The aim of the project was to strive for full class participation in mental maths, specifically word problems. Children tend to see a word problem and automatically ask for help or say they can't do it, even before they have attempted to read the question. To address this issue, a version of a ‘chilli challenge’ was created with three questions that each had different points depending on the level of difficulty (but were not labelled based on difficulty). Children undertook these challenges three times a week for ten weeks, with new concepts being introduced at different points. The children could choose the questions they thought they were capable of doing, and the points generated for their group were totalled towards the ‘class of the week’ competition. Effort based feedback was given and children were rewarded with stickers even if they had not managed to get to the correct answer but could describe how they got their answer.
The aim of the project was achieved. The children are now far more willing to try things independently before seeking help. The majority are looking to be challenged rather than sit in their comfort zone. They are far more vocal in their explanations of how they arrived at an answer. Most children now also understand that their effort is valued and if they put in effort then they will see results. It is heart-warming to hear them encouraging each other in their successes and failures.
The project was planned over ten weeks. It was quite intensive to plan the questions and cover them in class three times per week. Although the time limit for reading and solving a problem was only 10 minutes, it could take another half an hour to discuss the various solutions, offer verbal praise and feedback. This did pose a challenge to getting through the maths curriculum. Hopefully, there will be longer-term benefits to how the children approach new concepts. After the project was complete, the challenges have continued but once a week or fortnight.
No significant changes were made to the project plan. However, reading the maths problem was an issue for two of the children. Instead, the problem was read out to them, and this saw their participation and the level of challenge attempted increase. It is important that limits to literacy skills do not negatively impact a child's perception of their maths ability.
The ethos of support the children offer each other has improved. Instead of judging another child for not being at a certain level, they are now appreciating the effort that is being made. The five children in my focus group all made significant improvements. It was noticeable when the concept focus changed their results took a minor dip, however, they recovered far more quickly as the project went on. Two of the children were bright and weren't interested in a challenge, just getting everything right within their comfort zone. Both of their attitudes have totally changed. They are now constantly asking for extensions, thinking about using larger numbers and engaged in what they are doing. Around 90% of the class are more confident in approaching new concepts and no longer become discouraged when they meet the first hurdle. The children have become more resilient and know that practice will lead to improvement.
As a result of the project, the school has now created display material with a growth mindset focus. The project was also shared with all staff at an In-service day, including the big ideas within growth mindset and the shared language that could be used. Staff were able to discuss the project and plan display material for each classroom. This should support consistent messaging on growth mindset for children year in year out.
Progress of the children in the focus group was tracked across the ten weeks (see below). Overall, there is a clear positive progression across the focus group, with some dips as children got to grips with new concepts. Child B and J are the two boys whose progress was being limited by their inability to step outwith their comfort zone. Child C lacked confidence in maths and at the start of the project would not approach anything independently. She now practices her maths at home and comes in and shares what she's been trying. Child L has dyslexic tendencies and low confidence with word problems. He benefitted from having the problems read to him and being praised for his effort. Child H struggles with maths and has memory retention issues as well as being bilingual. She never answered a word problem in P3 before the start of this project. She has learned to persevere during this project.
Colleagues have been interested in the idea that the children had to assess the level of challenge in each question themselves, rather than be told. A few teachers are planning to try this out in their own classrooms. Several parents have noticed a change in their children's attitude towards maths. The parents of Child L and Child C were particularly pleased to see how their confidence has grown. Child's J's mum was delighted that he is now willing to challenge himself. The children have really bought into growth mindset as a whole. They know that if they try, put in effort and persevere, they will make improvements. Children are also less likely now to compare themselves to each other and just focus on their own capabilities.
The next step is to roll out the growth mindset display material to all classrooms in the next academic year. We are also planning to create lists of storybooks and films that have a growth mindset focus to further promote it within the classroom.