The aim of the project, which took place during a student placement, was to increase engagement by creating a classroom culture which valued mistakes and saw them as a positive step in learning. We had noticed that that some pupils showed an unwillingness to respond to verbal questions during their maths lessons. This could have been due to the fear of making a mistake, being judged by their peers and/or a lack of engagement. It was hoped that the project would improve the quality of learning and teaching by gaining more accurate formative feedback from verbal questioning. Pupils were expected to become more confident, willing to take a chance and keep trying, and thus develop a growth mindset.
The project has resulted in a more positive classroom environment and one that does value and explore mistakes. A wider group of children were offering answers by the end of the project, and there was a slight improvement in attitude and belief about mistakes. The largest improvement was in the students’ feelings towards making a mistake, which increased positively by around 15%. By eliciting answers from a wider range of students, we were also able to gain a more accurate picture of understanding in the class and identify and explore common misconceptions.
There did remain room for further improvement, with a few pupils still not answering during lessons. This was influenced by group dynamics, and it was also very noticeable how tiredness affected engagement levels. The final week of the project was focused on preparation for an assessment. This had a mixed impact on the class, with those that found the work more challenging and the assessment tougher, requiring more support afterwards to help re-establish their growth mindset.
The project timeframe was reduced by half a week, due to an assessment for the whole year group occurring. The starting date was delayed by one day also, as half of the class were on a school tour. These delays had minimal effect on the implementation of the planned growth mindset teaching. Data gathering was slightly hampered due to illness of a colleague, who was due to provide feedback to support the other evidence from the project. The overall reliability of the data would have been improved by more rigorous collection and greater consideration of what information should have been recorded. We did not feel that the project was over, as there was more than could be done to build on the progress so far. In this respect, the timeframe was too short to reliably predict embedded change, especially for those pupils who suffered a setback following the assessment.
During discussions with the class, it became apparent that they had all learned about growth mindset previously at primary school. They were very receptive to the idea and had some understanding, but it was clear that they still felt quite negative after making a mistake. We decided to focus the first few lessons on how positive mistakes were for learning. However, we became aware that our own handling of mistakes was not always as positive as it could be. We conducted some further research on how to best handle mistakes (“Three ways I celebrate a mistake in class” in the Mindset kit). This gave us useful ideas such as presenting a mistake and celebrating it. However, it would have been better to have a stock of more genuinely positive phrases that we could easily call upon when teaching at the board.
Some of the more capable individuals in the class were at times disengaged from the learning and not offering answers to questions. We verbally encouraged them and made it clear that we wanted everyone to participate, albeit we were careful with individuals who had low confidence. We increased thinking time between asking a question and nominating a respondent and this technique increased responses.
Class engagement improved, with more hands going up and answers being offered to questions asked from the board. The hands up data recorded showed that more individuals were offering answers by the end of the project. At the outset, seven individuals were not offering answers, and this dropped to two by the last week. One pupil who is a selective mute, did not verbally engage at all during the first week. But from the second week, started to offer answers and by the end was a regular contributor to questions from the board. This was a huge success and sign that this pupil felt comfortable and confident in the class.
It is possible that the improvement in engagement was a result of the pupils feeling more comfortable within the class. The original hands up data was taken a few weeks after the pupils had joined high school, and a degree of settling in and gaining in confidence may have occurred without the growth mindset intervention. However, we feel that discussing growth mindset and using appropriate language contributed to this and created a classroom environment that was supportive and helped to build confidence.
The questionnaires showed that there had been an average positive change in perception. The greatest change was in the question “How do you feel when making a mistake on task?” which showed a 15% positive shift in response. This could mean that the individual feedback that the pupils were receiving had been positive and helpful. There was also a small positive change in mindset when making a mistake in front of peers, but not significant enough to draw any real conclusions from. This question remained as the lowest scoring area and is an area to be worked on.
Teaching practice improved considerably because of the project. We now allow thinking time and wait until we have a good number of hands up before nominating a respondent to answer a question. When dealing with mistakes, our focus is on helping the pupil involved to identify the error made and therefore assist them (and the wider class) in learning as much as possible from the mistake. We have also role modelled growth mindset in class and on professional learning courses. We use growth mindset language in all classes, and it now forms part of natural teaching practice. “My favourite mistake” has become a favourite technique when dealing with more complex topics. All these things will be used in the future to help build engagement and student confidence to answer questions verbally in front of peers.
We conducted a short growth mindset questionnaire during week 1 and week 5. The questionnaire consisted of five questions which could be rated from 0 (very sad face) to 4 (very happy face). The results are shown in the following table.
Most questions saw a positive change and most notably for how the students feel when they make a mistake. The one decline in the mean score was attributable to one outlying response. This demonstrated the problem inherent in analysing anonymous responses, as it meant that we could not follow up with that pupil and provide tailored support. The data must also be analysed in context. The first questionnaire was completed by 14 individuals and, due to absences, the second was completed by 11 students. This was a small sample size, and the results could not be relied upon for future predictions.
A tally chart was collated by a colleague based on the number of individuals raising their hand to answer a question. The table below shows an increase in the percentage of the class that raised their hands as the project progressed. However, absence was quite high, and this had an impact on the results. On the last day of recording this information, several individuals were missing who had been regular contributors from the start of the project. By the end of the project, there were only two individuals who had never raised their hand to offer an answer. This was an improvement on the seven not offering answers at the outset.
Colleagues who were also present for the lessons felt that the pupils were more engaged and more positive, with more hands up seen as the weeks progressed. They also noted that the class dynamic was heavily influenced by one individual pupil. A mentor provided feedback that it was good to have included more thinking time into the lessons and that asking more strategy questions rather than answer questions, might also have increased participation. Students might be confident in the way to answer the question but might be less confident with the arithmetic involved.
The wider numeracy intervention plan for this class will continue throughout the year. The aim is to give individuals a secure numeracy base to build upon in future years. The plan includes lots of opportunities for success and for challenges too. It is hoped that this will help build confidence, and that the experience of success will improve growth mindset. We also want to look for further opportunities to relate maths to real life and incorporate more of the pupils’ interests into the lessons.