A US study recently found that targeted praise can help boost students’ on-task behaviours. But using praise to improve students’ behaviours in class may also be a key to improving student outcomes.
In an article published in The Conversation, Australian Catholic University Professor John Munro proposed that students having a “growth mindset” may lead to better learning outcomes.
First proposed by American psychologist Carol Dweck and paediatric surgeon Claudia Mueller, students with a growth mindset are more open to face challenges as they see these as opportunities for learning. Students who are said to have a growth mindset believe that certain abilities – such as their intelligence – can improved over time.
The growth mindset runs counter to the “fixed mindset,” which refers to those students who believe that that their intellectual abilities cannot be changed and are less open to learning.
Researches on growth and fixed mindset – wherein some students would be praised for their efforts while others on their intellect – found that those who were recognised for their intellect were less likely to continue working on difficult tasks and even less likely to seek help from peers.
Studies also revealed that the pleasure from achieving tasks can even spur further interest in learning.
A Charles Darwin researcher, Dr Luca Aquili, is set to embark on a research which looks into the importance of dopamine in learning as well as cognitive flexibility.
Aquili’s research, which builds on a Cambridge University study on how dopamine neurons are lit up when a subject is rewarded for their behaviour, seeks to prove that dopamine can also help trigger learning – and may even improve how quickly one can adapt to different situations.
Mindset theory is not set in stone
However, Munro pointed out that there are also studies which disprove students with growth mindset’s advantage over students with said fixed mindset.
According to a 2018 study, two meta-analyses on growth mindsets can affect academic achievement, with researchers finding that mindset interventions had weak effects on outcomes.
Despite this, the study noted that at-risk students or those from lower socioeconomic status may benefit from interventions.
Munro suggested that a teacher’s mindset also has a hand in their students’ outcomes, as supported by a 2017 study by the University of Helsinki. The research, which reviewed 22 articles, found that teachers’ mindset-related messages towards their students has long-term effect.
As an exercise, teachers can start asking their students what questions they can expect to answer by the end of the lesson. Munro also said that he would also encourage his students to list what they didn’t know before the start of class and what they knew after.