Sunday, April 17, 2011

Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007, January). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246-263.

In this article, Carol Dweck and two of her colleagues lay out a basic treatment of their theories that lead to much of the popular research on “mindset” over the last twenty years. They use Dweck’s early terms-- incremental and entity theories-- to describe the implicit theories of intelligence that students have about themselves.

The authors talk about the investigation of why certain students thrive under challenges and how others crumble before those same challenges. They identify certain implicitly held beliefs that students have about their intelligence and break them down into two broad categories. Students who believe intelligence is fixed see challenges as a threat, whereas students who believe intelligence can be “grown” view challenge as an opportunity for growth and a chance to expand that intelligence.

The authors talk about how students who view their intelligence as fixed view challenges as a measure of their abilities rather than a chance to expand them. Students with a fixed mindset often give up and stop working if tasks become difficult. On the other hand, students with a growth mindset view challenge as an opportunity to learn and see effort as a solution to difficult situations.

The authors make clear that viewing intelligence as malleable does not mean everyone can achieve the same in every domain, nor does it imply that everyone will learn everything with the same degree of ease or difficulty. What it does suggest is that all students can view their intelligence as something that can be grown through effort and education.

The authors identify clear differences in academic success between students with a fixed and growth mindset. They conducted a number of rigorous studies demonstrating the effects of different mindsets on student achievement and identify a growth mindset as being associated with increased performance.

Finally, the authors present an intervention for teachers to use in schools.

Discussion of Relevance:
This is a great introduction to the theoretical framework, research methods, and statistical analyses used by Dweck and her colleagues in their groundbreaking research on mindset. There are clear implications for classroom teachers in this work, especially in how we praise students after successes and how we can support them during challenging times.

The implications for student motivation that emerge from Dweck’s work on mindset are significant and are too large for the scope of this annotation. They are, however, worth exploring for teachers interested in what motivates to students to persist in the face of challenges.

“Implicit Theories of Intelligence...”
“The junior high school environment emphasizes competition, social comparison, and ability self-assessment at a time of heightened self-focus; it is associated with a decrease in decision making and choice at a time when the desire for control is growing; and it disrupts social networks and support when they are most needed. Together, these changes point to a mismatch between the adolescent’s needs and the environment they are thrown into, one common result of which is disengagement from school.”

“Some believe that intelligence is more of an unchangeable, fixed ‘‘entity’’ (an entity theory). Others think of intelligence as a malleable quality that can be developed (an incremental theory). Research has shown that, even when students on both ends of the continuum show equal intellectual ability, their theories of intelligence shape their responses to academic challenge.”

“For those endorsing more of an entity theory, the belief in a fixed, uncontrollable intelligence-- a ‘‘thing’’ they have a lot or a little of-- orients them toward measuring that ability and giving up or withdrawing effort if the verdict seems negative. In contrast, the belief that ability can be developed through their effort orients those endorsing a more incremental theory toward challenging tasks that promote skill acquisition and toward using effort to overcome difficulty (Dweck & Leggett, 1988).”

“It is important to recognize that believing intelligence to be malleable does not imply that everyone has exactly the same potential in every domain, or will learn everything with equal ease. Rather, it means that for any given individual, intellectual ability can always be further developed.”

“In a study of students undergoing a junior high school transition, Henderson and Dweck (1990) found that students who endorsed more of an incremental view had a distinct advantage over those who endorsed more of an entity view, earning significantly higher grades in the first year of junior high school, controlling for prior achievement.”

“In a recent study, Good, Aronson, and Inzlicht (2003) also found that an incremental theory intervention led to significant improvement in adolescents’ achievement test scores compared with a control group.”

“...theories of intelligence can be manipulated in real-world contexts and have a positive impact on achievement outcomes.”

“...adolescents who endorse more of an incremental theory of malleable intelligence also endorse stronger learning goals, hold more positive beliefs about effort, and make fewer ability-based, ‘‘helpless’’ attributions, with the result that they choose more positive, effort-based strategies in re- sponse to failure, boosting mathematics achievement over the junior high school transition.”

“The fact that promoting an incremental the- ory seemed to have the effect of generating increased motivation in the classroom again supports the idea that students’ theory of intelligence is a key factor in
their achievement motivation.”

“...diverging achievement patterns emerge only during a challenging transition. Before junior high school, students who endorsed more of an entity theory seemed to be doing fine. As noted in previous re- search, motivational beliefs may not have an effect until challenge is present and success is difficult (Dweck, 2002; Grant & Dweck, 2003). Thus, in a supportive, less failure-prone environment such as elementary school, vulnerable students may be buffered against the consequences of a belief in fixed intelligence. However, when they encounter the challenges of middle school, these students are less equipped to surmount them.”

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