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«Exploring teacher effects in outcomes of a growth mindset intervention in seventh grade science Shumow, L., & Schmidt, J. A. Abstract This ...»

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Exploring teacher effects in outcomes of a growth mindset intervention in seventh grade science

Shumow, L., & Schmidt, J. A.


This quasi-experimental study examined teacher-related differences in the effects of a widely

used intervention designed to impact seventh graders’ mindset. Student surveys from seven

science classrooms across two teachers were analyzed to assess teacher-related differences in the

degree to which the intervention affected student outcomes. Classroom observational data and teacher reports were examined to understand how multiple features of the teachers’ classrooms might have differentially shaped student outcomes. Survey results revealed significant teacher effects in that students’ beliefs about the malleability of intelligence, their learning goals, and their grades improved and/or were sustained more in one teachers’ classes than in the other.

Data gathered from observations and teacher reports were generally consistent with the teacher effects found in student surveys. Specifically, the teacher whose students reported greater improvement in outcomes placed more emphasis on mastery, learning, growth, and conceptual development, and modeled and encouraged more strategy use in her daily interactions with students, relative to the other teacher. The results suggest that teachers play a critically important role in supporting classroom interventions, and that program developers may want to design and study ways to impact teachers’ practices in order to maximize program impact.


Exploring Teacher Effects for Mindset Intervention Outcomes in Seventh Grade Science Classes The purpose of this study was to examine teacher-related variation in the effects of a classroom intervention designed to impact seventh graders’ beliefs about the nature of ability in science as fixed or malleable. Our goal was to promote the belief that ability is malleable in an attempt to ultimately enhance young adolescents’ motivation for science. Using quantitative data we tested for teacher-related differences in the degree to which the intervention was effective as measured by several student outcomes. We then examined classroom observational data and teacher reports to understand how multiple features of teachers’ classrooms may have shaped any differences in outcomes by teacher.

Beliefs about the Malleability of Intelligence Dweck and others have found that significant numbers of school-age children believe that ability is fixed, particularly in STEM areas, and that these beliefs predict achievement (Dweck, 2006; Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010). Incremental theories of intelligence (growth mindsets) have been found to predict greater achievement and effort in school than entity theories (fixed mindsets) from early childhood through college (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007;

Dweck, 2008). Much of the prior research has been conducted in the context of mathematics; we extended those findings to the context of science during middle school.

Importantly, in multiple lab studies, researchers have shown that mindset can be changed (see Dweck, 1999). Those lab studies led to attempts to promote growth mindsets among students in schools. A mindset intervention with seventh graders, which was similar to the one used in this study, was successful at influencing students’ beliefs about the malleability of intelligence, increasing their mastery learning goal orientation, and improving their mathematics


grades. Mastery goal orientation refers to the degree to which students take on academic tasks with the goal of learning something new, developing skills and improving understanding.

Mastery goal orientation is often contrasted with performance goal orientation, which refers to a focus on demonstrating one’s ability or competence, and a concern with how one’s ability will be judged compared to others (Ames, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliott & Dweck, 1988;

Nichols 1984). Students with a growth mindset tend to adopt a mastery orientation when approaching academic tasks (Dweck, 1999).

Consistent with prior findings, participants in our mindset intervention conducted in two middle schools developed more of a growth mindset (pre to post) than did students in the control group (Author, 2013). For example, participants developed significantly stronger beliefs about the malleability of intelligence in science over the course of the intervention, while students in the control group did not. There was also a significant change in mastery goal orientation as a result of the intervention; students who participated in the intervention reported an increase in mastery goal orientation over the course of the intervention whereas nonparticipants in the control group reported a decrease in mastery goal orientation. The two teachers in whose classrooms (n=7) the intervention was conducted are the focus of this study.

