The Impact of a Growth Mindset Intervention on the Reading Achievement of At-Risk Adolescent Students

Saunders, Stephen Allan, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Tucker, Pamela D., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

The lack of academic success by American adolescents has been of grave concern for both researchers and practitioners for many decades. While many American adolescents struggle in school, some students are at a greater risk than their peers based on personal characteristics such as race, socioeconomic status, and motivation. The low levels of academic achievement, particularly in the area of reading, are a serious problem for school leaders and teachers working with adolescent students. Decades of research has established the relationship between motivation and academic achievement. Self-theories or mindsets have been offered as one motivational framework to describe individuals' beliefs about their own traits, such as their intelligence. Individuals tend to fall along a continuum from a growth to a fixed mindset. At-risk students who adopt a fixed mindset may become trapped in a recursive pattern of low achievement, low motivation, and low effort. There is a convergence of several events that occurs when adolescents transition to middle school during sixth grade. These events, which include psychological and physiological changes as well as normative declines in motivation and academic achievement, make sixth grade an exceptionally important year for the future success of at-risk students. Prior research has suggested that adolescent students who prefer a growth mindset have higher academic achievement than their peers who prefer a fixed mindset. This pilot study used a mixed methods research design which combined a quasiexperimental pre-posttest assessment and a focus group component. The participants were thirty public middle school at-risk sixth grade students who had experienced reading difficulties. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a computer-based growth mindset intervention (Brainology™) on these students' reading achievement as well as their attitudes toward reading. This study was the first to explore at-risk adolescent students' mindsets and to examine the impact of Brainology™ on reading achievement. There were non-significant results for four research questions. The focus group interviews indicated that the experimental group students believed that the Brainology™ influenced their beliefs about their intelligence. These results are discussed relative to the topics of adolescent development, motivation, and adolescents' academic environment. Implications for school leaders and future research are also offered. iv DEDICATION I dedicate this work to my children and my wife. Eliza (4) & Owen (2): I started this journey before either of you was born. It was always hard to spend time working on this paper instead of playing with you and watching you grow up, but Dad is finally done with his "dish-ah-tration." Now we can play all the time! Rebekah: Since our relationship started in 2004 I've always been in graduate school or writing this dissertation. During these nine long years there has been a recurring theme of the number two: in our 2 nd year of marriage I left my job and went back to school fulltime to pursue this degree, you supported me through two years of full-time graduate studies, we've raised two puppies, and we've been blessed with our two children. Thank you for making this degree possible by maintaining our home and lives while I was researching and writing. Thank you also for giving me the freedom to finish this work, and for the many diapers you changed while I was away writing. I know that I am blessed. While all men marry up, few have done so as well as I.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
reading, at-rissk adolescents, motivation, mindsets
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