The aim of this project was to investigate why pupils are so reluctant to showcase their workings, and to look into how this may be overcome. We wanted to use a growth mindset approach to teach pupils how to accept constructive feedback, view failure as a natural part of learning and be happy to discuss their work without fear. By addressing these issues, the hope was that we could increase pupil confidence, improve attitudes to learning and increase classroom engagement. We wanted to create a classroom environment where students had no ‘fear’ about asking questions, especially when they did not understand part of a problem.
Prior to the project, there was a perception that pupils “rolled their eyes” whenever growth mindset was mentioned. We therefore decided to only bring the topic up for discussion in the closing week of the project. From an initial survey, 91% of pupils stated that they always showed their working and 81% stated they understood the reasons that workings should be shown. However, reviewing pupils’ jotters showed limited evidence of this, with less than 34% of the pupils consistently showing their workings and pupils often rubbing out what they perceived to be incorrect workings or answers.
While teaching the topic of statistics, all examples demonstrated on the board were worked through showing the ‘required’ steps and workings, with explanations of why workings are essential. We discussed this during the lesson before pupils began the exercises, to set a clear expectation and rationale for showing workings. Despite this, during this and other lessons the question of whether workings were required was often raised by a minority of pupils. By showing the value of workings – identifying where a pupil might be going wrong and could therefore improve – the pupils began to accept the need for them.
We were able to use workings to spot and address common errors that the class were making. As this became the norm during the lessons, discussion levels increased, especially around inaccuracies, errors and approaches used. The number of questions also rose as we supported the class to work through a topic. Therefore, the aim of this project to encourage discussion around mistakes, and accept them as a part of learning was met, with pupils supported to develop a growth mindset.
The project timeline had been carefully planned and was on track prior to the decision to remove student teachers from placement during Covid. The initial survey and review of jotters was completed as planned, and we had three weeks of applying the methods of encouraging workings, demonstrating improved feedback through having visibility of these and discussing these as a class. The class were engaged and keen to show through their workings that they had followed the correct method. We spent time discussing why answers were correct and spotting where we went wrong by reviewing workings, all the time reinforcing that identifying and understanding our mistakes was an important part of the learning process and enabled the teacher to better support the pupils. Unfortunately, we were unable to discuss as a class their view of showing workings, how that might have altered their mindset and linking this back to a growth mindset approach. Whilst we could not prove a change in the class, anecdotally we believe they had begun to appreciate what it is to have a growth mindset.
One of the changes we didn’t anticipate was the need to encourage the class to stop using rubbers to remove evidence of any mistakes that were made. It was explained that a line through any incorrect workings was sufficient. Many students struggled to break this habit and it was thought to have come from primary school teaching. It did lead us to consider if there was a disconnect between maths teaching as children transition from primary to secondary which might need addressed.
Even though the project was cut short by two weeks, the project produced a significant amount of material that will support future work in this area and professional development. There can be a misconception that pupils are just too lazy to show workings, and this could lead them to have a fixed mindset around maths. This project highlighted that there can be a host of reasons why pupils do not want to show workings, including not wanting to show mistakes or a lack of understanding, but also children with additional support needs might struggle with the literacy aspect of writing workings down. In future, we would carefully explore and not assume why pupils might be reluctant to show workings.
It is now also clearer that secondary maths teachers can support pupils to develop a growth mindset and that this will improve their engagement and achievement. It might be necessary to retrain pupils to show their workings and to make them feel that the class is a safe place to do this. The teacher’s role is to lead by example, even when they already fully understand a concept and underline that showing workings is expected of pupils in maths examinations. By focusing on areas where workings show mistakes, this enables the teacher and pupils to progress more and build mutual trust.
Overall, through this project all pupils understood how to demonstrate and discuss ‘showing their workings’. They now understand the benefits of doing so, helping encourage the pupils and improve their confidence, rather than seeing mistakes as a negative thing. By the end of the project all pupils had got into the habit of showing workings most of the time, especially if they had a query. By the end, a review of jotters showed that 68% were showing their workings.
Unfortunately, due to the early termination of the school placement, there is little hard evidence of impact in the school, with the post questionnaire and discussions planned for week 6 of the placement. A final discussion with the class teacher and jotter review did give positive feedback. The class teacher thought that the approach taken had worked with the pupils and that the effort put in to showing all workings, while working through problems on the whiteboard, resulted in most of the class following with the same method. There was evidence of increased engagement in the class and the pupils became confident and eager to check that workings were correct and that they therefore understood the topic. It was interesting to note that using the workings to spot that often mistakes were simple ones, meant that the pupils grew in confidence.
Overall, the class seemed to be more positive about maths and reviewing the jotters revealed more effort to show workings. For one question, 68% of the class had shown workings, a significant improvement from the 34% in week 1. When conducting the end of unit test, 94% showed workings throughout the test. Hopefully, this focus on workings and the value of mistakes will be maintained and will help build a positive mindset within this class.
Feedback on the project was positive overall, highlighting the approach taken to showing workings, the method used to resolve problems and the impact this had on pupils. The lessons were positive with encouragement provided throughout each stage of the topic and time taken to assist individuals. The positive attitude developing in pupils was noted and colleagues felt that they were well on the way to building a growth mindset. There was also some evidence that this mindset and approach to workings had carried across into their science lessons.
The project will benefit my next teaching placement, and the approach taken to viewing mistakes as a positive learning opportunity will be continued. The importance of building a safe learning environment within the classroom has been underlined and the need for pupils to feel free to ask questions. The aim would be to always encourage pupils to develop a growth mindset and believe that they can ‘do maths’.