The aim of the project was to help combat the societal belief that feeling challenged or finding things difficult, signified an inability to succeed. The focus was on improving the numeracy skills of an S1 class who had found transitioning to secondary school during Covid difficult and had lost confidence. The aim was for the pupils to regain a love of learning and to set a tone in the classroom of openness and opportunity for all. Pupils can be nasty towards one another for ‘giving a stupid answer.’ We hoped to change this and help them build stronger, better relationships with one another, from which they could all learn new skills. We wanted to increase resilience, refocus on hard work, and reframe the stigma behind making mistakes.
The project ran smoothly and to plan. The timeframes we created were adaptable, albeit there was no need for any alterations. The main aim of the project was to help the S1 class open up and appreciate the different pathways for learning. Analysis of the results from the questionnaire, made it clear that this objective was reached. Pupils enjoyed the activities, and we were able to gauge their enthusiasm through learner conversations.
The main evaluation tool we used was the exit pass. Over 50% of pupils said that they felt that Number Talks gave them more encouragement to follow their own thoughts, instead of just employing those of people who they assumed were smarter. Some 83% of pupils stated that they preferred this series of lessons to the usual ones, with many saying it gave them ownership of their own learning. All pupils said they saw the benefits of having a growth mindset. They appreciated the significance of the language they used around their own capabilities. Most importantly, the pupils were able to show themselves and others more compassion, understanding that they were all on their own learner journey and that it wasn’t helpful to compare themselves to their classmates.
Another primary aim was to improve basic numeracy skills. With hindsight, we saw that we did not include much scope for assessing whether this had taken place or not. The fundamental focus was on their self-esteem and their confidence levels. When asking pupils for their feedback, only one person said that they felt they had improved mathematically since beginning the project. If we were to repeat this process, we would ensure that a more robust way of assessing improvement in their maths skills was included.
This project also influenced how teachers felt. Often staff members are under a lot of pressure to complete certain benchmarks of work within given timeframes. Pupils are constantly reminded of the fact they have tests, exams, and tasks to be completed within a set time limit. The project was a great opportunity to slow things down and witness the beginnings of each individual developing their own thinking processes.
Due to time constraints, having tight and effective timelines around the project plan was crucial to success. Fortunately, we were able to conduct the project within the timeframe planned. Ideally, we might have run the project over a longer period to increase the reliability of the results and to make the ideas an integral part of teaching, but this was not possible. Having an overall view of the project at the outset made it easier for the whole class to focus on each task and to sustain motivation.
During the first week of the project, pupils were required to research and present on a role model and the obstacles they had faced during their lives. This took slightly longer than expected to complete and ended up being completed as homework. Each group decided for themselves the most efficient way of completing this task, which unexpectedly enhanced effectiveness of the activity. Another change that was made was to the structure of the evaluation questionnaire. We needed to insert more questions on reframing mistakes as a positive concept and replaced some questions around confidence.
The results from the questionnaire show that the shift is mindset was better than expected. The increase in confidence levels of the class was noticeable. Pupils who had been struggling before, reported back saying that they felt more open and at ease when talking about the things they found difficult. Not every pupil said they miraculously loved maths, however, the vast majority now felt less embarrassed about giving it a go anyway. At the beginning of the project, 76% of pupils said they thought natural ability would outweigh hard work on any occasion. By the end of the project, just 16% of the class still thought that even if they tried their hardest, they would not be able to improve as much as they’d like to. And, at the outset, 90% of pupils believed that mistakes were a sign of weakness in any subject, indicating whether they were good or bad at it. By the end of the project, nobody had this view anymore. The pupils said that by creating a more inclusive environment, they had been given a new freedom to grow and learn from mistakes without feeling embarrassed.
Before the project commenced, most pupils did not understand what sort of learner they were. Not only this, but they were not aware of the different types of learning which can take place within the classroom. Most pupils were under the impression that teaching and learning generally takes the form of ‘Chalk and Talk,’ with the occasional fun period thrown in to lighten the load. Now, pupils are much more aware and can verbalise more clearly what works best for them. Although this is all positive feedback, we do have concerns that due to the length and scale of the project, that these results may not have imprinted as strongly on the young people as we would like.
If we were to repeat this project, we would extend it long enough for pupils to see real results in terms of their mathematical attainment. Although most pupils felt more comfortable and confident, they were not able to see for themselves any significant improvement in the quality of their work. Creating the right environment for learning is an important first step and pupils need to belief that improvements will follow.
Unfortunately, we have not had the chance yet to share project results with the whole school. We will do that at a future In-service day. However, we have been engaging in frequent conversations with colleagues to consider how to take this work forward. We have formed a ‘Family Learning’ group, with the aim of improving the mindset of not only our young people but their families too. Soon, we hope to conduct a more in-depth project with families.
Examples of some of the growth mindset messages that the pupils took away from the project are captured in the display below:
Colleagues have been supportive of the delivery of this project. The original plan was impacted by Covid and meant that the department was unable to be as involved in the project as planned. However, after the project, we did share the results at a departmental meeting and got mixed feedback. The general feeling was that more time would be needed to see any real results with this project (as per the original plan). Colleagues were also concerned with the time barriers which exist within the Curriculum for Excellence, and whether the approach adopted in the project would make it difficult to cover all course material. However, they also agreed that this experience allowed positive relationships with pupils to be solidified. They could see that pupils had increased confidence levels and ownership of their own learning.
The original plans for this project had to be altered last minute due to Covid restrictions. However, we plan on continuing with this as soon as possible. Often in mathematics, certain anxieties can be passed down from parent to child. Hopefully, this revitalised project will create a gateway to begin to tackle this problem. The hope is to set up a series of basic numeracy workshops for families of targeted pupils, to work collaboratively with their children and the teachers. These workshops will be based on certain numeracy topics that the young people are struggling with. Through creating a warm and welcoming environment, the hope is that parents not only feel supported by our department but are henceforth able to support and motivate their child. This should allow us to develop growth mindsets amongst pupils and their families and enhance relationships. Once we have piloted this approach, we hope to roll it out into other subject areas.