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The Effect of a Mindset Intervention on Middle School Student Academic Achievement

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Published: 25th Feb 2022

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Tagged: EducationPsychology

The following is a brief overview of the extensive research done in regard to the factors leading to achievement as it relates to the current study. Research regarding intelligence, growth and fixed mindsets, motivation and mindset interventions will be explored in order to understand the issues in mindsets as they relate to student achievement scores. The literature review will present the following topic areas: incremental theory of intelligence (mindset theory), mindset theory historical background through current research and interventions, the impact of interventions at the middle school level including gender, adolescent development, motivation and other factors facing current middle school aged students. It will also include a brief explanation of the noncognitive mindset curriculum from the GEAR UP Iowa (Leuwerke, 2016a) initiative and lessons that will lead to the intervention presented in this study and factors that impact the academic achievement of middle school students.

Incremental Theory of Intelligence

A growth mindset, previously known as the incremental theory of intelligence, is the system of beliefs that intelligence and abilities are malleable and can improve or grow with effort (Hong, Chiu, Dweck & Wan 1999; King, McInerney, & Watkins, 2012). When students believe they have control over their own ability to learn and believe they have the potential to improve, it increases their motivation and drive (Esparza, Shumow, & Schmidt, 2014). This can be true in both educational and non-educational settings. For example, an adolescent participating on a sports team for the first time might not be able to play at the same level as others on the team.  If they are in a fixed mindset, they might believe that they will always perform worse despite further practice. However, if they are in a growth mindset and believe they can improve their abilities, they are more likely to continue to practice, work hard and expand their ability and skills. Developing this mindset can improve their skills and may even help them to surpass other players on the team. Teaching students about growth mindset can have longer lasting effects than just one year in one classroom. If students develop the ability to transfer their mindset learning to situations outside of the classroom, they would have countless number of opportunities opened to them (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007).

Growth and Fixed Mindsets

There are two forms of mindsets, growth and fixed. Growth mindset is based on the belief that the primary traits of an individual may be built via commitment and hard work (Blackwell et al., 2007; Dweck, 2007; Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015). Such persons learn from their failures, accept challenges, and persist in times of setbacks. They see academic challenges, for example, an opportunity to learn and improve rather than a threat to their ability. They are inspired by others’ successes and view effort as the way to mastery. According to Yeager, Romero, Paunesku, Hulleman, Schneider, Hinojosa … & Trott (2016), intelligence is perceived as a malleable quality that may be developed with time. On the other hand, a fixed-minded person perceives his or her intelligence as a static, inherent quality that cannot be changed. These individuals see the urgent need to repeatedly prove themselves (Blackwell et al., 2007; Dweck, 2007; Hong et al., 1999). Rather than having a desire to learn to face academic challenges, they require problems that are easy to solve and that will make them feel and appear smarter (Li, Zhou, Zhang, Xiong, Nie & Fang, 2017). Instead of embracing challenges, they avoid them. In addition, they see effort as something that should not be necessary if they were smart enough to figure out the problem, and they see the success of other people as a threat. Hochanadel and Finamore (2015) state that intelligence is viewed as a fixed trait that cannot be built and that results in the fix-minded assumption that the IQ of a person dictates their future success and failure.

The emerging studies on the development of brain have set the stage to transform education’s course for the future. The perception of a ‘static’ brain or mindset is decidedly not meaningful anymore (Esparza at al., 2014). A new discovery regarding the brain however, may be that humans have the ability and the choice to make their brains change (Perrone-McGovern, Simon-Dack, Beduna, Williams & Esche, 2015). This view contradicts the idea that has previously been held that the brain remains the same. Alfred Binet, the first test developer to undertake intelligence measurement, argued that intelligence can be altered by practices of education and that it was malleable (Butler, 2000).

