The aim of the project was to improve pupils’ attitudes and approach towards learning and their capacity to engage positively with increased challenge in mathematics. We wanted to develop a collective growth mindset culture within the classroom and, ultimately, ensure pupils were achieving the best possible outcomes.
The target group was a class of twenty-one Primary 7 pupils. The project comprised a series of lessons on growth mindset linked specifically to mathematical problem-solving. It used the research and work of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler, including ‘The Challenge-O-Meter’, ‘The Learning Pit’, ‘Number Talks’, ‘Think Boards’ and ‘Rich Tasks’. Pupils were assigned a range of challenging problem-solving activities, combined with specific growth mindset approaches:
A number of tools were used to gather data pre and post project:
Whilst the project impacted pupils to varying degrees, overall, the aim has been achieved successfully. As predicted, the impact was greatest for pupils who had the most room for growth. A group of five pupils were identified in baseline assessments as already applying a growth mindset approach towards their learning (Pupils V, W, X, Y and Z). These pupils saw some improvement in their already positive attitudes and approach towards learning and their level of engagement and participation. For the other sixteen pupils, the majority now approach maths with a much more positive attitude and display confidence and resilience when solving mathematical problems. These pupils are also displaying increased signs of engagement and participation. However, the post project analysis indicates that a group of four pupils (Pupils A, B, C and D) continue to display multiple fixed mindset qualities in regard to their attitudes and approach to learning, albeit there has been a degree of improvement. These pupils also showed some improvement in their level of engagement with challenging problem-solving tasks.
There was one aspect of mindset that did remain fixed for a number of pupils. These pupils continue to state that sometimes a subject they find difficult makes them feel afraid/anxious. In some cases, this can be attributed to pupils feeling pressured due to high expectations from parents. There is a need therefore to now work on creating a growth mindset culture within the whole school community.
We were largely able to stay within the timelines outlined in the project plan, being only two weeks from completion when schools closed due to Covid-19. The planned timescale had been working well, with only a few things cropping up that clashed with growth mindset lessons. This was overcome by prioritising within Health and Wellbeing and Numeracy and Mathematics. The post project assessments were brought forward by two weeks to minimise the impact of Covid, though we were only able to assess pupils still attending school at that time.
Running the project over a 10-week period had many benefits. This relatively short time frame made it easier to set and observe measurable goals. It also helped to maintain motivation and kept up the momentum of the project. This translated into more intensive work being undertaken and enabled quicker results. Achieving the short-term goals set, can now be used as a platform for the longer-term aim of developing maths mindset across the school.
The original intention was to establish a growth mindset culture within the class before embarking on any problem-solving. However, it quickly became clear that success depended on giving pupils opportunities to apply growth mindset approaches to their learning. Problem solving tasks were therefore scheduled from the start of the project. Groupings had also not been considered before the outset of the project. Following the baseline assessments, pupils who generally had either a growth mindset/positive approach towards learning and a fixed mindset/negative approach towards learning were identified. This enabled the use of mixed mindset partners and trios when pupils worked as a group during problem solving lessons. Mixed and similar ability groupings were also used throughout the project. Finally, it became clear that it was going to be difficult to determine any measurable improvement within the timescale of the project. As a result, we decided to use pupil’s current and projected Curriculum for Excellence levels of attainment as baseline data and to help set appropriate levels of challenge. This allowed pupils to achieve their best possible outcomes within the timescales of the intervention.
Implementation of the maths mindset project has facilitated the development of a growth mindset culture within the classroom. Pupils are now using, with increased frequency, the language of growth mindset and applying growth mindset approaches to their learning. Before the project, there were pupils who lacked self-belief, and pupils who feared failure and viewed mistakes and lack of understanding as a weakness. Both groups previously reverted to a fixed mindset in challenging situations. A small number of pupils were also identified as already having a positive attitude and approach towards learning. All pupils made a degree of improvement in both their attitudes and approach towards learning and their capacity to engage and participate in increased challenge in mathematical problem-solving.
