The aim of this project was to encourage pupils to learn from mistakes and develop a growth mindset. Rather than pupils associating mistakes with negative connotations, this project would help pupils understand that that ‘it's OK to make mistakes’. As Carol Dweck (2015) says, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talents are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” We hoped that by developing a growth mindset, this would help pupils to improve their engagement, self-esteem and in turn improve their confidence.
Numeracy support had also been identified as a focus area in our school improvement plan. We had two members of staff dedicated to numeracy support/interventions, a commitment which made this project feasible. Both teachers gained skills and knowledge through the Mindset in Education course which provided further support in delivering our wider aim of ‘raising attainment in literacy and numeracy through high quality pedagogy, ensuring equity for all learners and closing the attainment gap’.
‘It’s OK to make mistakes’ was a 12-week programme delivered within the school, linked to growth mindset and the Mindset in Education course. The objective of the project was to gauge the level of engagement of pupils in their numeracy lessons, and help pupils move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. The project was delivered to twelve pupils in Primary 5, and eight pupils in Primary 3, in group sessions.
We created a growth mindset wall with growth mindset quotes and encouraging posters. This wall was displayed next to the area of the hall that was used for the groups. At the start of each lesson, we reminded the children of these quotes and recited ‘It’s OK to make mistakes’. We hoped this mantra would continue as the pupils returned to class and we encouraged the rest of the teaching staff to use this term in their daily teaching.
We also felt it was important that pupils had something tangible at the end of each session to help remind them about growth mindset. We provided the groups with encouraging growth mindset quote stickers and certificates. The pupils within the group were proud to show these off and share their successes with their family, peers, or class teacher.
After completion, we concluded that the project had been extremely successful. The selected group of pupils had moved from a fixed mindset about maths, to a growth mindset showing skills such as:
Although the project was deemed a success, we did identify a future area for improvement. There were some sessions with the Stages of Early Arithmetical Learning (SEAL) group of 12, where it was difficult to provide suitable scaffolding for the pupil’s independent learning. When staffing allowed another teacher to assist with the session, we were able to split the group and provide carousel stations which was much better. If we were to repeat this project, we would ensure ten was the maximum number of pupils involved in any group.
The benefits of this project have been two-fold. Not only have the groups engaged more with their numeracy tasks, but their confidence has also grown in other curriculum areas. Where some pupils were often disengaged even in 1-2-1 teaching, these pupils are now giving all tasks a try. The growth mindset wall is regularly visited, and pupils can be seen pointing to posters and saying, ‘I didn’t think I could do it, but I’ve tried a different strategy’. It has also been extremely encouraging to see pupils supporting each other in their learning within the support groups. Pupils have asked, ‘Can I ask my shoulder partner to help me, as I’m not sure yet’.
Some of the target pupils have even been confident enough to highlight the teacher’s mistakes. During some sessions, we intentionally made mistakes to enable the group to realise that adults/teachers make mistakes too and its OK, we are all always learning. The fact that the pupils identified the initial mistake and then had the confidence to speak up was really reassuring.
Prior to the growth mindset project, there was a pupil in the P3 SEAL group who was very disengaged in any number task, often refusing to take part and using various avoidance tactics. Since attending the smaller group sessions, their engagement has improved greatly. They now actively take part, asks questions to secure their understanding and share their answers with others without fear of making mistakes. Their increased confidence has been noted by their class teacher and their engagement within other areas of the curriculum has also improved.
It was also encouraging to receive written feedback from a parent to say that their child had expressed a new excitement for maths and enjoyed teaching their parents what they had learned as part of their homework. This child had previously been extremely nervous and anxious during all number work and would never answer in class for fear of being wrong. During the SEAL sessions, the pupils’ confidence grew and their engagement in the tasks increased greatly.
During the project, we undertook pre and post assessments of pupil’s attainment, mindset towards maths and how they felt about making mistakes in maths lessons. The first assessment that took place was a Mathematics Assessment for Learning and Teaching (MALT) in September 2021, to gauge the pupils’ maths age. This helped us identify those pupils who needed numeracy support (being one year or more behind in their maths age). This was also confirmed by teacher professional judgement. From this we created the two support groups who would be following the Stages of Early Arithmetical Learning (SEAL) numeracy intervention programme. We will not revisit the MALT assessments until the end of the academic year, so are unable to measure the impact of the project using this.
To support more immediate evaluation, we created a questionnaire to establish how confident pupils felt during maths and how they felt about making mistakes. The results of this questionnaire, pre and post the project, are show below:
Overall, the results showed that most children now demonstrate a solid understanding of what a growth mindset is. They have also moved away from negative connotations of being sad or worried if they make a mistake, to understanding that ‘it’s OK to make mistakes’ as they provide opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge.
The second form of assessment that was used was the Leuven Scale of engagement. This allowed us to track the level of engagement weekly and gave us a quick visual of the pupils’ progress. Evidence from this shows that the pupils moved steadily along the scale from disengaged to highly engaged over the 12 week period. Encouragingly, most of the pupils were consistently engaged in their learning during each session.
For P5, the results showed that pupils displayed the following skills:
The results did highlight, however, that two pupils did not progress along the scale like the rest of the group. The small improvement they did make, from level 1 to 3, however, was very significant for these pupils. Their disengagement in any number work was exceptionally high at the start of the project. Seeing them engage in the weekly lessons even for a short time was a success. Upon reflection, the 50 minute sessions were probably too long for these pupils to show full engagement and concentration.
For the P3 group, the results show that the pupils were more confident answering questions in front of their peers. During the weekly SEAL sessions, both groups regularly shared their mistakes with each other, to show the pupils that they could learn from each other’s mistakes, and there was nothing to be embarrassed by. It was evident that a growth mindset was established in most of the pupils over the 12 week intervention. Pupils were regularly heard around the school saying, ‘It’s OK to make mistakes, we learn from them’.
During the project, we received feedback from class teachers which highlighted the impact the SEAL support sessions were having on the pupils when they were back in class. The pupils’ engagement had improved, and their confidence to answer questions had not only increased in numeracy lessons, but in other curriculum areas also. This was extremely encouraging to hear.
During discussions with the management team, it has been suggested that we apply a growth mindset approach to other or all curriculum areas and roll this out to the rest of the teaching staff. The senior management team are reviewing this and intend to incorporate it into the school improvement plan for next year.