How Children Succeed, Paul Tough’s influential 2012 book, got people thinking about what we can do to help every child be successful, not only in school but in the face of life’s many challenges. Tough’s argument that much of student success is driven by noncognitive factors, such as learning mindsets and skills, resonated strongly with us and is borne out by the evidence. So we were excited to see Tough and education experts from The Bridgespan Group revisit these themes in “Rethinking How Students Succeed.”
We were especially pleased that learning mindsets and skills were an important focus of the article. The Raikes Foundation’s national education strategy is focused on giving all students the opportunity to develop learning mindsets and skills, as we believe they are keys that can unlock every student’s full potential in any subject, and at any age. Research has shown that developing and strengthening learning mindsets can be especially helpful to disadvantaged and under-performing students. And we want to make sure that every student is motivated to learn and knows how to learn.
We’re writing in response to “Rethinking How Students Succeed” because we believe that the idea of developing learning mindsets needs a groundswell of support. The more people who understand what learning mindsets represent, recognize why they’re so important, and encourage their development, the better. And so we want to clarify what we mean by learning mindsets and also reiterate the importance of their development.
Students have learning mindsets when they know that intelligence grows with mental effort, when they understand that struggling with new challenges is a normal part of the learning process, and when they believe that the material they’re studying relates to their own lives.
Students with learning mindsets have confidence in their ability to learn and persist when they face challenges. They see the value in the material they’re learning, believe they belong and can succeed in the classroom, and expect that their hard work will pay off. They increase their ability to master content knowledge, adopt smart study skills, and set their own goals for learning. And empowered by those abilities, they’re more engaged in the classroom and motivated to tackle new material.
Developing learning mindsets has been shown to improve GPA and academic performance in core subjects like reading and math. It also leads to better attendance, course completion and graduation rates, and gives students the confidence and skills they need to succeed throughout their lives.
Much of our grant making at Raikes is focused on the upstream aspects of developing learning mindsets. In particular, we strive to support teachers as they seek to develop learning mindsets and positive, related behaviors in their students.
“Rethinking How Students Succeed” in fact highlights one of our earliest efforts to partner with and learn from teachers, the 8th/9th Teacher Network in Chicago. In 2012, we provided a grant to the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) that included support for CCSR researchers to work with 35 eighth- and ninth-grade teachers across seven Chicago public schools to develop actionable strategies to develop students’ learning mindsets. The partnership has helped CCSR researchers refine their understanding of how best to help teachers’ create classroom environments and tools that have the greatest impact on students’ mindsets. Camille Farrington describes CCSR’s learnings in her own response to “Rethinking How Students Succeed.”
This year we have also made a grant to the New Teacher Center, another organization mentioned in the article, to support the design and distribution of tools that teachers can access and share to help their students develop learning mindsets. Teachers will be heavily involved in the creation of the toolkit, as will leading researchers from CCSR and the Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS), a center at Stanford University that recently released its own Mindset Kit for teachers.
We are also supporting a “networked improvement community” launched by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that brings educators and researchers together to quickly design, test, prototype and share teaching practices that help students develop mindsets that lead to better learning outcomes. The network—which is national and includes different grade-levels, learning environments, and locations—focuses on common challenges such as improving course completion in Algebra I and helping students who are behind grade level in reading.
We encourage other philanthropies and stakeholders focused on education to consider supporting teachers in this manner. And we’ll have much more to share in the weeks and months to come about these and other projects we are supporting. But for now, we are grateful that “Rethinking How Students Succeed” has reinforced why we and so many others are so excited about the potential for learning mindsets and skills to help all kinds of students succeed.