A new report by Mindset Scholars Network member Ron Ferguson and colleagues sheds light on the teaching practices that promote students’ learning mindsets and engagement in the classroom. The researchers found that certain teaching practices elicit specific student responses in ways that may be different than we might assume. These findings have important implications for teacher training and development.

Fourteen years ago, Ferguson developed a highly regarded framework that depicts seven components of teaching (the “Tripod 7Cs™”). The 7Cs refer to specific elements of personal support, curricular support, and academic press that teachers provide to students (see figure for the complete list of Cs). In the widely used Tripod 7Cs Student Survey, students answer questions about their own behaviors and beliefs, and general observations about the classroom. When aggregated at the classroom level, these reports provide an assessment of the presence (or lack thereof) of each of the 7Cs in a given classroom. Past research with thousands of classrooms has found that students’ reported behavior and perceptions are remarkably accurate, and are strong predictors of achievement gains on standardized tests.


Source: Ferguson, R., Phillips, J. F. S., Friedlander, J. W. (2015). The Influence of Teaching. Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency. The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University.

In this new study, Ferguson and his colleagues looked at the relationship between the 7Cs and numerous measures of students’ emotional engagement, behavioral engagement, and learning mindsets in the classroom. They surveyed over 300,000 6th-9th grade students from over 16,000 classrooms across the nation.

The study found that the 7C components of teaching had specific impacts on student engagement and behaviors:

  • Teachers who were rated higher on Care, Confer, Classroom Management, and Captivate tended to have students who reported higher levels of happiness in the classroom—an important indicator of levels of trust and belonging in the classroom.
  • When teachers displayed higher levels of Care in their classrooms, their students displayed greater purpose, were more interested in college or other future orientations, and were more likely to seek help when needed.
  • The components Consolidate and Clarify were strong predictors of how likely students were to agree with the statement that, “In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.”
  • Clarify also had a strong relationship with students feeling less angry in class, better student conduct, and increased satisfaction with achievement.
  • When teachers consistently displayed Challenge, their students tended to adopt mastery orientation goals and had higher self-reported levels of self-discipline.

The study also looked at which components of teaching had a positive impact on students’ mindsets about ability. The results showed that providing lucid explanations (part of Clarify) was the most consistent predictor of mastery orientation, efficacy, effort, and help seeking. Six of the 7C components were shown to be positive predictors of growth mindset development. However, a component of Clarify that focuses on clearing up confusion tended to make students less likely to develop a growth mindset, potentially due to the fact that teachers may attempt to clarify or help students too quickly. Growth mindset development is measured by whether students agree that the classroom is one where they learn to believe that they can get smarter.

The pathway to student growth and learning mindsets is not a straightforward, simplistic route. It involves a multitude of factors, from the learning opportunities present in schools and the classroom environment, to the conditions students face outside of school and how they think about their own abilities and potential. Ferguson and his colleagues shed new light on this complicated process, providing evidence that there is no single factor that makes a teacher, student, or classroom successful.

This extensive work provides a deeper look at how various components of teaching can impact the ways students learn, act, and feel. The study suggests that supporting teachers in developing effective classroom habits that combine these components may be an important piece of efforts to ensure the best possible educational outcomes for all students.

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