Being one of the greatest researchers of mindset theories of our time, Dweck (2007) outlines two various intelligence theories and their corresponding mindset. According to her, the theory which views intelligence to be constant or static is referred to as entity theory. Vandewalle (2012) notes that people that hold this view are seen to possess a fixed mindset. As hypothesized by the author, this theory emanates from the belief that certain innate capacity is what dictates their success. Conversely, growth mindset or incremental theory stems from the argument that abilities and talents may be built through different ways, such as persistence, good teaching, and effort.

Over the years, middle schools have been thought of as a time of great transition for the students. During this time, middle school students often emphasize ability, self-assessment, social comparison, and competition at a time of the adolescent’s increased self-focus (King et al., 2012). Burnette, O’boyle, VanEpps, Pollack & Finkel (2013) explored two cases that were performed by Bandura associated with middle-grade students’ intelligence theories. The students could select an activity which differed in difficulty. The first two alternatives demonstrated a performance objective; the first was very easy and the other more difficult, but both deemed manageable for the participants. The final alternative depicted a learning goal, that was a completely new concept to the learners. Their findings revealed a clearly significant link between students’ goal choices and their theories of intelligence, “the more the students held an intelligence entity theory, the more likely they were to select a performance objective, whilst the more they had incremental theory, the more likely they were to choose the learning” (Dweck, 2000, pp. 20-21). Therefore, students with a growth mindset choose to take on more challenging tasks that will help them to learn more and achieve higher.

The major variances between the students’ behaviors sharing varying mindsets are the effort they direct toward learning a new phenomenon. Dweck (2000) points out that people associated with entity theory feel the more effort they have to expend to succeed, the less smart they perceive they are. These students were described as learners that normally show helplessness in class, and that they easily give up trying to avoid their fear of failure. On the contrary, students with growth mindset or holding to the incremental theory, are willing to try their best so as to acquire knowledge of new things regardless of their difficulty. According to Good, Aronson, and Inzlicht (2003), promotion of incremental theory urges students to value effort, perseverance when encountering hard tasks, and setting goals. The difference between the previously mentioned theories or mindsets contributes to the varying academic performances. It should be noted however, that fostering an incremental theory among learners can stem from the teacher’s professional growth mindset. The teacher should believe internally that every student, in his/her intellectual capacity, can learn as well as grow (Good et al., 2003).

The Foundation of Growth Mindset

The breakthrough of Dweck and Mueller regarding incremental theory started with research completed in 1998. They projected that “praise for intelligence can undermine the performance and motivation of children” (p. 33). So as to challenge this view, the authors carried out an experiment that made a comparison between the praise for being smart (ability-praise) and the praise for hard work (effort-praise), 128 5th grade students (58 boys and 70 girls) aged between 10 and 12 years were involved in the research. The participants took an intelligence test, and were informed, regardless of their actual score, that they got a score of 80%. They were also told that the score they managed in the test was very high. Following the outcome of this feedback, they were praised in different ways. About 33% of participants were praised because of their capacity, aligning with a fixed mindset, and were praised on their intelligence and that they were smart. Similarly, the other 33% was praised based on effort and their hard work, aligning with a growth mindset. The rest of the students acted as a control and thus, they got no further feedback about their performance. After the praise, the students were asked if they preferred working on a learning goal or on a performance goal, and were given four options. The first three choices represented a performance goal while the last option represented a learning goal. The selection of a goal was impacted by the manner in which the children received the praises. Those that were praised to be “smart” had a greater probability of choosing the easy tasks, whereas the effort-praised students appeared to select the more difficult tasks. On the other hand, the control was divided equally (Dweck & Mueller, 1998). Overall, the study provided insightful information with regard to the foundation of growth mindset.

