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How a 90-minute exercise “made” students smarter

We all know when a 13-year-old has their mind set on something, it's quite difficult to try and change it. This is exactly the challenge that the Ministry of Education in Peru was facing with students in public schools and high schools.

Teenagers often have pre-conceived ideas about their own intelligence, which influences how they react to academic challenges. If a student thinks he is not smart enough, he believes there is little he can do to improve and is discouraged from even trying. There’s good news : Recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever knew. Research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience and practice. Neural networks can grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses.

In plain words, we can increase our intellectual capabilities over time!

This is also known as "growth mindset".

The origins of growth mindset
- also known as the power of yet (replacing "no" with "not yet")
Some 30 years ago, Carol Dweck and her colleagues became interested in students' attitudes about failure. They noticed that some students rebounded while other students seemed devastated by even the smallest setbacks. 
After studying the behavior of thousands of children, Dr. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. 
When students believe they can get smarter and understand that effort makes them stronger, they put in extra time and energy, and that leads to higher achievement.
More broadly, if you believe your brain can grow, you behave differently.
Recent neuroscientific discoveries provide strong support to the growth mindset theory. This urged researchers far and wide to start asking whether it's possible to change mindsets and how. This led to a series of interventions and studies that prove we can indeed change a person’s mindset from fixed to growth, and when we do, it leads to increased motivation and achievement. 
How? By actions that promote our (usually lazy) brains to think, such as using good decision strategies, asking better questions, nurturing our creative side, employing critical thinking. And not forget to nurture our physical needs with good nutrition, exercise and sleep.

Back to Peru...

Together with researchers from the World Bank’s eMBeD (Behavioral Science) unit and the University of Oxford, the Ministry of Education in Peru used these findings to improve outcomes for students in public high schools. In 2008, they developed a project called “Expand Your Mind” focused in developing motivation and perseverance. Through this growth mindset intervention, 50,000 students and teachers in 800 selected public schools and high schools were asked to read a short essay titled “Did You Know You Can Grow Your Intelligence” and to do a series of activities to demonstrate that they understood the content of that essay. The whole session lasted 90 minutes.

The essay explained simply:

The results?

An increase in the range of 0.14 to 0.35 standard deviations in math test scores and up to 0.23 standard deviations in language. This is equivalent to four months of schooling, at a cost of less than $0.20 per student.

Significantly, the results persisted over time – preliminary results show continued improvement in students 14 months later, suggesting that the intervention changed mindsets for the long term.

The intervention demonstrates the power of a low-cost, high-impact intervention for improving student outcomes dramatically and over time.

Beyond Peru

“Expand Your Mind” and similar initiatives have been implemented in a number of countries and schools. For example, 7th graders who were taught that intelligence is malleable and shown how the brain grows with effort showed a clear increase in math grades.

You can download a temmplate lesson plan by Mindset Works here 👇

Download PDF • 1.11MB

The link between rowth mindset & praise

In addition to teaching kids about malleable intelligence, researchers started noticing that teacher practice has a big impact on student mindset, and the feedback that teachers give their students can either encourage a child to choose a challenge and increase achievement or look for an easy way out. For example, studies on different kinds of praise have shown that telling children they are smart encourages a fixed mindset, whereas praising hard work and effort cultivates a growth mindset.

(Poetic) Take-aways:


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