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PISA 2018 results: The state of Growth Mindset in the UK

PISA 2018 results: The state of Growth Mindset in the UK

5 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset

Every few years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development release their PISA report. This report discusses the performance and wellbeing of 15-year-olds from 79 different countries. It is one of the largest reviews looking at students from around the world.

Read our quick recap of the findings we found the most interesting in the PISA 2018 review here.

For the first time ever, their 2018 report, which was released this week, discusses Growth Mindset. So how did UK students do, how important is having a Growth Mindset and what can be done to facilitate its development?

Growth Mindset: UK students vs The rest of the world

Growth mindset findings in PISA 2018

PISA report that “it is worrying that in one-third of countries and economies that participated in PISA 2018, more than one in two students said that intelligence is something about them that they can’t change very much”.

So how did UK students feel about their ability to develop their intelligence? Out of 79 countries, the UK students came in the top 10. This puts the UK above the likes of the United States, Finland, Japan and Australia.


Growth Mindset is associated with better reading skills in the PISA 2018 report

The PISA 2018 Report states that “students who disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much’ scored 32 points higher in reading than students who agreed or strongly agreed, after accounting for the socio-economic profile of students and schools”.

They also report that students with a growth mindset “expressed less fear of failure than students who believe their abilities and intelligence are ‘fixed’”. Finally, they found that “students with a growth mindset reported greater motivation to master tasks and self-efficacy, set more ambitious learning goals for themselves, attached greater importance to school, and were more likely to expect to complete a university degree”.

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What does the PISA 2018 suggest teachers can do to help develop a Growth Mindset?

1. Teach your students about how their abilities can develop

PISA 2018 says: “There are various ways a growth mindset can be instilled in students. It can begin by teaching students more about the brain’s capacity to learn through reading, class discussions and other activities. Research has shown that students who are exposed to these school-based interventions tend to show stronger beliefs about the brain’s capacity to change, and are less likely to attribute failure to a lack of talent, than students who are assigned to control groups”.

The research: This is something that we have blogged about previously. One study that caught our attention in this area was this meta-analysis which found that teaching students about neuroplasticity led to higher motivation to learn, improvement in academic achievement, with struggling students getting the most benefit from it.

2. Have high standards

PISA 2018 says: “When students struggle and teachers respond by lowering standards, teachers may imply that low achievement is the consequence of an inherent lack of ability. Unlike effort, talent is seen as something that students have no control over, so students may be more likely to give up rather than try harder”.

The research: This is known as The Pygmalion Effect. It is important to note that high expectations are not the same as having high aspirations – if you want to dig more into this area check out our blog on ‘High Expectations in the Classroom’.

3. Focus on strategy

PISA 2018 says: “According to some research, teachers also give more praise, more help and coaching, and lengthier answers to questions to those students whom they perceive as having greater ability. When teachers don’t believe that pupils can develop and extend themselves through hard work, they may feel guilty pressing students whom they perceive to be less capable of achieving at higher levels”.

The research: We think they may be citing one of our favourite studies on the impact that teacher mindset has on their teaching practice. You can read more about this study in the Studies section on our website.

4. Use praise selectively

PISA 2018 says: “Research shows that when a teacher gives a student an easier task and then praises that student excessively for completing it, the student may interpret the teacher’s behaviour as reflecting a belief that the student is less able”.

The research: We couldn’t agree more. In our blog ‘The Problem With Praise’, we write that “praise is like penicillin…it must not be administered haphazardly”. For practical suggestions on what to praise, this list may be a good starting point.

Explicitly and implicitly teach Growth Mindset

PISA 2018 says: “Other successful interventions include encouraging students to explain the growth mindset to other students, instilling a growth mindset amongst parents and teachers, offering a single online session about the growth mindset, and playing with a social robot that displays growth mindset beliefs”.

The research: We were a bit surprised by the last suggestion, as growth mindset social robots aren’t something we’ve come across before. But the other areas, such as talking about what growth mindset is and how it can be developed, we would certainly agree with. Their suggestion about having older students teach it to younger students may have been prompted by this report, which we often recommend during our CPD sessions.

The school + home environment makes a difference

What PISA 2018 say: “Parents, teachers and principals need to create an environment where children are encouraged to participate, and where educators believe in students’ potential to develop their skills and provide students with the necessary support and feedback.”

Our thoughts: This strikes to the core of how to develop students’ growth mindset. It works best when it is not thought of as an intervention. It is not a tick box exercise or just a poster to laminate. Instead, it is a culture thing. It’s about an environment of excellence and indeed a system where students are encouraged to aim high, with the assistance of high-quality feedback and support.

Final thoughts

One section that stood out for us in the PISA 2018 report was where they said that “in many countries, it has taken time to move from a belief that only a few students can succeed to embracing the idea that all students can achieve at high levels. It takes a concerted, multifaceted programme of policy making and capacity building to attain that goal”.

Essentially, it’s not easy and it’s certainly not a quick win. But the evidence shows it is definitely worth it.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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