Research suggests that West Dunbartonshire Council has higher levels of deprivation than many other councils within Scotland. As a result, we decided to focus our project on trying to close the attainment gap, which was measured at around 10-months for literacy and problem solving. We concentrated on problem solving, as this was where the children needed a little extra support. The aim was to work with a small group of children as this was more likely to ensure engagement, and we got consent from the children and their families in advance. We planned activities such as number hunts, dice games and numeracy games which were active and fun. We completed pre and post observations and looked for ways to either adapt for extra challenge or simplify for those who needed support.
Upon reflection, we feel that we made significant progress in achieving the project’s aim. We identified progress through both the pre and post assessment methods, as well as from feedback from nursery staff and parents. There was evidence of a change in language used by the children, both at home as well as in nursery.
Unfortunately, we feel that the pre assessment method of using emotions cards was unsuccessful. We tried to use these cards to assess how each child felt about an activity. However, we found that most children identified that they were confident, even with activities we knew they needed support with. Many also felt funny using the confused and sad faces, and often would just use the emotion card that matched their friend. In future, we would research alternative pre assessment methods or just stick to observations, which we found more successful.
Using observations, we identified that most children involved in the problem solving/numeracy experiences showed improved confidence. Discussions with each child’s key worker, showed that the children were more engaged and more willing to take part. Part way into the project, we found a video about mindfulness and discovered that using this really helped. The children enjoyed it, and we ended up using it before starting each numeracy activity.
Throughout the project, we continued to research and discuss the project with other colleagues, and this prompted more ideas for us to try. Our Mindset Leader also lent lots of support around issues, ideas and sharing insights. This all helped us to make significant progress in meeting the project aim.
We worked as a team to create a timescale for our project and each component of the growth mindset course. As with most plans, we anticipated some obstacles such as staff absence and working amid a pandemic. We knew we would face circumstances outwith our control and made sure our timescale was flexible. However, we did not anticipate the number of times we would need to put our growth mindset plans on hold. Significant absences of staff and children made it hard to find a small group of children that we could work with consistently. Despite each obstacle, we came back together as a team each time to adapt and create a new timescale, an important part of our journey.
We started our project after our Christmas break in January 2022. As a team, we decided it was best to allow one week to help the children settle back after their holiday. We had planned the children that we would be working with, the rationale for our approach and the numeracy-based experiences we would use. Unfortunately, staff and children’s absences meant that there had to be many changes made to our plan. We frequently had to change the group we were working with. Despite our initial worries, we felt that this was more beneficial in the end. Working with several groups of children meant that there was more change throughout the nursery, particularly in the language the children used. We also stopped using the emotions cards as the pre assessment method after a short time, finding that observations were far more accurate and beneficial in establishing the project findings.
Through our observations, we were able to confidently identify the impact of the growth mindset project on each individual child who took part. We witnessed a difference in both the children and staff over the four months of implementation. The main change was the language heard daily within the nursery room. Just weeks into the project, we overheard two four-year old children discussing their painting. One child had finished their painting and showed it to her friend who said, “wow, you worked so hard on that.” The other child’s response was, “I know, I did work so hard, I did it two times.” This was an exciting time in the project that told us that the children had already picked up on the change in language we were looking for.
We also identified progress through pre and post observations and discussions with children’s key workers. We worked together on the activities to create more challenge where needed, or to offer extra support. We saw a difference in the children’s level of engagement, particularly when we introduced the short videos/stories about mindfulness. Engagement increased as the children understood more about how their brain grows and develops. The children would tell us, “Oh that’s quite tricky, my brain must be getting bigger.” We found inspiration in other resources around us too, that we hadn’t realised we could easily link to growth mindset. We used books such as, ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ and these also helped to engage children with the numeracy experiences. After we read the story, we would discuss it and the children loved that the giraffe never gave up and kept trying, even when his friends said he could not do something. Going forward, we will seek to use and source more resources like this, that help to open conversations with the children about the importance of a growth mindset
From colleague discussions, we could also see a difference in the children’s resilience. They were more able to engage and spend longer periods of time with experiences which involved trial and error. It became more common to see greater levels of challenge, engagement, and interest, along with more adaptations to tasks and questions asked. We aim to continue this way of working and are excited to support the children as they develop a growth mindset.
In addition to seeing a difference with the children, we found that there was an impact on staff also. We were more confident in learning and developing new skills. We were also better when feeling overwhelmed at adapting what we need to, asking for help and persisting.
As discussed above, we had originally intended to use emotions cards as a form of pre assessment but dropped these a few weeks into the project. For post assessment, we spent time after each activity noting observations about how it went and combining these with photographs taken. This really helped, especially during conversations with key workers. On another course, we talked about the importance of reflection. This suggested gathering photos of the children’s week and creating a slideshow to show them and open discussions about what they did. We adopted this approach during the project and found it helped the children discuss their feelings about the numeracy experiences, what they enjoyed and the activities they wanted to do again. This post assessment method was beneficial and allowed us to create more observations.
From the evidence built up, we saw the significant impact on the children’s resilience, motivation, and their trial-and-error abilities that have resulted from this project. One of the most important changes was hearing the difference in language from the children. It has been lovely to hear them encourage one another with phrases such as “you worked so hard on that” and “keep going, keep trying.”
Before starting the project, we shared a short video about growth mindset with the team in the nursery. Colleagues were all interested and asked questions about the project and offered to help. We then shared an article or video about growth mindset at the start of each week. Having a supportive team was hugely beneficial to the project and gave us support when we needed a boost to overcome the challenges faced.
We spent time with each child’s key worker at the end of the week and shared the observations made around the numeracy experiences. All the team valued this time, and it was useful for discussing next steps for the children (e.g., ‘focus on numbers 0-5’). This allowed us to adapt experiences and offer challenge or support where needed. Overall, feedback from colleagues has been positive and they identified a difference in confidence and language used among the children. One colleague said, “I think it’s such a great way of working and doing this from early years builds the foundation of this type of mindset.”
We want to continue our growth mindset journey as a school. We decided to initially share our project, which we hope will encourage questions, spark an interest and lead to further discussions. We had already shared articles and videos with relevant growth mindset information with colleagues during the project, so they were already showing an interest in this way of working. We noted a change in language with these staff in the nursery, looking for different alternatives, for example, when the children were finding something too challenging. We also plan to engage parents about this way of working and this might involve leaflets, posters or inviting them into the nursery. As a team, we will continue to discuss ideas, observations made and building on the success of the project so far.