In which I start to consider specific teaching strategies to develop a growth mindset

In my previous post, [1] I suggested a series of whole-school and departmental level strategies that followed from my reading of Dweck’s Mindset. [2] However, the book came up somewhat short on translating this into classroom practice. My only concrete idea was to investigate the use of SOLO Taxonomy as a meta-cognitive strategy to teach the process of learning alongside the subject-specific knowledge, understanding and skills. The Visible Learning website lists the effect size of meta-cognitive strategies as 0.69. [3] One direction might be to investigate whether SOLO would allow me to generate this kind of effect sizes. The remainder of this post is given over to a review of a paper by Gerry Miller, a consultant working in the North Tyneside Education Action Zone, on how other aspects of the growth mindset map on to Hattie’s work on effect sizes, with (again) a particular focus on identifying possible directions for my R&D project. [4]

Mindset at the Whole-School Level

As Miller writes, ‘motivation [effect size = 0.48] is highest when students are competent, have sufficient autonomy, set worthwhile goals, get feedback, and are affirmed by others.’ In contrast, factors that might demotivate students include ‘public humiliation, devastating test results, conflicts with teachers or peers… [and] ability grouping with very little chance of promotion.’ [5] Ability grouping only has an effect size of 0.12 anyway, and has been found to lead to greater polarisation of student outcomes. Dweck does not advocate mixed ability grouping; however, Miller points out that ‘if there is not regular movement between sets, students will quickly decide that they have been labelled as “set 3” or “set 5” students and will not be motivated to improve their performance.’ [6]


  • Smaller sets with regular movement between them

Related to this, it is important that teachers have the same high expectations of all students – ‘interpersonal expectancies (when the experimenter tends to obtain the results that he or she expects)’ have an effect size of 0.7, the implication being that ‘teachers are more likely to have their students reach their “expected” outcomes, regardless of the veracity of the expectations.’ [7] For Hattie, ‘the greatest single issue facing the further enhancement of students is the need for teachers to have a common perception of progress. When a student moves from one teacher to another, there is no guarantee that he or she will experience increasingly challenging tasks, have a teacher with similar (hopefully high) expectations of progress up the curricula, or work with a teacher who will grow the student from where he or she is, as opposed to where the teacher believes he or she should be at the start of the year.’ [8]


  • Adjust signpost / target grades at least annually to allow for greater-than-expected progress

Mindset in the Classroom

The highest effect size in Hattie’s meta-analysis was for self-reported grades, with an effect size of 1.44. As Miller writes, ‘students predict their performance – usually accurately – on their past achievement. If these predictions are too low – and often both students and teachers’ expectations will, on past performance, predict too low, then limits will be set on what is achieveable.’ [9] In order to develop a growth mindset, students need to be ‘genuinely involved in setting goals and short or medium term targets (ie success criteria),’ in common with much of what has been written on assessment for learning [10], so as to convince them that higher goals are attainable.


  • Share clear success criteria for every piece of work with students

Linked to this is the need for effective feedback (effect size = 0.73), and the need to create time to allow students to act on feedback by redrafting and improving their work, or by completing similar tasks to the original one. This feedback needs to be linked to the learning process, not the learning outcomes: feedback that ‘was administered in a controlling manner (eg saying the student performed as they “should” have performed)’ led to effect sizes of -0.78. While extrinsic rewards could be useful for low achieving students as a short-term engagement strategy, ‘extrinsic rewards are a controlling strategy that often leads to greater surveillance, evaluation and competition , all of which have been found to undermine enhanced engagement & regulation.’ [11] As mentioned in my previous post, feedback needs to be focused to helping students understand how to improve, which might necessitate a change in whole-school marking policy.


  • Comment-only marking (or, at least, not sharing levels / grades with students)

The influence of peers (effect size = 0.53) can also play a part in how students respond to feedback, with Miller making a distinction between fixed mindset students, whose ‘concerns with social comparison and impression management may lead to them taking on less challenging tasks to ensure demonstrations of competence’ and to avoid receiving that does anything other than simply affirm their ability, and growth mindset students who have more concern for their own academic development. [12] As such, even though structured co-operative learning has an effect size of 0.59 when compared to individualistic learning, the growth mindset needs to be embedded amongst students on an individual basis before co-operative learning can be genuinely effective. Therefore (as was also mentioned in my previous post), teachers need to make it clear to students that they are judging the quality of the students’ learning, not the level or grade of their work.


  • Teach the process of learning as well as the outcome (SOLO Taxonomy?)


[1] C. Phillips (2014) ‘In which I start a 6 month research and development project on the growth mindset’,

[2] ] C. Dweck (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential [Kindle edition] (London, Constable & Robinson)

[3] Visible Learning (2014) ‘Hattie Ranking: Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement’, (site accessed 23 January 2014)

[4] G. Miller (2013) ‘Understanding John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research in the Context of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset’, (site accessed 27 January 2014)

[5] Miller, ibid.

[6] Miller, ibid.

[7] Miller, ibid.

[8] Miller, ibid. (original emphasis)

[9] Miller, ibid.

[10] see, for example, P. Black, C. Harrison, C. Lee, B. Marshall and D. Wiliam (2003) Assessment for Learning: putting it into Practice (Maidenhead, Open University Press)

[11] Miller, ibid.

[12] Miller, ibid.


About carljphillips

Geography teacher. PhD in cultural/historical geography (Nott'm., 2006). SF/F genre fiction fan. Liverpool FC supporter. Libertarian. Humanist. Etc. I blog about the theory and practice of Geography teaching, and teaching in general.
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One Response to In which I start to consider specific teaching strategies to develop a growth mindset

  1. Pingback: In which I ask whether SOLO Taxonomy can be used to develop a growth mindset | Forwards, Not Backwards. Upwards, Not Forwards.

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