Elephant in the classroom! Does teaching for a 'Growth Mindset' actually make a difference to student achievement?

Elephant in the Classroom

'Growth Mindset' has been taking up a lot of classroom and head space in Australian education for the past five or so years. So it's probably time we discuss/critique this elephant in the classroom.

Does teaching for a 'Growth Mindset' make a difference to student achievement? Since so many schools commit a lot of planning and classroom time to implementing Growth Mindset programs it is important that we answer this essential question.

According to Carol Dweck's mindset theory, students with "growth mindsets" show more resilience in times of failure, which leads to greater academic achievement - while students with "fixed mindsets" believe their skills can’t be improved and therefore don't put in the effort, resulting in worse academic achievement.

Growth Mindset programs aim to teach students they can improve their skills with effort – that is, you get smarter and better through hard work. No one can argue with that. But can a school's attempt to instill this self-belief in their students actually raise results?

In two meta-analyses by researchers at Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University it was found that Growth Mindset programs don't make a difference to students' academic achievement in most circumstances.

This study synthesised the findings from hundreds of Growth Mindset studies which measured and compared academic achievements of 400,000 students using grades, exam results and standardized test scores.

Similar to Carol Dweck's research approach, the first meta-analysis in this study examined whether students’ mindsets were related to their academic achievement. Whereas with Dweck's research there was a strong correlation between a growth mindset and performance this was not the case when researchers analysed the data in this more recent, and independent, study.

In the second meta-analysis the research team examined whether "growth mindset interventions" increased academic achievement. After averaging all the findings, the study found that:

  • academic achievement largely stayed the same when a growth mindset program was successful (that is, even though the program implementation did effectively change students' beliefs from 'fixed' to 'growth' mindset it didn't improve academic results)

  • but in schools where a growth mindset program implementation failed to change students’ mindsets/beliefs academic achievement actually increased.

The conclusion is that when academic achievement does go up in a school it is not related to a school's Growth Mindset program - there are other factors at play causing the improvement. And conversely, when a school's results go down it is not for a lack of growth mindset in its students. Something else is the problem.

James Phelps

The research article I am referring to - 'To What Extent and Under Which Circumstances are Growth Mindsets Important to Academic Achievement?' - was published in Psychological Science in April 2018.

You can purchase the research paper here: