Promoting Positive Learning Environments that Improve Academic Performance
While we have always known that the same student can get different grades in different classes—an A in math versus a C in history—research now shows that these differences in performance across classrooms cannot simply be attributed to student aptitudes and interests.
New research shows the learning environments educators create can have a strong influence on students’ Learning Mindsets and Learning Strategies (Mindsets & Strategies) and, ultimately, their academic performance, identity development, and well-being.
The experiences students have in their classrooms have the power to alter how they perceive themselves as learners and the effort they put into their work, which gets reflected in their grades. Data collected from thousands of students consistently show students with strong Mindsets & Strategies earn more As and fewer Fs than those with weaker Mindsets & Strategies – and that students’ Mindsets & Strategies fluctuate from class to class in relation to classroom learning environments.
Based on this research, UChicago Impact partnered with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium) to develop Cultivate, a survey and framework designed to support educators in creating learning environments that can change what students believe and, thus, how they perform.
The Cultivate Survey and Framework
Cultivate illuminates how teaching practices—from how quickly assignments are graded and returned to how students are greeted—influence students’ Mindsets & Strategies and, in turn, their grades. It provides educators with insight into 5th-12th grade students’ self-reported Mindsets & Strategies —how they see themselves as learners and the way they approach their work.
Cultivate also provides actionable insight into students’ perceptions of their learning environments, focusing on the Learning Conditions that matter most for cultivating strong Mindsets & Strategies, fueling strong academic performance, positive identity development, and well-being.
How Cultivate Works
The Cultivate Survey is administered to 5th-12th grade students twice a year—in the fall and spring. Students are prompted to reflect on their Mindsets & Strategies, as well as their classroom learning environments across nine Learning Conditions. The nine Learning Conditions are:
- Affirming Identities: Recognition and affirmation of student identities
- Classroom Community: Sense of community and mutual support among classmates
- Feedback for Growth: Nature and quality of teacher feedback to improve student work
- Learning Goals: Accessibility and connectedness of instructional goals
- Meaningful Work: Interest and relevance of classroom learning for students
- Student Voice: Opportunities for and responsiveness to student ideas and input
- Supportive Teaching: Breadth and quality of teacher’s instructional support for learning
- Teacher Caring: Strength and quality of teacher’s one-on-one relationships with students
- Well-Organized Classroom: Clarity and helpfulness of classroom systems and routines
After each survey administration, educators receive a comprehensive picture of students’ perceptions of their own Mindsets & Strategies and classroom learning environments, along with a set of Prioritized Learning Conditions they can use to guide efforts to create learning environments that support all students.
Cultivate for Schools vs. Cultivate for Coaches
The Cultivate Survey can be administered in one of two ways:
- Cultivate for Schools: Cultivate is administered to all of a schools’ 5th-12th grade classrooms. This approach can support the development of positive learning environments across grade bands. Students in each of those grades are randomly assigned to report on their English, math, science, or social studies class. When survey results are delivered, grade level or subject area teacher teams can work together to create plans for improving learning conditions specific to their grade or subject taught, or the school can identify and work on one common area of focus across all grade levels and subjects.
- Cultivate for Coaches: Cultivate is administered within the context of a coaching support program. Teachers who are receiving one-on-one coaching support administer Cultivate to all of their students. When they receive their results, which are specific to them and their classroom(s), they can work with their coach to create a plan for improving their practices.
Educators can use Cultivate Survey Results to:
Understand how students’ perceptions of their learning environments affect their Mindsets & Strategies
On the Cultivate Reporting Site, educators can see how students’ perceptions of various Learning Conditions, such as the learning goals teachers establish, classwork they assign, and level of support they provide, affect the Mindsets & Strategies linked to strong academic performance, identity development, and well-being.
Identify patterns in student perceptions of learning environments
Educators can disaggregate the results from the Cultivate for Schools survey by grade level, subject area, or a combination of both and use this information to better understand how learning environments differ across different groups of classrooms (pictured). Educators who administer the Cultivate for Coaches survey as part of a coaching support program can disaggregate the results by class period.
Set priorities and guide efforts to create learning environments that support all students
Through the Cultivate Survey and Reporting Site, educators can see how students’ perceptions of various Learning Conditions affect the Mindsets & Strategies linked to strong academic performance. Based on your school’s data, Cultivate presents users with a list of Prioritized Learning Conditions ranked according to which will provide the most leverage to positively affect students’ Mindsets & Strategies. Each Learning Condition is comprised of a set of actionable items, and accompanied by a detailed practice guide, that can assist teachers in their efforts to build the kind of learning environments which strengthen Mindsets & Strategies and, ultimately, allow all students to thrive.
To learn more about the Cultivate Survey, Framework, and Reporting Site, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.