A set of 7 lessons, each with a different focus relating to growth mindset was delivered over 7 weeks, to help increase pupil self-efficacy, develop children’s understanding of how they can overcome challenges, display empathy to others and improve their ability to problem solve.
The aim of the project was for children to show an increase in self-efficacy through increased understanding of growth mindset. A set of seven lessons (see document: Lessons) were implemented with a primary 6 class (referred to as ‘focus class’). These lessons drew on research from a range of sources including ‘The Growth Mindset Playbook’ by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley, ‘Bounce Back-how to be a resilient kid’ by Wendy Moss, ‘Mindset-Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential’ by Carol Dweck, ‘Bounce Back: Years 5-8’ by Helen McGrath and Toni Noble and ‘You are Awesome’ by Matthew Syed. They were designed to develop the children’s understanding of how they can overcome challenges, display empathy to others and their ability to problem solve, so that these skills could then be applied in a range of situations, when needed. The children had opportunities to think about how they learn, what helps them and explore the range of emotions they experience at various stages of a challenging activity.
Using a mixture of scientific facts, real life stories, video clips, group discussion and personal reflection engaged the children. The self-efficacy of some children is noticeable through their independent use of the strategies that have developed throughout the project. Some children still need to be reminded but will then also engage with the strategies. This behaviour was not observed prior to the project.
Lesson 1 involved children sorting cards into what they thought was growth and fixed mindset (see document appendix 1). Formative assessment indicated all children had a clear understanding of the difference between the two. There was then not time, however, to fully explore personal experiences of these mindsets. This would potentially have further secured the learning and would be planned for in the future.
Lesson 2 used scientific facts to introduce the subject which engaged the children. The practical activity of writing/using scissors/rubbing out with their non-dominant hand very effectively emphasised the intended learning. The pupils were then very enthusiastic about setting a short-term goal to see if they could “make new pathways in their brains”.
Lesson 3 encouraged the children to think specifically about things that help them learn more effectively (see Appendix 2). They found this challenging. A list of suggestions was provided, and some children were able to add their own examples. The time allocated was too long and would be reduced in the future. Discussion could have been stimulated more effectively with use of additional completed examples.
Lesson 4 encouraged the children to think deeply about how other people may feel in a situation, even if they themselves are experiencing happiness. This was a difficult concept for some children to understand and there was limited engagement in the discussion. Although the children could sing the song used to explain this a week later, an additional lesson to secure this learning would have been beneficial and would be included in potential future developments.
Lesson 5 prompted the children to think about other people they ask for help and/or advice. Some examples were used to promote discussion, but these could have been more detailed. This was quite a sensitive subject for certain children due to home circumstances and the way this was approached could be developed.
Lesson 6 discussed examples of “marginal gains” (M. Syed, 2018). This, and the use of a video clip, made the concept of SMART goals very clear to the children, and they were all able to set their own.
In Lesson 7 the children where asked to use clues to plot the journey, with distances, of a traveler and answer related questions. This had mixed pupil input initially, but all pupils were engaged in the task, to some degree, by the end. This was achieved through peer support and/or teacher encouragement. The discussion regarding the previous learning was rich and helped the children to see that even if they had not completed the task, the process itself had been a learning experience. One child commented “I’m so satisfied to even have answered one question”.
The project had a natural beginning and end as there were seven lessons planned and seven weeks in the term. Developing understanding in this subject at the beginning of an academic year was an effective way of building a class ethos and shared expectations, in relation to behaviour and approaches to learning. The point in the week the lessons were taught was consistent throughout, as it was not reliant on external factors e.g. class cover. This also allowed, in general, enough time to be allocated to each lesson, as there was flexibility in the daily timetable.
An additional problem-solving lesson was added into the last week, as it was felt this would be valuable, but it was not originally planned for. This additional opportunity was extremely worthwhile, as it allowed the children to build on their initial experience whilst it was still fresh in their minds. In the future, having this additional lesson as part of the project would be beneficial.