Characteristics of Mindset

According to Brougham (2016), it is possible for one person to be in possession of the two different forms of mindset. As a result of possessing more than one type of mindset, the individual would make decisions depending on the situation they were currently experiencing. To demonstrate this, students might have a fixed mindset in one discipline, say literacy, and have a growth mindset in another, say science. People with growth mindsets and fixed mindsets display clear variances and this heavily relies on the situations that may be surrounding them (Dweck, 2000; Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015; Schroder, Yalch, Dawood, Callahan, Donnellan, & Moser, 2017). Subsequently, it is important to explore the characteristics of mindset so that we have a clear understanding of what is exactly being discussed and analyzed.

Views on Failure

As has been mentioned in the previous subsections, differences between fixed and growth mindsets are clearly evident. One scenario where this is evident is their views on failure. Those with growth mindset are directed toward learning goals and as such, see failure positively and even try to improve and do new things so as to succeed in the future (Chao, Visaria, Mukhopadhyay, & Dehejia, 2017). In their view, failing creates the need to put forth an additional effort, as well as enhance their self-instruction and self-monitoring. On the contrary, Chao et al.(2017)state that those having a fixed mindset perceive failure negatively are discouraged by it and perceive that it  reveals their low intelligence. As a result of feeling discouraged, they are reluctant to exert further effort since they have the belief that failure demonstrates their inability. They believe that by failing to achieve a given task, they will not be in a position to be successful in it later because “situations that made them fail would still remain” (Chao et al.,2017 p. 43). Thus, they feel helpless in the classroom after their failure and may then label themselves as an overall failure rather than to recognize or realize they failed at one particular task.


Blackwell et al. (2007) contend that because the choice of words of teachers use has a great effect on the behavior of students, it is important for the educators to engage in praises during the process of learning. The author suggests that if students exert sufficient efforts, for instance, it would be important for the educator to use statements such as “1 like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it” (p. 37). With respect to learners that master concepts with fewer efforts, he proposes that educators can give comments like, “That was too easy for you. Let’s do somethingmore challenging that you will learn from” (p. 37). On the other hand, for those who really attempted but never performed well, additionally the emphasis is on the process instead of ability: “I liked the effort you put in. Let’s work together some more and figure out what you don’t understand” (p. 37).

Effort in Response to Challenges

The study by Dweck (1998) depicts that mindset has substantial influences on performance and behavior, specifically in the face of activities that are challenging. This research indicated that a number of people whose mindsets are fixed would try to avoid challenging conditions if offered the choice since they are overly-concerned about past failures. From the fixed mindset perspective, failure is an exhibition of lack of ability, and therefore, lack of intelligence or capability. Nevertheless, those having growth mindset see failure or struggle as something natural in the process of learning and more importantly, an opportunity upon which they can improve. In her argument, she believes that mindset has the capacity to affect all areas of an individual’s life, varying from professional and personal choices to academic success. For example, in the academic field, the mindset has a very critical role. Those with a growth mindset are more likely to go on and persist as they struggle, whereas students with a fixed mindset are more likely not to continue striving. In her study, Dweck (1998; 2007) has indicated that cues coming from teachers and parents concerning performance can influence learners’ future actions and beliefs.

Goal Setting

In the past it was widely accepted, and certain present teaching environments still accepted, the way to develop self-confidence as a learner is to provide tasks in which students are likely to be successful to engage in. (Blackwell et al., 2007; Chao et al., 2007; Dweck, 2000). Pittaway (2012) argues that a number of recent studies have however suggested that this methodology is not effective as it normally creates many future issues and misconceptions. Not permitting learners to be stretched and challenged inhibits their proximal development, and causes the more intelligent learners to be bored which in turn creates a false sense of entitlement (Yeager et al., 2016). Thus, it would be wiser to set additional goals by extending their learning experience through the incorporation of goals instead of rewarding them with free time, particularly after they complete a relatively easy activity (Wolters, Fan, & Daugherty, 2013). As an educator, this is important since it establishes learning goals that are challenging, which then demonstrates improved outcomes of education for learners. Lopez and Louis (2009) and O’Neill (2000) note that a wide variety of studies, both in the laboratory settings and in the field, have demonstrated SMART goals impact performance greatly. These goals act to increase persistence at tasks, mobilize effort, and focus attention.

Unlike people with the fixed mindset that do not set future goals, people with a growth mindset are associated with setting goals, as they incorporate and reach current goals. Fixed-minded individuals might say they have finished a particular task and that it was too easy. Eroglu and Unlu (2015) argue that the more classrooms are organized around growing and stretching student’s learning, and being more comfortable with challenges and confusion, the more they would instill incremental theory. They argue that, unlike the popular view, one neither praises ability nor talent but the process. So, what is it that needs to be praised? The authors point out that the bouncing back mentality, resilience, persistence, strategies, and efforts should be praised because they all play a key role in offering positive response thus, enforcing a safe, secure environment of learning and leading to a positive relationship between students and teachers (Eroglu & Unlu, 2015; Wolters et al., 2013). Therefore, educators that have a growth mindset would comprehend their students’ brain neuroplasticity in a more efficient and effective way and will assist them to set goals with the aim for every one of them to reach their potential fully.

Mindset and Neuroscience

Recent findings and developments in neuroscience have supported the concepts which underlie the principles of the growth mindset. Li et al. (2017) point out that brain plasticity has indicated the way in which relationships between neurons have the ability to undergo transformation due to experience. Neural networks build insulation which enhances impulse transmission, strengthen existing ones, and grow new connections with practice (King, McInerney, & Watkins, 2012). The scientific discoveries associated with neurons have in fact proven that a person’s neural growth is related to actions they take, namely following and practicing sleep habits, asking questions, and using good strategies (Li et al., 2017).

This is consistent with the mindset studies that have found that intelligence is not something fixed, but instead, learning takes place via extensive interactions between teachers, students, and their settings. These changes are especially seen in the brain in which learning results in the strengthening and forming of new neural connections. This brain development and plasticity progress during an individual’s lifetime. Studying brain plasticity may assist students in developing a growth mindset (King et al., 2012).

Additionally, the neuroscientific inventions have been gaining traction as researchers have been trying to comprehend the relationship between achievement and mindset. People who believe their brains can grow will behave in a different manner (Li et al., 2017). To respond to the question of whether mindsets can change and how that is possible, psychologists started a series of studies and interventions which demonstrated that in fact, it is indeed possible for the mindset of a person to move to growth from fixed. When this transformation happens, it results in increased achievement and motivation (Blackwell et al., 2007; Li et al., 2017). As an example, in a research at an inner-city NYC school with seventh-graders, Blackwell et al. (2007) grouped learners into two categories for a workshop on study skills and the brain. The control group, 50% of the students, learned the memory stages while the other group, 50%, were trained in a growth mindset. Additionally, the students were trained on how to use this idea in schoolwork. The findings revealed that in comparison to the control group, three times more students in the category of growth mindset indicated an improvement in motivation and effort. After training, the growth-mindset category continued to improve, but the control group continued to decline (Blackwell et al., 2007).

Gender and Mindset

Underrepresentation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is increasing prevalent (Apple, Smith, Moon & Revelle, 2016). Gender can be an impactful factor in achievement scores in classroom grades as well as standardized tests (Duckworth, Seligman & Harris, 2006). Duckworth et al. (2006) reports that throughout the elementary, middle, and high school, girls are more likely to have a growth mindset and have better interpersonal skills including demonstrating self-control which in turn t helps them achieve higher academically than boys. Possessing skills in self-control has been found to be highly correlated with other interpersonal skills and the beliefs that the individual’s intelligence can grow (Westrick, Robbins, Radunzel, & Schmidt, 2015).

