As we navigated through the Covid-19 pandemic, developing resilience within learning was a priority for practitioners in our school. Following a year of crisis management, our School Improvement Plan refocused on high quality learning and teaching across the curriculum. This project focused on learning and teaching in numeracy and maths and how we could improve resilience in this area with a growth mindset ethos. Within our school, learner engagement is generally high. However, negative attitudes and resilience towards problem solving is an area of concern. To address this, our project aimed to help both adults and pupils develop:
We have seen evidence of some positive impact on learners. Firstly, the children within our focus group now display a clear understanding of the principles of growth mindset and the huge impact this can have on their learning. They can identify growth and fixed mindset and, with support, can discuss the type of mindset they have in different scenarios. Children also have a very good understanding of how their brains work. They regularly talk about their neurons firing and the bridges that are built between neurons with hard work and perseverance. This understanding of the science behind the principles of growth mindset has had an important impact upon children’s belief in the theory. Feedback from parents has also shown that children are interested in their learning and are taking it home to discuss the benefits of a growth mindset with their families.
Our key aim was to increase levels of engagement and resilience when problem solving. The progress made within this area has been interesting, considering that the project ran for only three weeks. Although most children showed high levels of engagement throughout, there were a small number of children who were completely unwilling to attempt the challenging problem set at the beginning of the project. When focussing on these individual children, it was remarkable to see the different attitudes they showed towards problem solving at the end of the project. Instead of asking for help before reading the question, these children showed a new determination to try their best and persevere. These learners did require some help to set them in the right direction further into the lesson, however, the willingness to give the problem a try was a real improvement. It is hard to tell whether this will be a long-lasting change, and so these particular learners will be monitored closely to observe their developing attitudes towards problem solving as the growth mindset ethos develops within our classroom.
When looking at the aims we set for practitioners’ learning, there is still work to be done. We are currently in the initial phase of our project, where only three members of staff have been involved in piloting our growth mindset lessons. These practitioners have developed a clearer understanding of, and belief in, growth mindset principles. The next step is to share this with the wider staff group.
The initial project was intended to run for a two-week period, where growth mindset would be taught each day and we would measure the impact throughout this period. We built flexibility into the timeline, to allow for times when other commitments took priority and festive plans interrupted us. In the end, we added one week into the project plan to give children more time to take in their learning and build a deeper understanding of the principles of growth mindset.
As the project developed, we made changes to lesson plans to respond to the children’s needs. During each lesson, children’s comments were taken into consideration and used to influence any changes required within the next lesson. This ensured that everyone had the best chance to develop a secure knowledge and belief in the power of growth mindset.
Given that the project ran for a total of three weeks, further observation is required to build a true representation of the impact. However, there is early evidence of a range of positive impacts:
The most exciting finding was for the children who scored very low on the Leuven Scale of Engagement at the start of the project. These learners would often show fear when faced with challenge in their learning and would ask for help even before seeing a task. Within this small group, one learner made real progress. Prior to the project, she showed a fixed mindset and scored 1 on the Leuven Scale of Engagement. At the end of the intervention period, whilst her mindset didn’t appear to change on the mindset questionnaire, she scored a 5 on the Leuven Scale of Engagement when carrying out the final problem solving task. She was enthusiastic, she was deeply engaged and she was talking her partner through every step she was taking. This change in attitude was also seen at home, with her mum noting that, “She is more positive and wants to try new things, she used to focus a lot on what she couldn't do but in the last two weeks she has been telling me and herself what she is great at”.
When looking for changes in the children’s mindset (using the mindset questionnaire), there were a number of children whose score actually decreased after taking part in the project, moving them towards more of a fixed mindset. It is possible that some misunderstanding of the question was involved. Additionally, we told children to answer honestly and not what they thought was the correct answer, which we did not do before the baseline questionnaire. This might have had an unintended effect.
There were two children who showed a surprisingly fixed mindset in the first questionnaire, but who showed many more elements of growth mindset in their second questionnaire (as seen in the charts below).
A range of quantitative and qualitative data was gathered to evaluate our project. Children competed an adapted mindset questionnaire before and after the intervention and scores were recorded and compared. Learners were also asked to complete a problem-solving task at the beginning and end of the project and their engagement was scored on the Leuven Scale of Engagement. This task offered three levels of differentiation and was designed to ensure that a comparison in scores was valid and was not influenced by the level of challenge of the task.
Qualitative data was also collected from parents who were asked to comment on whether their child had discussed growth mindset at home, and whether they had noticed any changes to their child’s approach to challenge at home. Additional qualitative measures included written recordings of pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher dialogue throughout the course of the project. This data was important in helping to gain real insight into pupils’ beliefs and attitudes towards learning. The work carried out by pupils during the growth mindset lessons also acted as evidence as there were occasions where children were asked to record answers which helped to reveal their thoughts and beliefs about their learning.
Colleagues have commented that the ability of the project to be flexible and adapt to the developing needs of the learners throughout the project was a real strength. This was evident as we changed the content and organisation of lessons and allowed more time for the project. A further strength was the focus upon the physical biology of the brain. This linked to the children’s own interests and questions about the brain and allowed children to understand the science behind growth mindset. This continues to be discussed during our lessons, especially as the children persevere with challenges.
An area that we could have improved was the mindset questionnaire. A number of children appeared to move more towards a fixed mindset when analysing the questionnaire scores at the end of the intervention period. This was unexpected and it is unclear why this happened. It is possible that children lacked a clear understanding of the questions, which might have influenced the scores. In future, we would adapt the questionnaire and spend more time creating a questionnaire that is tailored towards the correct age group.
Our growth mindset team will help to develop staff understanding and belief in growth mindset and the impact it can have in the classroom. They are also collating shared resources for all staff to use during growth mindset lessons. We also hope that a growth mindset ethos will be built in all classrooms across the school in the next academic year.