Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Creating Scalable Interventions for Enhancing Student Learning and Performance
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Aronson, Joshua Awardee: New York University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,358,111
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090324

Co-Principal Investigators:Jennifer Mangels and Matthew S. McGlone

Purpose: Intensive interventions that lead students to adopt the "theory of intelligence" that people get smarter in response to intellectual effort produce large improvements in student learning, engagement, test scores, and grades. Yet scaleable versions of the interventions are needed that any teacher can employ, and the process of how the interventions work needs to be better understood. This project will develop and refine two unique intervention narrative approaches for 8th and 9th grade students: engaging fiction and interactive media. Past research suggests that these will be powerful and convenient means of shaping or modifying student attitudes about their intelligence, and that students will find them engaging and enjoyable means of learning. Both approaches will leverage research findings from the science of neuroplasticity that will be woven into the narratives.

Project Activities: The process of developing these interventions is broken down into three phases—constructing the narratives and improving their usability; refining the narratives and related activities; and testing the effects of the interventions on performance and learning. Each phase will focus on developing and refining the critical "active ingredients" likely to strengthen the persuasive power of the narratives. The success of any given iteration of the intervention will be measured by tests of student comprehension of the message and impact on changes in theories of intelligence and achievement goals. Throughout the development process, in addition to evaluating usability and feasibility, the researchers will consider how key cognitive skills of the student (i.e., working memory capacity, executive function) moderate processing of the intervention. The results of the iterative process will then be taken to a final phase of development where the researchers will attempt to show how these interventions directly influence students' classroom performance, standardized test performance, and their ability to maintain a learning-focus and exhibit rebound from failure in the context of a challenging, laboratory-based task.

Products: The products of this study include two unique intervention approaches: engaging fiction and interactive media, and published reports on the development and evaluation of the interventions.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The interventions will be developed and pilot tested in public and private school classrooms in New York, New Jersey, and Texas.

Population: The targeted project sample is comprised of approximately 1,280 8th and 9th grade students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, including 50% White, 20% Latino, 20% African American, and 10% Asian. Approximately 50% of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Intervention: This project will develop and refine two unique intervention approaches: (1) engaging fiction,an engaging narrative that students read on the computer in the form of an illustrated electronic book, and (2) interactive media, a computerized virtual environment that presents a similar message, but where the student is an active participant. Both interventions share the common goal of shaping student attitudes about the malleability of intelligence. There will be three potential critical "active ingredients" in each intervention that intend to strengthen the effectiveness of the incremental message: the personalization of the protagonist, the use of language that is specifically "incremental" in nature, and the depth of students' engagement in intervention-relevant activities.

Research Methods: The research plan is divided into three phases, each lasting a year. Phase 1will be devoted to writing and refining a fictional narrative (a 50–75 page novel), and programming and improving the virtual environment program. The researchers will also create and refine an age-appropriate, student-friendly scientific lesson that teaches the same scientific content regarding neuroplasticity and intelligence in a non-narrative format, which will serve as a comparison lesson against which to evaluate the effects of each narrative format. Focus groups and teacher and student reports will help the researchers to create programs that are enjoyable, understandable, and crash-proof. During Phase 1, the researchers will also develop feedback-based learning tasks appropriate for 8th and 9th graders that will be used in the third phase of the intervention testing. In Phase 2, the researchers will conduct a series of experiments in an iterative process to refine the content and delivery of the intervention, aimed at improving the two interventions. In Phase 3, they will pilot test the refined interventions, examining their effects on the feedback-based learning task, on teacher reports of feasibility, usability, and engagement, on grades across the curriculum, and on state-mandated standardized test scores.

Control Condition: The effects of each intervention will be compared to the effects of student participation in a control intervention, in which students learn the science of neuroplasticity without the narrative context that the researchers hypothesize will make the persuasive message especially memorable and influential.

Key Measures: Data sources will include individual surveys and learning task-relevant data completed by students and their teachers during classroom-based administrations; the New York City, New Jersey, and Texas Boards of Education computerized school records including students' grades and achievement test scores; reports of engagement from teachers; and inclusion criteria reports from parents.

Data Analytic Strategy: Data will be analyzed using a combination of analysis of variance and regression procedures, with students' cognitive abilities and prior performance as moderators of their intervention engagement, learning, grades across the curriculum, and standardized test scores.