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REL Central Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

March 2017


What is the effect of teaching a growth mindset on K–12 students?


Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response, and we offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development 78(1), 246–263.
Full text available

From the abstract:

“Two studies explored the role of implicit theories of intelligence in adolescents’ mathematics achievement. In Study 1 with 373 7th graders, the belief that intelligence is malleable (incremental theory) predicted an upward trajectory in grades over the two years of junior high school, while a belief that intelligence is fixed (entity theory) predicted a flat trajectory. A mediational model including learning goals, positive beliefs about effort, and causal attributions and strategies was tested. In Study 2, an intervention teaching an incremental theory to 7th graders (N 5 48) promoted positive change in classroom motivation, compared with a control group (N 5 43). Simultaneously, students in the control group displayed a continuing downward trajectory in grades, while this decline was reversed for students in the experimental group.”

Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Two largely separate bodies of empirical research have shown that academic achievement is influenced by structural factors, such as socioeconomic background, and psychological factors, such as students’ beliefs about their abilities. In this research, we use a nationwide sample of high school students from Chile to investigate how these factors interact on a systemic level. Confirming prior research, we find that family income is a strong predictor of achievement. Extending prior research, we find that a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence is not fixed and can be developed) is a comparably strong predictor of achievement and that it exhibits a positive relationship with achievement across all of the socioeconomic strata in the country. Furthermore, we find that students from lower-income families were less likely to hold a growth mindset than their wealthier peers, but those who did hold a growth mindset were appreciably buffered against the deleterious effects of poverty on achievement: students in the lowest 10th percentile of family income who exhibited a growth mindset showed academic performance as high as that of fixed mindset students from the 80th income percentile. These results suggest that students’ mindsets may temper or exacerbate the effects of economic disadvantage on a systemic level.”

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432. Retrieved from
Full text available

From the abstract:

“This study expands upon the extant prior meta-analytic literature by exploring previously theorised reasons for the failure of school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programmes to produce expected results. Eighty-nine studies reporting the effects of school-based, universal SEL programmes were examined for differential effects on the basis of: (1) stage of evaluation (efficacy or effectiveness); (2) involvement from the programme developer in the evaluation (led, involved, independent); and (3) whether the programme was implemented in its country of origin (home or away). A range of outcomes were assessed including: social-emotional competence, attitudes towards self, pro-social behaviour, conduct problems, emotional distress, academic achievement and emotional competence. Differential gains across all three factors were shown, although not always in the direction hypothesised. The findings from the current study demonstrate a revised and more complex relationship between identified factors and dictate major new directions for the field.”

Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“School performance is a complex phenomenon, shaped by a wide variety of factors intrinsic to students and in their external environment. In addition to content knowledge and academic skills, students must develop sets of behaviors, skills, attitudes, and strategies that are crucial to academic performance in their classes, but that may not be reflected in their scores on cognitive tests. Other researchers have described these factors as noncognitive skills; we broaden the term to noncognitive factors to go beyond a narrow reference to skills and include strategies, attitudes, and behaviors. This change in terminology suggests a more expansive understanding of noncognitive factors, requiring that we look beyond individual-level skills to consider the ways students interact with the educational context within which they are situated and the effects of these interactions on students’ attitudes, motivation, and performance.”

Garofalo, A. E. (2016). Teaching the character competencies of growth mindset and grit to increase student motivation in the classroom (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study examined whether teaching character competencies of growth mindset and grit in advisory to middle school students increases motivation in the classroom. The problem being addressed is the perceptions of teachers that student motivation has decreased over time, and the significance is benefits derived from the ability to increase motivation. A mixed methods approach with an action research design is used for collecting data before, during, and after delivery of the lessons/interventions, from self-reports, surveys, and journals, and the qualitative data augments findings of quantitative data. The qualitative findings allude to the possibility that the concepts of growth mindset and grit can be taught, but quantitative data do not support this conclusion. Mean scores for growth mindset, grit, and motivation are charted from pretest to posttest, and significance of observed differences of experimental and control group means were tested with a t-test. Teacher growth mindset means showed statistical significance and a moderate to large effect size, but that was not true for student growth mindset means and student or teacher data for grit or motivation. Multiple linear regression analyses did not prove any causal relationship between growth mindset and motivation, or grit and motivation, but the effect of grit was much greater than the effect of growth mindset on motivation.”

