This project considered how, using a growth mindset approach and Nurture Principles, to best improve the attainment of children who qualified for the Pupil Equity Fund. Although, all children in the school participated in some way, to ensure maximum impact. We wanted to improve the social, emotional and mental experiences of children. It was hoped that in turn, this would impact positively upon their attainment.
The primary areas of focus were:
Based on the needs of the children, the project focused on three main areas to help development of a growth mindset - supporting learners with anxiety, changing perception of ability and struggle versus challenge. Mindfulness, nurture time for specific groups and 1:1 chat time for identified individuals were all used. Mindfulness sessions were held three times a day and have been very powerful. There is a clear calm in the school during these sessions and the lessons following them are more successful.
All too often, challenge and struggle are perceived negatively (Winning Scotland Foundation, 2018). This project aimed to change that stigma, placing emphasis on challenge, struggle and effort being key to success. We tried to help the children see challenges as learning opportunities and the application of effort and guidance as necessary for growth. We have successfully helped learners to focus on their own strengths, areas for development and personal learning journeys. We would like to broaden these practices across the school and fully embed them.
Children often have preconceived ideas about ability groups and their relationship with challenge and struggle. This project attempted to revolutionise the use of grouping, with a focus on ‘growth’ rather than ‘ability’. This approach, whilst still in its infancy, has shown promising potential.
The overall aim of this work has a much longer timeline. This project lasted two school terms, approximately four months. Staffing and establishment changes necessitated a later start time than originally planned and this affected data collation at the end of the project. In hindsight, it would have been beneficial to reduce the number of children involved in the project. This would have allowed for more data collection to occur more regularly. Additional time would also have allowed for improved implementation and analysis. Several holidays and absences, due to the time of year, hugely reduced the input that some children received.
Some of the intended impact measures could only be collected (due to establishment restrictions) in January, February and May of the following session. These acted as baseline measures for the project and helped to identify children and next steps. However, the measures would not be available again for comparison purposes, until after the project was concluded. Other data that would have been beneficial to collate also proved difficult to capture pre and post project.
Due to the mindfulness work, there has been a visible impact on the children and an increased readiness to learn among most. Children report feeling more relaxed and focused, and staff concur with this. For some of the older children, more development work is needed to make this truly purposeful for them.
The focus groups of children receiving some form of nurture input has proved very positive. The children report, ‘it makes me happy’ and ‘I’ve made new friends’. The 1:1 chat time has also been successful. However, throughout the project, some children didn’t take up the opportunity as they felt they did not need it, and others joined in out of enjoyment rather than need (both of which were seem as positive developments). These practices have appeared to begin to change the ‘fixed’ mindset of most children and decreased their anxiety and worry. They now demonstrate increased skills in problem solving, self-regulation and resilience.
The most beneficial part of this project has been the use of baseline and benchmark assessment data with children to support them in developing a growth mindset. The children involved have been able to use the assessment results to identify areas for growth and development. As a result, they are taking ownership of their learning, have changed their attitude towards challenge and struggle and can see an undeniable improvement.
The final part of the project, the proposed changes to ability grouping, have had some positive impact, although not yet as much as was hoped. These changes were dependent upon the baseline and benchmark assessments to inform the fluid groupings. This approach took some adjustment but was easy to implement and was expected to support the development of growth mindset. However, limitations of the school’s evaluation paperwork made it difficult to assess how each ‘ability group’ was working on a termly basis. The solution would be to evaluate groups of children on a conceptually-dictated timescale basis, rather than whole, static, ‘ability’ groups of children on a mid-term basis. Going forward this would require whole school buy-in beyond the life of this project.
In the sample of children studied closely, the Emotional Literacy Questionnaire demonstrated a significant improvement for 77% of the children measured - their desirable scores went up and their undesirable scores went down. Positive changes recorded varied from 6 points to 21 points. For the few children whose scores remained the same or deteriorated, the change was only 4 points, at most. Whilst external influences might have been at play, as a precaution, these children will be closely monitored during the longer-term project.
The Leuven Scale of Wellbeing showed a mix of results - most scores remained the same or rose only slightly, whilst one or two dipped (the same children who saw a deterioration in the Emotional Literacy Questionnaire results). This assessment was conducted by an adult who worked with the children during the project, whereas the children completed the Emotional Literacy Scale themselves.
Curriculum for Excellence levels predicted by class teachers for a few months’ time, suggest that all the children in the focus group will have made at least a sub-level of progress by that point. This is promising, although 8% are still predicted to be slightly behind their target level in Numeracy and Mathematics, and 31% in Literacy and English.
Attendance has shown a mix of results, although declines can be explained by winter illnesses. Children whose attendance would usually drop has not and has tended to rise slightly. Whilst this can give insights into participation, it is acknowledged that children are not necessarily in control of their attendance.
When asked to reflect upon the project, the children made the comments below. These suggest that growth mindset education is having a positive social, emotional and mental effect on the children. It is also clear that more work is required to support them in embedding a growth mindset in a way that benefits them holistically in their day to day lives.
‘I love going to group to learn more about mindset. It makes me happy and relaxed and like I can do anything.’
‘I love going to group. I have made friends and I feel happy that I can do things I thought I couldn’t if I try and get some help.’
‘Sometimes when I don’t get to go I feel sad because the group helps me to grow my mind.’
‘I like the group because I feel as if me and my emotions are cared for and I can get help with my mindset.’
The baseline and benchmark assessments for the Numeracy and Mathematics concepts clearly exhibit the regular positive effect of this approach. The way they were used, and the growth mindset language embedded within the feedback given, meant that for every child, every concept showed an improvement in their attitude and attainment, with many showing an improvement of more than 50%.
This project was part of a stretch aim of the School Improvement Plan, relating to Health and Wellbeing and the use of nurture approaches. As such, it was under regular review from all staff, and the longer-term project will continue to be. Both qualitative and quantitative data was gathered by questioning the children themselves, staff who were working on the project and class teachers to give a more objective view. Class teachers were able to observe the wider impact and provide more holistic evaluation. Feedback from them included:
‘I have noticed that X is more focused in class and is more able to contain his frustration.’
‘It has been noted by several adults who come in to support X that he now displays much more perseverance when he finds things tricky.’
‘X is generally happier and more willing to contribute ideas in small groups. We are now working on her confidence to share ideas with the whole class.’
‘I noticed X’s language has changed and he speaks more positively about his own ability. He also compares his own ability to others’ much less.’
The comparison of baseline and benchmark data painted an overall positive picture of the effectiveness of the project and has informed actions going forward for the rest of the school session and beyond.
The use of mindfulness practices across the school will continue and more age-appropriate alternatives will be used further up the school. The Nurture Groups will broaden out to include a wider group of children and will focus more on growth mindset, using what has been learned from this small test of change. The 1:1 chat time will be revamped and opened to more children identified by class teachers as finding challenge and struggle difficult to deal with and whose resilience may be low. The baseline and benchmark assessments in Numeracy and Mathematics will continue in the pilot class and be introduced to two other classes, with the hope to embed them in every class by the start of next session. The pilot class will now look at how this practice can be used in other curricular areas, starting with Literacy & English. And, in conjunction with the Senior Management Team, we will review how evaluations could change to better accommodate flexible grouping. This change would fully utilise the baseline assessments for their true purpose and support children in applying a growth mindset in a practical, useful way.