Researchers discover useful technique to instill ‘sense of purpose’ in struggling students

Researchers discover useful technique to instill ‘sense of purpose’ in struggling students

Brief internet-based interventions instill a "growth mindset" and a sense of purpose to struggling students.

Stanford researchers have found that by using brief web-based interventions with high school students results in a purposeful mindset and an improvement in their schoolwork.

“Two interventions, each lasting about 45 minutes and delivered online, raised achievement in a large and diverse group of underperforming students over an academic semester,” wrote Gregory Walton, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, along with his colleagues.

Over a million high school students drop out every single year, unprepared for either college or the workforce, according to the article in the journal of Psychological Science. Often the cause is underperformance.

In the study, researchers explored the impact of two types of online interventions on 1,594 students in 13 high schools. One intervention involved the development of a “growth mindset” and the other a “sense of purpose.”

The intervention uses a sense-of-purpose technique, which was designed to help students articulate how schoolwork could help them accomplish meaningful life goals.

Both the interventions were aimed at helping students, especially poor performers. The research measured changes in students’ grades in core academic subjects. The results showed that among students at risk for dropping out (one-third of the sample), both interventions raised grade-point-averages and increased the rate at which the students performed satisfactorily in each course by 6.4 percentage points.

The authors included psychology researchers David Paunesku, Carissa Romero, Eric Smith and Professor Carol Dweck, all of Stanford University, and David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin.

One example is how one of the growth mindset exercises had students read an article describing the brain’s ability to grow and even reorganize itself as a consequence of hard work and astute academic strategies. The goal was to tell students they have the potential to become more intelligent through study and practice, and that scholarly setbacks do not indicate limited potential.

Paunesku said, “If our short, web-based activities can help students see school as a place where they can grow their abilities and become the kind of person they want to be, and if that change in perspective makes students more motivated and successful, then it seems likely that there are many opportunities in the classroom to send these messages to better engage students.”

The Project for Education Research That Scales – or PERTS, an applied research center at Stanford University – is working toward these goals by engaging with teachers to identify and promote easy-to-replicate practices to help students develop more adaptive mindsets.

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