Outcomes of Interventions by Teacher The present study investigated whether the students who participated in the intervention differed in outcomes by teacher. Studies have not yet fully considered the role that the teacher plays in implementing mindset interventions in classrooms, particularly in domains such as science. There are several reasons to expect that student outcomes will vary by teacher. First, teacher characteristics such as educational background, experience, and beliefs might add to or detract from the impact of the intervention. Second, the instructional and classroom management


practices that teachers use in their classrooms have been shown to contribute to student achievement and motivation in ways that might amplify or lessen the effects gained from participation (Muijs, 2008; Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Sears, 2012). Variation in the extent to which the teachers reinforce, elaborate on, and send messages about mindset and other concepts related to the intervention during daily instruction also is expected to boost or curtail outcomes of the intervention (Cimpian, Arce, Markman, & Dweck, 2007; Kamins & Dweck, 1999;

Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

Teacher characteristics. Without a doubt, the classroom teacher is a critical component of students’ learning context in a given classroom. There has been a tremendous amount of research conducted on whether teacher characteristics like years of experience, amount and quality of education, and certification impact students (Harris & Sass, 2011; Nye, Konstantopoulos, & Hedges, 2004). We asked teachers to provide such background information about themselves because those qualities continue to be considered important teacher characteristics despite the fact that studies of the impact of such characteristics on student motivation and achievement have yielded weak, mixed, and sometimes contradictory results (Kennedy, 2010).

Teacher beliefs, another type of teacher characteristic, have also been studied extensively (see Bryan, 2012 for a review of science teachers’ beliefs). In this study, we measured the teachers’ ability beliefs. Teachers’ mindset beliefs are likely to influence their students’ mindset beliefs through the teaching practices they employ as well as through their interactions with students. Teachers’ fostering of learning strategies for example is an important teaching practice especially in middle school because middle school students' learning strategies has been found to mediate the relationship between their motivational orientations and academic achievement


(McClintic-Gilbert, Henderlong Corpus, Wormington, & Haimovitz, 2013). Good, Rattan, and Dweck (2007, cited in Dweck, 2008) conducted a laboratory experiment and found that teachers who had been influenced to believe in a growth mindset in mathematics encouraged students who had failed to work harder and furthermore recommended specific learning strategies that would help them improve. On the other hand, teachers who had been influenced to believe in a fixed mindset tended to comfort students who had failed by telling them that some students are good in mathematics and others are not, thus reinforcing a fixed mindset. Possible teacher differences within the group of teachers who had been influenced to believe in a growth mindset were not analyzed in that study.

We also queried teachers’ beliefs about how to best motivate students to learn, because such beliefs likely impact their instructional practice. Specifically, we asked for teachers’ beliefs about the effectiveness of various approaches that are most aligned with mastery and performance goal orientations. A recent study (Shim, Cho, & Cassady, 2013) found that teachers’ mastery and performance approach goal orientations for teaching predicted which type of goal orientation they established in their classrooms. Thus, we gathered indicators of teachers’ beliefs before we turned to investigating their actual teaching practices.

Instructional practices and interactions. Teachers exert influence on student motivation and achievement through the instructional practices they use, the feedback they give students, and other day-to-day interactions with students (Stipek, 1996). It has been found that middle school students whose teachers co-construct learning experiences with them in a supportive classroom environment demonstrate improvements in their cooperation with peers and teachers, engagement with academic tasks, and sense of progress (Strahan, Faircloth, Cope, & Hundley, 2007). It stands to reason that the classroom climate and the learning context that teachers and


their students co-create will impact the effectiveness of any intervention that is introduced with the intent of improving student outcomes.

Teachers who facilitate a positive emotional climate, organize and manage the classroom effectively, and express enthusiasm have been shown to provide a context in which student learning and motivation flourishes and in which students are primed to cooperate and participate in lessons (Hattie, 2009; Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Sears, 2012). In this study, researchers observed in classrooms on multiple occasions during times that the regular science curriculum was being taught and learned; observers recorded global ratings of the classroom climate, organizational management, and teacher enthusiasm during the class period.