The order of the final two lessons was changed, as this felt a more appropriate order, as the project progressed. This order would be carried forward should the project be developed in the future.
Another lesson was added into the project in the last week, to provide the children with an additional opportunity to use the growth mindset and problem-solving skills they had learnt during the term. This linked to work being done in the class for Maths Week Scotland which gave the activity a relevant focus. Children were given a choice of three challenging model making activities (see challenge 1 and challenge 2) and encouraged to think about their experience previously in the week to help them plan how they were going to approach the task.
Pupil Questionnaire 1 was carried out before the project was started, and again after it was completed, to measure both the children’s initial understanding of growth and fixed mindsets, their attitude to learning, and how/if this changed after the project.
Focus Class Questionnaire Summary
(see Pupil Questionnaire results 1 and 2 for focus class)
Pre: In statement 2-‘When I don’t do well in a subject, I think that I am not very good at it,’ 54% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 29% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Post: Only 22% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 65% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Pre: In statement 6-‘People can learn more about a subject, but can’t change how clever they are’ 42% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 34% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Post: Only 22% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 57% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Pre: In statement 15-‘Some of my friends know how to help me when I get stuck’ 50% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, but 42% said they did not know.
Post: 61% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with only 26% saying they did not know.
Pre: In statement 23-‘I know there are staff I can talk to if I am unhappy at school’ 71% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, but 21% said they did not know.
Post: 86% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with only 9% saying they did not know.
In questions 31, 32 and 33, the children’s responses show a large increase in their understanding of fixed and growth mindsets, and an increase in their ability to use growth mindset in a range of situations. In the pre survey, not one child out of 24 could explain fixed or growth mindset. In the post survey, only 4% of the children were not able to answer these questions and children included maths, writing and “when I am stuck” as contexts for use of growth mindset. Through teacher observation there has been an increase in the volume of children who will choose the more challenging option during a maths lesson. Many children are also excited to engage with the morning ‘maths challenge’ and regularly show that they are using other people’s success to motivate them. This was previously not the case as many children would be quickly put off, thinking it would be “too hard for me”. One child used to regularly walk out of class or hide under desks when asked to complete work. This happens much less often now. He regulates his feelings more through discussion of his previous achievements and reinforcement of the steps to follow to help his learning progress.
Control Class Questionnaire Summary
(see documents: Pupil Questionnaire results 1 and 2 for control class)
Pre: In statement 2-‘When I don’t do well in a subject, I think that I am not very good at it’ 41% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 23% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Post: 57% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 29% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Pre: In statement 6-‘People can learn more about a subject, but can’t change how clever they are’ 41% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, 45% did not know and 11% either disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Post: 31% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, 48% did not know and 19% disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Pre: In statement 15-‘Some of my friends know how to help me when I get stuck’ 54% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, but 45% said they did not know.
Post: 67% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 19% saying they did not know and actually 15% then saying they disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Pre: In statement 23-‘I know there are staff I can talk to if I am unhappy at school’ 77% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, but 14% said they did not know.
Post: 85% of the class agreed or strongly agreed, with 10% saying they did not know.
In questions 31, 32 and 33, analysis shows a large similarity in the wording of the responses in the pre-questionnaire for the control class. 86% of individual children gave exactly the same answer to questions 31 and 32. In the post survey children were still able to answer the questions, with only 10 and 5% respectively saying that they did not know.
The pre-questionnaire was carried out in the first week of a new session. At this time children were getting used to a new class and teacher. This could have impacted on the initial pupil responses to e.g. statements 16, 21 and 27.
Similarly, a different teacher administered the questionnaire with the control class. It was established that she spent time discussing possible answers with the pupils. This could have affected the results. Should the project be carried out again the same teacher would administer the questionnaires.