The dissimilarities in academic performance between genders could also help to explain possible variation in beliefs and motivation between genders. As an example, male students have a greater level of positive mindset and self-belief in STEM compared to girls largely due to the observation that these disciplines appear to be male-dominated. Generally, it is the beliefs that determine the motivation level concerning the performance in academics (Tuwor & Sossou, 2008). Tuwor & Sossou (2008) note that females argue that their average performances in STEM fields is due to females lack of commitment in those fields. In addition, they point out that failure in STEM fields in females is because of other aspects, namely low level of intelligence and failure to understand concepts. On the contrary, a number of male students associate their better performance in these areas with interest, abilities, and internal intelligence. Not all males perform better in these subjects, and this has been connected to external factors, namely inadequate support from teachers (Apple et al., 2016). In the end, these psychological behaviors in performance in both males and females allow these two genders to develop a positive or a growth mindset toward certain subjects.

Gender and mindset have been argued to have a large impact on motivation as well as academic performance and as a result, stereotypes develop. As mentioned previously in this chapter, male students are believed to be good performers in sciences and mathematics whereas the female students are believed to be good performers in languages (Apple et al., 2016). Although it is unclear whether the different perceptions in these subjects is based on gender variations or are impacted by mindset among teachers, students, and parents or the gender. A number of studies have been carried out to determine the exact causes of this phenomenon. In a study by Tuwor and Sossou (2008), the authors investigated whether these differences are simply based on the existing stereotypes or gender variations. Their results revealed that it was not actually the gender that had an impact on academic performance. Instead, the level of femininity and masculinity among students is what impacts this performance. According to Tuwor and Sossou, (2008), the desire for self-motivation and achievements is a mindset in the feminine gender whereas the succeeding mindset exists in the masculine gender. Thus, the authors suggest that it is necessary for all educational partners to ensure that efforts are directed at eliminating the students’ present mindsets if it is negative. They also recommend that the stakeholders should work with students to build a positive mindset in every subject in order to help them perform better. This line of research leads to the idea that there is no specific subject that can be viewed to be absolutely hard or easy for a particular gender or race compared to another. Rather, it is the stereotypes and mindset which lead to the significant and existing variations.

Interventions at the Middle School Level

Middle school students especially go through periods of physical, emotional, and social changes that can influence the changing or development of their mindset (Yeager et al., 2016). The brain system in middle schoolers undergoes many changes during their adolescent years. More importantly, intelligence theories provide credibility to the belief that intelligence is not predetermined. Teachers and students need to understand that intelligence is built through learning and is not fixed, as most adolescents believe. So as to assist students achieve a growth mindset, educators have to understand the manner in which their actions impact mindsets. With regard to adolescents, ensuring strong adult and peer relationships will be critical so that adolescents are motivated physically, emotionally, and socially. Mindset interventions will be helpful in moving them from a fixed to a growth mindset. These interventions however, need to be adapted to populations, where they aim to serve. In adolescents, for instance, mindset interventions can impact self-beliefs with respect to social belonging and academics.

Adolescent Development

If an adolescent is asked concerning their goals, many might give responses such as staying physically fit, fitting in with friends, and performing well at school (Curtis, 2015). However, any of their goals might be unexpectedly unachieved due to a variety different variables. Examples of these include gaining more weight, feeling excluded by friends, or failing a test grade. When they encounter such hindrances on their way to attaining their objectives, a good number would easily give up (Curtis, 2015). This can be explained using mindset theory, which argues that the young people have varying beliefs regarding whether their abilities can be enhanced with effort or are fixed. Burnette et al. (2013) and Dweck (2000) have documented many examples of information relating to mindsets and found a relationship between this information and how people respond to challenges with regard to their health, social, and academic goals.

