Much of the inspiration for this project came from the book ‘Connect the Dots: The collective power of relationships, memory and mindset in the classroom’ (Ref 1), which brought together issues we had been reflecting upon during lockdown. This project was delivered to two second year classes during their timetabled science lessons. It sought to establish if growth mindset led to improvements in (attitudes to) learning. We gathered a baseline of pupils' growth mindset attitudes (via a mindset quiz) and compared this to a range of lifestyle factors (sleep, diet, exercise) and the memory recall skills of pupils. We included a series of lesson starters over several weeks, where pupils learned about brain development, growth mindset and memory skills. We anticipated that pupils would increase their awareness of how they can develop their minds to cope with fresh challenges in school, their personal lives and beyond. Given the short-term nature of the project, we considered increased awareness of growth mindset as a success and useful starting point for future projects. Specific objectives were:
Firstly, this was a new research experience for the teachers involved and the skills developed were good professional learning. The school’s Recovery/Improvement plan included a target to ‘implement the Mindset in Education programme to embed a growth mindset culture across the school.’ The hope was that staff would ‘empower their pupils with a growth mindset approach to learning and provide opportunities for young people to develop confidence, resilience, perseverance and to be more engaged in their learning.’ A team of staff worked together to deliver several projects which would raise awareness of growth mindset among pupils and the wider staff and start to meet those aims.
This project started off with good intentions to collect relevant data across a range of lifestyle indicators for the pupils. We had hoped that a volume of data would allow ‘pen pictures’ to be created of pupils’ daily habits, which would allow for comparison to be made between pupils from different ends of the ‘growth - fixed mindset’ spectrum. However, owing to the vast quantity of data collected, meaningful comparison proved very tricky. Upon reflection, perhaps focusing specifically on the number of hours slept the previous evening (and ignoring the other lifestyle aspects) would have produced meaningful conclusions.
The project was planned for delivery over a six week period following the February break. This period was selected because the S2 cohort had completed the key science topics that were assessed prior to progression into S3, allowing some flexibility to deliver the growth mindset project. The main steps in the project plan were:
Overall, it was challenging to balance ongoing commitments, disruption due to Covid and the school examination schedule with the growth mindset project. This did result in a degree of slippage in the timeline which was unfortunate.
Growth mindset versus memory recall
The most straightforward part of this project to analyse was comparison of growth mindset scores against performance in the memory recall task. The mindset quiz involved pupils considering ten statements regarding mindset in terms of how agreeable or disagreeable they were. Pupils obtained a score between 0 (highly fixed mindset) to 30 (highly growth mindset). The memory assessment was scored between 0 and 21. The hypothesis was that pupils with a high growth mindset score, would focus during the memory task, embrace the challenge, and have more self-belief, and would therefore score more highly. The results were plotted on the scatter graph below.
The scatter plot showed an interesting trendline demonstrating that pupils with a higher growth mindset score, also performed better on the memory recall assessment. There was significant variation in results around the trendline, which can be partially explained by the relatively small population (29 pupils). It would be interesting to see if similar trends were observed in a much greater sample of perhaps 100 pupils.
Growth mindset versus lifestyle factors
It proved much harder to establish any relationships or links between pupils' daily routine and their mindset. For each of the two classes, the highest and lowest two scores on the mindset quiz were investigated in more detail. A summary of the results is shown in the table below.
It was expected that a pen portrait of a ‘growth mindset’ pupil could be sketched, and common themes/trends would emerge. However, no firm links were established between lifestyle factors and growth mindset, which was disappointing. The link to eating breakfast was a particularly important aspect worth further investigation. In recent years, our school had significantly expanded Breakfast Club provision and it was interesting to note that we could not establish any positive links to eating breakfast and a growth mindset in this small project.
Growth mindset was assessed for each S2 science class, before and after the intervention. This did involve using two slightly different methods. The baseline assessment was via the mindset quiz which was scored from 0 to 30. The post-intervention assessment was via a Likert scale, which was scored from 1 (fixed mindset) to 10 (growth mindset). This was to allow more time for a reflective consideration of the pupils' own attitudes, as the Likert scale also allowed for open ended comments.
Comparing both classes side by side, this data backs up the findings from the scatter plot that a higher score in the mindset quiz relates to a higher score in the memory recall task with Class 1 scoring higher in both measures. In terms of the growth mindset alone, the Likert scale did not produce measurements comparable with the baseline mindset quiz. While the general trend between each class was similar, with Class 1 scoring higher in both pre and post mindset measures than Class 2, it would have been better in hindsight to have re-issued the mindset quiz.
In the open ended comments, pupils indicated an awareness and understanding of mindset and many pupils were able to give answers that indicated a degree of thought. The following responses were interesting:
In response to the question ‘What does the term ‘fixed mindset’ mean to you? Can you think of areas in your life where you display a ‘fixed mindset’?’:
“Fixed mindset means to me someone who is negative and doesn’t fully believe in themselves 100%. Who doesn't always try their hardest. A time I had a fixed mindset is probably when I go into Maths as I am not confident in Maths.”
In response to the question: ‘What does the term ‘growth mindset’ mean to you? Can you think of areas in your life where you display a ‘growth mindset’?’
“If you didn’t like something in school then a couple of years later you go back and try it. It is also if you have a bad day at school then you go dancing you focus on it.”
“A growth mindset means someone will try to learn things that they know are challenging and they are not good at but still try.”
And finally, when asked for their opinion of whether the following quote from Cristiano Rolando displayed a fixed or growth mindset, “In my mind, I'm always the best. I don't care what people think, what they say. In my mind, not just this year but always, I'm always the best,” pupils had mixed views:
“Growth mindset as Ronaldo believes in himself and he really tries to be the best.”
“Fixed mindset. You need to be able to accept criticism and want to improve. Saying that you are the best won’t help you improve.”
Overall, we believe that the project met all its aims, except for being able to prove a relationship between lifestyle factors and a growth mindset.
We delivered a presentation to all school staff at an In-service day sharing the results of all our growth mindset projects. This prompted a number of professional discussions with colleagues who were interested to hear about the pupils' response to growth mindset. We would like to conduct the mindset quiz and the memory recall task with a greater number of pupils, to determine if the positive correlation between the two could be confirmed over a larger population. We would also like to run the growth mindset starter lessons over a longer period, say a full term, combined with identical pre and post mindset measures to establish more comparable evidence here. And we would be interested in exploring the role of sleep and breakfast in learning, as separate projects.
Despite the significant pressures of juggling this project with other work in this academic session, we have learned a great deal about enquiry and research methods, as well as growth mindset. It was a pleasure to also work alongside other colleagues in school on growth mindset and with the pupils who engaged willingly and shared their views openly in class discussions.