Increase Students’ Motivation, Grades & Achievement Test Scores
Over the past two decades, the main goal of our co-founders Carol
S. Dweck, Ph.D.
Sorich Blackwell, Ph.D.
, has been to research what helps students to
achieve highly, and to apply the lessons learned to improving their motivation
and achievement. They discovered that developing a growth mindset (the core belief that abilities are malleable and not fixed) is critical to adopting learning-oriented behavior. A growth mindset results in increased motivation, grades and achievement test scores. Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Dweck then developed the Brainology® Program
in order to help students cultivate a growth mindset.
Below is information on the growth mindset research background. You can also view a visual, summary presentation of the growth mindset research that led to the Brainology® Program.
Drs. Dweck and Blackwell’s research, we have found that the beliefs and
attitudes held by students when they begin junior high school have a strong influence
on their achievement over these critical years.
In particular, the
research found that students who believed that their intelligence was something
that they could develop and increase—what we term a growth mindset—also held
many other positive attitudes. First, believing that their ability
could be increased, they valued learning as a goal, even when it involved hard
work or initial errors. They also believed in the efficacy of
effort—that is, they viewed effort in a positive way and felt that they had the ability, through their own efforts, to learn and master new
material up to standard. When they had difficulty in a subject, they
made more constructive, mastery-oriented explanations—rather than just saying,
“I’m not smart enough,” or “I just can’t do math,” they explained their
difficulty as due to lack of effort or inadequate strategy. And they
responded with more positive, effort-based strategies to work harder and spend
more time on the subject instead of giving up.
Even more striking,
students with a growth mindset had an upward trajectory in mathematics grades
over seventh and eighth grade, while those who viewed their intelligence as a
fixed quality did not. This was true even though students had equal
levels of prior achievement: students who believed that their intelligence was
malleable did better than did equally able students who viewed their
intelligence as an unchangeable, fixed “entity.” This was true for
students at all levels of ability.
Our research, as well as
that of others, has shown that students who hold a growth mindset use more
sophisticated strategies in their coursework. For example, they use
more complex cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies–those that involve active
and deeper-level processing of material, and self-monitoring of the learning
Research on Learning and the
In the same period of time, research has shown
that the brain is in fact much more malleable than previously thought.
It was once believed that the brain did not grow new cells, and that there were
severe limitations on the malleability, or neuroplasticity, of the brain after
early childhood. But in the past few decades, research has shown that
learning causes substantial changes in the brains of both animals and human
beings throughout life.
Thinking occurs in the brain through the
chemical communication of nerve cells connected in a complex network.
With learning, the cells of the brain develop new connections between them, and
existing connections become stronger. Studies in neurophysiology,
neuroanatomy, and brain imaging have shown that when people practice and learn
new skills, the areas of the brain responsible for those skills actually become
larger and denser with neural tissue, and that new areas of the brain become
active when performing related tasks. Furthermore, it has been found
that the brain continues to grow new nerve cells, or neurons, daily, and that
this process speeds up when a lot of active learning is
Thus, the brain has the capacity to develop throughout
life. However, this development depends on the stimulation of
challenge and learning. This fact makes it all the more critical that
students be given challenging material and motivated to apply effort and take
an active role in learning.Instructor-Led Intervention Approach:
Teaching a Growth Mindset
Would it be possible to improve students’
motivation and achievement by teaching them a growth mindset? In a
pilot study we did just that by teaching middle school students about what has
been learned about the flexibility of the brain to develop and grow new
networks with challenge and learning (this was done by an instructor in-person,
rather than through software). We then examined changes in the
students’ motivation and mathematics achievement over the year of the
intervention, comparing them with a similar group of students in the same school
who did not receive this intervention.
Instructor-Led Pilot Study
Gains in motivation:
asked teachers to assess changes in their students’ classroom motivation over the
period of the intervention. Note that in the pilot study we taught
the growth mindset intervention to students outside of their class periods, and
teachers did not participate in the intervention. Thus, teachers were
unfamiliar with the content of the intervention, and they did not know which of
their students had received instruction in the malleable brain. Yet
teachers cited significantly more of the students who had received the growth
mindset training as showing positive change in their effort and interest
Comments Following Instructor-Led
was performing far below grade level. During the past few weeks, she
has voluntarily asked for extra help from me during her lunch period in order
to improve her test-taking performance. Her grades drastically
improved from failing to an 84 on the most-recent
exam.”“Lately I have noticed that students have a greater
appreciation for improvement in academic performance . R. was
performing below standards, but now he has learned to appreciate the
improvement from his grades of 52, 46, and 49 to his grades of 67 and
71. He valued his growth in learning Mathematics.”“Your
workshop has already had an effect. L., who never puts in
any extra effort and often doesn’t turn in homework on time, actually stayed up
late working for hours to finish an assignment early so I could
review it and give him a chance to revise it. He earned a B+ on the
assignment (he had been getting C’s and lower).”“Several
students have voluntarily participated in peer tutoring sessions during their
lunch periods or after school. These students were passing when they
requested the extra help and motivated by the prospect of sheer
Gains in Math Achievement:
The mathematics grades of all students in the study had
been declining prior to the intervention. However, after the
intervention, the grades of those students who learned about the growth mindset
(experimental group) took an upward turn, while those of their fellow students
who did not receive this curriculum continued to decline.
Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. (2007). Implicit Theories of
Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A
Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp.
246-263.Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of
Success. Random House: New
and Dr. Blackwell’s research has been funded by grants from the William T.
Grant Foundation and the Spencer
If you would like, you can view a visual, summary presentation of the growth mindset research that led to the Brainology® Program