Interventions can be modeled and assessed in teaching adolescents to embrace a growth mindset successfully. Growth mindset interventions, for instance, have improved the achievements of students successfully in respect of the challenges in their social lives and academic performance (Blackwell et al., 2007). Such interventions might be especially crucial for students facing discrimination concerning their academic performance because of gender, race or a perception that they are unexpected to succeed (Vandewalle, 2012). The mindset-based intervention success has been increased by implementing it in large-scale across different high schools with the help of computer technology, resulting in improved achievement of academics especially among those who are underperforming (Vandewalle, 2012). Apart from the pragmatic techniques promoting growth mindsets, the language used by parents and teachers when interacting with adolescents provides an opportunity to encourages their incremental beliefs (Esparza et al, 2014). Additionally, praising and focusing feedback on their progress and effort even in small daily interactions may also be an effective way of encouraging the adolescents to be resilient instead of helpless when they experience difficulties in the pursuit of their goals (Chao et al., 2017).

Thus, mindsets impact our achievement, motivation, and goals across a number of areas. It is the responsibility of teachers, parents, and those who work with adolescents to assist them in learning to perceive a challenge as an opportunity instead of failure. Aiding students to build growth mindsets can make it possible to overcome anxiety, initiate achievement, and help them remain happy while in the process of achieving their goals.

Students with lower grades were shown to have a lower work ethic and fewer skills to deal with the rigor of higher-level academics (Jacobs, Lanza, Osgood, Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002). If students do not have the interpersonal skills to work with others, including their teacher, it can cause a major deficit in their education (Jacobs et al., 2002). Lacking interpersonal skills or not possessing a growth mindset could be the difference between a student being proficient and being successful in their future endeavours,  and not learning the content required for success thus leaving them with less motivation and skills as they attempt to continue their education. Bandura’s counseling theory states “children perform better and are more motivated to select increasing challenging tasks when they believe that they have the ability to accomplish a particular task” (Jacobs et al., 2002, p.13).


“The act of process of gaining knowledge or understanding of your abilities, character, and feelings” is self-discovery as defined by the Webster Dictionary (2017). Understanding one’s self and being able to discover one’s abilities, character, and feelings is a powerful skill that can lead to the greater overall success of a student (Smokowski, Quo, Wu, Evans, Cotter, & Bacallao, 2016). Self-understanding and belief that abilities can improve can help students to appreciate and value themselves and their abilities. If a student values their own understanding and opinions, they are more likely to be confident in their educational endeavors which in turn leads to higher academic achievement.

Good at al. (2003) did a study on African-American, Hispanic and low-income students’ and found that when those students were mentored with a growth mindset platform the risk of identifying with stereotyped group they were part of was reduced. Students were more likely to overcome the stereotype of being at-risk because of their change in mindset. The mentors challenged and encouraged students to learn about themselves and their current ability and skill levels. They also encouraged them to view their intelligence and abilities as something that could change. In an online experiment by Paunesku (2015), high school students received a 45-minute online mindset training that they viewed on their own. Students who received the training on growth mindset showed improvement in their GPAs as a result of the training. The previously mentioned studies focused on high school students, so the question can be raised, can a similar mindset intervention at the middle school level show the same level of impact?

Moreover, a study looking the relationship between student engagement and academic achievement reported that the two factors were mutually predictive of each other (Chase, 2014). Students that are more engaged in school are more likely to achieve a higher academic level (Balfanz, Herzog & Mac Iver, 2007). Developing a growth mindset can help the student to be more engaged in their education because they believe that they can improve and therefore can develop greater motivation in their achievement levels.


Whereas certain expectations are accepted widely, namely enthusiastic delivery, subject matter command, and tidy classrooms, there are no general standards relating to teaching in middle-level schools or colleges (Chan, 2012). The overarching objective might be for the students to have a mastery of the material; however, there are a number of and often contradicting philosophies as to how to effectively accomplish this. In addition, the material included may differ substantially with regard to the teaching philosophy in the technical fields such engineering at the college level (Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015). Numerous varying views on what actually makes up effective teaching emerge due to philosophical variances which surround motivation.

