The aim of the project was to develop the resilience of children in the P5/6 class who have found it difficult to accept that making mistakes is part of learning. In class they often wanted to start tasks again, as they thought what they had completed was wrong or not good enough. They also sought reassurances throughout a task that they had understood what they needed to do. The children’s confidence levels in class were generally low, some felt that compared to others in the class they were not clever, and they were afraid to ask questions that they thought might seem stupid. By the end of the project, we wanted them to develop a growth mindset where they accepted that making mistakes is part of learning. We wanted them to feel that the only person they should compare themselves to is themselves, by setting smart goals and working towards improvement. Finally, we wanted the children to see that facing challenges is part of life and how we choose to face them (asking for helping, being unafraid to ask questions) is what makes the difference.
Overall, the project did deliver the desired results. At the beginning of the academic year, there were a group of pupils who we felt lacked confidence and resilience. Some had a very fixed mindset and vocalised their lack of ability and often would refuse to participate in tasks unless they had one to one support. The frequency of the negative language they used declined and others lacking confidence did not require as much support or scaffolding of tasks.
A significant part of the project was the use of the book Chemical Chaos, with all the activities stemming from this, giving the project a natural flow and progression. Not all parts of the book were relevant, and in some parts the language was too advanced. If we were to repeat this project, we would focus on the best parts of the book (the earlier chapters). The scientists we chose to focus on - Antoine Lavoisier, Hippolyte, Charles Goodyear - worked okay but some of the information was again too advanced for the children. Overall, the children enjoyed this approach and remained passionate and determined to finish their investigations.
We also used the book in class to undertake experiments independently, in pairs or in groups. This worked reasonably well, but if we were to repeat the project in the future, we would ensure that we had a clear progression of investigations and tailor the experiments better for working alone or with others. The results of the experiments often differed and gave us opportunities to discuss how it felt when things did not work out as planned and strategies for coping with this.
For the most part, this project did stay within the timelines. We started off very strongly, read the book, created mind maps and from this, listed questions that we hoped to have answered by the end of the topic. By the end of the first week, we had identified the key scientists that we would investigate further. The children also worked in groups, pairs or independently to carry out weekly investigations. We also used circle style time to explore the emotions and feelings associated with the tasks, recording them in our learning journal and developing a more growth mindset attitude towards science (and learning in general). It was hard to maintain this last component when time pressure mounted.
We did not really make many changes to the project plan once we got started. We changed our focus to designing posters on inspirational scientists rather than PowerPoints. As a result of the posters, the children began to share inspirational positive affirmations which we turned into a wall display on positive affirmation. We then referred to them when someone was struggling or being particularly negative in class.
The project was short, lasting only six weeks, so there was little room for deviation from the plan. If we were to do the project again, we would do it over a longer period and it would not be as intense. The growth mindset we were trying to encourage would be something that should be built on, revisited, and intertwined with the learning across the year.
In the class, there were three groups which we focused on. Group 1 had difficulty with confidence, evident as they sought reassurance throughout activities, struggled with starting a new activity for fear of getting it wrong and not wanting to ask questions in case someone laughed or made fun of them. The children in group 2 were confident, had a good growth mindset and were inspirational to the others in the class (6 out of 22 pupils). Group 3 had a far more fixed mindset, often using language like, ‘I don’t get this before trying, I hate this, I am just stupid, this is boring’. This was evidenced through observations of the class over the first term of the academic year. The questionnaire that then followed supported this evaluation.
We quite quickly noticed changes in group 1. Most of the children would begin tasks with less scaffolding and seeking less support. There were a couple of exceptions. One girl still found it a challenge to start a writing task, but in other areas she had grown in confidence to the point where she supported others who were struggling. She engaged in discussion during the introduction of new topics but would often give her answers as if they were questions (‘Is the answer… ).
Group 2 continued to strive to do well and, if given the choice to choose from a selection of tasks (mild, hot, spicy), they always chose the task that was going to challenge them the most. This surprised the deputy Head Teacher who observed a lesson and then asked a group of six children of mixed ability, would they choose the more challenging task or a task that they could easily complete? They immediately answered, with shock, ‘of course we would choose the task that would challenge us’.
Group 3 were the toughest group, and we didn’t expect to see much change in the children over the course of the project. Much of the negative language did not completely disappear, but there were some changes. During a review meeting, a parent said that they 'felt in many ways their child was more positive and had gone from sometimes saying that they hate school, to coming home and positively sharing activities that they have completed in school'. Another child would previously protest so much that they would run out of time to do tasks. By the end of the project, they would begin a task independently, complete it to a good standard and look to share their work with others. Other colleagues have also given feedback on this child to say that they seem much happier and have not been involved in as many incidents.
In our school, there has been a strong focus on a recovery curriculum to reintroduce children to the life of school and socialising with others. As part of this, the Head Teacher brought in a resource which surveyed the children with regards to attitudes to school and learning (Pupil Attitudes to Self and School, PASS survey). The project worked well alongside these other activities that were going on in school. At the project end, the learnings were shared with other staff who we hope will add to, and use, the activities that have worked well. Hopefully, future PASS surveys will demonstrate an improvement in mindset.
Another aspect that the school have been working on is a nurture club. While my project has focused on the children’s mindset in class, the nurture club reinforces this mindset during lunch time. Staff running this club have commented on an improvement in how the children socialise and communicate with each.
Finally, our new Head Teacher has a strong presence in the school and welcomes children coming to her office to share their learning experiences. This has promoted opportunities for children who have struggled with an 'I can’t attitude', to share work where they have accomplished a goal, helping to boost confidence and allow them to see how, with effort. they can achieve.
Some information and resources used during the project are included below.
An example of the positive affirmation posters that the children made:
An example of the posters that the children made about the scientists that they studied:
The Emotions Tree that we used to support our discussions at circle time:
A link to the mindset questionnaire that we used with colleagues during the project.
Many of the teachers were aware of growth mindset and are now including elements of this in their own classrooms and teaching. The project has been shared in more detail with colleagues who run the nurture club and Pupil Support Assistants. This group were asked to complete a questionnaire, like the one filled out by the children at the beginning of the project. All colleagues agreed that there had been a more fixed mindset within the class, and all agreed that the children's mindsets have improved. The degree of improvement seen varied. The biggest improvement noted was seeing the pupils more prepared to have a go and not minding making mistakes. One member of staff commented that she ‘never expected a particular pupil to be able to begin a task on their own and complete it in the time given’.
Following the project, we have captured the children’s aspirational quotes in our class charter and independent learning goals, so that we can make regular reference to these. We will also continue to draw inspiration from the scientists that we have studied, as well as local people and pupils from within school and the class.
With regards to science, we have another 7-week topic planned for the summer term. We will look for a suitable book to help lead the topic, as this inspired the children and helped them to engage better. We will make sure any investigations that we undertake learn from the project and do not have obvious and easy results. The tasks selected need to enable the children to continue developing their growth mindset. We will look to include tasks that are unpredictable and create opportunities for the children to get things wrong and try to improve. We also plan to use emotional tracking sheets/Plickers cards to help lead discussions on how things went, what could we do better, what we could try next time.