Pupils lacking self-belief
Only four of these pupils continue to have the tendency to revert to a fixed mindset when faced with a challenge. Although pupils A, B, C and D continue to display multiple fixed mindset qualities, there has been a marked improvement from baseline results. All have shown an improvement in their level of engagement with challenging problem-solving tasks. Overall, it is clear that these pupils have begun their growth mindset journey. This is evidenced in the exit passes at the project end when pupils were asked to write about their thoughts/feelings towards challenging problem-solving tasks:
Pupil A wrote “Mistakes are proof that you are trying”
Pupil B wrote “I enjoyed working with a partner and I found it quite easy to get an answer when people described strategies”
Pupil C wrote “I know that if you feel like giving up remind yourself to keep on trying”
Pupil D wrote “When I make a mistake, try, try again”
Pupils fearing failure
Of the pupils identified as fearing failure at the beginning of the project, all have improved in their attitudes towards learning and their capacity to engage positively with increased challenge in mathematics. A few still say that they feel anxious and afraid when they are faced with a challenge/find something difficult.
Pupils already having a growth mindset
Pupils V, W, X, Y and Z were identified as having the least room for growth, as they already applied a growth mindset approach and appeared positively engaged with challenging problem-solving tasks. These pupils still showed some degree of improvement. The intervention was a positive experience for them, and they further embedded growth mindset approaches to learning:
Pupil V wrote “It was fun to make patterns, work with (a partner) and we found a strategy (that worked)”
Pupil Y wrote “I enjoyed developing a successful strategy”.
Pupil Y displayed high levels of engagement and participation during baseline assessments and was able to maintain these levels throughout the intervention
Fixed versus growth mindset questionnaire
The baseline survey indicated that nine out of 21 pupils were considered to have a fixed mindset. The post-project survey (completed by a fewer 16 pupils due to Covid) showed that only 1 pupil (Pupil A), was considered to have a fixed mindset and 4 tended to more often agree with fixed mindset statements. Thus, showing a good improvement across the class.
Mindset in Education Pupil Attitude Survey
This measured pupil’s attitudes and approach towards learning and indicated that 18 pupils gave negative responses at the outset. Of these, 13 agreed with more than one of the negative statements about learning. At the end of the project, only seven (of the 14 completing the survey) gave negative responses about attitudes towards learning and three of these now agreed with more than one negative statement. Most of the pupils’ level of agreement to positive statements either increased or stayed the same. Overall, this shows an improvement of individual pupils’ attitudes and approach towards learning by between 33% - 37 percentage points (13 pupils out of 21 (62%) displaying multiple fixed mindset qualities pre project, compared to 4 pupils out of 14-16 pupils (25%-29%) post project).
Engagement and participation scale
Professional observations were used to measure the frequency of identified pupil behaviours when faced with challenging problem-solving tasks. The baseline results indicated that the majority of pupils had room for growth, with only one pupil always displaying high levels of engagement and participation (Pupil Y) and six being disengaged and detached from challenging problem-solving tasks. At the end of the project, all pupils, with the exception of two, were more frequently displaying behaviours that indicate increased participation and positive engagement with challenging problem-solving tasks. Pupil Y maintained a high level of engagement throughout the intervention and a further pupil made little or no improvement, attributed to disruptive behaviour in class and a high level of absence from school. Thus, 20 out of 21 pupils have improved/maintained their capacity to engage positively with increased challenge in mathematical problem-solving tasks.
The data from the project are all set out below and might be interesting if you want to explore the results in more detail:
Baseline achievement of outcomes as measured by Curriculum for Excellence attainment levels and Scottish National Standardised Assessments
A few examples of the exit passes used are also below:
We were unable to undertake a critical review of the project with colleagues due to Covid-19 school closures. Instead, reflecting on my own teaching and professional development, this project has enhanced knowledge and understanding of growth mindset and its importance. It has underlined the need for growth mindset to permeate all learning and teaching. And post-Covid, with an even greater need for supporting pupil’s wellbeing, a whole school growth mindset culture will be even more important.
Returning to school post Covid, the project will be presented to senior managers and staff in the hope that we can begin to develop a growth mindset culture across the school. This may take the form of growth mindset sessions for all school staff, whole school themed assemblies for pupils, promoting a growth mindset culture to parents and the wider school community, and/or peer observation opportunities with colleagues to model how growth mindset can be used during mathematical problem-solving sessions. These activities could help facilitate a change in school culture that permeates all school life.