In the current study, classroom observers also recorded the types of instructional activities that teachers used, the amount of time students were engaged in various activities, and then rated each instructional activity on several dimensions. At the most basic level, student learning is impacted by how time is used in the classroom (Kyriakides & Creemers, 2008). In a recent study of high school science classrooms, we found that teachers used lecture and seatwork more than any other practice and that considerable time was spent in non-instructional activities like taking attendance, making announcements, or distributing and collecting papers (Authors, 2011). We further found that teacher-student interaction, students’ reported learning, and students’ motivational states varied by the type of instructional activity the class was engaged in (Authors, 2013).

Within each activity recorded in the classrooms, we rated students’ time on-task as well as the conceptual development, direct instruction, and instructional feedback provided by the teacher. Each of those factors has been found to contribute to students’ perceptions of their


ability, their learning goals, and their academic success (Hattie, 2009; Muijs, 2008; Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Sears, 2012).

Mindset messages. Our interest in mindset led us to focus specifically on mindset messages within classrooms. Dweck and her colleagues have found that the messages students receive from teachers from preschool through college impact their mindsets, their goal orientation, and, consequently, their academic achievement (Cimpian, Arce, Markman, & Dweck, 2007; Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). For example, when teachers praised students for their intelligence or talent and made ability comparisons among students, performance goal orientations were fostered (Dweck, 2007, 1999; Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, & Sears, 2012). On the other hand, teachers who recognized students’ effort and study skills helped students develop a growth mindset, mastery goals, and tenacity in the face of challenge (Dweck, 2008, 2010). During our observations of classroom instruction, we recorded instances and descriptions of events in which the teachers’ verbalizations or behavior communicated mindset messages and then later coded whether those messages were associated with fixed or growth mindsets. Specifically, we noted: (a) references teachers made to learning or performance goals, (b) how teachers responded when students experienced challenge, (c) the way teachers talked about effort with their students, (d) the types of persuasive comments teachers made to encourage student effort and engagement with the class work, (e) teachers’ use of and encouragement of specific strategies, and (f) references to student ability or task difficulty/ease.

Students’ beliefs about the nature of ability have been related to a variety of motivational and achievement outcomes. In the context of a mindset intervention, this study investigated whether student beliefs about the malleability of intelligence, their goal orientation, and their grades in science improved more in one science teacher’s classes than in another’s.


Characteristics and practices of the teachers are then compared using multiple sources of data to understand features of classroom context that may enhance the efficacy of classroom interventions designed to impact students’ beliefs about science ability.

–  –  –

Context The larger study from which these data were drawn was conducted in 14 middle school science classrooms in a diverse, public school district, and included 363 seventh graders and four teachers. The two teachers who participated in a mindset intervention are the focus of the present study. In the classrooms of the other two teachers, students who were not part of the mindset intervention completed writing tasks reflecting on their learning once per week for six weeks. The two teachers who are the focus of the study were responsible for seven seventh grade science classes (Celia = 3 classes and Donna = 4 classes).

The school district in which the study took place was located on the fringe of a large metropolitan area. Sixty percent of students in the school district were considered “low income.” The student population in the district was over fifty percent Hispanic (specific sample characteristics are provided below).

Sample The present study focuses on the students in seven classrooms (n=160) and their teachers (n=2) who participated in a mindset intervention. The student sample for the study was 42 % male, and 58 % female. Racial and ethnic distribution was as follows: 34.4% Hispanic, 13.8 % Black, 25% White, and 22.5 % multiracial (4% did not report race/ethnicity). Fifty percent of the student sample received free or reduced lunch.


Teachers. We refer to the teacher participants as Celia and Donna (both are pseudonyms). Donna was a white female who was 54 years old at the time of the study. She held a master’s degree and had 20 years of teaching experience (eighteen years at her current school);

she had taught 6th, 7th, & 8th grade science classes. Celia, who was also a white female, had been Donna’s student teacher. At the time of the study Celia was 28 years old and had been at the school for six years, which comprised her total teaching experience. She held a bachelor’s degree and had experience teaching 6th, 7th & 8th grade science classes. Donna and Celia taught in different schools in the same district.

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