Researching Growth Mindset in Education

--Originally published at flipping – Martha Ramirez

The purpose of this post is to share the generalities of a research project I participated in during 2019 while a more formal research paper is published. Please feel free to comment or inquire about the details, since, as you will read ahead, there was a lot of work put into this project and a lot of data as well, so the information has been synthesized.

How it all began

I’ve been teaching about Flipped learning (FL) for some years now and I started integrating Growth Mindset (GM) as part of the content to be covered within my FL courses. It’s a mind-changing and game-changing concept that impacted my own teaching, so it became part of my curriculum. After teaching my students about GM, I started noticing changes in their reflections, their discourse and in their own practices.

However, I had no real evidence to say that teaching GM had a positive impact on my students mindsets and their teaching practices. That’s when the idea to convert this “hunch” into a formal study appeared.As a result, all last year I was immersed in a research project about growth mindset in education. I am part of the research group Educación para el bilingüísmo y multilingüísmo at Universidad de Los Andes, and we applied for a grant to do research on the effect a GM course could have on public school language teachers in Bogotá, Colombia. Needless to say, we were very happy to have won it!

Research Group (from left to right):
Marcela Guzmán, Paula García, Isabel Tejada, Martha Ramirez, Ivonne Chipatecua.

What’s growth mindset anyway?

The theoretical framework of the concept of mindset was based on Carol Dweck’s (2006) work on fixed and growth mindsets as well as Brock and Hundley’s (2017) work on the characteristics of a growth mindset educator. I will explain them briefly for the purpose of this post.

Dweck states that everyone has two types of mindsets:

Additionally, she has identified five key situations in which either mindset appears and has a direct influence on the outcome: effort, criticism, success of others, challenges, and obstacles.

Moreover, Brock and Hundley (2017) have proposed 10 characteristics that a growth mindset educator should have, based on Dweck’s work.

I am just sharing two key authors of the main constructs of our research project without mentioning autonomy and empowerment. Moreover, the decisions made for this project were based on various studies (and the lack of them), which I have omitted from this post. For more information about our growth mindset bibliography and studies that grounded this research, click here.

Why do research on Growth Mindset?

The purpose of the project was to determine if the implementation of a growth mindset course for language educators would have an impact on their mindset and their empowerment at a personal or professional level.

Why? Because there has been very little work done on the role a growth mindset plays in educators, especially in the field of languages. Most of the research has focused on students, specifically, in the field of mathematics. The data analysed has been aimed at the effect mindset has on students’ GPA (Grade Point Average) and motivation.

The research process

We used a qualitative research approach with a multiple case study. The study was developed in two phases with 15 public school language teachers in Bogotá, Colombia.

Research questions:
What is the relationship between a course on Growth Mindset and the Empowerment of language teachers in the District of Bogotá?
In which aspects of the teaching practice could the relationship between Growth Mindset and Empowerment be observed?

Objectives
General Objective:
To explore the relationship between a course on Growth Mindset and Empowerment of language teachers in the District of Bogotá.
Specific Objective:
To design and implement a professional development workshop on Growth Mindset.
To observe whether teachers transfer their learning about Growth Mindset to their classroom practice.

Phase 1: The workshop

The first phase of the study was to design a 7-week workshop for a total of 21 hours of class: one 3-hour class per week. This is where I came in! It was my job to design and teach the workshop.

I based the workshop design taking information from my previous GM lessons, a number of books I had read on mindset, and research. Learning about a Growth Mindset implies many topics, so deciding what to include or leave out is never easy. Therefore, I decided to focus each session on one main topic. It was designed within an in-class flip learning approach and each week had a specific topic to cover and a number of hands-on active learning tasks for teachers to learn and reflect on their mindsets in their teaching practice. I shared the lesson planning with the research group and made adjustments according to the feedback provided.

Image of workshop topics. Courtesy of Isabel Tejada

The image shows the main topics of the workshop per lesson. In another post, I will share the design in more detail, so stay tuned!

Phase 2: Class Observation and Feedback

For phase 2, we asked for volunteers willing to be observed and receive feedback on their teaching practice. The observation was set for one month after the workshop was completed, to determine if there was some change in teachers’ practice based on everything they had learned. Five teachers volunteered. 

