This small-scale project aimed to test Dweck’s (2007) theory that a change of mindset can result in a change of learning pathway. We investigated how the language used during teaching and learning could have a positive influence on pupils from lower socioeconomic groups (SIMD 1&2), who represented 28% of pupils who were at risk of not achieving second level maths. We considered whether pupil motivation, participation and attainment could be increased by providing an inclusive learning environment that focused on developing a growth mindset. The project hoped to overcome barriers that children experience, particularly their own views of abilities by providing opportunities to take risks whilst being supported accordingly. The aims of the project aligned with current policy and best practice.
Overall, the project was successful. As we better understood the concept of growth mindset in maths, we were able to make positive changes to teaching practice. Pupils who were originally identified as the focus group show improved levels of participation during numeracy lessons. They no longer avoid maths at all costs and there was a significant reduction in negative talk during lessons. Whilst these pupils are not on track to achieve second level, they have made significant improvements at their own level, so overall attainment data has improved.
At the outset, some pupils adjusted very well to the classroom routine changes and introduction of growth mindset language, whilst others took time to adjust. With consistent boundaries, practices and methods, pupils learned to conform to expectations and there was an improved focus on learning. Removing reference to maths groups has improved the overall motivation of pupils and they are far more enthused with choosing from Chilli Challenge options with varying degrees of difficulty. The pupils state that they prefer to have a choice and be able to challenge themselves. Pupils appear more motivated to take risks and really enjoy being able to discuss strategies with others, then deciding which is a more efficient method for them.
The pupils outwith the target group have learned to be supportive and have increased their own ability to share their strategies in a user-friendly way. This has encouraged real depth of understanding for them, as they explain their methods to others. Those pupils who would have been reluctant to contribute are now showing great enthusiasm to share their learning.
We were able to make good progress with the project, creating a visual display outlining the language of growth mindset and introducing this to the children. However, it was sometimes difficult to ensure Number Talk lessons and the resultant feedback discussions, as frequently as planned. With a primary 7 class, there were interruptions due to transition activities and external visitors. To address this and make best use of time, we created prompt cards with appropriate language to support more valuable self/peer discussions. Whilst the baseline data was collated, we were unable to repeat this after the project due to school closures during the pandemic. We were able to regularly review Sumdog and IDL Numeracy Data, which illustrated some improvement in attainment data for the target group as well as for all pupils taking part in the study.
The only change made following the project start date, was the addition of visual aid prompts to support self and peer feedback discussions. Given some time constraints, these tools were used to encourage more valuable discussions without a teacher input. This supported the children to also become more independent.
The impact of this study has been positive overall. The language of growth mindset became a regular feature of the classroom and there was a significant improvement in the classroom atmosphere. Pupils shared their strategies willingly with others, albeit some still lacked confidence when justifying some of their actions. They felt safe to take risks without the fear of getting answers wrong, and that it was okay to ask for help when required.
If repeating this project, we would implement it at the start of the school year to give more time and a greater chance of success and improvements in attainment. It would be useful to use growth mindset language across the board in teaching and learning, developing a supportive learning environment for the pupils, especially at this difficult time of transition. We would also gather more detailed perceptions from pupils pre and post the project using an online resource such as Microsoft Forms, to make comparisons more easily. It would have been interesting to establish if maths ages had changed after the project, had school closures not hampered the gathering of data.
Comparing the data, pre study 100% of pupils felt intelligence was fixed and not something they could change or develop. Since completing this study, the opinions of pupils in the target group have changed. They now believe improvements can be made by finding strategies that work for you, asking for help, sharing methods and taking risks. The other pupils have enjoyed sharing methods and strategies with peers and have grown in confidence and understanding as a result. Overall, 85% of the focus group have progressed to the next level of understanding in IDL Numeracy and every child has made positive progress in Sumdog.
The language of growth mindset has become a regular feature in the Primary 7 class. Pupils are more positive when self and peer assessing their work and when they interact during classroom contributions. Observation and written work have shown pupils to have greater resilience when faced with challenges, where they have also independently used some of the strategies shared during Number Talks and classroom discussions.
Pupils have also responded exceptionally well to the Chilli Challenge options, with greater numbers of pupils engaging in tasks, often difficult ones that they previously would have avoided. There have been far fewer emotional outbursts and less off task and distracting behaviours, with pupils more focused. Pupil self-talk is more positive and there is greater self-management and improved levels of resilience.
The change in attainment in maths for the target pupils is shown below:
Colleagues require greater exposure to growth mindset concepts and are less enthusiastic, with some believing that a positive mindset cannot overcome educational difficulties. This will remain a work in progress. If we implemented the language of growth mindset during all learning experiences, this would only be a positive step for children, improving their sense of ownership, giving them confidence to share strategies and helping them to support each other. Some colleagues might be less comfortable handing this control over learning to pupils, but it definitely enhances their confidence and ability to improve. The Mindset Leaders in the school will work to showcase the impact of sharing strategies on all pupils and will hopefully enthuse more pupils and colleagues alike.
We will work on developing growth mindset in numeracy with future classes and mindset leaders among the pupils. We will share the strategies used with colleagues and would encourage pupils to offer support to younger pupils, perhaps during Number Talks or Chilli Challenge problem solving. This will help pupils grow in confidence and spread the advantages of growth mindset language across the school. We would also like to share our learning at Open Afternoons or Meet the Teacher Evenings and share the vocabulary we use in the classroom with parents and family members, to further support children.