The reading skills of children drastically improve when parents are informed of the malleability of their child’s reading ability or ‘growth mindset’, and support them by praising their effort over performance.
Reading and comprehension are critical skills that children learn as they grow and can vary depending on their family background, how often their parents spend time with them, and the amount of time they spend with teachers at school. Many large-scale parent interventions with the intention of supporting their child’s learning are, unfortunately, ineffective.
One factor that is proposed to affect a child’s ability to learn is their parent’s mindset on learning. Some parents have a ‘fixed mindset’ where they believe that their child’s ability to learn is innate, and consequently their actions will not make a difference in their child’s abilities. Parents with a fixed mindset also tend to praise performance over effort, and interact with their child in a controlling, unconstructive manner. In contrast, parents with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that their child’s learning abilities are malleable and they learn incrementally. Parents with this mindset also tend to praise the effort of their child rather than their performance. It has been proposed that fixed-mindset parents are less able to support their child’s learning and academic growth.
In an attempt to improve large-scale interventions targeted at improving child learning, a group of researchers from Denmark set out to examine whether a reading intervention with a growth mindset delivered by public authorities had an impact on children’s reading skills in the areas of language comprehension, decoding, text comprehension, and writing a narrative. A large-scale trial was conducted over the course of 7 months of approximately 1500 second-grade children from 72 classrooms. Children were randomly assigned to an experimental group, either control or treatment (reading intervention). Parents of children in the treatment group were provided with information that emphasized growth theory of abilities and that a child’s reading ability can always be improved, demonstrated constructive interaction between parent and child, and how to praise child effort rather than performance and results.
The growth mindset reading intervention significantly improved skills in all four areas of reading and writing compared to children in the control group, particularly in reading and understanding text and expressive language skills. The greatest improvement was observed in children 3 months into the intervention, while a smaller, but significant effect was observed after 7 months. The researchers suggest that the treatment may be more effective over time if combined with interventions that help sustain the efforts of parents.
Immigrant children with non-Western backgrounds and children with low-educated mothers also demonstrated at least the same results as children with Western backgrounds and educated mothers. This demonstrated that the treatment was able to support groups of children who normally spent less time with their parents. In addition, the effects of the treatment were greatest in children whose parents believed that reading abilities were fixed prior to the intervention.
Overall the growth mindset reading intervention study was highly successful with large and consistent effects in child reading and writing skills. The intervention was relatively cheap to implement since it engaged parents in reading with their child directly. Previous research had demonstrated similar results when children spend more time with their teachers in school, but it is at least twice as costly. This study shows a clear and effective approach to parent interventions aimed to improved child learning.
Written By: Fiona Wong, PhD