Mindset and Mathematics in an All-Girls Secondary School

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Implicit theories of intelligence or mindset is vital in understanding adolescent cognition and motivation. Dweck (2000, 2006), categorised people as having one of two types of mindset: fixed (entity theorists) and growth (incremental theorists). Both mindsets have implications for how individuals behave in academic contexts. There is considerable evidence of declining participation in mathematics in Australia (Leder & Taylor, 2010; Murray, 2011). This decline is a matter for significant concern, for reasons related to both national economic growth and social equity. The mindset theoretical framework offers a valuable way of understanding students’ attitudes towards and participation in mathematics. This thesis combines three major fields of study; mindset, mathematics and gender. The principal aims of this study were to investigate the implicit theories of intelligence (mindset) held by female students from Years 7 to 12 in a single-sex comprehensive secondary school, and explore the relationship between their mindset, participation in mathematics and their self-reported learning behaviours. Five research questions were investigated using a mixed method approach including a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews as data gathering tools. Quantitative analysis of the school sample mindset data revealed that over 66% of students supported the statements “their intelligence could be developed or grown”. The student interviews however revealed a far more complex, and at times contradictory picture. Overlaying students’ mindsets were other variations in student beliefs. The very popular student belief that intelligence was inherited (innate) and could be further developed by learning and life experiences, had the potential for significant learning consequences. Secondly, the students who set a ceiling or cap on their intelligence by assuming they could only improve to a certain level, showed evidence of holding both a fixed and growth mindset. School and interview data revealed that most students believed in the need to apply effort to improve school performance, however this did not necessarily equate with a student having a growth mindset for intelligence. There was a significant difference between the mathematics growth mindset mean and the means of general growth mindset and English growth mindset for the school sample. The significantly lower mathematics mean implied that students had a more fixed mindset for mathematics. This significant difference was a key result that has implications for students’ future participation in mathematics. Furthermore, participation in mathematics was significantly related to having a growth mindset. Findings revealed that students’ mindsets were influenced by sociocultural and environmental factors. This study highlights the importance of understanding self-theories or implicit beliefs about intelligence. Dweck (2015) reminds us to “never forget about the psychology of the student” (p. 243). How the student views themselves as a learner is critical for academic success. It is therefore important for students to understand their own implicit beliefs and whether these beliefs are detrimental to their learning. For schools in general, the development of students’ mathematics growth mindset may be beneficial in increasing mathematics participation in Years 11 and 12. It is recommended that teachers be mindful of their own implicit beliefs and recognise the importance of developing a growth mindset in their students.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Clark, Debra, Principal Supervisor
Award date08 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 08 Nov 2018

Grant Number

  • mindset mathematics implicit beliefs of intelligence factors influencing mindset


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