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Rising to the Challenge: Examining the Effects of a Growth Mindset - STIRS Student Case Study

Sal Meyers, PhD
Department of Psychology, Simpson College
Indianola, Iowa
sal.meyers@simpson.edu

Abstract:  This case study examines the likely consequences of having a fixed versus a growth mindset.  Dweck (2006) published a book on growth versus fixed mindsets in which she argued that people who view intelligence and ability as things that grow and change over time are more successful than people who view intelligence and ability as fixed entities that are essentially unchangeable. Journal articles on this topic use the terms entity and incremental beliefs instead of fixed and growth mindset. Using a series of jigsaw activities, evidence is presented to address the question: Why, when faced with difficult course material, do some students rise to the challenge and perform well and others back away from it and not do well? Using a jigsaw activity, Part I of the case introduces students to the difference between observational and experimental designs as they examine the results of four different studies regarding mindsets about ability.  Part II uses a jigsaw activity to broaden students’ understanding of growth and fixed mindsets to include mindsets of math ability, mindsets of interest in academic majors, mindsets of willpower, and instructor’s mindsets of ability.  Part III is optional; it provides students with the opportunity to conduct their own empirical research projects concerning mindsets.  Finally, students will be asked to design a way to increase students’ academic achievement using mindset theory and to use the scientific evidence they have been considering to support their conclusions.  Suggestions for paper assignments and video presentations are also included.

Use in Courses:  The jigsaw portions of this case study were initially developed for a non-disciplinary, undergraduate first-year experience course.  The data collection portion was designed for a research methods course in psychology.  The case material could also be used in other psychology and/or education courses such as introduction to psychology, educational psychology, human motivation, social psychology, child development, cognitive psychology, foundations of education, student development and learning, exceptional students, and math education.  The case can easily be adapted to be taught either as a whole or in parts.

This case could be used in any first year seminar (or senior seminar) that includes a discussion of student learning, personality, or individual differences.  The case provides opportunities for students to work collaboratively in small groups.

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Professor Meyers was named an AAC&U STIRS Scholar in 2014 and developed this case for the STIRS Program.