What does “doing” Growth Mindset look like?

The first thing I need to make clear is that I am not the expert able to answer this question comprehensively – well not yet, anyway. (That’s a Growth Mindset, by the way…)

I would love you to read this and help me answer my question. I’ve read a bit myself from esteemed academics such as Carol Dweck and @JoBoaler, seen fabulous teachers like @Helenhindle1 talk about how they do it, but not really done it in my classroom yet. I’d like to think that I use a lot of the language of growth mindset routinely, but one of my targets for next year is to do more to instil a growth mindset in my students.

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What is a Growth Mindset?

My view: at its most basic it is simply students believing in themselves, having greater resilience and recognising that their abilities in Mathematics (or anything else for that matter) are not fixed and that by applying themselves consistently and working at it, they will “get better” at maths.  And it is not just about encouraging lower attaining students.  As Jo Boaler points out in in this article we need to avoid the label “smart” to prevent those kids baulking at challenging problems that they might get wrong first time round.

Getting the message across

What we are trying to do here is genuinely change students’ self-perception. Just telling students to “change their mindset” is likely to backfire. So we need to convince them why it is true. This is not easy and isn’t going to happen quickly.

Growth Mindset Maths is a great site which contains lots of resources to use.

This lesson plan that has been developed by Khan Academy and PERTS (Stanford Univ.) looks like a great way to introduce Growth Mindset for secondary students.  We all need to develop a good “Personal story” of when we overcame challenges and adopted a growth mindset. PERTS are developing a Mindset Kit which is worth keeping an eye on.

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I’m sure there are others out there who have developed resources too. If this is you, please get in touch!

So, here is my list of things I want to do next year.  What have I missed? Please let me know!

  • Specific lessons. At the beginning of the year, we can spend some lesson time doing activities such as these.  There is a need to introduce the ideas and talk about the language we will use in the classroom for the rest of the year.  Do we need to spend further lesson time on specific growth mindset tasks later in the year? I guess I will take a wait-and-see approach to that.
  • Posters. This really should be a whole school initiative.  Some of them remind me of my time in corporate life when companies went through a phase of putting up “inspirational” posters with words like “Success” and a picture of a man standing on top of a mountain looking very pleased with himself. There may be some cynical reaction to posters but I feel overall they are a useful part of the mix.
  • Celebrating success. And particularly highlighting “Success Stories” – individual students who have adopted a growth mindset, worked hard and have the results to show for it.
  • Everyday language.  Obviously using it yourself as a teacher, but also picking kids up on it every time.
  • Communication with parents.  Ultimately maybe actually trying to run sessions with parents? I don’t know successful that would be, but at the very least using parents’ evenings as an opportunity to use the right language – having a few of those posters prominently displayed will help.
  • Written feedback. Whether it is student reports / profiles or written feedback as part of marking, again being diligent to use the right language in that feedback.

Finally, I love the beginning of a new BBC programme called Kick Sum Maths.  The first 2 minutes or so of this ticks all the boxes in my view and would make a good introduction.

The question of Mixed Attainment teaching

A logical conclusion of the Growth Mindset philosophy may be that you do away with sets and this is certain something Jo Boaler strongly advocates. However, few UK schools have done this. I’ve struggled to find recent data, but an Ofsted survey from 2003-4 found that 17% of schools taught in mixed ability groups at KS3.  Tory and Labour Government policy since this time has tended to promote setting, so I can only imagine that number has gone down since. A more recent blog by Chris Husbands, Director of IoE concludes that the evidence of the effectiveness of setting is “nuanced”.  I can’t help feeling that behind all of this, there is pressure from parents to maintain sets, particularly the more vociferous middle-class parents who are less likely to have kids stuck in the bottom set.

Personally I don’t have a strong view on this. I would be interested to see mixed attainment teaching in practice before forming that view.  But I do feel that most schools and most teachers, would find it a big challenge to switch to teaching in mixed attainment groups.  Does it require a higher level of skill in teaching to differentiate more widely and use mixed-attainment group work effectively? Or is it a question of just getting used to it and adapting to a different way of doing things?


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