Motivation is a personal facet, and it is challenging to change consciously. It is generally believed that the success of a person depends on the many motivations that one has. For students in middle schools this goes down to the two forms of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic (Chao et al., 2017). According to Schroder et al. (2017), students that are motivated intrinsically are more likely to demonstrate a growth mindset which creates the belief that success is the result of hard work and not only innate ability. The study demonstrates that a growth mindset in fact not only assists the individual while in school, but also has shown them more likely to be successful in all dimensions of life. As a growth mindset and the intrinsically motivated are interrelated, the authors claim that the intrinsically motivated have higher chances of succeeding (Schroder et al., 2017). On the contrary, because a fixed mindset was correlated with being extrinsically motivated, the point is made that such individuals have a smaller chance to succeed. Thus, student motivation might be more essential than it was first believed, particularly following Dweck’s (2000) work that indicated growth mindset and intrinsic motivation are interconnected.

Additionally, Hong et al. (1999)  uses a growth mindset intervention that is founded on an achievement motivational model. The model’s primary pillar is that students have varying theories concerning their ability. This in turn, helps them understand and make meaning of their surroundings and give guidance to their behavioral and decisional options. While certain people believe that their ability is incremental, others believe theirs is fixed.

Impact of Mindset on Student Achievement

Adolescents that can effectively comprehend that the brain can become better, particularly those that have a growth mindset, perform much better in relation to their academics since they have the empowering perception about learning (Butler, 2000; Romero et al., 2014; Dweck, 2000). Such students emphasize improvement and see the effort as a means to employ in order to further develop their abilities. Additionally, such children view failure as a natural component in the process of their learning (Nussbaum and Dweck, 2008). Conversely, those that have a fixed mindset, that is those who have the belief that the mind is not incremental, appear to emphasize judgment in these situations. They tend to be more focused on demonstrating that they are smart (Romero et al., 2014). As a result, students of a fixed mindset try to avoid conditions where they may have to engage in hard work or may fail.

Students having a growth mindset respond more positively in challenging situations and therefore, they perform more effectively at school, improving their academic performance. In one study, Nussbaum and Dweck (2008) aimed to investigate the type of feedback individuals would look for after they were involved in a challenge. The authors gave subjects a challenging task and thereafter informed them that they had not performed better in their test. Following this, participants were asked if they wanted to look at the tests of others that either performed better or performed worse than they did. The findings revealed that those having a growth mindset decided to gain more knowledge from those that had performed better compared to them. On the other hand, individuals with a fixed mindset appeared more focused on ensuring that they felt much better by looking at their colleagues’ tests that they had outperformed.

In another study by Blackwell et al. (2007) involved middle school students and explored the effect that a growth mindset and a fixed mindset on their math achievement. This is a subject that many students can find both challenging and difficult. Their findings revealed that students having a fixed mindset earned a lower grade in math over time when compared to those with a growth mindset who improved significantly. In addition, mindsets have also been proven to inspire people that take on more advanced academic challenges. Romero et al. (2014) showed that students having a growth mindset had a greater chance of being admitted to advanced math during the research period.

Instead of focusing only on good performance, a growth mindset focuses on overall learning. This is clearly evident when the inside of the brain is examined (Mangels, Butterfield, Lamb, Good & Dweck, 2006). In a study by Mangels et al. (2006), the authors brought participants to a lab for a study. They placed EEG caps on participant’s heads so as to determine the level of brain activity during different situations. In the process of measuring the activity of the brain, they asked the participants some form of information which held little importance. Then, the researchers told them whether or not they were right. That is to say, the participants were provided with performance feedback. The results demonstrated that those with a fixed mindset and a growth mindset both had active brains when they were informed about their feedback. As a result, this exercise proved that the participants all listened to this feedback. When subjects were told the correct response, the findings indicated that the brains of those having a growth mindset were substantively more active in comparison to those having a fixed mindset. The latter group were tuning out after realizing that they were either correct or incorrect, they were not concerned about getting to know the right answer. In the end, they provided a pop quiz to the participants using the same trivia questions. Those with a growth mindset outperformed their counterparts (Mangels et al., 2006).

