Encouraging a growth mindset is not just about boosting academic achievement

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Jim Knight is chief education adviser to TES' parent company, TES Global, and a former minister of state for schools. This blog first appeared in the TES. 

One of the hot topics among teachers right now appears to be “growth mindset”.

My twitter feed is full of it, and apparently the secretary of state said this week that the growth mindset is essential for success. Mike Gershon’s Growth Mindset Pocketbook is walking off the shelves in the Amazon warehouse. And it has a key place in the effort to teach character, grit, and aspiration.

I remember listening to John Hattie last year at a conference in Birmingham tell us that the most important factor in student success was student expectation of their own performance. He then pointed out that this then conflicts with constantly testing them and telling them they are a B grade student.

Perhaps this is one reason why not everyone is a fan. If you are in a school system addicted to testing for accountability purposes then this is pretty challenging. And it is clearly going to be dismissed as nonsense if you think grit and character is developed in the school of hard knocks.

But with this debate raging the Education Endowment Foundation report last week into teaching the growth mindset was very interesting. The headlines were that teaching young people directly in workshops had a positive effect on performance but that training teachers to teach it did not.

At first glance I found this confusing. I couldn’t work out how you were going to get the positive effect of training young people without training the trainers. I looked a little more at the research methodology and found that the teacher CPD was carried out over two half-day sessions.

This in turn made me wonder whether this evidence was informed by research that evidenced how to do effective CPD we might get a different result. The recent Teacher Development Trust reportfound that “the most effective professional development lasted at least two terms.”

I hope that a follow up to this timely research could be to see whether evidence informed CPD design might get a different result.

Two other related things also caught my attention this week.

First Richard Layard, my colleague in the Lords, blogged about why schools should teach character as well as competence. Their research at the LSE, using the British Cohort Study, found that the strongest predictor of a satisfying adult life is a child’s emotional health, and least important is academic achievement.

So, even if teaching the growth mindset has a marginal effect on academic performance (the outcome measured in the EEF study), it remains worth pursuing if we still believe in educating to prepare people for leading fulfilling and satisfying lives.

And finally, I was lucky enough to go to the Apps for Good Awards this week. 20,000 young people took part this year in designing apps to deliver some sort of social good. The results are inspiring in showing what can be done by asking young people to collaborate, to create, to present, and to learn from failure.

This event showed better than anything else I can think of how to teach character, 21st century skills, and ambition to achieve extraordinary things.