The aim of the project was to promote a growth mindset ethos in the classroom and extend this through the school. We wanted to further develop understanding and knowledge of growth mindset in children and teachers. Within the classroom, the aim was to reduce maths anxiety in a targeted group of children who were displaying a fixed mindset attitude in maths. The plan was to implement a range of growth mindset strategies using different language during maths time and in feedback. This should help develop a growth mindset, make the children feel more positive about their learning and help to raise attainment. Subsequently, strategies and findings would be shared with colleagues with the aim of building this into our practice throughout the school.
Overall, the project was successful. A growth mindset ethos was established, and it effectively boosted confidence and self-esteem of learners. Children grew accustomed to the language of growth mindset and were able to use this to approach, respond and persevere with learning in maths. Learners were able to recognise when they, or their peers, were displaying a fixed mindset and they were able to change this. This was initially encouraged by the teacher, but children became more confident and natural at doing this themselves.
Interestingly, the children naturally adopted growth mindset language when encouraging and providing feedback to their peers. They were supportive of each other and when faced with a challenge, they would use some of the phrases to encourage each other to persevere. They were able to identify elements of a fixed mindset and would suggest alternative strategies and phrases to use instead. This showed how language can be used to promote a growth mindset and ethos in school.
The change in language also impacted the level of determination, confidence, and motivation of learners to keep persevering with their learning, and the children had a greater sense of achievement when tasks were completed. Children recognised that they had the skills and capabilities to work through a challenge, developing a greater sense of self-belief. They began to appreciate that ability in maths is something that can be learned and that they have the tools to achieve what they desire.
Whilst the project was successful, there were some things that could have been improved. Ideally the project would have been started earlier in the year, to give more time to see the impacts of the interventions. Additionally, it might have been beneficial to incorporate the views of parents and encourage their involvement in the study. It would certainly still be worthwhile to share the learning with parents and encourage them to adopt similar language at home.
Overall, this project had very positive implications for learning in mathematics, albeit the learning would have applied to all areas of teaching and learning.
Initially, the project was going to begin at the start of the school year, but we felt that we needed to establish stronger relationships with the pupils first. Following lockdown, we felt that children needed more time to settle back into the school routine and enhanced assessments had to be undertaken. The project was then planned to begin in January after the children returned from Christmas break. However, a second national lockdown began which meant a further delay. It was third time lucky for the project, when it was finally completed successfully. Careful planning took heed of previous mishaps, limitations, and school holidays. Ample time was allowed to execute the project and accommodate further unforeseen circumstances and to give some flexibility with the project timeline.
Once the project was started there was little change to the project plan. This was primarily because the previous delays had given time to consider any limitations and to be more thorough with the planning. There was also additional time to discuss the project with senior management and to seek their advice, which meant the project could start immediately and with a detailed plan. By starting later in the year, closer relationships with the children had been established, enabling better understanding of the attitudes of learners and how to best address these.
Since beginning the project, there has been a definite improvement in the attitudes and mindset of all learners. There has been a greater sense of motivation and determination, albeit for some more than others. Certainly, within the target group some children would have benefited from longer interventions. One learner, for example, was able to recognise and use growth mindset language such as, ‘I can’t do this YET’ but still showed some reluctance and gave up more easily than others. Their mindset had only marginally changed in the follow up questionnaire. Interestingly, the pupil was able to discuss mindsets and strategies and how to change thinking to about maths but were unable to apply it effectively to their own thinking, suggesting that their perception in maths is deeply rooted.
All children showed a more developed growth mindset in their follow up questionnaire. There was a change in their understanding and perceptions of maths, showing a greater appreciation of the importance of the learning journey rather than the destination. This was reflected in their perseverance and motivation in maths and in reduced hesitation and anxiety when during maths time. The class teacher has also benefited from this project, being able to recognise when a child is showing a fixed mindset and understanding the importance of language in feedback to children in all areas of learning. The project has also highlighted the need for opportunities for learners to persevere with their learning and to encourage them to keep trying instead of intervening. Greater determination from the children to achieve a goal independently, has had huge benefits for their confidence and self-esteem, allowing them to see that they have the skills and ability required.
Overall, the biggest impact of the project has been the language used throughout learning and in feedback. Feedback given reflected growth mindset language and was constructed to allow children to identify their next steps. This allowed children to take more ownership of their learning and to appreciate that it is a learning journey. Some children still require more teacher-initiated encouragement, but a lot of children can now implement this themselves. One of the biggest impacts that was unforeseen was children adopting language to support one another. During partner work in mental arithmetic, children supported their partners by telling them to keep going or to try a different strategy, and they would talk to each other about the strategies they were using to solve the problem. They worked well together to build motivation and keep momentum going, especially when they recognised that they were both able to solve some of the problems that the other couldn’t. This instilled the sense that skills in maths can be practised and learned and that everyone has their own strengths.
Along with teacher observations that clearly demonstrated a change in the attitudes and mindsets of learners in maths, and other areas, evidence was contained in the questionnaire responses. A questionnaire was created to seek the learner’s attitudes and beliefs towards maths. This was administered prior to the project and repeated afterwards. This questionnaire showed an improvement in learners’ resilience, motivation, and determination in maths and showed that their mindset had changed to reflect a more growth mindset.
Through discussions with colleagues, it has been evident that growth mindset language can be applied to successfully promote growth mindset in the classroom. This will be further explored and developed in the next academic year. Senior management also used an additional RISE (Resilience in Schools and Education) questionnaire to gather attitudes of the children to learning. These results identify children who would benefit from support and intervention throughout the school, allowing teachers to plan for this. This work complements our project and will allow colleagues to work collaboratively to address these needs in a whole school approach.
Please see some examples of the questionnaires completed by the same children, before and after the project, below.
Colleagues have commented on the success of the project. They understood why it was necessary and why it had the desired effects. As the staff had prior training in growth mindset, they were able to recognise the benefits of the project and appreciate the impact it had in the classroom and throughout the school. Staff working with some of the children also commented on how they were more motivated and eager during maths time and more resilient than they had been previously, with all learners showing some improvement. Colleagues agreed that children would benefit from growth mindset practice being embedded as part of the learning journey across the curriculum. They also recognised the need for parental involvement in this area and that future work should address this.
The next steps will be to share the findings with all colleagues and focus on how the language used by teachers and children can positively impact learning and mindset. As a term begins, it will be interesting to see the impact on children’s attitudes across a whole school year. Another important step will be to involve parents. There have been previous growth mindset workshops for parents, but it is important to build on this work and support parents to implement similar strategies to learning at home. Work on growth mindset will be especially important for children as they move to secondary school, and they begin to prepare for exams, alleviating some of the stress that typically comes with exams.