Impact of a Growth Mindset Intervention on Academic Performance of Students at Two Urban High Schools

Added April 20, 2018

School counselors are charged with helping students develop academic skills and the necessary mindsets and behaviors to bolster those academic skills. Academic skills are measured by academic performance. Developing a growth mindset has been shown to improve academic performance. In previous studies, academic performance has been defined as a grade in middle-school mathematics, college credit completion, passing grades in high school classes, and math course completion for community college students. In this practitioner research study academic performance was defined as core grade point average (GPA).

All students can benefit academically from adopting growth mindset thinking. Urban high school students have greater academic needs and challenges than their non-urban peers as manifested in retention and graduation rates (Farrington et al., 2012). Many academic initiatives have attempted to resolve the problems of retention and poor academic performance with little sustained success. This study attempted to identify a remedy for poor academic performance that may be implemented by school counselors.

The empirical literature was reviewed. Focusing on non-cognitive skills, specifically developing a growth mindset, was one approach that has shown promising results (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Yeager & Dweck, 2012). The underlying theoretical framework of growth mindset and for this study is Dweck’s Implicit Theory of Intelligence (Dweck, 1999), which describes how belief in an incremental theory (intelligence can increase over time) results in a growth mindset. The intention of this study was to help students realize their intelligence is not fixed and they can grow their intelligence. The guiding question was, can a growth mindset intervention impact academic performance for students at two urban high schools? The goal of this study was to determine if a three-week growth mindset intervention, led by a practicing school counselor, could have a positive impact on urban high school students who may be challenged by poor grades, poor attendance, and poor graduation rates by helping them change their beliefs about their own potential. Students’ academic performance was assessed before and after a three 45-minute treatment intervention and compared with wait-list control groups. The impact on mindset beliefs and attendance were also evaluated.

Results from a sample of 69 students from two local urban high schools indicated that the intervention did not improve core GPA. The small sample size did not meet the power required to detect significant differences. The testimonial in the control sessions may have been too hopeful. Despite the lack of evidence for GPA improvement, the treatment intervention did yield increased growth mindset scores in the students and attendance did improve for the treatment group but due to the small sample size, the positive result for attendance could not be claimed.

Implications for school counseling practice include training about growth mindset in master’s courses, promoting reading and discussion of books and articles about growth mindset with colleagues and parents, and encouraging school leaders to adopt a growth mindset approach. Modeling the use of growth mindset language for peers and parents is another suggestion. Using statements like “I can see you worked really hard to understand those concepts” rather than “You did well on that test because you’re smart” is can promote growth mindset development.

Recommendations for future research include replicating this study with a larger sample size to eliminate the issues due to lack of statistical power and increasing the timeframe for measuring the impact of the intervention. Another recommendation is having teachers employ a growth mindset approach simultaneous to the GMI, thus creating what theoretically should be occurring in the school setting to improve academic performance and school culture.

While the results of this research study did not show a correlation in improved core GPA or attendance rates with participation in a growth mindset intervention, mindset beliefs did increase and have been shown by other researchers to correlate with improved grades (Aronson et al., 2002; Blackwell et al., 2007; Paunesku, 2013).

Lisa Brougham, PhD, St. Louis Public Schools, St. Louis, MO; Susan Kashubeck-West, PhD, University of Missouri–St. Louis.


Lisa Brougham, PhD, Susan Kashubeck-West, PhD