Three colleagues undertook a project to help support children who would soon be moving onto school. The aim of the project was to share the growth mindset ethos with the children, to enable them to use the skills learned throughout their lives. We also wanted to share growth mindset messages with staff and parents, to help establish a growth mindset culture in our centre. We operate in a relatively deprived area and have a high proportion of children with significant additional support needs. We felt that sharing the growth mindset ethos would have huge benefits to our children and their families.
This was a good time for us to embark on a growth mindset journey. After returning to nursery following lockdown, it was clear to see the impact that Covid had had on our children, many of whom lacked confidence, independence, resilience, and focus. Growth mindset was also aligned with the national and local improvement priorities. We hoped that by embedding a growth mindset culture in Early Years, we would see the effects of this as children progress through their education.
We began by observing the children in the playroom to identify which were displaying fixed mindset behaviours and would benefit from taking part in the project. These children were invited along to our growth mindset group, where they were given the opportunity to attempt some problem-solving activities over a course of six weeks. We hoped that by the end of the project, the children would be able to develop increased resilience, confidence to try new things and wouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes.
After reviewing our data and making further observations on the children, we felt that we did achieve our project aim, as we saw growth mindset behaviours begin to appear within a few weeks. Our delivery method worked well, as it enabled us to give the children opportunities to attempt new activities and collate data on growth versus fixed mindset behaviours demonstrated. We noted the children’s comments, behaviours, photographed them and continued observations throughout the project.
We began by using a problem-solving puzzle game with the children which required some level of resilience to complete. Many were reluctant to even try, with fixed mindset behaviours clearly on display. We then tried the K’Nex game, which included some designs for them to attempt to copy. Again, we saw similar behaviours to week 1. In both sessions, we really focused on praising the efforts of the children and embedding the idea that this was learning and that with practice they would be successful. Moving onto week 4, we saw some growth mindset behaviours beginning to show. The children attempted the tasks without asking for as much help as before. By week 5, we really saw progress in some of the children, when they were heard saying things like, “look at mine!” and “what’s next?”. Their confidence and resilience levels had grown, and this was wonderful to see. Our sports day, in the final week, gave us a real chance to see if the project had had an impact on the children. Some of the children participated, who previously would not have, and many showed more pride and confidence.
If we were to repeat this project, we would deliver a session to staff to further educate them on the research behind growth mindset and some of the strategies used. We feel this would have had an even bigger impact on the playrooms, reaching more children. We did have information available to staff and were always ready to answer questions. We would also reconsider the time of the year for conducting the project. Term 3 is such a busy term, and it did not give us any extra time to really embed a growth mindset ethos before the children went onto school.
With support from our Senior Leadership Team and staff team, we were able to stick to our timeline. There were three members of staff involved in delivering the growth mindset project and we all tried to encourage and support each other throughout. It helped that we had a hard deadline, with the children moving onto school at the end of June. This gave us an increased focus. We did have to change the location of the group on occasion due to staff shortages, which made it hard for the children to keep focused on the tasks. We also had to run the groups with fewer staff at times, due to shortages across the centre, which might have led to us missing some observations.
After we completed our sessions, we collated all our data, reviewed our observations, and tallied the amount of fixed mindset behaviours versus growth mindset behaviours. By week 3, we could see that the growth mindset messages we had been conveying were beginning to show in the children’s behaviour. We could also see that fixed mindset behaviours started to decline at the same point (see below). This showed that our groups were making a positive impact on some of the children’s thoughts and behaviours.
Beyond the group work, we strived to role model how to talk about growth mindset strategies and sign posted staff to the learning wall (see below). We also noticed that the targeted children had a positive influence over the younger children in terms of learning and role modelling independence skills. Participation levels were positively impacted as children began showing more willingness to try new and difficult things, as we reiterated to the children that everyone was learning together, and mistakes were welcome. The school that some of the children moved onto issue growth mindset awards, and we were delighted to see six of our targeted children receive awards in primary 1. Finally, to further support a growth mindset culture in our nursery we created a “Thinglink” for staff to view, which provided further information on growth mindset theory and practice.
We received positive feedback when role modelling the growth mindset ethos in the playrooms, with staff commenting that they liked the messages the theory promoted. One staff member also said that the project helped promote good mental health in Early Years through building self-belief and self-confidence.
We will continue to promote the key messages of growth mindset theory, as it does make a positive difference to our children and staff. It will also help, longer-term, to contribute to closing the attainment gap in Scotland. There are continuing concerns that children living in the most deprived areas in Scotland are behind their peers, when it comes to literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. Growth mindset should help to address this. We hope to put an information session together for staff at one of our In-service days, to highlight the benefits of using some of the growth mindset strategies. It will be a challenge to get all staff to adopt this, but we have learned from the Mindset course that we can overcome challenges.