your mindset matters

Believing you can improve through hard work

Every three years the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) undertakes the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. Australia participates in the data collection which evaluates 15 year old students’ performance in maths, science and reading. PISA collects information about what contributes to both good and poor performance.

Consulting firm McKinsey squirrelled into PISA’s extensive dataset to reveal important factors that influence learning at every age. An article on McKinsey’s website shares the findings, one being that ‘student mindset’ matters a very great deal.

A quick explanation of mindset for learning

Carol Dweck is the go to person on mindset for learning. Her excellent 10 minute TED talk –‘The power of believing that you can improve’ – beautifully captures the idea. In teaching lingo, ‘mindset’ has taken a specific meaning. In words less elegant than Dweck’s, mindset refers to a student’s view about their ability to learn. Positive mindsets are evident when a learner believes they can always improve their learning performance. Negative mindsets are present when a learner believes their performance is fixed, whatever they do.

Most of us harbour both mindsets. We tend to think we can be good at some things and that we’ll be consistently inadequate at others.

The startling power of positive mindsets

McKinsey’s data squirrelling alerts us to mindset’s powerful influence. Educators have become more than ever aware in the last two or three decades that socioeconomic background is a strong predictor of student performance. But let’s try on McKinsey’s first finding for size:

  • Having the right mindsets matters much more than socioeconomic background

This finding is replicated across every region of the world. The article notes ‘student mindsets are twice as predictive of students’ PISA scores than even their home environment and demographics.’ The nature of positive mindsets is pretty important:

‘Several mindsets emerged as highly predictive of performance. Top of the list was the ability to identify what motivation looks like in day-to-day life… Students who can recognize that motivated students prepare for class, do more than expected, and work to perfection outperform those who do not by between 12 and 15 percent depending on their region. Similarly, students… who believe they can succeed if they work hard performed 9 to 17 percent better than those with a “fixed mindset” – those who believe their capabilities are static.’

All of which underlines the significance of promoting a general orientation to positive mindsets among your students, and encouraging individual students to invest in the belief that learning success is the product of hard work, not genes or wealth or luck.