At Eton College we were recently fortunate to be able to set up a new research centre to look into the ways young people learn, from young teens to those in their early 20s. It’s very much a collaborative centre, where we work alongside and share our findings with other schools and educational establishments around the world.

Our first research project was to contribute towards the fascinating work around Growth Mindset.

Growth Mindset is a concept developed by American Professor Carol Dweck. In essence it considers the different attitudes between of those with a Growth Mindset and those of a Fixed Mindset – particularly when faced with failure. Those with a Growth Mindset don’t see their learning or development as fixed. Indeed they don’t see failure as ‘failure,’ rather as a challenge that they look forward to working through, allowing them to grow their capabilities. Those of a Fixed Mindset tend to think a bad exam result shows they are ‘no good’ in a particular area. It can be especially devastating for students (or adults) who hitherto had excelled in that area. And how many of us have bemoaned being ‘no good at maths’ or perhaps ‘not sporty’ since childhood? These labels can follow us right through our lives. Yet if that were the case, how would a group of participants on a Splash project who don’t list DIY capabilities within their skillsetever be able to create the facilities they do?

Our team at The Tony Little Centre (pictured) worked with Research Schools International at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on this cutting-edge research. Using previous research by Dweck and others, we created a brief course on mindset theory to help students become more growth-minded in their thinking. We also took a step into new research territory by exploring the relationship between growth mindset and prosocial attitudes, which are a broad range of attitudes that support others, such as kindness and helpfulness.

First, researchers collected baseline data from 187 Etonians, who were divided into an experimental group and a control group. Eton teachers delivered the growth mindset course to students in the experimental group once a week over three weeks. Researchers collected follow-up data from the students in the experimental and control groups. When all the data was in, researchers analysed the data using quantitative and qualitative methods.

Results revealed that students who took the growth mindset course learned to be more growth-minded. On a series of questions measuring mindset, students who took the course gave more growth-minded responses after taking the course, on average, compared to students in the control group; this difference was statistically significant. This adds to the growing body of research suggesting that by just learning about the power of your own thinking and your brain’s ability to change, you can become a more growth-minded person.

We also found an intriguing connection between growth mindset and prosocial attitudes, with the students who took the growth mindset course actually improving their prosocial attitudes. In other words, the growth mindset course led to a statistically significant increase in students’ prosocial attitudes; we did not find a change in the control group.

These findings are exploring uncharted territory, and more research is of course needed. But this study provides insights into how we can support students to be both more successful and kinder (both within Eton and beyond), and we think that’s quite exciting!

Many thanks to our guest writer, Jonnie Noakes, Director of The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning, at Eton College @JonnieNoakes

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Building Teams, Developing Leaders

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INSEAD MBA France August 2016

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