Imagine that on the first day of a class, the instructor says, ‘Only smart people will do well in this course.’ Cue the imposter syndrome as you begin to wonder if you are smart enough to be in the course.
Unknowingly, the instructor has communicated their own fixed mindset belief about the students. The belief is that intelligence is a fixed quantity as opposed to growth mindset, where intelligence is thought to be changeable. Previous studies have found that instructor expectations for students can affect their performance, but what about the instructor’s beliefs about their students' intelligences?
To answer this question, researchers from Indiana University looked at grades from over 600 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, representing over 15,000 students. To understand whether the instructor had fixed or growth mindset beliefs, the researchers posed two questions to the instructors that tested how much they agreed with the idea that intelligence is not something that can be changed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that students in the fixed mindset instructors’ courses earned lower grades than students in the growth mindset instructors’ courses. The effect was even more pronounced for students who identified as Black, Latino, and/or Native American. This likely is yet another contributor to the race gap in STEM (and college completion in general).
To ensure a more equitable classroom, instructors must be aware of their beliefs and how they may promote or hinder student achievement.