The Ineffective Support of a False Growth Mindset

Key Takeaway

Improving our understanding of the mindsets of students with learning disabilities (LD) will permit the implementation of meaningful supports. However, a pilot study was inconclusive whether or not the growth mindset self-beliefs of students with LD were in fact false growth mindsets, wherein students were more focused on effort than more effective resources for support. — Matt Piercy

A False Growth Mindset

Goegan, Pelletier, and Daniels (2021) conducted a pilot study that explored the mindsets of grade 12 students with learning disabilities (LD). Dweck’s (1999) mindset theory1 was the guiding framework, and the authors’ interest was not limited to whether or not students adopted growth or fixed mindsets but questioned whether there would be a clear emergence of false growth mindsets in students. A false growth mindset is one that simplifies the need for support to merely putting in more effort.

The authors investigated the following three research questions: 

  1. Do students with LD score similar to peers on measures of fixed and growth mindsets? 
  2. Within the group, do students with LD identify more with growth or fixed mindsets? 
  3. How do students’ self-beliefs about having LD correspond with mindset messaging?

The Findings

The findings indicated that students with LD do in fact score similar to their peers on measures of fixed and growth mindsets. Yet, when compared within the group, students with LD reported significantly higher growth than fixed mindsets scores. It was inconclusive whether this growth mindset was more than simply tacitly tied to a notion of effort, or what is termed a false-growth mindset. 

When students were asked to self-report on what it means to have a learning disability, two common words surfaced: “hard/harder” (31% response rate) and “work” (25% response rate). For example, “I just have to try harder.” The word “just” was linked in 9% of the responses, suggesting growth equates to effort.

An honest evaluation noted the study’s limitations. “First, participants were a homogenous group of students from one province in Western Canada.” Further, the sample size was 100 students.

Growth-Mindset Messaging

Intriguing, however, was the authors’ suggestion that future research “could be conducted to examine the communication of mindsets messaging from teachers and other school personnel and how the information is adopted by students generally, and students who identify with having a LD in particular, to support the development of accurate growth mindsets.” The intention is to better understand the mindsets of students with LD, so appropriate and meaningful supports can be provided.

Though there are mixed findings relative to whether or not students with LD identify similar levels of growth and fixed mindsets when compared to their peers, the authors remain optimistic about how commonly students, without regard to disability status, are adopting growth mindsets. “Teachers should be providing messaging to all their students that they can indeed grow with effort and appropriate implementation of learning strategies and supports.”2 

Summarized Article:

Goegan, L. D., Pelletier, G. N., & Daniels, L. M. (2021). I Just Have to Try Harder: Examining the Mindsets of Students with LD. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 0829573521998954.

Summary by: Matt Piercy — Matt appreciates how at the heart of the MARIO framework is a passion to develop relationships and a desire to empower students to uncover their purpose while building upon strengths.  Further, Matt is inspired by how the MARIO team supports educators and is quickly and nobly becoming a collaborative force in pursuit of educational equity.

Additional References:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Psychology Press. 
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2007). Boosting achievement with messages that motivate. Education Canada, 47(2), 6–10.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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