Results analysis shows that in the control class there is actually an increase of 16% of children who believe that ‘when I do not do well in a subject I’m not very good at it’. In the focus class, however, the percentage of those who did not agree with this increased by 36%. Further to this, in the focus class second questionnaire, no children disagreed with ‘If I work hard I can become very good at any subject’ and for ‘ People can learn more about a subject, but can’t change how clever they are’ there was an increase of 23% who disagreed. This, as well as discussions with the class, are indicators that more children are displaying the understanding that just because they feel they are not achieving well presently, does not mean that they cannot improve. After the project finished one child even though she got over half of an assessment wrong commented “that’s the best I’ve ever done”. She was aware that other children had achieved higher marks than her but she was happy with the progress she had made. This reaction was mirrored by several other children, where this would not have previously been the case.
In addition, for ‘some of my friends know how to help me when I get stuck’ there was an increase in the focus class from 50% to 61% who answered agree or strongly agree and for ‘I know there are staff I can talk to if I am unhappy at school’ there was an increase of 15% who agree. This is supported by observations made in the class; increased numbers of children will actively get up and find someone they can ask for help. This indicates more of the children have an increased understanding of how to build a support team with both peers and adults, contributing to their self-efficacy.
A final questionnaire was carried out with the focus class a month after the project concluded (see Pupil questionnaire 2). During this time the language of growth mindset was used regularly but the concept was not the focus of regular lessons. All of the children were still able to explain what fixed and growth mindsets were, and all said that they used a growth mindset, at least sometimes. This is even an improvement on the end of the project questionnaire results where 22% of children answered ‘don’t know’ when asked ‘do you use a growth mindset to help you.’ In the final questionnaire the children also gave more specific suggestions for when they use growth mindset, including maths, writing, reading and grammar. This helps to support the goals of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, allowing self-efficacy to drive improvement in attainment.
There has been a notable increase in the frequency, as well as amount of children in the focus class, who actively ask for “challenges” (see Appendix 3). Children taking part did not complain about not knowing what to do or being stuck, which had previously been observed during this type of activity. They worked together, saught help form various resources around the class and all produced an outcome. Even though some were more successful than others all children were engaged in giving constructive feedback. This mindset is also evidenced in question 5 of Pupil Questionnaire 2, with 29% of the class stating that trying more challenges would help to further develop their growth mindset, 13% stating they are going to use the discussed strategies more and 21% stating they are going to keep trying and not give up on things too quickly. This further supports development of self-efficacy and the goals of the school’s health and wellbeing improvement plan.
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The class teacher of the control P6 class commented that the questionnaire itself was confusing for the children. The scale used, going from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ was hard for the children to understand in relation to some questions. She also struggled to find the relevance of questions like ‘There are some teachers who just don’t like me’ in relation to the subject matter. The same teacher, however, believes that growth mindset should be integrated into every challenge and should be an encouraged attitude to adopt for the children.
Another colleague commented that she believes teaching children about growth mindset and how the brain works is “100% beneficial”. She suggested that a lot of children are expected to be able to comment on their next steps and set targets when they have actually not been taught how to approach this.
Growth mindset and the language associated with this has been introduced to the control class. This will be used regularly throughout the year. Opportunities to revisit discussion points, such as learning styles, empathy and setting SMART goals will be planned for. On analysis of the data collected in the final survey with the focus class, further opportunities for the children to face challenges will be regularly planned for. Time will be spent allowing them to evaluate the emotions they feel in these situations and the strategies they used to help them.
The findings of the project will be fed back to the school staff. The school is going to be involved in development work in relation to visible learning over the next few years. As such, it is hoped that discussion with management and class teachers will allow for the main themes covered in this set of lessons to be integrated into this work. Teachers who would like to take on board this way of developing growth mindset with their class will be supported in planning and/or delivering this. In the long term, ideally, the school would work towards a shared language of learning that encapsulates the key elements of visible learning and growth mindset.