A professor tells students on the first day of class, “Look to your right and look to your left; forty percent of you will not be here by the end of the semester.”
When professors suggest that only a certain few have the abilities needed to succeed, or “fixed mindset” of ability, it creates a climate of identity threat for some students, especially stigmatized groups. Students who do not see many students like themselves, may feel that they cannot be successful in the course. Low numerical representation, along with the status of one’s group, can depress academic performance in an almost self-handicapping manner. Teachers may unintentionally contribute to identity threat by calling on certain students more or looking to certain student for answers to difficult questions; students notice these happenings.
Alternatively, professors can communicate that the abilities required to do well in their class are malleable and can be developed over time with effective strategies. Teacher messages can make the differences between communicating fixed versus growth mindset.
Professor Mary Murphy in the Psychology department at Indiana University and with the Mindset Scholars Network studies ways to create more identify-safe climates that foster motivation among all students. Murphy has surveyed over one thousand IU professors, audio-recorded lectures, and held focus groups with students in those courses. She is coaching students on how to become aware of fixed mindset messaging and ways to be resilient in the face of those challenges.
Learn more about Mary Murphy’s research on mindset when she presents a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) session, “Overcoming Stereotype and Prejudice in Academia,” on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 10:00-11:30 am in the IMU Frangipani Room. You can register here. Murphy will explain her findings about growth mindset and classroom messages.
To discuss growth mindset strategies for your course or your department, contact Joan Middendorf at the CITL.
For more practice on growth mindset you can go to http://www.mindsetkit.org.
Murphy, M. C., & Zirkel, S. (2015). Race and belonging in school: How anticipated and experienced belonging affect choice, persistence, and performance. Teachers College Record, 117(12), 1-40.