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Iowa

GEAR UP is a program that aims to increase the proportion of low-income students prepared to get admission into high school and subsequently become successful in education after the secondary program. The GEAR UP Iowa curriculum was the outcome of a competitive grant received from the Department of Education (Leuwerke, 2016a). It accomplishes its goals by offering partnerships grants and curriculum to schools to provide support services to high-poverty, high and middle schools (Leuwerke, 2016b). The state of Iowa was one of several states that received grant funding for a GEAR UP program.

The program was developed for a number of reasons. First, it was designed so as to indicate the significance of education in the present day’s world. Additionally, it was meant to give encouragement to high and middle school students in order to establish great career and educational goals. It also strives to provide parents with the necessary resources and information they are in need of to remain as active participants in the education of their children and assist them to develop clear plans for their future (Leuwerke, 2016b). The program was also designed to help students get to know the manner in which they could get ready, enter, and succeed in other post-secondary training colleges. Finally, the program was developed to give educators the tools as well as the needed training so as to enhance both the achievement and academic expectations of students in the class. It also compels cooperation among community-based organizations, businesses, state and local education entities, institutions of higher learning, and K-12 schools (Leuwerke, 2016b).

The program is highly applicable to be employed in middle-level schools (Leuwerke, 2016a). Fogg and Harrington (2015) point out that the program has enhanced the likelihood that the less fortunate students enroll in college through interventions starting in middle schools in Rhode Island, another state that received GEAR UP funding. They point out that the program has had significant benefits for students who have moved through middle as well as high school. Fogg and Harrington (2015) found that after being a part of the GEAR UP program that it enhanced students’ success, and found that students were significantly more likely to graduate from high school.

The GEAR UP Iowa program builds on research on curriculum that shows the fundamental noncognitive factors role has on the persistence in school and academic success of students (Leuwerke, 2016b). The curriculum gives administrators, counselors, and teachers the information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of students’ mindset. The GEAR UP Iowa program has been utilized by middle school students to more effectively understand their strengths and establish solid and firm plans to improve on their weaknesses (Glaser & Warick, 2016).

The organization of the curriculum also reveals insightful success with regard to mindset. Its first five lessons emphasize growth mindset, assist students to comprehend a growth mindset, and finally engage in a number of tasks to develop their growth mindset independently. The next four sets of lessons examine ways that can be used to inculcate optimism among students, time management and personal responsibility, and goal setting lessons. This study specifically be using the first five lessons focusing on growth mindset.


The literature review has presented a number of topic areas, namely incremental theory of intelligence, or mindset theory, and its historical background through current research and interventions. Also included was the discussion regarding impact of interventions at the middle school level including gender, adolescent development, motivation, and other factors facing current middle school aged students. A brief explanation of the noncognitive mindset lessons from the GEAR UP Iowa initiative has also been explored. There are two forms of mindsets, fixed and growth. The latter is based on the belief that the primary traits of an individual may be built via commitment and hard work (Hong et al., 1999; King et al., 2012). Furthermore, a growth mindset believes that people learn from their failures, accept challenges, and persist in times of setbacks. Conversely, a fixed-minded person perceives their intelligence as a static, inherent quality that cannot be changed (Blackwell et al., 2007; Dweck, 2007; Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015). These different mindsets reveal distinct and contrasting characteristics in aspects related to the failure, praise, effort in response to challenges and goal setting. The breakthrough of Dweck and Mueller (1998) regarding incremental theory started with the research in 1998 and has since been researched by many additional studies. Recent findings and developments in neuroscience has also supported the concepts which underlie growth mindset (Li et al., 2017). In order to ensure effectiveness in education, interventions at the middle school level need to be addressed to cater to all students. Finally, many researchers have shown mindset to have a positive effect on the academic performance or achievement of students.


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