NATIONAL STUDY OF LEARNING MINDSETS

The National Study of Learning Mindsets (NSLM) was designed to understand which kinds of students, in which kinds of classrooms, and in which kinds of schools are most likely to benefit from an online exercise designed to foster a growth mindset during the transition to high school.

It is the largest-ever randomized controlled trial of a growth mindset intervention in the United States in K-12 settings, encompassing more than 16,000 9th grade students across 76 U.S. public high schools. It is one of the only studies of adolescent behavior outcomes over time to use the gold standard for testing cause and effect (a randomized experiment) with the gold standard for making claims about a population of schools (a representative sample).

The leaders of the NSLM crafted the study with an interdisciplinary team, including national experts in sampling and study design. The result is a rigorous study that reflects best practices across multiple disciplines. The research team, listed below, included experts in psychology, sociology, statistics, economics, and education.

Lead investigator:

Collaborators:

Advisers:

  • Nicole Kersting, University of Arizona
  • Jared Murray, University of Texas at Austin
  • Gerardo Ramirez, University of California at Los Angeles
  • Robert Reynolds, University of Texas at Austin
  • James Stigler, University of California at Los Angeles
  • Michael Weiss, MDRC

ICF International Team:

  • Kate Flint
  • Ronaldo Iachan
  • Alice Roberts
  • Jill Trott

Primary Research Questions

  • Can the growth mindset intervention improve the grades of lower-performing students in U.S. public schools?
  • Can the growth mindset intervention motivate students to enroll in challenging math and science courses?
  • Can the growth mindset intervention reduce group-based inequalities in academic performance in U.S. public schools?
  • Do the effects of the growth mindset intervention depend on schools’ formal resources (e.g., the curriculum and instruction)?
  • Are the effects of the growth mindset intervention larger in schools or classrooms that are supportive of growth mindset beliefs?

Why It’s Important

The NSLM is one of the only studies of adolescent behavior outcomes over time to use the gold standard for testing cause and effect (a randomized experiment) with the gold standard for making claims about a population of schools (a representative sample).

At this point, the online growth mindset exercise is being made freely available to all schools in the U.S. and Canada.

The researchers have taken steps to ensure that the full dataset from the study will be freely available to any scientist who wishes to analyze it. Given the unusual design of the study and the comprehensive collection of student-, classroom-, and school-level measures, the dataset can serve as a useful tool for education research to gain insights about mindsets and the learning environment.

Intervention Being Tested

The online growth mindset intervention was inspired by the in-person growth mindset intervention originally developed in the early 2000s in Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Good, Aronson, Inzlicht, 2003; and Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck 2007. In 2010, the Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) at Stanford University, worked with the NSLM Principal Investigator, David Yeager and other researchers to translate the longer, in-person intervention into a brief module that could be delivered online with a high degree of fidelity. PERTS and these researchers refined this online growth mindset intervention over a two-year period to produce the intervention tested in the NSLM.

Intervention design and implementation

Students were randomly assigned to complete either the growth mindset exercise or a control exercise during two, 25-minute sessions.

In the treatment condition students read and listened to materials describing scientific evidence about how the brain works and about people’s ability to grow intellectual abilities over time. The treatment condition also encouraged students to think about why they might want to grow their brain in order to make a difference on something they personally care about. The students also reflected on how to put these beliefs into practice, for instance by completing a brief writing assignment providing advice for future 9th graders that might ease their transition to high school based on what the participants had just learned from the intervention. These exercises give students an opportunity to engage in active learning by synthesizing the ideas they’ve heard and thinking through their implications.

Sample

A total of 139 schools, selected from a sampling frame of over 12,000 regular U.S. public high schools, were invited to administer the intervention and provide student records. A total of 76 schools agreed to participate in the study. 65 of the 76 schools provided all requested records, including both survey data and administrative records for students. The remaining 11 schools provided only the student and teacher survey data.