brains and become smarter. 
 
The researchers found that, in the control condition, students’ math grades showed the usual drop from about a C+ average at the end of sixth grade to a C- average at the end of seventh grade. But in the growth mindset condition, students’ math grades did not drop. Instead, these students worked harder to meet the challenge of their more difficult work load.  Their teachers noticed their efforts: 
 
“L., who never puts in any extra effort and doesn’t turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so I could review it and give him a chance to revise it,” reported one middle-school teacher. “He earned a B+ on the assignment (he had been getting C’s and lower).”

Why This Works

When students think intelligence is fixed, they interpret failures as evidence that they are not smart enough to succeed, and then they give up. But when students think their brains can grow, they view setbacks as an opportunity to work harder and become smarter. Their extra effort pays off, earning them better grades and sparking a virtuous cycle of hard work and academic success. 

When This Works Best

People who think intelligence is fixed, innate, hardwired, genetic, or otherwise unchangeable benefit most from learning to think of their brain as a muscle that can be strengthened through hard work.

Original Study

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78 (1), 246-263.

In the Media

The New York Times

Stanford Magazine

Edutopia

See Also

Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38 (2), 113-125.  

Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents’ standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645-662.