Mindset, Motivation and Resilience

Zoe Benjamin

What does the research say about student mindset resilience and motivation?

Improving persistence, effort and attitude

Students need motivation to learn. They need reasons to stay focused and excited about learning and they need encouragement to succeed. When teachers feel inspired and enthusiastic about teaching, students respond well. Anyone working in a school will know that it's not that simple and there's a whole body of research to help us understand the complexities of mindset, motivation and resilience. In recent posts, we have focus primarily on the science of learning, or things from memory to attention. Humans aren't robots though, our complex minds are highly connected to our emotions. In this short article, we outline some of the key studies that can be used to inform our classroom practice.

Growth Mindset

Mueller and Dweck (1998)

Students who are praised for their effort on a task rather than their performance are more likely to choose future tasks that allow them to learn new things, reportedly enjoy the task they were praised for more, are more likely to persist with new tasks and perform better on future tasks.

Consider the terminology we use to give praise and whether the term ‘gifted and talented’ is helpful for students’ long-term achievement and enjoyment of learning.

IQ and Success

Terman (1925)

In a longitudinal studies (over 35 years), Terman found that children’s IQ scores were a poorer indicator of future success compared to their character traits (even for students identified as gifted and talented). Determination and persistence were better predictors of success in future careers.

Encourage students to be more resilient as it is likely that this will have a greater impact on achievement than their underlying IQ.

Student Resilience

Holdsworth et al (2017)

The three key attributes behind resilience are having a sense of perspective, staying healthy and social support. Managing emotions, controlling what you can, setting goals and self-reflection helped students to have a sense of perspective.

The researchers found that schools could foster resilience thought allowing students to learn from failures, providing high-quality feedback focussing on next steps and having access to extra-curricular activities. Ensure students are active and that they celebrate successes with positive self-talk. Support students to form good relationships in school and not become isolated.

Mindset and Purpose

Paunesku et al (2015)

Teaching students how to develop a growth mindset or a sense of purpose both resulted in a significant increase in grades. The impact was greatest for students who were struggling in school. It was also found that a growth mindset and sense of purpose can effectively be taught online in as little as one 45-minute session each.

Teach students about how the brain develops and their potential to improve their attainment through study and practice to develop a growth mindset. Have students focus on how achievement in school can help them to achieve meaningful goals to develop a sense of purpose. A single session of each intervention may be enough to produce an increase in attainment.

Academic Buoyancy

Martin et al (2010)

Academic buoyancy is a student’s ability to overcome the everyday challenges of school. The five areas associated with academic buoyancy that should be targeted to help students overcome challenges are:

Confidence (a belief that hard work will lead to success); Coordination (planning and avoiding procrastination); Commitment (resilience, determination and persistence); Composure (managing nerves, anxiety and stress); Control (focusing on what is important and under the student’s control).

Maximise opportunities for success, develop the skills of self-regulation and goal-setting, provide direction to enhance planning and persistence. Help students to prioritise their work and give them clear expectations and success criteria for each task. Praise effort and provide task-based feedback about how to improve.

Developing academic buoyancy
Developing academic buoyancy


Fletcher and Sarkar (2016)

A review of existing studies concluded that any program that aims to enhance students’ resilience should focus on:

- Personal qualities (such as high personal standards, optimism, competitiveness, intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, self-talk, focussing on what is important and what can be controlled).

- A facilitative environment (where students are challenged but there is a high level of support available).

- A challenge mindset (viewing setbacks as challenges rather than a threat through focusing on what you stand to gain, asking ‘what can I do about this?’, not catastrophising, avoiding words like ‘should’ and ‘must’, concentrating on positive and helpful thoughts.)

Educate students about what it means to be resilient and use the above three points to focus any intervention. Ensure teachers are aware that students are more likely to become resilient in lessons when they are challenged and support is readily available.


Reeve et al (2004)

Four groups of students were taught a new topic in an intentionally boring way. The first group were given no reason to try hard, the second group were told it was important for a test, the third group were told that trying hard was expected and the fourth group were told the new skill would help them in the future. The fourth group rated the lesson as more important than the other three groups, they had higher levels of self-determination and internal motivation, and put more effort into the lesson. Being told that working hard was expected resulted in a greater effort than being told the material would be on a test.

Having an appreciation for why what we teach is important and communicating this to students should result in greater motivation than reminding them that they will ultimately be tested on the information.

Mindset, Attitude and Self-Esteem

Robins and Pals (2002)

Students with a growth mindset are more likely to: prioritise learning over performance; attribute success to their effort and study skills; feel excited about academic performance; put in more effort and learn from mistakes; have higher self-esteem. Students with a fixed mindset are more likely to:prioritise performance over learning; attribute failures and successes to external and uncontrollable factors; feel distressed by their academic performance; feel helpless; have low self-esteem.

Teach students that ability is not fixed, it can change over time, and create situations where it is clear that effort and hard work directly impact results.

Tips for Improving Mindset, Motivation and Resilience:

  • Believe in Improvement: teach students that hard work and effort will lead to improvement.
  • Sense of Purpose: encourage students to see the link between the work they are doing and achieving future goals.
  • Internalise Success: teach students that they are in control of their successes.
  • Support and Challenge: these are the conditions that lead to resilience.