Growth Mindset Roundup

From Marginal Revolution, “Growth Mindset Replicates!”:

In other words, a small, positive effect. But this small effect is coming from a small intervention, two online survey/interventions of 25 minutes each that could be easily scaled to the entire country or even worldwide. We have come a long way from the “mindset revolution” but who am I to discount a marginal revolution? Moreover, the average effect hides heterogeneity, the effect was bigger on the students who needed it most.

Some past opponents of mindset see this as the death of mindset. David Didau has this sort of take in “The nail in Growth Mindset’s coffin?”  He says the true parts of mindset are obvious, the false parts the result of magical thinking:

What this might suggest is that students who have previously underachieved improve when told that if they took more responsibility and worked harder they might do better, and that good behaviour makes a positive difference to any intervention. Neither of which are all that surprising.

This seems to me somewhat unfair. It’s good to have research to know the degree and extent to which obvious things can be shown to have an effect. And, as Didau accurately reported, there had been a number of failed replications in the past. This is decidedly not a failed replication.

There are two new papers out on mindset to keep track of. The first is a huge, carefully done experiment. The other is a huge, carefully down meta-analysis of previous studies.

I haven’t read either carefully yet, but I’ve found it interesting to follow researchers discussing the papers. My impression is that methodologically they hold up to scrutiny. Here are some sample tweets:

Re the meta-analysis:

I don’t entirely stand by this tweet any longer — things don’t feel so confusing now:

What are the educational implications of all this? I think that the claims about the power of mindset interventions to really have a huge impact on learning now have clearly been contradicted by our best research.

It’s hard to know how to talk about this. Smart teachers and educators always knew that these interventions couldn’t have a huge impact on kids, especially if the rest of the classroom pieces weren’t there. That said, not everyone is smart about this, and there was a time early in my teaching life when I believed the over-simplified story about mindset that I heard.

Jo Boaler and YouCubed are pretty clearly going farther than what evidence dictates. I wish they wouldn’t, and am powerless to stop them, and it makes me sad that they don’t seem to care. Defenses of them seem to come down to “well it’s not true but it’s a net-good message so spread it far and wide!” This is something that goes against all my instincts. I don’t do well with this sort of utility calculation.

Anyway, for an picture of exactly the sort of thing that the evidence does not support now (if it ever did) you can check out this video from Boaler and YouCubed, about how believing in yourself has been scientifically proven to change how your brain works and improve your achievement. Blech:

Likewise, I don’t see support for the sort of mindset interventions that are built into the first week of the New Visions math curriculum. There’s some good math in there, and maybe it’s good to talk about growth mindset during that math, I don’t know. It depends on how time-intensive the mindset stuff is, I think.

Where are we headed? Growth mindset is just going to be another high-level name for describing good teaching. It matters, but as a goal, or a value that connects a lot of disparate elements of teaching practice.

It feels like the mindset story is coming to a conclusion with these big, careful studies.