Our school had identified the need to improve the mental health and resilience of our pupils, partly due to the impact of the covid pandemic. This had resulted in anxiety and a lack of confidence in some pupils, due to inconsistency of learning, lack of social interaction and the impact on the health of family members. We hoped that this 6-week project would make pupils more confident tackling challenges and would help them to develop a growth mindset. The findings of this project would also inform a growth mindset approach being taken across the whole school.
The project had a huge impact on the pupils of primary 3. At the outset, most pupils showed a lack of confidence. They chose easier activities or would try and hide or ‘shy away’ from tasks that they believed they would fail at. We praised pupils that even attempted activities, but we realised that the praise used was not beneficial. As Carol Dweck tells us, “the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.”
The data collected showed that after the project, most pupils were more likely to engage in a challenging task. This highlighted a change in mindset for the pupils. The results from the pre and post questionnaire, saw the proportion of pupils who agreed that ‘they can do anything that they put their minds to,’ rise from 40% to 96%. Pupils were now undertaking tasks that they would previously have asked the teacher for assistance with or even excused themselves to the bathroom. Before the project, 55% of pupils asserted that they would keep trying if a task was difficult, and this rose to 100% by project end. Pupils were not afraid to make mistakes and showed greater resilience during challenges, believing that their brains will grow due to the difficulty of the task.
If we were to repeat the project, we would use growth mindset language before every lesson and not just the lessons that included a growth mindset challenge. This would have embedded the language of growth mindset into the classroom culture more fully.
The timeline outlined in the project plan was followed without disruption. We created a Google Forms questionnaire that the pupils completed at the start and end of the project. The only feature that was not as coherent was the need to use growth mindset across all aspects of the curriculum. Most growth mindset activities were introduced within literacy and numeracy, but this left a gap across other curriculum areas, such as science, PE, and art. This will be the next step, to embed a growth mindset in all areas of the curriculum.
After close consideration, we realised that we needed to scale up the growth mindset input due to the six week timeline of the project. The original intention was to embed growth mindset in numerous lessons, using language such as ‘my brain is like a muscle,’ ‘it is ok to make mistakes,’ and ‘I cannot do this, yet.’ However, the weekly assessment we undertook to evaluate progress in developing a growth mindset (allowing children to select a ‘hot’ or ‘spicy’ challenge), told us that we needed a quicker and more proactive approach. We introduced a catchy chant at the beginning of each activity (Queen’s ‘We will rock you’ changed to ‘We have a growth mindset’), to build understanding that growth mindset was not part of a lesson, but the essence of our lessons. At the beginning of the project, 65% of pupils chose the ‘spicy’ task during Friday assessments. By the end of the project, 95% of pupils chose the ‘spicy’ task.
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. The problem with a lot of pupils’ mindsets was that they did not believe they had the ability to undertake tasks that they did not feel comfortable with. Carol Dweck explains that ‘when pupils hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this was just more proof that they didn’t have the abilities that they cherished. In contrast, when students had more of a growth mindset, they held the view that talents and abilities could be developed and that challenges were the way to do it.’
Some pupils in primary 3 had anxiety about certain areas of the curriculum they felt they did not excel in. It was a joy, therefore, to see these pupils using growth mindset language before undertaking challenging tasks. Pupils who were reluctant to take part in complex tasks, now pushed themselves to undertake more arduous tasks and develop their growth mindset. These pupils faced several challenges that meant they had been less engaged in learning and had a greater fear of embarrassment and failure.
The top group in the class embraced growth mindset and by completing more challenging tasks improved their ability, resilience, and belief in themselves. This group might always have always opted for more challenging tasks, however, during the project they undertook tasks that they might not have felt adequately prepared for. The impact on the ‘middle’ group of learners was massive. We kept the learning for this group as structed as possible as they formed a key target for the intervention, having been less engaged in online learning during Covid. These children seemed more confident, more resilient and expressed the desire to challenge themselves, showing the impact of the project.
The ‘lesser able’ group of children in the class also benefited from a growth mindset approach. They (93%) displayed a willingness to undertake activities that they would never have never tried before the intervention. This group was the main target of the project due to a deterioration in attainment during Covid, highlighting the need for growth mindset in our schools following the pandemic.
The evidence for our growth mindset project mostly comes from the progression of achievement within the pupils. The pupils were all using effort to propel their learning, with the hope of building new skills. They were engaging more with their subjects and used any setbacks to encourage them to try harder. The pupils challenged themselves, attempting tasks that they would usually try to avoid, and they were beginning to use growth mindset phrases such as ‘my brain is like a muscle,’ and ‘I can’t do this yet!’
In the past, we praised pupils even if they made a faint attempt at a task. Now, praise is only given if a pupil really tries and shows evidence of work ethic to engage or overcome an obstacle. If a pupil in the class now shows evidence of challenging themselves, then they move their photo onto our growth mindset mountain. Most pupils have climbed our growth mindset mountain and shown signs of having a growth mindset, whilst some are heading in the right direction.
The post project questionnaire asked the class how they felt about learning. The results showed that 10% of pupils knew what a growth mindset was, compared to 100% after the project was completed. Some 70% of pupils felt successful at school before the project, rising to 96%. Overall, the vast majority of pupils in P3 were no longer worried about making mistakes, no longer worried about feeling embarrassed for answering a question wrong, and no longer believed that there were subjects that they could not get better at. These shifts in attitudes show the magnitude of change in the mindset of the P3 pupils.
The project achieved several outcomes. It has embedded a growth mindset in the P3 pupils and supported a growth mindset culture across our school. The most surprising thing about the project was how quick the mindset of the pupils changed. The pupils instantly began challenging themselves within a week of videos and growth mindset talks. Several colleagues had heard of growth mindset and used methods such as the ‘chilli challenges,’ but the impact of this project has shed a light on how fundamental growth mindset is. Armed with greater belief, colleagues will be more willing to teach the strategies and embed a growth mindset culture in their own classroom.
A number of steps are planned following completion of the project: