The aim of this project was to assess the impact of the use of the learning pit within mathematics lessons and use this to help build a growth mindset. We hoped to change the attitudes and mindsets of the children involved. The project was carried out with the whole class, with a focus placed on those children who felt anxious and emotional during mathematics lessons. One of the main aims, was to help those children with negative feelings and who struggled with mathematics and challenges, to develop a more positive outlook towards their learning. We wanted children to understand that we learn through challenges and making mistakes. We wanted to equip them with strategies to overcome feelings of maths anxiety, especially before they transitioned to High School.
The aim of the project was to create a growth mindset within all children during mathematics lessons. As a class, we explored the stages of the learning pit and progress using a growth mindset. A range of assessment strategies were used throughout the project to measure the impact, including questionnaires at the beginning and end. The results were similar at the start and end of the project. This could be because the questionnaire wasn’t tailored to the learning pit and was more focused on feelings and enjoyment during mathematics. However, listening to the pupils during lessons, and having conversations with them has shown evidence of a change. As such, we believe that the aim of the project has been achieved for many of the targeted pupils, with others still working towards the desired outcomes.
The ethos and mindset of the class became more positive within mathematics lessons. More children welcomed challenges and saw mistakes in a more positive way. Conversations in class were also more positive, with children using statements linked with a growth mindset. However, there remained a small minority of children who still experienced some anxieties around mathematics. These children were more welcoming of mistakes, but still experienced stress and got emotional when presented with a challenge. We will continue to implement the learning pit and encourage a growth mindset, especially with these children.
Looking back, we feel that more assessment (verbally or written) throughout the project would have been beneficial. This would have allowed us to adapt the project, if needed, to meet the needs of certain children. Going forward, as we continue to implement the learning pit within the classroom, we will focus on those who are still experiencing anxiety and who are struggling to grasp a growth mindset.
The project started in September as planned by carrying out pre-project questionnaires. Some were delayed due to child absences, which did delay the start of the project. Once all questionnaires were completed, we were able to begin the project fully. As most children grasped the idea of the learning pit and growth mindset relatively quickly, changes began to emerge in mid-October as hoped and we were able to finish the project on time. The post project questionnaire was completed at the end of November. For the children who took longer to grasp the concepts, this timeline was not successful, and they will need more time to achieve the intended outcome of the project.
Slight changes were made during the project due to child absences and children who were struggling. Covid restrictions and a spike in positive cases, meant that some of the children were absent and were further behind in the learning than others. We expected children to progress at different rates, but this did mean we had to adapt plans to give more input to those who had been absent. Luckily, most children picked concepts up relatively quickly, but some did need greater input and encouragement and a small minority needed time after the project to meet the intended aims.
Overall, we believe that this project has been a success. There has been positive change within a number of children in the classroom and the ethos during mathematics lessons is now more positive and enjoyable. For most children, there was less dread and anxiety when they knew they were about to begin a mathematics lesson.
There has also been a substantial change within the mindset of most of the children in the class. The biggest change has been the language used by the children. Before the project began, a lot of children used negative language during maths lessons when presented with a problem or challenge, such as, “I can’t do this,” or, “this is too hard.” After the project, with encouragement, implementation of the learning pit and promotion of growth mindset, the children were more likely to say, “I can’t do this, yet” and, “I’m finding it difficult, but I’m going to keep trying.” More children welcome challenges and enjoy solving problems. They don’t experience negative emotions when they get an answer wrong, knowing that they can use it to learn and improve in that area of mathematics.
Children responded well, overall, to the growth mindset aspects of the project, gaining good knowledge and understanding of a growth and fixed mindset. They know that sometimes they will think with a fixed mindset, but they now have the tools to challenge their thoughts when in that mindset. We also saw more children working together, encouraging each other, and complimenting each other’s successes. Those who struggled initially with the ‘Mistake Making Zone’ and ‘Learning Zone,’ were supported, and encouraged by those around them. This helped the children to grow in confidence and strengthen relationships within the classroom.
As well as observing children during lessons and discussions, other formative assessments that were carried out also allowed us to see the impact. The questionnaire results showed changes in some of the children's thoughts and feelings towards maths. By regularly checking in with the children and asking them to evaluate which zone of the learning pit they were in, we gained a deeper understanding of how the children were feeling. This also let the children assess where they were, and what they needed to do to get into the next zone, and eventually make it into the success zone.
With the ethos and life of the school at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence, it is vital that there is a positive ethos within not only the school, but the classroom. With the implementation of this project, our classroom ethos is more positive and enjoyable for all. The use of the learning pit and encouraging a growth mindset, has allowed most of the children to feel more relaxed and experience more enjoyment in their learning.
Mathematical mindset assessments were carried out with all the children before and after the project. The questions asked were:
Overall, there was not a major change in the responses to these questionnaires. The pre-assessment data showed that 95% of the class answered yes to questions one and two. Also, for question three, 18% of children said that they knew mistakes were about learning, 64% said they didn’t mind if they made mistakes, and 18% said they felt upset if they made mistakes. In the post-assessment, results for questions one and two were the same. However, for question three, the data showed that 37% of the children said they knew mistakes were about learning, 45% said that they didn’t mind making mistakes and 17% answered that it made them feel upset. It was encouraging to see an increase in positive responses for this question. Pupil voice throughout the project, and comments made in the assessments, have also shown a positive impact.
Responses to question one ‘Do you enjoy number work?’ included:
“it’s fun and it gives me a challenge to push my learning”
“I feel confident with number work”
“it’s my favourite subject”
Responses to question two ‘Do you enjoy learning?’ included:
“learning will help me in the future”
“it helps me to know new stuff”
“it will make me smarter”
Responses to question three ‘Do you feel embarrassed or upset when you get an answer wrong?’ were mixed, and included:
“it is important to learn from your mistakes”
“everyone makes mistakes so it doesn’t upset me”
“I don’t mind as you can fix it”
“I feel a bit embarrassed”
“I don’t want people to laugh”
Pupil voice that was heard through discussions and input into teaching and learning included:
“keep trying because you’ll get there”
“I’m ready for more challenges”
“this is really difficult but I’m going to keep trying.”
“I know it’s difficult, but remember the more you practice, the better you will get. Do you want me to help you?” (from one child to another who was stuck in the mistake making zone)
This is the questionnaire used to assess the children pre and post the project:
Plans for the project were shared with colleagues in advance. One colleague, who had used the learning pit previously, was able to share their positive experience which gave us more encouragement and motivation as the project was beginning. Throughout the project, colleagues were curious about progress, asking questions about the impact we had seen on the children, as well as any challenges faced. We have been asked to plan and lead a professional learning event which will allow us to address the whole teaching staff in detail about our experiences of what went well, and what we would recommend.
Due to the overall success of this project and watching the shift in mindset and attitude of the children, we will continue to use the learning pit and encourage a growth mindset within the current class, and classes to come. We will discuss this project with other practitioners within the school, explaining how it has benefited the children. We will share our experience of working with the learning pit, how we implemented it, the link to mathematics and growth mindset, and our overall findings. We hope that other teachers take these findings and make them their own to suit their class.