Kendziora, K., & Yoder, N. (2016). When districts support and integrate social and emotional learning (SEL): Findings from an ongoing evaluation of districtwide implementation of SEL. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Even with this modest investment, the research shows that districts improved each year in implementing key SEL activities. Three of the measured districts showed consistent gains in school climate; four of six measured districts showed improvement in third graders’ social and emotional competence; and, across the eight districts, GPA improved in four and discipline improved in six. However, other student outcomes (e.g., middle and high schoolers’ social and emotional competence and student attendance) have not shown significant change to date.”

Paunesku, D., Walton, G.M., Romero, C.L., Smith, E.N., Yeager, D.S., & Dweck, C.S. (2015). Mindset interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 1–10. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The efficacy of academic-mind-set interventions has been demonstrated by small-scale, proof-of-concept interventions, generally delivered in person in one school at a time. Whether this approach could be a practical way to raise school achievement on a large scale remains unknown. We therefore delivered brief growth-mind-set and sense-of-purpose interventions through online modules to 1,594 students in 13 geographically diverse high schools. Both interventions were intended to help students persist when they experienced academic difficulty; thus, both were predicted to be most beneficial for poorly performing students. This was the case. Among students at risk of dropping out of high school (one third of the sample), each intervention raised students’ semester grade point averages in core academic courses and increased the rate at which students performed satisfactorily in core courses by 6.4 percentage points. We discuss implications for the pipeline from theory to practice and for education reform.”

Yeager, D. S., Romero, C., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C. S., Schneider, B., Hinojosa, C., ... & Trott, J. (2016). Using design thinking to improve psychological interventions: The case of the growth mindset during the transition to high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 374. Retrieved from
Full text available

From the abstract:

“There are many promising psychological interventions on the horizon, but there is no clear methodology for preparing them to be scaled up. Drawing on design thinking, the present research formalizes a methodology for redesigning and tailoring initial interventions. We test the methodology using the case of fixed versus growth mindsets during the transition to high school. Qualitative inquiry and rapid, iterative, randomized “A/B” experiments were conducted with ~3,000 participants to inform intervention revisions for this population. Next, two experimental evaluations showed that the revised growth mindset intervention was an improvement over previous versions in terms of short-term proxy outcomes (Study 1, N=7,501), and it improved 9th grade core-course GPA and reduced D/F GPAs for lower achieving students when delivered via the Internet under routine conditions with ~95% of students at 10 schools (Study 2, N=3,676). Although the intervention could still be improved even further, the current research provides a model for how to improve and scale interventions that begin to address pressing educational problems. It also provides insight into how to teach a growth mindset more effectively.”

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. Retrieved from
Full text available

From the abstract:

“Because challenges are ubiquitous, resilience is essential for success in school and in life. In this article we review research demonstrating the impact of students’ mindsets on their resilience in the face of academic and social challenges. We show that students who believe (or are taught) that intellectual abilities are qualities that can be developed (as opposed to qualities that are fixed) tend to show higher achievement across challenging school transitions and greater course completion rates in challenging math courses. New research also shows that believing (or being taught) that social attributes can be developed can lower adolescents’ aggression and stress in response to peer victimization or exclusion, and result in enhanced school performance. We conclude by discussing why psychological interventions that change students’ mindsets are effective and what educators can do to foster these mindsets and create resilience in educational settings.”


Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “growth mindset” impact “self-efficacy” student
  • “social emotional learning” and achievement
  • “SEL” and acheivement

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published between 2007 and 2017 were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) currency of available data; (b) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, etc.; (c) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected samples, etc.), study duration, and so forth.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.