Class observation & feedback cycle.
Image courtesy of Isabel Tejada

Phase 2 was divided into two stages of observation moments. In both cases, we provided a rubric with the criteria we would be observing (based on Dweck’s five situations, Brock & Hundley’s ten characteristics and we added autonomy and empowerment to the mix).
In stage 1, the five volunteer teachers were observed, their classes were recorded (with consent), and they were asked to self-evaluate using the same rubric and their class video. Then, they were given individual feedback based on the rubric and followed by an interview about the process.
In Stage 2, we observed and recorded each class, we collected student surveys, interviewed teachers and had group feedback with all five teachers. We made an individualized feedback report for each teacher with an analysis of the survey, their interviews, and rubric analysis. We also recommended pedagogical and didactic strategies for them to include in their future classes. We gave a printed report to each of them in the group feedback session where they reflected and shared their insights on how they had improved based on the report of the process.

Data collected

Eight data collection instruments were used in this study.

In phase 1, teachers took the pre and post surveys with statements about fixed and growth mindset situations, they wrote narratives about their fixed mindset and they were interviewed.

In phase 2, class observations were analyzed with a rubric focused on identifying growth and fixed mindset instances, one group of students of each teacher’s class answered a survey, individual feedback was provided at the end of the process and teachers were asked to complete a self-evaluation as well.

Results

The data were analyzed through a thematic analysis process (Braun & Clarke, 2006), which implied multiple readings, coding and categorization of the data based on the previously selected situations and attributes of GM. As you can imagine, there was a lot of time and work put into this process.


Here is a summary of the most relevant results:
Phase 1:
The post-test survey demonstrated an increase in GM responses as opposed to the pre-test.
The main fixed mindset triggers in teacher’s narratives were: challenges, change, personal fears, failure, and a lack of self-confidence.
Communication was the GM educator characteristic which showed more change in teachers’ discourse and practices (based on interviews). This tells us that learning how to communicate with a GM approach had a high impact on teachers’ own way of communicating.
Within teachers’ discourses, three key situations stood out (within a fixed or growth mindset): obstacles, effort, and challenges. Criticism and success of others were hardly ever mentioned in their reflections about their mindsets.
Teacher reflections on their fixed mindset were not only at a professional level but also at a personal level.

Phase 2:
Teachers in phase 2 reported that there was a lasting effect of the content learned in the workshop even after it had ended.
In stage 1 (observation 1), a few aspects showed evidence of a growth mindset in their teaching. Student praise was focused primarily on results instead of on process.
Individual feedback of each teacher’s observation was key for further incorporation of a GM approach in their classes.
In stage 2 (observation 2), the teachers made didactic proposals to improve pedagogical aspects in their classes.
There was evidence of empowerment in action in all five teachers’ practices as a result of their own awareness of their fixed mindsets.

Meeting Carol Dweck

Selfie with Carol Dweck at APA Conference 2019, Chicago.

As this research project was being developed, I had the opportunity to go to two of Carol Dweck‘s presentations in 2019. The first presentation was in Chicago at the APA Conference, where she talked about the research done so far. She mentioned that she is starting to work on teaching educators about Growth Mindset. Imagine my excitement when I had the chance to talk to her and tell her we were already advancing in this field in Colombia!
The second presentation was in London. There I had the chance to not only hear Carol Dweck talk about the implications of developing a growth mindset for learning, but I also got to hear James Nottingham and the awesome work he is doing with mindset. I brought back three of the many books he has written. Absolutely wonderful!

What’s next?

There definitely needs to be more research about GM in pre and in-service educators, but more than that, there needs to be more courses available for educators. I will be teaching the second version of this course in a virtual setting together with co-researchers Paula Garcia and Isabel Tejada, which is very exciting! I have no doubt of the potential this course has not only for educators, but for anyone in any field. We all need to embrace a growth mindset, especially with all the current challenges the world is putting on our shoulders.

References:
Brock, A. y Hundley, H. (2017). The growth mindset playbook: A teacher’s guide to promoting student success. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine.

Credits:
Icons by Pixel Perfect from Flaticon.com

 

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